Sunday, 17 July 2011

Hating the Apprentice

The Colonel and I were having some good quality discussions the other night (most of the quality came from him it should be said) and one of the themes which we eventually came round to was that of 'the Apprentice', the television show made to give us mere plebs an insight into the dynamic and ruthless nature of 'life at the top'. Apparently the final is on tonight, but this is a game show that never broke the ice with this bunny and I stopped giving a shit about it some time ago. These days it goes into the same category as 'the X Factor', 'I'm a Nobody, get me Outa Here' and all the other fucking trash that passes itself off as 'reality television'. In truth such programmes suffer from the same dilemma that blights soap operas - namely that if they so much as barely resembled anything like real life then nobody would watch them. That's why Corrie and Eastenders cannot go more than about six months without a murder while Big Brother's take on a 'cross section of society' appeared to reflect the most fucked up assortment of mutants who happened to apply.

Am I the only person who won't touch any of this shit with a bargepole, and find it all to be lowest common denominator nonsense at its worst? Please can somebody come on here and confirm that they feel the same way, because sometimes I get the impression that everyone in the Uk with the exception of this bunny is an avid partaker of whatever foray into the televisual gutter is currently getting its run. Last time I watched 'the Apprentice' I saw what was expected - a series of arse-licking pole-climbers, most of whom were willing to park what remained of their self-respect to impress some classless bearded ogre. The legend that is Brian Clough once remarked, "I was accused by a guy called Sugar, who's a spiv from London...and he accused me of taking money over the Sheringham deal in the High Court" - I go to YouTube and stick that clip on sometimes when I'm feeling blue and have attached it at the end. Unlike 'Lord' Sugar, Britain's greatest ever football manager was never offered a peerage, which probably owes itself to a phenomenon that I'll go into later on. Being the class act that he was, Cloughie would no doubt have turned it down anyway...

I understand that the show is basically aligned around the various needs of Sugar's megalomania, but that doesn't stop me from wishing that "you're fired" would be accompanied by a slow walk outside and a single gunshot, or that at the end of the series 'Sir Alan' (or whatever he likes to be called these days) would turn the remaining bullet on himself. Yet I appreciate and admire capitalism at its best, and understand clearly how it brings benefits to society far beyond the capability of any alternative model for wealth creation. So how do I square that with what is quite clearly a hatred of the likes of Sugar and what he represents? Part of it owes itself to the fact that 'the Apprentice' is not 'real life' or anything vaguely resembling it. What we see is a mere game show based on a ridiculous caricature of the 'ruthless and dynamic' corporate world and the planet-sized ego of its 'star'.

I don't begrudge his Lordship a penny of his $1 billion fortune and will gladly accept that society needs his taxes as well as the wealth and jobs he creates far more than it may ever require this bunny and his meandering style of writing. The fact that he is, as Cloughie stated "a spiv" and a bully who clearly derives immense gratification from humiliating others does not especially bother me (at least in isolation) either, since I've no intention of applying for a spot on 'the Apprentice' and will never have the dubious pleasure of meeting the man. So class and money are two entirely different things - I guess most of us already knew that. The politics of envy basically revolve around the concept that they are mutually exclusive - ie poor = good and rich = bad. Of course this is complete bollocks, and it's perfectly possible for people of differing levels of social status or material wealth to be in possession of both, one or neither.

The Colonel and I often have arguments about the Thatch and her legacy - he (naturally enough for a Conservative) regards her as his political hero while I view the way she changed Britain as some good, some bad. One of the positives that came from the 1980s was the way in which the little guy looking to strike out and work for himself met a more favourable climate than had previously been the case. However, this had some unfortunate and unpleasant side effects. While the generation of wealth is essential to the ongoing prosperity of any country, the encouragement of a culture where yuppies 'worshipped at the altar of the almighty dollar' is a tasteless and fucking nasty piece of residue that was imported from America and remains now.

They say that 'money can't buy you happiness' and of course that's an over-simplistic analysis. It is certainly the case that financial security leaves one less source of discomfort or angst than might otherwise be the case, especially if the person involved has also known hardship and can appreciate not just the cost but also the value of their more decadent lifestyle. Where this observation would appear to have some merit is when one talks about the relentless and eternal pursuit of increasing material wealth. While it's worth repeating that people driven by such motivations are usually the facilitators of a great many jobs for others and are therefore of great value to society, I can say from experience having met this type at various points since an early age that a sense of true contentment always appears to elude them. The life of never being satisfied with what one has is, by definition, rarely a fulfilling one.

