Being locked in our homes during the Coronavirus pandemic, many people have turned to streamed content for some form of entertainment. The aptly timed release of the docuseries Tiger King has taken popular culture by storm. While there is a great variety of cultures and identities featured in the show, I will focus on the power relationship between Joe Exotic and his husbands and employees. Joe Exotic being a very peculiar man, surrounds himself with a very specific group of people. Throughout the season, we come to understand that most of his husbands and employees are down on their luck, outsiders. The town sheriff told us that if someone gets off the bus in town and noticeably had no place to go, Joe Exotic will offer them a place to stay and a job at his Zoo. By doing so, Joe gives hope to these lost souls and instantly becomes a provider figure for them. His employees show their appreciation by being incredible loyal to him. This is demonstrated clearly when one employee loses her arm due to a tiger attack and returns to work in less than a week. This dynamic can be related to the Master-Slave dialect. Joe holds a great deal of power over his employees due to their desperate situations and they are subject to his wishes and commands.
Another example of Joe holding power over people in a vulnerable position is his relationship with his husbands. The two that were featured most prevalently on the show both met the middle-aged Joe Exotic when they were only 19. They were not gay but rather entered a romantic relationship with Joe because he provided them meth which they were both addicted to. Again, Joe found people in desperate situations and ultimately benefited from their vulnerabilities. However, it is clear that Joe did not feel that he was committing any injustice. He was providing his employees a place to live, a job, and a group of people who identified with them. This was a great second chance for many people who likely felt that life had given up on them. He also gave his husbands a stable relationship, and provided for all their needs, including a reliable way to satisfy their addiction. Due to their dependence on him for meth, the husbands have become subalterns and unable to challenge Joe in the hierarchy that he built.
While Joe does not see anything wrong with actions, many viewers considered his behavior to be extortionist. By being the sole source of housing, income, and community, he holds a great power over these people. This forces them to accept unsafe working conditions, substandard housing conditions, and possibly unwanted sexual activities. I think that the creators of this series want the viewers to realize how people in desperate situations will endure terrible treatment in exchange for basic necessities and a sense of common identity. However, I think that this series was more focused on sensationalism than invoking questions of power and injustice.
In December 2019 graduate student teaching assistants at University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC) went on a wildcat strike, a strike without union authorization, calling for a cost of living adjustment (COLA) to their stipend. Many of the students say they are spending 50% or more of their ~$25,000/year stipend on rent monthly, meaning they are severely rent burdened. The graduate students started with a grade strike, withholding grades from the courses they taught in the fall quarter, but they are now on a full teaching strike. The COLA strikes have spread throughout the University of California school system as well! UC Hastings’ AFSCME 3299 vote to authorize a strike with 89% support last week, representing the UC Hastings School of Law students. Graduate students at UC Los Angeles striked for one day this past Thursday. Some graduate students at UC Davis and UC Santa Barbara are striking, and graduate students at UC Berkeley have said they are strike ready upon the support of other departments. UC San Diego graduate students are set to begin a grading strike on this upcoming Monday. Thursday, March 5th there was a COLA day of action across the UC system schools during which UCSC strikers and their supporters blocked the entrances to UCSC and in-person classes were cancelled.
[Image description: a tweet from Twitter account COLA Agitation Committee that reads “SPREAD THE STRIKE” and then mentions all the COLA accounts across the University of California system. There is an attached image of UCSC strikers blocking an entrance into University of California Santa Cruz.]
During the course of the UCSC wildcat strike the university has threatened the graduate students with firings twice and followed through with this threats, firing about 54 graduate students and telling dozens more they would not be hired for the spring quarter on February 28th. This has not deterred the strikes, but it has been particularly alarming for international students. International students on student visas are not able to get non-university jobs, and without university jobs international students will be forced to pay tuition and/or living expenses out of pocket to maintain full-time student status. Without full-time student status their visas will be revoked. In early February the university reminded international students of this, a clear intimidation tactic.
