Top of the heap - Shawn Loughlin editorial
Years and years ago, when I watched Bowling for Columbine, the Academy Award-winning documentary, for the first time, I remember I was blown away by its confrontational nature. Not only did I largely agree with director (and star) Michael Moore on gun control, but I had never really seen anyone “take it to the man” like he did. As a teenager, that kind of thing speaks to you.
I remember though, even in real time, not thinking he was being fair to Dick Clark. Yes, that Dick Clark, of American Bandstand and Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve fame.
Moore approached Clark because Clark was a major shareholder in a restaurant that utilized a welfare-to-work program in Michigan. How this all comes together is that a six-year-old boy fatally shot his six-year-old classmate in 2000 and the shooter’s mother worked for one of Clark’s restaurants. In order to make ends meet, the woman worked two jobs, travelling from one to the other. Moore claimed that, if she had been paid a living wage, perhaps the shooting wouldn’t have happened.
A quick Google search shows that the 2002 me was hardly alone and plenty of people have thought Moore was stretching the narrative a bit thin in implicating Clark in the incident.
In just about any context, the 2021 me thinks Moore is a bit much (perhaps my muckraker tendencies have melted away with age and fatherhood) but, funny enough, I think I may have flipped on the Clark situation (or at least the idea of it, if not the confrontation itself).
Let’s be clear: Clark, who passed away in 2012, had nothing to do with this tragedy. But, the idea that the bigwigs who set the terms of employment for so many of us are culpable when things go bad because they cut corners is worth exploring, especially in today’s world as the rich get richer and, stop me if you’ve heard this one before, the poor get poorer.
This is even more of an issue now than it was when Moore made that documentary nearly 20 years ago. Now, we have Jeff Bezos, the owner of Amazon, worth almost $200 billion, while he employs thousands of workers who live in cars, vans and recreational vehicles for low wages under harsh conditions. It also didn’t just happen. It’s a program that has a name: Amazon CamperForce.
Of course, it’s not just Bezos and Amazon. There are plenty of examples. For years, I think many of us wouldn’t begrudge heads of companies for being smart enough to improve their station in life. Whether it was through tax loopholes or always being on the hunt for a more efficient way to buy something for a dollar and sell it for two, for the most part, I think North Americans accepted that as life in business.
However, as workers have been pushed into unlivable conditions, a select few have been pocketing more money than anyone could spend in 1,000 lifetimes. I think we’ve reached the point when we can point the finger at the metaphorical Dick Clarks of the world and say that how they’re conducting business does affect us, and very often not in a good way.
A living wage is now something groups like the United Way and others have to advocate for, rather than what many organizations see as their duty to their employees. All this while the wage gap continues to widen.
So, while the exchange between Clark and Moore might make many of us cringe today (for more reasons than one), there are things worth thinking about buried in there. The lives of many have changed in recent years and, in many cases, we have the rich to thank (or blame), for better or worse.