Of course I would never lend my support to an international mining company whose business model calls for the exploration and exploitation of coal to feed the industrial complex. Of course I would never give a speech at a marketing conference delivering the company’s chairman’s message proclaiming a track record of allocating capital efficiently in high-potential business and thereby creating long term value for shareholders. And of course, of course, I would never convey the company’s mission of buildings itself into “the very best organization, by maintaining the highest standards of Corporate Governance, Personal Behavior of Employees” whilst participating in a machination to dupe company employees.
But maybe, just maybe, Tim would.
Tim is of course my long-time Starbucks alter ego (because “Shalev” is just too damned hard for want-to-be actors to try pronounce). Yesterday, Tim donned a Jodpuri coat and took on a new role: a representative of Indonesian coal mining office of INDOPRIDE, which somehow is an Indian mining and assets management company — not a gay pride organization. Tim gave a speech as a representative of INDOPRIDE’s Indonesian coal mine. Tim is not a representative of an Indonesian coal mine. In fact, he’s not a representative of any coal mines. Ergo, Tim lied to a whole bunch of people; Tim was acting.
Although I cast Tim as the lead in the farce, doing so was never my intent. I was originally told that, along with a fellow backpacker, I would be handing out flowers at the opening of a new resort. A gig that paid 3,000 rupees ($44) for 2 1/2 hours. Not bad opportunity for a blog-keeping backpacker on a shoestring budget. I really had no idea what I was getting into when I agreed to show up at the function dressed nice enough as not to look like a backpacker. When I got to the function and found out that I was expected to dupe to a bunch of marketers into thinking I was a mining company representative, naturally I told them to introduce me as Tim. They introduced me as Jim. So it goes.
Now, it’s noteworthy that the audience didn’t speak a lick of English and my speech — a fractal pattern of tepid company slogans lifted from INDOPRIDE’s website that Tim (or Jim…) read off his phone while he spoke — was essentially lost on the Tamil-speaking audience. (By the way, Jenna’s job, my female associate’s, was to “sit and look pretty.”) My gospel that “INDOPRIDE was set up with the objective of offering the common man a host of products and service hat would be helpful to him on his path to prosperity” was tragically lost on my audience.
Now of course, of course, I am glad that Tim and I had this experience. I scored blog content and made some cash. But maybe, just maybe, the experience ought to come with some feelings of consternation. I mean, was this ethical? (Tim’s actions that is. I fully exonerate myself on grounds that I pay for Tim’s coffee.) I don’t think we harmed anybody. This wasn’t a meeting for potential investors. No one was duped into action past taking time to wait in line to take a photograph with two young business professionals. Almost everyday I get asked by Indians to pose for a selfie with them. So, regardless of whether we were backpackers or the representatives of an Indonesian coal mine, we added some entertainment value to their mundane day. For sure we were exotic things irrespective of assumed professions. The fact that Westerners were there meant the company had to pay for Westerners to be there which meant that someone in the central office cared enough about the conference to allocate the monies to fly in the representatives. Or hire them off the street, whatever.
Of course, of course, we were as innocent as bubbling wine guised as champagne. But also, maybe, just maybe, there is something wrong with the picture in which a 26 year old is driven to “acting” as a mining company representative because of his melatonin ontology. It’s been hard for me to wrap my mind around. And it’s not just this experience. It’s the countless picture requests I’ve received. It’s the feeling of older men calling me “sir.” I don’t enjoy being put on a pedestal because of my skin color but I did exploit Tim by monetizing his whiteness. Maybe that makes me more of mining representative than I thought.
While exiting the conference hall, nodding in response to platitudes of “thank-much” and “honor sir” as I shook hands with the good people filled with Indopride, I couldn’t help but marvel at how much Tim and Donald Trump have in common. Now, of course I don’t mean to call Trump a boldface liar who manipulates people by exploiting stereotypical ideas about power and prestige for personal gain in a system that play to white privilege. Of course not. But maybe, just maybe…
I’ll leave you with deference to Louis C.K. whose comedy helped me frame these thoughts.
With a box of chocolates and bottle of gin for St. Peter,
Shalev and Tim
[Small changes as to typos and phrasing were made to this post on 2/26/16.]