"Cash" Green works as a telemarketer throughout the film. (photo/file)

One of the staples of American culture is consuming mass media. Listing off all the ways we are exposed to mass media sounds like a twisted dystopian Forrest Gump quote:

We got mass media on the radio, mass media on our phones, mass media on our televisions, on our computers, on the big screen … we got mass media gumbo, mass media scampi…”

“Cash” Green

The list never seems to end. Mass media is designed to reach as many people in as short of a time as possible, and it does it well. Mass media is a great concept when describing the National Weather Service, but it becomes a terrifying  concept when it plays into promoting our economy’s vicious cycle of “Work. Consume. Sleep. Repeat.”

One could look at The Office as an example of this cycle. The show brought in millions of viewers when it aired and continues to bring in viewers on streaming platforms years after the show’s finale. It’s a show that follows the office shenanigans of a paper supplier in Pennsylvania, and on the surface is a lighthearted workplace comedy. However, the popularity of The Office is a symptom of a more sinister trend in American mass media: the romanticization of the workplace. Every day, millions of Americans work for about 8 hours, go home, have dinner, and spend the rest of their night watching television shows about being at work. When put into that perspective, it becomes more apparent that our lives are completely and totally consumed by the workplace. In American culture, we don’t work to live- we live to work.

Sorry To Bother You is so groundbreaking because it doesn’t romanticize the workplace like other television programs or films; it forces viewers to reflect on the way that work can wreak havoc on one’s life. Other themes throughout the movie reflect on class struggle, racism, and entertainment media.

An alternate reality Oakland, California acts as the backdrop for the film. Like modern-day Oakland, poor socioeconomic conditions ravage the city and leave workers scrambling to make ends meet. In fact, in Sorry To Bother You, conditions are so poor that families are beginning to sign away their lives to a massive manufacturing corporation called “Worry Free.”

The exchange that Worry Free provides is simple and promising: sign a contract promising that you’ll work for us for the rest of your lives, and we’ll guarantee you a place to live and food to put on the table.

Cassius Green, the main character, begins working at a telemarketing company in hopes of paying back his uncle for 4 months of unpaid rent. The job is easy to get, and the rules are simple: “Stick To The Script.” Working there, he quickly realizes that being cordial isn’t enough to sell encyclopedias over the phone. A tip from a fellow telemarketer cues him onto the secret to success: the way to sell products over the phone is by using his “white voice”- by talking as if he doesn’t have a care in the world, as if his job is just a hobby to pass the time. Cassius tries this and suddenly becomes one of the most productive members of the office. In the midst of planning a strike against the low wages given to the telemarketers, Cassius is given the opportunity to use his talents to become a “Power Caller” and leave his fellow struggling coworkers in the dust- an opportunity that he gladly accepts as a chance to finally make a living wage, to finally pay back his uncle, and to finally start living a life of luxury.

Sorry To Bother You perfectly encapsulates working class America’s battle for better wages and America’s obsession with extreme wealth. Alongside the story of workers forming a union, the film is littered with symbolism and imagery reminiscent of our country’s current socio-economic climate. For starters, the main character Cassius Green is literally nicknamed Cash- “Cash Green.” His fiance, who is betrayed and appalled by Cash’s greed, is named Detroit. In the film, she says her parents wanted to give her “an American name,” but the message is clear that she represents the Michigan city which has been struggling for recognition and economic prosperity for decades.

Worry Free, the exploitative company that acts as a catalyst for the film’s plot, showcases workers donned in matching rubber jumpsuits, working extensive hours, sleeping in cramped bunk beds, and eating slop- an image all too characteristic of the American prison system. The walls of the telemarketing company where Cash works at the beginning of the movie are windowless, with dim lighting and tiny cubicles filling the center of the room. Even the coffee machine in the office is dismal- forcing workers to pay for their coffee on the job. Again and again, the sentiment is repeated, “if you do well enough, you too can become a power caller”- a sentiment that just about every worker has heard in their career: “If you work hard enough, maybe, just maybe you can become a team leader, or a manager, or a supervisor.” But how many actually ever get there?

In Sorry To Bother You, Cash is lucky enough to get there. When he is promoted to power caller, he is led to a golden elevator with an obnoxiously complicated access code, and once he arrives at the top is cheerily told, “White voice only here!”. Now, Cash isn’t just encouraged to use his white voice to secure encyclopedia sales, he’s required to do it to fit in with the crowd of white millennials donned in slick business apparel, a real-life unspoken workplace requirement that has been understood for decades by black Americans. Now working as a power caller, he is forced to abandon encyclopedia sales and joins the market in selling Worry Free labor, the slave labor nicely marketed throughout the movie as a reasonable solution to those who can’t afford their cost of living.

This revelation is the backbone of the film’s symbolism in attacking America’s neoliberal economy. In order to be successful, and in order to make a luxurious wage, you must be willing to sell out the working class for your own personal gain. By no means does Cash think that selling Worry Free labor is ethical, but he understands that he must do it if he wants to make a massive salary.

Take a moment now and think about who is making the most money in our nation. Are they making it because they worked hard? Or are they making it because they forced others to work hard?

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is one of the wealthiest men in the world, yet thousands of Amazon workers report relying on government assistance to make ends meet. The 2008 financial crisis was caused by massive banks giving out loans they knew couldn’t be paid back. 10 years later, the banks are fine and operating as if nothing ever happened, but working-class Americans are still struggling to get their finances in order. Most people who watch Sorry To Bother You are going to relate to the workers at Regalview who are begging to get a pay increase, not Cash, who earns enough money in a week to pay back his four months of missing rent, get a new upscale apartment, and start rolling in a brand new car.

The relatability and the discomfort experienced after watching Sorry To Bother You is the reason that it’s so important for working-class Americans to see the film. The Office is fun and zany, but Sorry To Bother You is relatable and thought-provoking. Hidden in every scene in the film is a connection that forces you to reflect on how you relate to the characters shown before you, and how that relationship makes you feel. If watching Sorry To Bother You makes you restless and angry, your reaction is completely justified.

Do you feel like you’re being forced to “stick to the script” at work?

Do you feel like you’re being underpaid, overworked, and under-appreciated?

If so, Sorry To Bother You is the film that you’ve needed.

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