Why The Apprentice Is Outdated Greedy Nonsense And Dangerous, Too
The Debrief: How is it that one TV show has given rise to two of the Western world's most prolific and influential spewers of far-right hatred?
Another year, another season watching a bunch of be-suited businesspeople arguing with each other over petty, lowest-common-denominator things like how to sell inedible food at a blustery street market stall and why Jason forgot to delegate the right person to shout into a speakerphone about a bunch of stony-faced buyers being sold a mythical product.
Yep, The Apprentice is back.
The formula is, as ever, simple - get together a group of upstarts, make sure the boys have gel in their hair and the girls have glossy lips and good legs, and give them each a persona. Fat people need not apply, and disaster-prone wankers are prioritised. Produce the fuck out of these personae, film loads of footage of them doing silly tasks in silly suits and then get Alan Sugar - a reasonably successful businessman - to grumble at them. Film the sad scenes in a greasy spoon because yes, when a man in a suit and a bad temperament is sacked, he goes for a milky tea, fried slice and a big mushroom.
Why anyone who works in the humdrum of an office on the daily could enjoy this stressful busman’s holiday is way beyond me. But hazarding a guess, maybe people who feel insurmountable levels of imposter syndrome in the workplace want to watch imbecilic miscommunications and muckups on TV that they can, from the outside, see how to fix, in order to feel better about their own lacking business nous?
Perhaps people get home from their humdrum desk-jobs, where arguments are had via snide email CCs and the biggest bust-up is between the person who decided to microwave fish versus, well, everyone else, and want to see something a bit more dramatic and tense?
Or could it be that some, just some of The Apprentice’s millions of viewers are yearning to tap into some nostalgia for a world of work that is about to disappear? Because while the Bake Off errs on the side of twee nostalgia for village fetes and jammy-soft victoria sponges, The Apprentice harkens back to the Wolf of Wall Street, American Psycho and Wall Street. It's slick glass-walled shiny-suited business, just for people who can't do maths. It's a celebration of sanitised aggression, thugs dressed up in pinstripe and their dutiful mascots.
Because though the skyscraper and cufflink-strewn City that The Apprentice’s cutaways soar over inbetween tasks isn’t exactly diluting quite yet, the wider world of work is becoming more casual, more flexible, more innovative and, hopefully, one day, a bit more diverse. Technological improvements mean not only that many of us don’t need to talk to anyone we don’t like, but that we can collaborate with people we want to. And, as decades of harassment cases have shown, we can’t be pricks to each other like we used to. Women’s pretty recent entry into the workplace doesn't only change how offices function, but have exposed just how toxic some of these brutish semi-borstals can be. If workplaces are awful to women and minorities, chances are, they’ve long been not very nice for anyone.
The Apprentice doesn’t do much to challenge this fading culture or poke holes in its 2-ply facade, preferring to prop it up as the norm. But the job isn't to be good, it's to entertain. Is an Apprentice winner any more a decent a businessperson as a Love Island winner is a fantastic lover?
The best solution might be for me to simply swtich the channel. But I worry about The Apprentice’s impacts. There’s been much valid recent criticism of satirical news shows making light of seriously troublesome politicians such as Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson, allowing these banter-merchants to stack the lols up into a staircase towards Actual Power.
But what of The Apprentice? I’m sure it’s not a deliberate breeding ground for fascists; there's never been a round where contestants vy to get black people to do free work for them, or sell Nazi memorabilia. But I challenge any keen viewer of the show to explain to me how it’s just a coincidence that a programme formed of capitalistic avarice, macho posturing, competitive elbowing, teasing and arguments for arguments sake lands up catapulting to fame, or fomenting the fame of, two of the Western world’s most hateful people: Donald J Trump and Katie Hopkins.
Hopefully, The Apprentice won’t produce any more far-right preachers any time soon; indeed many of its graduates are far kinder than two of its most famous stars. But two fascists is enough now. Why can’t the show begin to make fun of the world of work, instead of just its contestants? Besides, if you want to watch people make fools of themselves, You've Been Framed! is still on TV...
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