Thursday, December 2, 2010

News from the corporate world #4: Giving back!

The day before Americans Give Thanks By Killing All Of You Sponsored By Macy's Day, everyone at my job got an email from corporate. An extremely redacted-for-reasons-of-my-job-"security" version of its opening paragraph follows.
Dear [euphemism for the worker],

This Thanksgiving, [transnational corporation] will continue its rich tradition of giving back to the communities where our [euphemisms] work and live. For the third consecutive year, the company will donate [an enormous to me, chump change to them amount] to [megacharity], the largest charitable [particular type of charity] organization in the United States.
Can we see the humor here? I mean, let's get the background radiation hilarity out of the way first. Obviously, there's the fact that transnational corporations are currently one of the major mechanisms by which the need for charities is created. Then there's the redacted dollar amount of the gift, which is, just for comparison, about a fifth of the amount by which profits from one particular product were over projections in just the regional subdivision I work in for just one quarter of the year, at least according to the figures we were given at the last rah-rah meeting. Or, for more comparison, it's about one sixteenth the amount the CEO of the company made in above-board earnings in the last year I could find a figure for. And, you know, if you genuinely cared about "giving back," you wouldn't have to wait until a holiday to do it. All this is the kind of "rich tradition" we're talking about.

With that out of the way, there is still the huge, blatant hilarity of the wording of the email. You're giving back to the community where we work and live by giving to the largest charity of its type in the country? Fact: The United States is not a community. If you were really interested in giving back to our communities, you would give back to them. Or at the very least to charities located in them, working for them, which are smaller and, hey!, could probably use the money more.

Corporate acts like this one serve an enormous array of purposes simultaneously and are very efficient.

They perpetuate the symbiosis of Big Business and Big Charity--a symbiotic relationship between parties that are collectively a parasite on ordinary people and ordinary life. Business creates a mass of people who desperately need outside assistance to live, and so Big Charity fills (part of) that niche--and knows very well that it depends on that niche for its own continued existence. It is in big-C Charity's best interest to maintain the status quo. I saw this at work back when I was a bank teller at Citizens, the Royal Bank of Scotland's northeastern US tentacle. At one point we were forced to attend a United Way rally, where we were buffeted by endless presentations on why we should give to the United Way, and how Citizens is wonderful because it matches its workers' donations to the United Way. The whole thing touched briefly upon honesty when a United Way presenter, earnestly, devoid of irony, said that together we could help poor children grow up a little less poor so they could open bank accounts. And, naturally, be reimpoverished for the bank's profit, though she didn't mention that.

At the same time as it achieves these concrete goals, Corporate is of course engaging in PR; it is angling to make the communities it leeches off of feel proud to have it, and the workers whose lives it colonizes feel proud to work for its benefit. It also helps to make people in general feel that there is a mechanism in place to care for those who need it, which of course is not true, because such a mechanism would not serve Corporate's interests.

Another benefit they reap comes specifically from the phrasing of the email. By presenting things the way they do ("We want to give back to your community, so we're giving to a huge, nationwide, anonymous organization") and by doing it so casually and matter-of-factly that it can easily be taken as sensible if you don't pay close attention, they subtly reinforce the message that we are all given over and over, in thousands of different ways: local distinction and local autonomy are bad. All communities can be served by the same enormous charity, just as they can all be served by the same businesses.


I have a few posts in the works about Wikileaks, because not enough has been written about that yet, and some other topics. But if NASA's actually about to announce that they've found life on another planet, those posts may get preempted by me freaking out. If they're announcing anything else, those posts may get preempted by me writing about how annoying NASA is. Either way, they may get preempted by my laziness.


Jack Crow said...

Is it okay to just say "nicely done"?

Hattie said...

It would be impossible for me to agree with you more.

JRB said...

You're the one with the gift, bud, whether you see it as "charitable" or not!

Randal Graves said...

Oh, so once this dynamic tag team enriches everyone so much that they can in fact have bank accounts thereby eliminating the need for charity because everyone with bank accounts can have their own corporation, that's a *bad* thing?

I don't wanna live in your crazy world, man.

Dammit, NASA, arsenic instead of phosphorus? I want my flying saucers!

Ethan said...

Jack, Hattie, JR: Thank you!

Randal: Take your bank account-given corporation and SHOVE IT. SHOVE IT.

BDR said...

"We want to give back to your community," meaning it's not *theirs.*

Marketing's not stupid. They choose to use "your," not "our."

Thanks for these.

Mandatory squiggle = quell.

JM said...

Okay, that comment by the bank's pretty fucking stupid,but my dad's the boss of the local united way and they work with local charities. Just sayin.

Ethan said...

BDR, interesting point. The more closely you parse terms, the more you get out of these things.

Jenny, I think there might be some sort of obstruction between you and the point.

Jim H. said...

The word, if you'll recall, was 'trickle'.

Ethan said...

I've always been interested in the "down" part, too.

what the Tee Vee taught said...

(In my biggest Eddie Izzard/town crier voice):


Whenever anything talks about how they've been doing something for x number of consecutive units of time, you can safely assume they stopped thinking about it a long time ago.

Very funny

Ethan said...

Haha, see, this is what I like about the internet: I post something and make fun of it, and then a bunch of other people come and make fun of it in ways it didn't even occur to me to make fun of it.

JM said...

Ethan: I understood it-rather than taking money out their own profits to give to local charities which would totally be righteous, they just want impoverished kids to be rich so they can gain more profits. I just thought you were including United Way in the guilty party.