Mickey calls upon minions
Opportunity finds you when you least expect it. I certainly wasn’t expecting anything when I found a brochure on the bathroom floor at Joyner Library. The pamphlet was a “casting-call,” inviting the reader to “become part of the magic” that is Disney. And who wouldn’t want the “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to be a cast-member at Disney?
But the student who drives down to Orlando for this internship will quickly discover that he or she is not there to network with leaders or receive career training. No, the intern is there to make the beds, scrub the toilets, stock the souvenir counter, and drive the trolleys.
He or she is required to live in Disney-owned apartments and pay the inflated rates set by Disney. And since the pay is at minimum wage without benefits of any kind, the student may find that at the end of the stay, he or she is broke and begging mom for gas money to make it back home.
The executives at Disney struck gold when they discovered that all it took to produce several thousand seasonal workers at their doorstep was to sprinkle a little magic dust. By calling workers “cast-members” and their temporary jobs “internships,” Disney has found a way to appeal to college students nationwide. And there is no need to hire any embarrassing ethnic faces to man the booths when you can replace them with the starry-eyed youths of white-bread, middle-class America.
Disney is one the many corporations that have discovered that the easiest way to milk cheap labor out young workers is to label their low-end jobs an “internship.” By this sleight-of-hand, corporations no longer have to offer health insurance, benefits or even minimum wage. And the intern receives none of the legal protections granted to employees, such as those designed to guard against sexual harassment.
But most interns do work. That is not to say that they are actually receiving training for the white-collar jobs they aspire to, for companies have little incentive to invest time and energy into someone who is only there temporarily and costs them nothing.
And every time an intern does work, a firm is relieved of the cost and trouble of creating a real job, which is ironic, because real jobs are what interns are ultimately looking for. And let’s not pretend that these internships will roll over into permanent employment: Most organizations know damn well when they advertise internships that they won’t be offering positions anytime soon.
At least Disney pays. Internships for no pay at all are becoming the norm, and it is silly to offer a stipend when people are desperate to work for free. And now, The Huffington Post is selling its internships at a mere $13,000 a pop. One suspects that it won’t be the impoverished-but-talented up-and-comer that will win this position.
And if an internship is now required to get your foot in the door, then we can expect that the good jobs of the future will go to those whose families can support them indefinitely while they hop from internship to internship.
Why are universities supporting this? Why, for example, does ECU have a Disney College Program page on its website? And why do so many majors now require that their students intern in order to graduate?
It seems like a good deal for the university. Never mind that the classes offered at Disneyworld, such as “Marketing You,” are little more than a sham of an education. Students still pay for the credit received, giving universities the opportunity to collect money without actually having to provide a professor or a classroom.
And corporations win when the university backs them, because it artificially forces hundreds of thousands of students each year to seek low-pay or no-pay internships they might not otherwise have taken.
It’s not that there is no educational value in blue-collar work. But why is the “cast member,” who prepares funnel cakes and scrapes gum off the sidewalk, getting an education while the short-order cook at Cubbies is not? What magical experience separates Goofy from the guy in the hotdog suit in front of Sup Dogs?
If the university wishes to recognize the value of labor as an educational experience, then let it reward all the students that are working to make ends meet and afford the ever-increasing cost of tuition. Let a student work away his internship requirements at McDonalds. Or let ECU acknowledge that the Disney College Program is a scam and nothing more.
This writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.