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Posted by aaron at 10:00AM, Thursday, December 02nd, 2004

I don't want to be The Apprentice -- or even meet him.

I hate The Apprentice. I abhor all that it stands for -- above all, the nagging suspicion that, unbeknownst to the producers, and despite all of the behind-the-scenes editing, staging, cutting, prodding, and general deus ex machina bullshit, it really portrays corporate life far more accurately than most people expect. It's surely more metaphorical than an actual representation of day-to-day life in the workplace; but it hits the heart of the matter.

As distasteful as the idea is of coming home to watch TV that mirrors the surrealism I deal with at work five days a week, that's not the only reason I hate The Apprentice. I find Donald Trump's hair repugnant and ridiculous; I find his hench-wench's Pricess-Di-circa-1983 look absurd and air-headed, and her patronizing, sycophantic manner irksome. I find the backbiting and conniving, the scheming, the hypocrisy, and all the people who think they're being oh-so-machiavellian, while they're really just whiney immature rejects from the first season of Real World, to be tiring. I find the contestants generally morbidly stupid and uninteresting -- people I'd never want to talk to if I met them socially, and whom I'm even less interested in watching cavort about the television. The show leaves me with a dirty feeling that tells me I've suffered through the audio-visual stimulus equivalent of a twinkie: something artificial, full of MSG, and anti-nutritious, packed with emptiness to fill an hour or two, that will leave me feeling ill for a few hours afterwards.

Despite all this, I've watched the first few episodes this season -- only because I know Danny. I was at a season premiere party in the Fenway, for pete's sake, where I saw the hideous pile of rude, sophomoric, and deeply-closeted (as far as I can tell) flesh that is last week's villain, Mike, literally elbow other mere patrons off of the bar and out of his limelight. I guess he's a big-time TV star now, so that makes it okay.

And you know what? It's all really depressing. The premiere episode didn't get my full attention, shown as it was at a bar with lots going on, but I was shocked that so many of the other contestants reacted with unabashed scorn and hatred -- simply because (the show would have us believe) they saw Danny walk in wearing a polyester leisure suit and carrying a guitar. They drew instant conclusions, unanimously negative, dismissive, or patronising, based on nothing at all save that this guy was wearing a suit that wasn't conservatively (and un-stylishly) cut, in grey or dark blue, and dared to bring something personal to Trump Towers. My guess is they also resented him for, unlike the rest of the men on the show, having an actual neck, instead of a chin that seamlessly meets his shoulders.

Is this merely the rudeness of the East Coast, where even the coarsest dullard scoffs at difference, because, unable to (or uninterested to) see past the surface, he mistakes looking like a clone for being smart and successful? Is this merely sour grapes from bucktoothed yokels too stupid to know when to stop getting facelifts, too stupid to wonder why someone would stubbornly stick with a monumentally unflattering blow-dried hairstyle? I see these people walking down Newbury St -- clones for whom the pinnacle of style, which we can rarely expect from them, would be getting an outfit at Armani Exchange, after which they'd think they were hip as shit. I'm not saying I think Danny's look is hot; I have a few issues with his presentation and grooming myself. I'm no longer shocked that dockers-wearing, blow-dried business-hair-heads deride anyone who doesn't look exactly like they do; I'm just shocked that in the 21st Century, we give airtime to this absurd notion that "professionals" should give a shit how someone looked, unless they walked in wearing a Bush/Cheney 04 t-shirt, a confederate flag baseball cap, and socks with little swastika patterns -- in which case they'd be A-OK.

The astounding pressure to isopraxis, and sheer rage at its violation, was the biggest impression I took from the premiere -- that, and that the other contestants swarmed up against Danny like flies on shit, reveling in their animal instincts to beat up on the weak and different. Then, last week, Danny got fired, after a pretty lackluster hour, which gave me a longer view into this scary mirror of high school.

First, the promotions: these Nescafe jokers didn't really set out what qualities about their brand they wanted to promote, or what they were looking for. They used vapid business-speke and hit some buzzwords that corporate Amerika has now stripped of all meaning -- but they didn't actually seem to say anything at all. I tuned out for a moment, and lamely assumed that the winning branding campaign would be judged on how many people showed up to get the samples at each promotion. Instead, the Nescafe people judged success by whatever rationalization they could come up with, to affirm the choice they wanted, regardless of its performance -- just like in the business world at large. I should of course know by now that Metrics Never Matter -- particularly when the boss already knows what (or whom) he wants.

So, we saw two pretty lame promotions. The uneducated hicks' revolved around some sort of bizarre mockery of Democratic process. I guess, in the red states from whence they issue, they know what a crock of shit this "democracy" schtick is. I couldn't give a toss about their tasteless promotion, or figure out how it linked with the (uh, originally Swiss?) Nescafe brand (perhaps that was the cohesive campaign that the Nestle folks liked, that "brought it all together:" tasteless advertising for tasteless coffee?).

The other campaign, while having no more (or, that I could see, less) to do with crappy packaged sugared coffee, at least gave away iPods -- which, as everyone knows, unless she's so sheltered that she hasn't stepped foot in a subway this decade, are the hit crowd-drawing giveaway of the season. They also had a pretty well-organized event, courtesy of professional event-planners. (I will point out that, although hiring them wasn't all Danny, knowing when to outsource something you have no expertise in, and choosing to outsource it to competent people, is a hallmark of good management.)

