By Ed Hightower
Events, including reports of brutal, dangerous working conditions and dire poverty faced by Amazon workers, have apparently not passed unnoticed by the creators of the popular cartoon comedy South Park on the US television cable channel Comedy Central. Two related episodes of South Park (which has been on the air since 1997), Unfulfilled and Bike Parade, aired in December, sympathize with Amazon workers while depicting billionaire owner Jeff Bezos as a villainous and murderous alien (from Star Trek) bent on the enslavement of humanity.
Unfulfilled and Bike Parade have definite appeal. One of the first scenes is a montage of Amazon Fulfillment Center workers drudging through their repetitive work day: filling orders, taking lunch, filling more orders, going home and carpooling back the next day to fill more orders. Over these images, we hear the Merle Travis classic Sixteen Tons, about a coal miner’s life, with the unforgettable lines, “You load sixteen tons and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt,” and perhaps more importantly, “I can’t afford to die. I owe my soul to the company store.”
The scene is sincere, effective and well-crafted.
The Fulfillment Center has wiped out other businesses in the small fictional town of South Park, Colorado, driving their former owners to find work with Amazon. The recently revitalized downtown area is blighted; the mall is filled with zombies—grim shades of the retail industry—now starved of all human contact.
A Fulfillment Center section manager named Josh is run over and mangled by sorting machines, ending up plastic-wrapped and crammed into a small cardboard shipping container. A statement from Amazon blaming “human error” for the mishap enrages local bar patrons, including Amazon workers, who angrily declare a strike. Battles on the picket-line ensue.
One of the sharpest and most amusing scenes in Unfulfilled features a corporate news program interview with Josh, who speaks from inside his cardboard box [. . .]