Friday, June 18, 2010

"Outsourced": Using the Global Economy to Make Fun of Brown People

So NBC is coming out with a new sitcom called "Outsourced." The name itself reflects what's been happening across the world since transnational corporations (TNC) realized giving Americans decent wages and benefits didn't stand in line with greedy desires for outrageous profits. Hey, instead, take production and/or customer service to a low-income country, save money on worker fees, but maintain income in sales. Justify it by saying you're bringing development to the low-income countries, but don't pay the workers there adequate wages.

In countries like India and the Philippines, where English is fairly widely spoken, outsourcing of customer service call centers is big business for companies in the U.K. and U.S. (see Slumdog Millionaire?).
Kiran Mirchandi (2004) aruges that call centers in India offer a multitude of social experiences for employees, some of which include making fun of American callers. However, the reality is not always rosy:

You need at least three to four hours of sleep in the night. That’s what makes the big difference. …That is what is making it difficult. I’m losing my appetite, I’m losing my weight … suddenly we were told we would be having our [shift] from twelve [midnight] to eight. It was very difficult to adjust in the first few weeks. Then I got adjusted to that time. Then again we were told that you’re having your shifts from 7.30 till 4 a.m. And this shift, I find it very difficult to adjust. That is because I get home around 7 a.m., and it’s very difficult to sleep in the morning because people wake up, they go around here and there. (p. 364, 365).

Yet this is considered "privileged" work in a low-income country like India. Again, this notion of being a corporate benefactor to the Indian economy is mere justifcation by TNCs for making money and taking away jobs/benefits from American workers.

Of course in the realm of popular culture, these issues will not be addressed, or perhaps they will be glossed over in humorous bits. The "Outsourced" trailer:

Note also in the trailer how accents, names, attire, and popular culture (e.g., music) are intertwined to make fun of Indians. Will American audiences really interpret the cheezehead and other American artifacts in ways that make fun of American culture? Or are they used to further make fun of Indians and India as a whole?

So what we have here is popular culture making fun of the new globalization, of the ways that colonialism operates in the twenty-first century. I wouldn't be surprised if this show is a big hit.

Citation: Mirchandi, K. (2004). Practices of global capital: gaps, cracks and ironies in transnational call centres in India. Global Networks, 4 (4), 355-373.

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