Intimidating workers with threats to their residency/immigration status is not new or unique to the university, it is extremely pervasive in the US. It is particularly utilized in workplaces that employ undocumented workers. It is not always explicit or aggressive, often employers just rely on fear of speaking out and subsequent retaliation to get away with treating workers unjustly. Polly in The Leavers experiences this when she works at the nail salon that does not pay her for the first 3 months she was there and expects her to pay to be trained. This is clearly illegal, but her boss knew it was unlikely Polly would say anything or be able to do anything about it.
One type of systemic injustice involves occupation and the pay gap between men and women. It is an empirical fact that men make more money than women for the same jobs, but there are varying reasons for this gap. Some people say that it is women who choose to work is lower-paying/skilled jobs, or choose lower-paying specializations, or it is that women who make up the majority of a job are paid less because they are women (this is outright discrimination). However, the differing choices in type of occupation by women cannot alone explain the gender pay gap; for women who are making advances in, say, a company, they often reach a level that they cannot get past – this concept is known as the “Glass Ceiling”. We usually see the Glass Ceiling in setting where a woman makes it to some sort of managerial position, and when she tries to make it to the next position beyond that, there is something systemic in her way that prevents this from happening; this can be societal and in how women are raised. Oftentimes, women who make it to the top were taught at a young age to “act like a man” – in taking risks, creating beneficial alliances that will help progress one to the next level, choose advanced occupations and/or specializations, etc. Furthermore, when looking at professions that are mainly dominated by women, it can be seen empirically that wages in these jobs are decreasing; this is systematic because originally, these jobs were higher-paid when they were occupied mainly by men – this includes real estate, lawyers, etc. So, the wage gap between gender cannot solely be explained by the fact that some women just simply choose lower-paying and less-skilled occupations and specialties because when looking at women who are not in these positions, or try to climb up the company ladder, they are paid less or prevented from advancements. In conclusion, when looking at any injustice, it is important to keep in mind a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. ; “an injustice to one is an injustice to all”.
Joyce J Chen, Daniel Crown, The Gender Pay Gap in Academia: Evidence from the Ohio State University, American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Volume 101, Issue 5, October 2019, Pages 1337–1352, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajae/aaz017
Throughout the semester there was one systemic injustice that stood out to me and it was one that I thought was pretty fascinating. This injustice came in the world of sports and particularity in the NFL. The NFL has had issues throughout the years of providing minorities opportunities in which they will hold a position of power, this could be ownership opportunities, GM jobs but mostly this comes in the form of Head Coaching opportunities in the NFL. The NFL has 32 franchises, and only 5 of those franchises have a minority head coach leading their franchise, that’s just 15% of NFL teams. The NFL has attempted to implement rules over the years that would put a band-aid on this issue and possibly lead to more minorities in leadership roles but it has for the most part turned into a disgrace of the rule. The Rooney Rule is a rule where an NFL team with an open coaching position must first interview a minority individual before they can officially name a new coach, which is a great rule/idea on paper, but it has been handled poorly. The current state of the rule is that NFL teams will bring in a minority individual at the start of their coaching search so they can hire their candidate whenever they choose to do so, but they almost never truly consider the minority interviewee for the position. Eric Bieniemy is the last minority in the NFL to unfortunately have to face this reality. Eric Bieniemy is the Offensive Coordinator for the Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs, and has been the leader of the best offense in the NFL for the last two seasons. But, for SOME reason he has been unable to land a head coaching position and has had to watch less qualified individuals land the positions in which he is coveting. I think this is a clear example of an systemic injustice because it is a situation where the NFL and their leaders are not allowing minorities the same opportunities of advancement that they’re providing to non-minorities. In the NFL minorities basically have no voice and no face when it comes to positions of power. Yes, the NFL is flooded with minorities who actually participate on the field, but when it comes to positions of power within the NFL minorities have virtually no voice, and no options.
If I had to compare Eric Bieniemy’s situation to content from our class I’d probably have to compare it Hegel and the Master-Slave dialectic. Eric Bieniemy’s is one of the leaders of the Kansas City Chiefs and for the Chiefs he does hold a position of power, to a certain extent. But, while he does have this position of power, and the end of the day he still is at the will of individuals who are far more powerful than he is, and he must do what they say. He is holding a position of power, while still being a minority and having to be somewhat of an inferior at the same time.