Criticizing the op-ed columns of Thomas L. Friedman is often redundant. His writing is so laughable, one is typically tempted to “stand back and let it all be” (as The Boss might suggest). However, on February 29, 2004, Tommy Boy took his standard paean to globalization to a new level of smugness and oblivion. In a column called “30 Little Turtles,” he tells of visiting an “accent neutralization” class at the call center 24/7 Customer in Bangalore, India.
“The instructor was teaching the would-be Indian call center operators to suppress their native Indian accents and speak with a Canadian one,” explains Friedman. “She teaches British and U.S. accents as well, but these youths will be serving the Canadian market.”
LESSON #1: Neutralizing one’s ethnic identity in the name of outsourcing is good.
These Indians-many of whom, admits Tommy Boy, have college degrees-are “incredibly enthusiastic” as they undergo the “uplifting experience” of “earnestly trying to soften their t’s and roll their r’s.” Besides wasting their education and squashing their spirit in the name of helping Western consumers buy, buy, buy…Friedman explains such nowhere jobs benefit entire families. “Many have credit cards and have become real consumers, including of U.S. goods, for the first time. All of them seem to have gained self-confidence and self-worth.”
LESSON #2: One becomes a “real consumer” once they own enough credit to buy U.S. goods…and real consumers have “self-confidence and self-worth.”
“A majority of these call center workers are young women,” says Feminist Friedman, “who not only have been liberated by earning a decent local wage (and therefore have more choice in whom they marry), but are using the job to get <M.B.A>.’s and other degrees on the side.”
LESSON #3: U.S. corporations help liberate Third World women.
Friedman quotes one call center worker, M. Dinesh. He does tech support, boasting how “his day is made when some American calls in with a problem and is actually happy to hear an Indian voice: ‘They say you people are really good at what you do. I am glad I reached an Indian.'” Another worker says Bill Gates is his role model. A third says “self-confidence” is what she gets out of her work…even though she has to work through India’s night in order to be available during America’s day. “Your biological clock goes haywire,” she said. “Besides that, it’s great.”
LESSON# 4: Third World people (“you people”) love to impress their American counterparts. They idolize wealthy Americans and will jeopardize their health to please any and all Americans. Next, Tommy Boy ventures into familiar ground by comparing the Indians with Palestinian youths-without hope and dignity-who see themselves as “suicide bombers in waiting.” Friedman gushes: “There is nothing more positive than the self-confidence, dignity and optimism that comes from a society knowing it is producing wealth by tapping its own brains – men’s and women’s – as opposed to one just tapping its own oil, let alone one that is so lost it can find dignity only through suicide and “martyrdom.”
LESSON #5: Terrorists would less evil if given the chance to hold jobs outsourced from America to then help Americans find lost luggage via satellite phone link-ups. Terrorists helping Western plane passengers…the irony makes one swoon.
“What am I saying here?” Friedman asks. “That it’s more important for young Indians to have jobs than Americans? Never.”
LESSON #6: Okay, these Indians are cute, but let’s not get too carried away.
What Friedman is saying is this: “There is more to outsourcing than just economics. There’s also geopolitics. It is inevitable in a networked world that our economy is going to shed certain low-wage, low-prestige jobs. To the extent that they go to places like India or Pakistan – where they are viewed as high-wage, high-prestige jobs – we make not only a more prosperous world, but a safer world for our own 20-year-olds.”
LESSON #7: Let’s not worry ourselves about why our low-wage jobs are their high-wage jobs…or what unemployed Americans will do after their jobs are outsourced. Let’s not be concerned with discovering what other nations and cultures have to offer us. Let’s get rid of their accents, stick them in rooms in the middle of the night, fill their heads with free market propaganda, and make Corporate America even more powerful.
Ladies and Gentlemen: Tommy Boy Friedman…avant garde spokesman for the liberal media.
MICKEY Z. is the author of two upcoming books: “A Gigantic Mistake: Articles and Essays for Your Intellectual Self-Defense” (Prime Books) and “Seven Deadly Spins: Exposing the Lies Behind War Propaganda” (Common Courage Press). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.