Exposition Reel #1 – Outsourced
David Dunlop, the twenty-third individual, stands at the front of the room holding a CD case entitled Post-Industrialism and Restructuring with a ‘α’ symbol below the title. David will be overseeing the education and training of this crop. His main duty is ensuring that the group is aware of the importance of this work. The boss couldn’t have picked a better candidate; David speaks so positively about PR and Alpha Corp. that you would think he was indoctrinated at a blank slate age by some Hitler Youth esque organization. Here’s hoping that there isn’t a cynic in the crowd for they would only be turned off by David’s overly positive attitude. However, this is unlikely; all of the trainees were upwardly mobile enough to make it out of the Homestead, therefore there’s a high probability that they share David’s attitude.
“This one will bring you up to speed,” proclaims David. “I know that the other ones were a little dry, albeit informative, but this one should keep your attention and teach you how the Republic of America and Alpha Corp. came to be. Some of you have already learned this stuff, but pay more mind to this one because this video was specifically made for the public relations department.”
David walks towards a projector that’s deployed on top of a mail-cart and located at that center of the room. The projector parts the room like Moses does the Red Sea; no desks are located directly in front or behind it ensuring that nobodies view is blocked or that part of the image is projected onto the back of an unfortunate trainee’s head. David puts the CD into the top of the projector, makes his way to the back of the room, turns the lights off and then takes a seat in one of the empty desks.
An Alpha Corp. logo appears on the room’s front wall. This logo, which is basically just the first letter of the Greek alphabet, is clean and austere. Alpha Corp. chooses to label all of their products and property with this logo because it is pleasant on the eyes. Instead of marking everything with ‘Alpha Corp.’ like it was an industrial era factory, a simple ‘α’ suffices. This branding based on simplicity dates back to the first decade in the 21st century when bare products dominated their respectful markets. All something needed was a small and simple logo, like a silhouette of a pear with a smooth bite taken out of it, to give it an identity and tell the user that they own a superior product. This notion really took off and by 2015 anyone who gave a shit about what other people thought were design conscious human beings. ‘Simplicity was perfection,’ this being a motto that proliferated like fungi on a six week old loaf of bread. It seemed like everything was succumbing to this philosophy. Music players, computers, phones, cars, buildings; everything consisted solely of curves and was painted with only one color that never changed shade. So called ‘busyness’ was scrutinized and sharp edges were feared more than Death himself. It’s as though parts of North America were heading in the direction of one of those utopian paintings that depict a white bearded man in a speckles white robe looking out of a convex glass window that contains a view of a city which consists of heavily curved blank white-walled buildings with plenty of windows and no smokestacks connected to perfectly clean streets that have curved-out hovercars and tracks for excessively aerodynamic hypertrains (that tend to be white). Basically, the opposite of Metropolis. At this point in time, utopia was as unattainable as it has ever been, but when Alpha Corp’s marketers decided on their branding strategy, they opted to choose the simplicity route that harnessed a utopian perception. ‘Clean’ branding was more in touch with influential, design minded individuals, aka so called intellects, and it also helped the company maintain a civilized, non-ruthless image; but that’s another story that won’t be touched on.
The logo is succeeded by the title of the film, then a dark haired thirty-something year old man appears on the wall. He is sitting on a detailed wooden chair in a bright room. He introduces himself as Mark Fable: employee of the public relations department, New York district. He tells the audience that he is the narrator of the video that they are about to watch. The fact that he has on a new suit, coupled with the fact that the room he’s in is unnaturally light, gives it away that Mark Fable isn’t actually a PR employee, but rather an actor. If he is in fact a PR employee, they would’ve had to dress him in an unrealistically nice suit and plopped him in one of the few remaining film studios. For Mark Fable, that day’s report must’ve been an interesting one.
Despite the factual errors, none of the trainees will question these details, they never do. At this point, most of them are under the impression that PR people get new clothes more often and work in brightly lit offices. On the first day of training they were told that PR work was a big step-up from whatever Homestead managers do, so these must be the perks of the job. Besides, this part of the film shouldn’t be put under such detailed scrutiny; it’s only in there to help put a face to the voice.
Mark recaps the videos that the trainees have already seen. Colonialism, Formation of the United States of America, The Civil War, and Reconstruction and Expansion all consisted of budget dramatic reenactments or spliced out scenes from movies. The film they watched yesterday, World Wars and Fordism, was made up entirely of black and white stock footage taken during America’s Golden Age – the apple pie, beating Nazis, car after car rolling out of assembly lines, bashing Commies, productive, sunny suburban American Dream era. Now the trainees are going to learn what came after that prosperous period.
From the brief introduction given by Mark Fable, the trainees have already determined that this video has a higher production value than all of the other five videos combined. The first true scene of the video is a hypothetical boardroom meeting, and judging by the fashion and the room’s decor, it is set in the late 1970s - early 80s. A caption then appears that says, ‘Corporate Boardroom Meeting Circa Late 70’s – Early 80s.’ They were right about the production value; hiring actors and dressing them in vintage clothing is unheard of in training videos. PR must really make some loot.
