Call center agents: The New Filipino Anti-Hero

There is a new KFC commercial this Christmas which is supposed to be heartwarming. A call center agent is unable to join his family for noche buena, hence his mother calls him as a customer to send him a KFC meal. People have been commenting on the sweetness of the idea, how Filipino moms show love for their children.

While that’s all very good in itself, a lot of people fail to see the other side of this commercial which is the ugly truth of the Philippines being the call center capital of the world. Many people will tend to disagree with me because they consider their call center (and other BPO jobs) as not at all bad. After all, with their jobs they are able to have better lives for themselves and their families compared to the kind of offerings available before the BPO boom.

That is all very good in itself especially if there is nothing else to be had but a job that pays P10,000 a month. I understand that there is a practical side to life and we cannot always be idealistic especially if fate (or should I say socio-cultural expectations) has given us the responsibility of several mouths to feed.

BUT I would like to point out that the call center career (and to a certain extent other BPO careers) has been romanticized so much in our society that it has become somewhat like a badge of honor similar to the honor given to OFWs especially when it comes to the sacrifices made by such people. The call center agents are away during the Philippine holidays much like the OFWs, and they are honored and valued for such sacrifices.

I understand that the point of the KFC commercial is more of the love shown by the mother to her son, but why did they use the example of the call center agent? There are many others who work during holidays – doctors, nurses, firemen, policemen, soldiers – and they have been working during the holidays and have been working on the night shift even before the call centers came into existence.

Did KFC think that the Filipinos will be more touched by the commercial if they used a call center agent instead of a policeman, fireman, soldier or medical worker? Is it because most people will be able to relate more given that many of us know at least one person who works in the BPO?

These kinds of commercials have become a trend what with Nestle also creating a similar one a few years ago. Together with the trend of commercials featuring OFWs, most people will just say that this is because people are able to relate, that not everyone will have a kamag-anak working as a policeman or medical worker.

That in itself is scary enough because this means call center agents have become common, much like OFWs, that their existence and their lifestyle with all its compromises have become so familiar in Filipino life. While I cannot make conclusions at this point without an actual serious sociological study, I think one danger here is when the call center job becomes a call center career for the majority in the business. With the masang Pilipino tendency to consider as a hero the kamag-anak who spends the most for the family, it is not unlikely to start romanticizing such roles. If we think about it, doctors, even if they are required to make the same sacrifices as call center agents, will likely come from the upper-middle class families and they tend to think differently compared to the masa. Of nurses who stay in the Philippines, they do not earn much to deserve to be romanticized. Of policemen and firemen, nobody cares much about such people for the former will likely be dismissed as corrupt and the latter as insignificant except when there is a fire. And of soldiers? Nobody thinks of soldiers.

One observation I have made in my short time as a BPO worker is that most Filipinos do not ask the deeper meaning of what they do. The most common drama is someone working for his/her family while the rest will be working for Boracay trips and Charriol bracelets. That’s all very good if that’s what people really want. But if that’s the case they are NOT and CANNOT be called heroes. There is nothing worth romanticizing about such lives.

On the other hand, when I watch American TV series about the police, federal agents, etc. (like CSI, Law and Order), there is always a scene sooner or later in the series where the characters ask themselves why they do what they do. The answer is always an appeal to something higher than themselves – protecting their city or their fellow citizens, preserving the peace, saving families from tragedy. That’s the sort of thing worth romanticizing. NOT meeting the client’s demands, NOT working on a holiday to make money for the company, and NOT EVEN WORKING FOR THE SURVIVAL OF THE FAMILY.

Why not? It’s the same argument against the romanticizing of the OFWs. Supporting the family is the responsibility of anyone who has taken on such a responsibility. I have nothing against praising such people especially if they have made many sacrifices for their loved ones, but if as a society this is the highest achievement for us leading to our hailing them as heroes, then we have stooped too low.

On the other hand, why did our doctors, nurses, police, firemen and soldiers choose that sort of life? Granted there will be those who have more practical reasons like the nurses who only seek to go abroad, I hope that that there are some who chose such careers because there is something in them that seeks to serve more than their own selves and families. These are the real subjects of romance, the sort of people who are worthy of idealizing. While there is a danger to the over-romanticizing of heroes (which we can also see in the Filipino attitude towards Jose Rizal and even Jesus Christ), it is still better to romaticize real heroes than the anti-heroes of our society. Doing so will spread the correct idealistic lessons and lofty feelings which are very important in inspiring those who are still heroes in the making.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s