Cost of employees
Sometimes in life we are unwilling participants in the events that go on around us, and that at times can be both a good and a bad thing. In Hagar Cohen’s work, Glass, Paper, Beans, she defines the term “feit” (199), as a “thing made” (199), a fetish manufactured which people believe possesses spiritual or magical properties. Upon further investigation, another definition for o can be found in the work by Joside Vasconcelhos Menezes, Os Marinheiros e Almirantado: elementos para a da Marinha (Sailors and Admiralty: elements for the History of the Navy).
Menezes defines the term feito, as “a magic spell or black magic spell cast on subjects by which they are dominated and in which the subjects are either willing or unwilling participants” (1989:133). This term can be used then to describe the McDonaldization of Society, by George Ritzer, when he defines McDonaldization as “the process by which the principles of the fast -food restaurant are coming to dominate more and more sectors of American society as well as of the rest of the world” (2000:1). McDonaldization is then a feitio which dominates us and almost every sector and aspect of our society.
We cannot help but be dominated by it and are all willing or unwilling participants in it. Hagar-Cohen’s work Glass, Paper, Beans, contains examples of how McDonaldization has taken over our daily lives. To fully understand the effects of McDonaldization, it thus necessary to examine and define Ritzer’s four dimensions of McDonaldization Efficiency, Calculability, Predictability and Control, as they apply to Hagar-Cohen’s two characters. Thus, it will be argued that each character in Glass, Paper, and Beans experiences McDonaldization in different ways as either a willing or unwilling participant in the process.
Ruth can be viewed as being the subject most heavily influenced by McDonaldization and Brent being second to Ruth as being affected by McDonaldization. In short, through applying all four dimensions of McDonaldization to Ruth, and Brent, it will become apparent that it must be examined to a greater extent in order to fully comprehend and understand all its effects and applications as, a process which dominates the lives of these two characters in which they are willing or unwilling participants.
Ritzer defines efficiency as “…choosing the optimum means to a given end” (2000:40). In the process of McDonaldization this means is rarely found because we are hindered by our own limitations. It does not matter that we are always hampered by these limitations; this does not stop organizations and companies from continually trying to be efficient and streamline their processes. This rush for efficiency can be found in the lives of the characters of Ruth and Brent. In the case of Ruth, the various occupations she has held in factories show how companies, streamlining for efficiency, often do this at the cost of employees.
One of the reasons Ruth looks upon her current situation as a kind of miracle is that she was already forty four when she got hired by the Anchor-Hocking glass factory fifteen years ago, after having been laid off from her last job, assembling Rivera kitchen cabinets. She’d been let go after only three months working the line… That had followed the layoff from Ray-o-Vac, where she’d packed carbon pieces into plastic battery casings, turning her fingers so black she’d go home at the end of her shift and scrub them with bleach to get the residue off. (Hager-Cohen 1997:30)
Ruth is a victim of McDonaldization whether she realizes it or not. In order to make the process more efficient and cut costs, factories lay off workers, not only cutting corners and costs but also costing workers their livelihoods. She is currently a supervisor at the plant and “lucky” to have this position. Another example of efficiency in Ruth’s workplace is the replacement of humans by machines. In order to cut costs, companies have discovered that machines replace people by being faster and more dependable. Machines do not get sick or need days off as do humans.
Machines tend to be more dependable and thus, humans are only needed to operate these machines. As we see below in Ruth’s factory: Ruth doesn’t actually make glass. Actually no one at the plant exactly makes glass. Machines mix up raw materials, and machines blow and press the molten glass into ware. Machines cool and reheat and recool the ware. Machines do the decorating, applying decals to the glass with sprays of coloured ink. What people do is tend the machines. This is the case most everywhere except in one department, Select and Pack, of which Ruth is a supervisor.
In this department people tend the glass. They look at it, they pick it up, they handle it, label it, lower it into cardboard departments. (Hagar-Cohen 1997:31). This efficiency often is at a cost to the humans who operate the machines as they can be hurt. In the hurry for efficiency, many times the employees in the factory sacrifice their own safety for the sake of this efficiency. As Hagar-Cohen writes “Sometimes they [the employees] burn themselves a little on a piece of fresh glass. Sometimes they cut themselves a little on a shard of broken glass. Sometimes they remember to wear gloves” (1997:31).
This rush for efficiency is a process of the McDonaldization effect. In the rush to streamline everything, the victims are often those who through no fault of their own must do these things in order to survive. Though efficiency is clearly presented in the work of Ruth, she also participates in McDonaldization through normal routine activities in her daily life. Hagar-Cohen writes about supermarkets that are open twenty-four hours a day, another surer move at efficiency. People can shop at these supermarkets whenever they want, without worrying about time.
Ruth herself in fact relies on Big Bear and Kruger’s, both twenty-four-hour supermarkets, to do Her shopping when she gets off work on the fourth day of her rotation. Their parking lots at five A. M. are vast oceans of macadam… and the products costing and tasting the same at any time of day, Ruth hardly notices the hour. Although the butcher’s counter is dark, even Shenna’s bone may be had… All a person could want seems available here. A peacock mosaic of cardboard boxes and metal cans, like thousands of sirens, croons mutely to Ruth, who rolls past with her cart like the captain of a metal ship”(Hagar Cohen 1997:43)
Efficiency in itself is not all that bad. It does have its good aspects. We now can get anything we want at these supermarkets, anytime of day. As Ruth is the captain of her metal ship, Ritzer argues that the new chain of supermarkets has “imposed work on the customer” (2000:58). By making the shopper the “working customer”(Ritzer 2000:58), the stores save money and time, by making the customer spend more time looking for things themselves, weighing things etc, the process is only efficient for the supermarket and not the customer. In all reality this example of efficiency is really an inefficiency.
As Ruth experiences McDonaldization in her work and daily life so too does Brent in his way. Brent is a lumberjack in the woods. Though one could say that because he works in this age old profession, this makes him immune to efficiency, this is not true at all. In order for him complete his work more efficiently, “Brent bought the harvester and porter at the same time. Together they cost six hundred thousand dollars. Brent put in some money and the bank put in some money and then Brent set out to see if those machines would return the investment.
Five years later, he’s still undecided” (Hagar-Cohen 1997:24) As we can clearly see, Brent was a willing part of the rush of efficiency, and at a high cost to himself, he is still not sure if it was worth it. This is also a part of the efficiency dimension of McDonaldization. The idea of progression and advancement is a very much part of the reason why efficiency is as popular as we can see in Brent’s case. “The idea of taking a risk, being an adventurer, trying something new, appealed to him. Mostly, though, the decision just made sense environmentally as well as economically” (Hagar-Cohen 1997:26).
The downfall of Brent’s pursuit of efficiency is that he gets trapped by it. The harvester, a machine, breaks down at times and as a result of being a new age machine “… all sorts of glitches and breakdowns kept occurring” (Hagar-Cohen 1997:139). Because of this more time is spent trying to fix this machine and that is one of the reasons why Brent remains undecided as to whether his investment was a sound one or not. Although the dimension of efficiency is apparent in the process of McDonaldization and influences the lives of characters, so too does the dimension of calculability.
Ritzer defines calculability as “calculating, counting, quantifying” Quantity tends to become a surrogate for quality” (2000:62). This dimension has entered our daily lives and thus is also a part of the hold that McDonaldization places over us. Ritzer goes on to say that even in the work place this can be seen for employees where “calculability often means obtaining little or no personal meaning from their work; therefore, the work, products and services suffer”(2000:63). In the case of Ruth, this calculability is clearly defined in the plant of Anchor Hocking. Everything is calculated, right down to the shifts of the employees.