A man in his mid-forties stands in front of a poster on a trestle stand. The content of the poster depicts a classic financial nosedive scenario. Pointing at the poster with a pointer, the man begins talking. “If we continue giving in to the workers’ demands, our projected net revenue will continually decline through the next however many quarters. We can’t keep caving in to the union’s scheme of giving them higher wages while working fewer hours. In order for our company to stay competitive, we need to come up with a solution.”
“Is there a way for us to replace some of the jobs with machines? That would certainly reduce some of the production costs,” said a middle-aged man with Henry Kissinger esque glasses. He’s in one of chairs closer to the poster.
“It certainly does reduce production costs, but we have automated everything that we can possibly get away with,” replies the poster man.
“What about hiring non-unionized flexible labourers that could work part-time? They would expect lower wages if that’s the case,” said a smartly dressed Asian woman. She will be playing the role of both token ethnic minority and token female today.
“That would just further agitate the workers. They’ll probably organize a strike which will besmirch our company. It’s a good idea, in theory, but it can turn the public against us.”
“What about outsourcing,” blurts out a man near the back of the room. He has a suave and nonchalant look on his face; one of those looks that says, ‘I’m about to blow your mind with a theory you’ve never heard of, let alone thought of.’
“Outsourcing?” asks the poster man with a quizzical expression on his face.
“Sure, outsourcing, or offshoring, whatever you wanna call it. It’s the new thing. A lot of companies are doing it. If you want to stay competitive, you know, have low production costs and offer the consumer a fairly cheap product; you’re going to have to get with the program.”
“But what is outsourcing?”
“It’s when you contract work to a third-party. It has been around forever, there just hasn’t been a name for it. Adam Smith mentions it in The Wealth of Nations. You could even say that the Roman Empire was doing it in Egypt.”
“But how will it work for our operation?”
“Simple, we contact a manufacturer in the Third World, that’s the third party by the way, and they will hire locals and manufacture our product. We just need to pick a country with a weak currency so that what we pay them is almost negligible to what we’ll make. The labour is cheap and the managerial positions are cheap. It’s a win-win situation. All the while, we can close our factories down in America, and maybe even sell off the ones that have real estate value.” Suave man said this all with a presumptuous look on his face.
“What about transportation costs?” inputs the Asian woman. “We would have to ship raw materials to the factories, then have the manufactured product shipped back to the United States for consumption. That seems a bit counter-intuitive and expensive… don’t you think?”
“Look, we live in a world where transportation is run by oil. Oil is a comparatively cheap source of energy and as extraction technologies improve, oil prices will continually drop. Transportation costs are not something we should be concerned with. Plus, as more and more companies decide to outsource, shipping vessels will get larger and larger, giving them more capacity for containers, so pound for pound, shipping will be cheaper. Also, ports will get bigger, and more productive. The forecast looks good for outsourcing. We don’t seem to have a problem will trucking materials and goods around the States, so think of it as trucking at a global scale.”
“Again, what about the workers,” said the Kissinger imposter. “I mean the workers in the States. They will still get upset and possibly strike. It’s not like that problem ever had a solution.”
“We could alter the terms of our severance package then, when all of our employees are laid off, we could offer them the reduced severance package and give them a handwritten note that says something along the lines, ‘Thank you for being a productive member of our team. We are sorry that the business climate is too competitive for us to continue running this factory, but we are confident that your skills as a bolt-tightener/saw-operator will ensure your employment at a similar factory.’ Blame the company for going under, not the employee. I’m sure that will keep them quiet long enough for this to all blow over.”
“What will the union do about this?” questions a formerly silent man in the middle of the room.
“What can they do? They think too small scale. ‘An employee has a lung condition: can he get a paid vacation? So-and-so isn’t getting paid enough for his trivial work; can you give him a raise?’” Mr. Suave was speaking in a mocking tone. “If we close down the whole factory, what can they do? Phone their congressman and tell him to use taxes payers’ dollars to keep the factory going so that a few guys will still have their jobs? From their point of view, they would be hooped and they would know it.”
Nobody says anything for a few seconds; everyone at the table seems to be lost in thought. Finally, the poster man speaks. “After thinking it through for a moment, I think Mr. Lamar is right. In order for our business to strive into the future, we must take a chance at outsourcing, or offshoring, or whatever it’s called. We shall look into a Third World country that has a weak currency and low corporate tax rates, and take that opportunity to set up our manufacturing sector. The meeting is adjourned for the day.”
The boardroom meeting is followed by a series of fly-over shots of American landscapes. There’s the Grand Canyon, New York City’s midtown skyline, the badlands, a big-box store parking lot, fertile fields, the Colorado Rockies, the sprawling desert and the sprawling suburbs of Los Angeles County among other things. After about a minute of this, Mark Fable’s voice starts up. “So it was decided: many of America’s premier corporations were to move their manufacturing operations overseas. The businesses had met resistance from both their former employees and the government itself, but eventually they prevailed because new bills, legislature, and the global economy catered to the needs of the businesses.”
