notes on watching The Apprentice

“all I care about is money and power”

The opening scenes paint a flash of London City: rising, whirling views of Canary Wharf and Liverpool Street, smart slick polished shoes emerging onto the pavement from black cabs and wax people rushing through wax carpets and swirling doors. The attitude adopted by the show’s contestants is something I find extremely worrying. The show exemplifies and rampantly encourages the idea that all of life is one mammoth competition, of individuals living under the spell of some massive, invisible lie, fighting against each other for nothing other than shining packets of money.

“we’re just gonna have to wing it”

This quote emerged at the very start of the ‘tasks’ part of the show, in which the group of budding entrepreneurs is divided into two competitive groups, each aiming to out-sell the other. The question arises: just who in business isn’t winging it? Yanis Varoufakis makes the astounding point that in the lead-up to the financial crash in 2008, RBS were employing 2,000 Risk Analysts in the UK. Not a single one of them was able to forecast the toxicity pregnant in the US mortgage securities market.

A friend of mine has recently been appointed to a key position at a consultancy firm, and a key part of his role is to evaluate a bank. In his own words, he ‘doesn’t know a fucking thing about banks’. In defence of both my friend and RBS, the very nature of business, and the sheer speed with which capital feeds and then bursts on from one station to another means that it is very difficult for anyone to have a real good grasp of what is going on, at any one time. The old phrase, calm within the eye of the storm takes on a new meaning here: those working in the thick heat of money and business are those who are least able to detach themselves from it, and to view the workings of that world with some degree of objectivity. My friend didn’t ask to be appointed to the bank-analyst position: his company simply moved him there, and it’s now upto him to do the job, winging it or not. But there is a further point here, a point I feel which rests latent in The Apprentice’s plugging of well-dressed, good-looking professionals in its introductory passage. The very thick heat of business and money necessitates and attitude of winging it, and this is an attitude that is often glorified within the workplace: being able to run without feet, to tie up a job or a deal without truly understanding the precious detail involved.

There’s also the harrowing coincidence of the show’s opening credits – the coincidence being that the same music used to introduce the show, Profokiov’s Dance of the Knights, was also the same music used by The Smiths to introduce themselves to stage in the ‘80s. The implications of this for popular culture are so thumping obvious that I need not spell it all out. It’s much more than a mere shame that a piece of cultural terrain once owned by a group of everyman misfits intent on writing the music and literary establishments into history is now the plaything of media directors, in charge of a reality TV show in which contests fight against each other to win an entrepreneur’s money.

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notes on watching The Apprentice

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