Corporations are not your friends
And other weird mailing list phenomenons
The makers of Hot Pockets want you to know that they’re here for you during this plague. So does David’s Tea, Trojan condoms, your local vape shop, and Zenni Optical, purveyors of the finest, cheapest eyeglasses on Earth. Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit North America, businesses from retailers to restaurants to home security companies have been tripping over themselves to let their customers – or at least people who have been subscribed to their mailing lists – know what their plans and policies are in the face of the measures that are being taken to stanch the spread of the novel coronavirus.
It’s super freaking weird.
In many ways COVID-19 has exposed the horrific costs of capitalism, from renters facing eventual eviction because they can’t pay rent to minimum wage workers becoming front-line workers to hospitals that have been left under-resourced by austerity. It has demonstrated many wide-scale structural problems in our society, many of which will cost lives. So, while there are problems far more serious, few are odder – or cringier – than the phenomenon of companies “reaching out” to reassure customers about the steps they’re taking during the pandemic.
I do not care to be comforted by the CEO of Wayfair – a company from which I once purchased (and promptly returned) a headboard. I am not pleased that a chain store has decided to temporarily cover the shipping costs of their products. I am not interested in how often they are cleaning their factories. I do not want companies to communicate with me in any way, ever. We are not friends.
What I want from them is that they pay their employees a living wage, with sick pay, vacation pay, pensions, and health and dental benefits. I want them to use their power to lobby for rent suspensions for the benefit of the people whose labour makes their business possible. I want them to stop fighting tooth-and-nail against any advances workers try to win for themselves. I want them to convert their facilities and factories into production hubs for much-needed medical equipment like PPE and ventilators. Ultimately, I want their businesses seized and nationalized.
Although advertising – and social media, especially – has functioned to make us feel like brands are people just like us, they aren’t. It’s weird for them to try to communicate with us like we are part of a community, when their hoarding of resources and refusal to put people before profit is part of the reason that COVID-19 has become so catastrophic. If corporations and the wealthy people behind them really want to make a difference, they need to start by (quietly, without hope for acclaim or praise) ensuring that everyone who works for them, from middle management to custodial staff, are safe, secure, and well-compensated. They need to stop trying to enrich themselves off this crisis. They need to stop trying to urge society back to the pre-pandemic status quo that commodified and devalued human life. And they need to stop spamming my inbox.