Yet what appears to have crept into our culture is the notion that those who not only make money but are driven by a pathological desire for increasing amounts of it are automatically to be worshipped, respected and admired, in the same way as you might feel about a great writer, musician or Olympic athlete. Do I understand that their endeavours, originally motivated by healthy self-interest, have knock-on effects that help others? Yes. Would I begrudge anyone who has made a significant pile even a fraction of their material wealth? As long as it was made legally, no. But just as I find the socialist analysis of rich = bad rather childish, the suggestion that I should look up to anyone for the sole reason that they have made a lot of money strikes me as abhorrent.

This is the start of an immensely slippery slope, at the end of which we judge people by the content of their wallet and not their character. Once you establish that rich always equates to success, then anything beneath that must represent the face of dismal failure, yeah? It may be that whoever wins this series of 'the Apprentice' goes on to become a multi-millionaire themselves and fair play to them. However, I'll leave them to create wealth and jobs and make my own mind up as to what constitutes success, while also deciding for myself who I respect and admire. A horse-shit gameshow posing as 'real life' certainly isn't going to sway me either way.

Take it easy, see you tomorrow and RIP Cloughie...


  1. Interesting piece. I don't watch the apprentice so I don't know too much about what is being said.

    What I do notice is that there is often a huge amount of envy of the rich which is seldom expressed in admiration for their talent, hard work or inspiration, but just in terms of "I wish I had what they have got". Unfortunately there seem to be many more aspirants to great wealth who see their route to it in winning the lottery or 'becoming famous' in some completely undefined way. Unlike the United States, in this country there seems to be almost no expectation that prosperity can be achieved by doing something worthwhile.

    Of course The Apprentice is a game show, but insofar as it says that success is the reward of having ability and the willingness to work hard then it might be better than game shows like Big Brother for example. Maybe not. I really don't know.

    Another problem with our society which sets it apart from places that value entrepreneurship more highly is a resentment of success and a wish to bring down people who are perceived to be privileged.

    Profitable companies are almost always portrayed as being exploitative rather than successful. In some cases they may be poor employers, but those organisations with seriously unhappy and alienated staff don't stay at the top as long as ones which nurture their staff.

    I own a reasonably good car although it isn't anything special. At least three times over several years my car has been intentionally damaged by keys or something similar being ground into the paint. I think that the attitudes of those who do this kind of thing come about because our society regards any kind of achievement as somehow taking away from people who have less. This is usually the opposite of the truth.

    Game shows are just about audience ratings and we probably can't learn much from them. Success is about much more than money. However, until we can link success with effort rather than fantasy and start to have regard for the successful instead of resentment, our society will continue to achieve much less than it should.

  2. Thanks for the insightful reply Mal

    I seem to have noticed two directly opposing cultures which are both popular. One is the hatred of the wealthy that at least as a blanket concept is pretty fucking stupid. Then there is this yuppie residue of people worshipping money, perhaps not linking it to hard work as you say, but worshipping at its altar nonetheless.

    As you rightly say, success is about so much more than money. Many Olympic medalists remain broke even after the event but I'd have more respect for them than I would for (example) an asset stripper who got lucky.

  3. Good post Mal. The attitude of envy is rooted in Marxism; that people have only grown rich by not paying people the full value of their labour. The solution therefore is for everyone to be brought down to an equal level of poverty except, of course, the elite who run the show.

    I actually enjoyed the first 2 series of the Apprentice, and then switched off when "Sir Alan" appointed an unshaved, semi literate, second hand car salesman who "pimped" his CV.

  4. Good article, Daz. I agree that it is tragic that we worship wealth-creators for their exquisite risk-taking skills and great enterprising ability. What is to become of civilisation if we start to worship at an altar where there is not even a sense of the divine?
    Despite being an admirer of Thatcher, I will have to admit that her legacy of venerating entrepreneurs and fetishising the free market has also created a generation of money-obsessed, vulgar, philistines. I am all for capitalism, but let us not turn it into a religion, especially now that we have (thankfully) extinguished socialism in this country.

  5. Socialism is alive and well in the UK.

  6. MNN - it's true that elements of socialism remain powerful and live on not just politically but as part of people's value system and way of life.

    Then there are others who judge someone to be a great human being just because they've made a lot of money. These could best be described as 'the MTV Cribs generation'.

    Guess the point I was making is there isn't much merit in either.

    Must even all this out one night with a 'Hooray for Everything' article.