A series of spiraling newspapers appear in front of a black background. The viewer can only make out the headlines and subheadings, and they can only make them out when the newspaper stops spinning, but some of the titles include:
NIXON PATCHES UP RELATIONSHIP WITH CHINA. Future trading opportunities expected – The Washington Bulletin
OIL PRICES FALL. Is OPEX losing its grip? – The Glasgow Sun
PRESIDENT REAGAN SIGNS THE IMMIGRATION REFORM AND CONTROL ACT. Will the IRCA bring an end to cheap labor? – The Texan View
COLD WAR ENDS!!! Future trading opportunities expected – The Washington Bulletin
CLINTON SIGNS NORTH AMERICAN FREE TRADE AGREEMENT. Tariffs and barriers to trade are reduced – New York Free Press
LOW COST COMMUNICATION NETWORKS ARE CAUSING JOBS TO BE DISPLACED. How will this affect you? – The Western Concern
Eventually the newspapers pile up leaving little space for the newer papers, therefore, the viewer can’t make out the rest of the titles.
Mark begins to talk again. “As for the companies that were too small to outsource, they were either out-competed to the point of bankruptcy or they merged with other companies to form multinational corporations that had large enough investments to move their manufacturers oversees. For this period of time, mergers and outsourcing was the American way. This notion extended beyond manufacturing; encompassing such industries as information technologies and even including internal business functions such as human resources, finances and accounting. Companies were able to reduce their costs; therefore, their products cost less in the American market. Overall, this system had been beneficial to the American consumer.”
Anyone with a hint of skepticism would find a paradox in that last statement. If Americans were losing their jobs to create this system, how could they pay for the products that were being made in other countries? The video tended to skip over that part. There are, however, two solutions: service sector jobs and credit cards.
As factory after factory shut down, as many of the old industrial cities turned into ghost towns, and as less and less people worked in agriculture due to technological advancements, shopping centers began to fill their void. The primary and secondary sectors had been severely reduced, but things adapt, so the tertiary sector took over in their wake. As more and more products were being shipped overseas, places had to be built to house and sell them. Shopping malls, big-box retailers, power centers, strip malls; all of these types of places began to spring up overnight. That’s where the job market was. Fast-food chains, clothing retailers, consumer electronics, grocery stores, and places that had all of these businesses combined were the major employers. But with this came another dilemma: these jobs had a significant wage reduction compared to the middle-class manufacturing careers of yesteryear; therefore, how was one supposed to keep up with the rising cost of living and still have enough money left over to pay for the all the new products that were being offered? The cure: credit cards.
Another division of the service sector was banking. Now banking has been around for ages, but a credit card is a branch of banking that’s a fairly new conception. They weren’t invented in this time period, yet they certainly grew in popularity. From the banks viewpoint, the basis of credit cards was ingenious: offer an individual a certain amount of money which they agree to pay back, plus interest. Therein lied the catch; one had to pay more back than what they had actually spent. But life went on because most people were oblivious to this fact. There were so many products abound that it was impossible to not be an avid consumer. The ethos of the time further gratified this lifestyle; newer was superior, the more the merrier, your personality was determined by what you own etc. ‘Heaven forbid, you still have last year’s Super Slice Flow Blender 3000©? This year’s version has an added titanium blade that could turn a coconut shell into molasses. It also has a bundle of other new features that makes yours look like a piece of Neanderthal technology. And honey, Neanderthals are extinct, so is your blender, so do yourself a favor and get yourself the new one.’ A person worth was valued by what they owned, not what went on in their noggin.
A person could buy and buy without seemingly hitting a limit. And if the person happened to glance at their bank statement, taking a gander at the debt that they were racking up, they could just buy themselves an ice cream and feel happy. Or they could attempt to pay off the debt in small increments over time. But that brings us back to the first problem: they’re not making much of a salary at their service sector job, so how could they off their debt, plus the interest? The only way to get ahead was to get slightly less behind. So there wasn’t a true solution to the underlining dilemma, just short term fixes. It’s like continually mending a series of holes on a water pipe; eventually the water pressure will burst the patches causing numerous leaks all once. Or, more simply, the well could dry up…
 In reference to the color of his beard, not his skin. Coincidentally, these men usually tend to have white skin.
 Especially not in this video. However, there are several scholarly articles from that era that go into great detail, answering questions such as: how corporate branding affects a company’s mass perception and how logos can connect with people’s consciousness.
 A face that tends to be much more attractive than your average PR employee.
 Anyone who has been into a real boardroom during this era knows that the only people who contribute are rich white males. They do, however, have servers and aides that can be male, female, Asian, Caucasian, African, etc.
 When this video is set, saying ‘outsourcing’ or ‘offshoring’ is most likely an anachronism. It’s like Victorian Englanders talking about the internet over Morse code telegraphs.
 ‘Get with the program’ is probably an anachronism too.
 This may confuse anyone trying to accurately pin point the date of this hypothetical boardroom meeting. Mr. Suave would not be making this statement in 1979, so that’s out. Also, the early 80s would be a little too soon after an oil crisis to say this, but then again, memory seems to be a quality that the business world tends to lack.
 Charged on their credit card, of course.