Being as wasting time seems to have become my latest hobby, I recently found myself watching an afternoon episode of Jerry Springer and its attendant ads. I realize that admitting that might set a process in motion that will culminate in some kind of cyber-intervention aimed at forcing me to stop watching American culture and society swirl down the toilet bowl, but I’ll take my chances. I’m willing to take this risk because watching that hour of television on the subject of “lesbian” love triangles and suffering through the audience comments (which I assure you is the hardest part of the show to endure) alerted me to the existence of OmniTech Institute. Some of you might be wondering why one medical billing/office management/CNA/”technology” school would stand out from the seventy or so advertising in the Atlanta market, and I’ll tell you: OmniTech just happens to have the (unintentionally) funniest ad I’ve seen in years, an ad I attempted to find on YouTube yesterday in order to share it with all of my pals. Unfortunately, the aforementioned ad is not yet on YouTube (though I’ll be sure to forward it on as soon as it becomes available), but I did find two others, and those two others proved far more valuable than the one I’d been searching for in the first place. Let’s have a look:
Why are there more ads for low-grade, for-profit schools for “technology” and “medical” jobs on during daytime television broadcasts than there are chat line ads after midnight on the same networks? Why are “technology” and “medicine” supposed to excite people who watch talk shows about people having sex with people they shouldn’t and the zany consequences that derive therefrom? Well, I suppose the people who produce and book ads for the CW have some idea what they’re doing. It doesn’t take a demographics expert to know that people who watch daytime network TV are unlikely to have steady “nine-to-five” (when are we going to admit that people work at least from eight to five and stop using that phrase?) jobs, that most of them are women at home who might rather not be, that they don’t have a shitload of money on hand or else they’d have cable and wouldn’t be watching the CW at all, and that most of these people have absorbed the idea that “education” is good, that one needs a “career,” and that “medicine” and “technology” are, like, total BFDs. They’re also aware that their audience is generally made up of people of color and that it’s a safe bet to market career education to that audience, because any dumbass knows that the intersection of a Venn diagram of non-whiteness and limited career opportunities is pretty big. Really, if you went for a three-circle Venn diagram with circles representing women, people of color, and people with limited job opportunities, it’d look a lot more like a circle drawn by a four-year-old than Mickey Mouse’s head. I used to watch the CW when it was the WB from time to time when I lived in LA, where the ethnoracial demographics are different than they are here in Atlanta, and it won’t shock anyone to hear that the same ads exist there, but feature Latina/os instead of black people.
I understand what’s going on in the minds of the people who produce the spots for career training schools and decide when and to whom to broadcast them. That’s the easy part. But why are there so many schools out there offering career education in the medical and “technology” fields? Why didn’t I see more ads for other types of businesses that take advantage of people in precarious socioeconomic positions? Why weren’t there more commercials for title loans, personal injury attorneys, or rent-to-own furniture joints? (Not that there aren’t plenty of those, but there are more career training school ads than all other ads put together.) It would seem like a good thing that it’s education rather than outright usury that’s being marketed to the CW’s demographic, were it not for a few things.
First, every single one of these schools is for-profit, and lord knows whether any of them are even accredited. Most of their website addresses are so bootleg as to remind me of the fly-by-night mortgage joints that swarmed like cockroaches onto the radio in the early 2000s (mybrownmackie2.com? Come on, now.), and some of them don’t even have websites. They’re all cagey about exactly how much they charge for their “bachelor’s degrees in three years” or their ten-month career training programs that purportedly lead to jazzy jobs in medical billing and IT, likely because the price is outrageous. I don’t care if it’s $100 a month. The price is outrageous because it’s absurd that someone is making a profit selling education that ought to be offered in every high school and community college in America for free. And let’s be serious here. Are the people graduating from these programs even getting jobs? I only know two people who have gone to schools of this sort, one who went to ITT Tech in order to jump start his career in the hot, hot, hot IT field, and another who went through an EMT course at Atlanta Tech. Right now, they’re selling mattresses and substitute teaching, respectively.
Twenty-four percent of American adults have a bachelor’s degree or higher — which is why there are so many people with business degrees selling Playstation consoles at Best Buy and waiters who know what “endogamous” means — and that means there’s a serious problem with the way we’re approaching secondary education. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not condoning tracking or making the argument that teachers or administrators ought to be able make decisions about students’ futures based on their own cracked and biased criteria, but students should be able to choose to earn an MCSE or other certifications, take business courses, or learn other practical career skills at school rather than being shoved toward “college” and not offered any other options, when at this point the vast majority of college students are only there to get drunk, major in pretending watching movies makes you an intellectual, and avoid getting kicked out of their parents’ house and off their parents’ balance sheet. Ideally, we’d prepare all students for entry-level jobs in high school and close three quarters of the four-year universities and colleges in this country, replacing them with federally funded community colleges designed to either offer useful, practical job training or the foundational courses one needs to transfer to one of the remaining four-year universities that offer degrees that actually give students the opportunity to expand their world views and do something other than become generic suits. Of course, it’d be awesome if primary and secondary education were federally funded and equalized so that students in one neighborhood aren’t sitting on the floor during class while kids three miles up the road are voting on whether to get custom embroidery on the frosh volleyball team’s new uniforms or spend the cash on a few more iMacs in the graphic design lab. It would also be awesome if we had the kinds of social safety nets we need to provide kids with the homes, health care, and food they need if they’re to have a fighting chance to succeed even in well-funded schools, but this ain’t France, so community colleges are my answer. They’re cheap, they’re accessible, and they create a path for non-traditional students and poor people (read: people who have a real motivation to learn rather than a desire to extend high school for a few more years) to four-year university degrees that would otherwise be out of reach.
