Douglas Bastard's Rants of Rage


This article was written on 06 Feb 2017, and is filled under Uncategorised.

The Brain Centre At Whipple’s

The drive to profit, pursued above all else, leaves no room for human dignity. Such is the theme of ‘The Brain Centre at Whipple’s,’ an episode of sixties series ‘The Twilight Zone,’ which contains more fine writing, better acting and expects more intellectual effort of its audience than any TV programme before or since. While there are duff episodes, comedic episodes and those that have not stood the test of time, as is inevitable, much of it stands in sharp contrast to the dreck that passes for entertainment today, and this episode is one of the finest.

It takes as its premise a man who runs a big corporation, which employs thousands. In the opening moments, we see him addressing his shareholders in a corporate film, telling them that he plans to install machines to do the work instead, making huge savings and, incidentally, making thousands of people redundant. He asks the employee to whom he’s shown the film what he thinks of it, and what he thinks of the machine in his office and he’s suitably horrified, before being traduced by the owner of the company as yesterday’s man, irredeemably obsolete and wedded to yesterday.

So far, so pious, but before you run away with the idea that this is some cockeyed attack on any company who runs a profit, think again. The script subtly implies that there are other companies who are smaller and who take better care of their employees than the titular Whipple’s, and who don’t share its commitment to push ahead with automation just to appease its shareholders need for ever larger returns. We see numbers of people being scored through on a blackboard as though none of them are people and the older, sadder employee departs, shaking his head. He later punches the CEO, and we cheer, but the die is cast.

Time passes, and the company is steadily denuded of its employees as the shop floor, entrance and cafeteria are all seen to fall silent. Even one of the staff who maintains the machines says that he does not like working there because it is so oppressively quiet, but the head of the firm is bent on mechanising all of his employees away in pursuit of bigger dividends. He buys a machine that can type letters, removing the need for secretaries and even buys a machine that replaces the man to whom he showed his corporate film. Soon, the office is crowded with banks of flickering lights and whirling tape spools as the machine world outside the office expands and the inner, human one, starts to contract. When a man is told he is no longer needed, he gets drunk in the bar across the road and, when he comes back to remonstrate with the machines, is shot to protect them.

As this is an episode of a TV series, there has to be an end, a denouement. And there is one. The head of the company is himself replaced by a robot, a laughable humanoid that makes it clear we should see this as a comedy, but this final, pulled punch doesn’t blind us to what has gone before. In the drive to make more money for people who are not involved with the company in any direct way, Whipple’s mechanises faster and more aggressively than any of its competitors until the human element is removed entirely. And we know what the consequences are, because many of us are living them at the moment – redundancy, joblessness, rudderlessness and a sense of huge ennui that whatever human talents we have are irrelevant unless they have a substantial price tag.

Right down at the heart of the idea for the programme is the idea of value. The shareholders want more monetary value, and that is what they must get. But the employees’ value is negotiable. It only exists while they have work. At the moment of their redundancy, this value dwindles to nothing and they stand with nothing, wholly without merit and not of interest. This prefigures the world that we now find ourselves in, where shareholders want more, and employees are given less, reduced to the kinds of menial work, devoid of rights and where there is no carrot. only stick, that stands behind the business model of major companies.

The solution, if there is one, might be that shareholders expect slightly less, people are prepared to pay slightly higher prices and employees are treated less like disposable units of production and more like actual human beings. And there’s a financial reality to this. If the people who used to work for the fictional Whipple’s have no job and, therefore, no money, they can’t buy anything. And nobody buying anything means that the economy starts to falter as all the available loot slowly passes from the hands of the many to the few, leaving them with a few million useless mouths. Time will tell if anyone cares enough about this to act, but in the meantime, take small comfort in the fact that a TV series written fifty years ago had accurately diagnosed what’s wrong with us today.

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