What the Heck was Going on in ‘Sorry to Bother You’?

I always find it interesting when the “critics” score on Rotten Tomatoes is more flattering than the audience score, as is the case for Sorry to Bother You (95/69 at the time of writing this), a film about a telemarketing salesman climbing the capitalist ladder to find (among money and success, two things that are apparently taboo in today’s culture) a group of greedy “white-voiced”  stereotypes. The contrast illustrates how differently the people who critique the movies and the people who watch them appreciate aspects of the film. Unless of course the movie was made for the critics (or, more appropriately, the academy), like Moonlight and The Shape of Water, in which case the contrast makes sense.

In the beginning, the setup is predictable and boring. A garage apartment dwelling nobody named Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) is lying his way into a telemarketing job at Regal View, a company that sells encyclopedias, to pay his overdue rent. He drives a “bucket” and comes off squeamish and timid. After seeing a commercial for a slave labor utopia called “Worryfree” where citizens live and work happily in a prison-type environment for no pay (everything, presumably, is provided to them for free), in a following scene, Cassius questions the meaning of life whilst a beautiful woman—fiancé/girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson)—lay in his bed.

After he’s hired by Regal View, Cassius is basically useless as a telemarketer because he’s not using his “white voice,” which a colleague, Langston (Danny Glover), explains is not just a changing of one’s voice to a higher-pitched, plugged-nasal tone, but a completely new mindset to one of a worry free and successful life where nothing bothers you and everyone is your friend. Of course, Cassius develops his “white voice” at the drop of a hat and experiences a meteoric rise almost immediately. He’s promoted to “power caller” where he will sell weapons of mass destruction and, predictably, the slave labor human capital of the Worryfree utopia to the highest bidder.

Another character, Squeeze (Steven Yeun), expresses the apparently universal dissatisfaction of the entire Regal View staff and, after recruiting our protagonist to his cause, convinces them to unionize. Cassius, at first willing to help, now has second thoughts and chooses to “cheer from the sidelines” because of his new found success as a Regal View “power caller.” So, Sorry to Bother You has thus far shown its take on three aspects of free market capitalism: affluence at the expense of morality, shown through Cassius’s rise; slave labor conditions on a “taken advantage of” citizenry via Worryfree (which serves better as a caricature of socialism rather than a reality of capitalism), and a workers union at Regal View as an example of how terrible nasty capitalists can be to employees and what said employees must do to overcome such villainy.

The plot twist, which is the worst part of this film, is that the Regal View’s power callers, which Cassius is now a part of, are responsible for the slave labor utopia known as Worryfree. Of course, capitalism is responsible for the cruelest slave labor market (Worryfree) in the history of the world. (Only if and when capitalism is painted this way—as the driving force behind, essentially, slave labor—can the theory of the free market economy look so sinister, and Sorry to Bother You delivers this fraud in the most ridiculous way possible.)

As if this jab at free market capitalism isn’t hyperbolic enough, the CEO of Regal View, Steve Lift (Armie Hammer), is now drugging his Worryview workforce, creating half horse/half human “Echosapians” which are stronger and can work harder, and, for reasons unexplained, cheaper wages. Now, seeing the fault in his behavior—namely, working hard and achieving success in a free market meritocracy—Cassius is confronted with this odd situation of forced human mutation for profit and must bring the operation to an end, while at the same time putting in contempt any attempt at future hard work, success and affluence.

The film is full of jabs at white and capitalist stereotypes. One scene shows girlfriend Detroit’s art show, where she stands among sculptures of Africa near nude, being pelted with cellular phones, bullets and goat’s blood filled balloons by the spectators in an attempt to show how cruelly whites, America, and the world in general have abused the natural resources of the continent. Another puts Cassius at a party surrounded by white people chanting “Rap! Rap! Rap!” since, according to Sorry to Bother You, all white people think all black people can rap, and ask them to do so in the rare occurrences that the two races actually come face to face. When Cassius attempts rapping (he’s not any good) no one in the all white crowd is singing along or excited. Then, instead of stringing together rhymes, Cassius repeatedly yells the words “ni**a sh**” into the microphone, which the white crowd loves and sings back with fervor. The joke, apparently, is that white people only like rap music when the rappers talk about things stereotyped as “ni**a s**t.”

Simply put, Sorry to Bother You makes a joke of what its creators deem “white” America and free market capitalism by trying to show that you can’t have one without the other-ignoring, obviously, centuries worth of proof that free market capitalism is the best economic system thus far to remove poverty from society and give all people an equal opportunity at affluence. But never mind that. It’s apparently easier to show the extreme and hyperbolic fallacies associated with a free economy to fill theaters. Clearly, the moviegoers don’t feel the same enthusiasm of Sorry to Bother You’s message as the critics, hence the contrasting score on Rotten Tomatoes.

Image credit: Wiki Commons

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