In sum: dodgy for-profit career schools bad, career training in high schools or community colleges good. No one should have to buy a job.
On to issue number two: each of the ads makes a point of citing mainstream media stories in which “technology” and “medicine” are listed as the top (and, really, only) growth career fields. I won’t say much about technology (I mean, I wouldn’t be able to express myself to more than four people at once were it not for technology) other than that I often wonder just how much technology each of us has to have at our disposal before we realize it isn’t leading us toward some blissful utopia scored by our favorite MGMT tracks in which we do nothing other than order new fashion accessories telekinetically and communicate with people we never actually see in person by means of 140-character not-so-witty witticisms. The medical industry is another story. There’s a reason that there are jobs to be had in the medical industry — especially in the medical billing sector — and that reason is that the medical insurance industry continues to grow and swell and spread and suck up everyone and everything in its immoral, depraved path because Americans are too stupid to question the ethics of medical capitalism and get together in their own self interest to put the medical insurance industry out of commission. I’ll readily admit to getting bored and tuning out over the course of the ninety years or so it took the 111th Congress to figure out how to pretend to do something about the travesty our health care system has blossomed into, but I do know that no one ever discussed the only thing that would have done any good: shutting down the health insurance industry in toto and giving all Americans the right not to die because they aren’t rich enough to pay a hundred times what medical services should actually cost in order to enrich people with no interest in patients’ well-being. Obviously I’m not going to blame someone who needs a leg up out of poverty for going into medical billing because it pays $10 an hour instead of $7.25, but I’m also not going to pretend that there’s anything sustainable or ethical about that career field. Health care and insurance billing may be growth sectors, but that’s only because parasites tend to flourish — at least in the short run — when given unfettered access to the host’s internal organs.
Finally, there’s the presentation of both ads, which is so absurd and offensive that I almost suspect Martin Lawrence was involved. First we have the commercial aimed at black men, in which the message is, “Get your MSCE at OmniTech, and the next thing you know mad career women will be jumping in yo’ convertible to give you summa dat ass!” I mean, really. My friend Jackalope just finished a nine-month EMT course, and he isn’t reporting droves of women jumping into his car everywhere he goes, nor did the course result in his ownership of a convertible. (As a matter of fact, he has yet to even get a job in the purportedly booming medical field, despite graduating at the top of his class.) Then there’s the ad aimed at black women, in which we see a group of friends shopping and marveling at all the skirts they can afford. At one point a woman literally says, “I can afford to buy whatever I want!” I’m not black, but I highly doubt that when a black woman is considering career training shoes are at the forefront of her mind, and even though I’m neither black nor male, I have a hard time believing that black men choose to go to computer school with the only motivation being that it’ll result in poontang. Despite the fact that the people at OmniTech clearly don’t agree, I figure I can safely assume that these ads don’t reflect reality because I don’t think black women and black men are one-dimensional caricatures out of an episode of Tyler Perry’s House of Payne.
In addition to making plain OmniTech’s demeaning take on the black community, this pair of ads displays some extremely tiresome attitudes about gender. The most obvious example is their decision to advertise their IT program to men and their medical billing program to women. Medical billing, a traditionally pink collar field, boasts salaries that top out near $20 an hour, which OmniTech fails to mention when they feature an erstwhile OmniTech student purchasing her own home. Conversely, IT salaries are virtually limitless given that there are innumerable paths to advancement within the IT field. Then there are the gendered stereotypes with regard to the meaning of success. The symbol of success for men, as usual, is sexual access to women, whereas for women it’s unlimited cosmetics and clothes. No surprise there — and not really all that noteworthy as ads go, though this one is considerably more ham-fisted in its presentation of that hackneyed idea than most — but if you put that message together with the other messages in these two ads, you’ll get a fairly clear distillation of just how cannibalistic and self-destructive the American economy/advanced capitalism really is: you have unscrupulous individuals using racist and sexist insults and promoting mindless adherence to destructive gender roles and sociopathic marketing directives as a means to sell overpriced career training that rarely leads to a more lucrative career. If it does lead to a more lucrative career, that career will be in an industry that is completely immoral and unsustainable because it exists solely to avoid actually providing what it sells, which is a product that ought to be a human right rather than a product in the first place. And that industry is most clearly negatively affecting the exact communities that these ads are targeted at. Really, it’s an epitomic instance of the promotion of short-sighted, self-destructive, selfish, individualist cosumerism: “Who cares whether this industry will hasten the deaths of both individual human beings that you probably know and the American economy as a whole? If you get on board, you can buy a car, a woman, or some shoes! Why ask why? Try Bud Dry!”