‘Enlightened,’ And The Power And Danger Of Organizing

I loved the first season of HBO’s little-watched but truly remarkable comedy, Enlightened, about Amy Jellicoe (Laura Dern), a corporate drone who has a breakdown and returns to work determined to good in the world but resigned to the basement as punishment for her meltdown. It’s is one of the best depictions I’ve ever seen of how hard it is to try to live up to your values in corporate America, particularly when you have debt to pay off, because fulfilling work is so often dramatically underpaid, if it’s paid at all. So I’m particularly excited to see that in the second season, Amy’s leveling up—she fantasized about burning down the company she worked for last season, and this year, she’s found a way to do it, by becoming a corporate whistleblower:

“People are living under the illusion that the American dream is working for them,” Amy says in the trailer, in one of the baldest statements about inequality I can think of on scripted American television. And I hope Enlightened makes an important connection that’s implied in this clip. “I just don’t want to jeapordize everything because you’re pissed about your life,” Tyler (Mike White, also the show’s creator) tells Amy when she tries to enlist him in her whistleblowing scheme. But sometimes, you’re pissed about your life because of structural things that make it worse, that make things unjust, that prevent you from grabbing the resources and opportunities to fix your life by more gradual and reasonable means. Sometimes, you have to blow things up, and jeopardize everything, for a shot at something better. That’s one of the fundamental and scary truths of organizing, of the Walmart workers who walked out on Black Friday, of every whistleblower who ever lived. Last season, Amy wanted to change the world and be liked. Now, it seems, she’s truly reconciled herself to the fact that the first half of that equation may be more important.