It's tough to draw accurate conclusions from reality TV, given the editing, the camera framing, etc. that, as those in the press know, you can use to make even the most feeble-minded, mumbling, somnambulic politician appear on the evening news as a grand messianic visionary. Still, it sure looked to me like the iPod drew in a lot more people than the fauxmocracy thing. Extrapolating from a sample of three, I also conclude that three out of three hipsters in a major metropolitan area are more drawn to an event by the prospect of winning a free iPod than watching faux-politicians pretend to debate the merits of iced versus hot coffee.

Still, what do I know: if marketing teaches us anything, it's that you get paid more to make incorrect assumptions about fictional people than to do something personal that someone real -- like you yourself -- would respond to. And that nothing says all-American like mocking the democratic process. "Nescafe: we think democracy is as much of a joke as BushCo does." I'll have to remember that next time I need instant coffee in a pinch.

Second, in the exit interview -- or, rather, "boardroom" -- Trump mocked Danny for trying to bend the rules and get that asshole Mike fired. Note that Danny's attempt wasn't entirely without precedent: Trump's broken the rules about the firing process before. But Trump went on on some squinty-eyed tirade (did I mention how hypocritical it is of Trump, of all people, to denigrate anyone else's appearance?) about having to play by the rules, and then verged onto how Danny hadn't done X, Y, and Z (after the audience had just seen footage of Danny doing X and Y), and then back to how when you were big like he is, you had to play by the SEC's rules. That comment set off my bullshit alarm, and a quick visit to google revealed that Trump's company was sent a nice cease-and-desist by the kind folks at the SEC, because they so liked the way he ran his business by their rules. So, I guess the rules matter -- to you, but not to your boss. Wow, The Apprentice really *is* just like the business world!

So, next I visited the TWOP discussion fora to see what these erudite scholars from the TV-viewing public had to say about Danny. Here I saw people with nothing better to do than write about reality TV shows (note that I had nothing better to do than to read their twaddle) going off about what an asshole, what an incompetent, etc. etc. Danny was. One poster got all knicker-twisted because Danny seemed to think he was some kind of cool, hip, dude, while really, as you could tell from the NeoNerd t-shirt, he was just a lame geek. Geez, I'm so glad to see that the American television-viewing public has progressed past Jr. High. We all know that no one geeky has ever been cool, right? And that if you try, you're breaking the rules, and the football jocks will stuff you in the toilet? This from the website that idolized early seasons of Buffy?!

I'm just boggled by the animosity. I'm not close to Danny or anything, but he seems like a nice guy. He's a little crazy, and has some social issues. Contrary to what TWOP posters seem to think -- that a geeky "socially inept" loser like him couldn't get any dates -- he's also a chick-magnet, and pretty damn successful and hard-working. How many people can claim to have started their second technology company with proceeds from the sale of the first? And, unlike Trump, Danny can claim never to have been tens of millions of dollars in debt (what was that about rules, again?). I can confidently say that if you're trying to draw conclusions about a man's professional virtues, reality TV really isn't the best place to start. Most of all, Danny came off as a Mensch: he didn't screw anyone (he tried to screw Mike, but that evil closeted frat boy deserved it, and then some, given his behavior when I saw him in real life.) He didn't partake in the backbiting. He was chill, rather than imperious. As my parents said, he came off looking like he had more integrity than the rest of them put together. He was pleasant to everyone, especially the Microsoft chick whose pants he may or may not have been hoping to breach. And everyone on the show and on the TWOP boards hated him for it.

Fine: hate Danny because you don't like his hairstyle. But fail to mention Trump's in the same sentence, and you're a hypocrite. Or maybe I'm just underestimating the average American's -- ahem -- respect for power. I always used to call it toadyism.

Fine: say you'd never work for him, because he doesn't make split decisions. Just remember that, the next time you attack someone else for being too authoritarian and not giving your ideas the attention that's due.

I understand the contestants aren't freaks, and aren't an a-representational sampling of the business world: I've worked with enough people to know that we're a nasty species, generally. I don't get why, though. I don't think the people they idolize are effective leaders or businesspeople, and I'd never hire a single one of them. I've worked with people like this, and seen their backbiting. And you know what? They do it because they're afraid for their job security -- but they also do it *instead* of doing their jobs well enough that they needn't worry, and, though it's hard to tell cause from effect, the people I've worked with who showed that propensity have been the least competent. It all becomes a vicious circle, with the eventual result that competence counts for nothing in the American workplace. This ends up being a bit ironic, because I thought it was essentially the capitalist argument against communism. Silly me for taking people at their word...


(Hmm. I'm starting to see a pattern here. A pattern about failures being positives, as long as you're unrepentent about them. A pattern about conformity and hypocrisy, and appearance above all else, where, for instance, you're a Step Forward for Civil Rights if you're a "black" person on the president's Cabinet, even if every action you take in that position hurts people of color worldwide; where your opponent is a flip-flopper, so long as you call him so, but no one will question your own towering record of inconsistency, so long as you present The Right Attitude. And never let them forget God Put You Here. Hmm.)

Welcome to Bush's Fascist America, I guess.

Am I really this alone here, or is that just what they want us to think?
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