Anyone see Outsource last night? Turning outsourcing into comedy is one of American television’s attempts to dominate the Nielsen ratings. The formula appears to be this: take every Indian cliché in the book and pair it with an American counterpart—sort of sacred cows, ambitious and obsequious manager, Bollywood moves, singsong English, “Delhi belly,” shy ladies in saris and a few auto rickshaws meets southern accents, grits, rude Americans, tasteless novelties and rampant consumerism. Wrap it all up a plot that goes something like this: fresh-faced boy wonder salesman leaves Nebraska for the first time to manage an Indian call center. He has no choice; he needs to save his job in order to pay his over $40,000 in school loans. He moves to India, and tries to bridge a cultural divide, training his Indian colleagues to understand whoopee cushions and funny beer mugs. Throw in a subtext that boys and girls around the world all are looking for love–which conquers all–and Australian women are perky– and you’ve got the plot; no need to watch ever again.
While those of us who have experienced the cultural challenges of outsourcing to another country first hand will see through the weak plot and the ridiculous cultural comparisons, the uninitiated will surely get a very different impression. While most Westerners understand the basic tenets of moving work offshore, “Outsourced” is completely without any nuance or learning, but rather the same old comedic backdrop which exploits cultural differences. For the first time in my memory of American television, the setting moves offshore to South Asia, implying that Indians are thirsty to adapt American ways, and though they may humorously stumble as they learn about American products and culture, at the end of the day, or after a few weeks of training, Indian call center workers will be nothing more than displaced Americans with a neutralized accent. Change the set, the central theme, the costumes and the accents to Mexican, Arkansan or Russian, and you’ll fundamentally see the same half hour program.
I hesitate to think what the average American thought about outsourcing after watching last’s night’s first episode. If I were part of the uninitiated, I’d think that outsourcing is all a lark, and that the folks in centers offshore are caricatures, not part of a global supply chain of work.
Now I like a good laugh as much as the next guy or gal. But when a thin plot revolves around the outsourcing of work, it would be great to see something that is clever, stylish and really reflects the challenges of working in and with another culture, not goofiness set in exotic places. Guess that does not sell adverts.