Friday, 14 March 2008

The Apprentice

Whispers reach my ears that Alan Sugar will be gracing our screens again very soon. Ever keen to catch a bandwagon just when it's started rolling (and because I've got a touch of blogger's block at the moment) I've dug this old review/reflection out from the defunct Militant blog.

After a hard day's bolshevist activity, there's nothing the Marxists at Hepscott Towers like more than settling down to an edition of The Apprentice.

We know we're not the only socialists to indulge this guilty pleasure. It makes fascinating television. Hardened sectarians are no strangers to arguing the toss, falling out, developing vendettas, and plunging the knife into one another's backs. It's strangely satisfying to see our actual and would-be rulers are more or less the same, though a £100k job with Amstrad is small beer for us Trots. We much prefer fratricidal shenanigans over weightier matters, such as what was the correct side in to be on in the Fourth International in 1953.

Tonight's episode was as entertaining as always. Alan Sugar is convinced anyone can start a business these days, and to prove it he gave £200 a piece to the teams and a day to try their hand at whatever they fancy, as long as the money rolls in. And as he brusquely reminded them, someone on the team that makes the least is going to get fired.

Cue scenes of both teams running round like headless chickens. The girl's team, 'Stealth', hit the streets of sunny Richmond to bully young kids into having their faces painted. And at a fiver a pop, initially they did a roaring trade. The boy's (plus token woman) team, Eclipse, elected to go for a spot of gardening. Problem was lawn mowing was out because of the previous night's rain, but this didn't stop our budding entrepreneurs from pressing ahead ... with mowing. But nevertheless three of them turned in a creditable horticultural performance, even if one of them tried "dressing" a branch with a weed. The other half of the team spent the day swanning around the 'burbs, one of them sulking and the remaining couple appearing in desperate need of a room.

Things quickly took a turn for the worse for Stealth. After the morning rush of yummy mummies, Richmond high street was effectively a sprog-free zone. With no customers or suitable locations on the horizon, out came the bitching. And this is all Stealth did for the next few hours. Why bother making dosh when you can point fingers instead? Having missed the home time school run completely and with the option of being able to change the business later in the day, Stealth went for the easy option and became kiss-o-grams for the evening. Some of the women expressed their disquiet but such objections were brushed aside by the more determined volunteers. "It's just business", they mused.

Eclipse junked the gardening and hit the bars as semi-inebriated pay-per-songsters. And they did pretty well as drunken people and their cash are so easily parted. If Trotsky's pamphlet was called Their Morals and We Ain't Got Any I'd expect this would be quite a lucrative sideline for the old fighting fund.

Anyway, to cut a long story short Eclipse managed to realise more surplus value than Stealth, so they got to smoke the cigars while Sugar called the losers into the boardroom. It came down to project manager Naomi, wannabe spook Gerri, and gobtastic Jadine. With an eye on the ratings "Sir" Alan kept Naomi and Jadine on board, not least because of their fractious relationship, and particularly the latter's ability to rub everyone up the wrong way. So a not-so-fond farewell to Gerri. We trust she'll make her way up the greasy pole somehow.

There's so many things Marxists can say about The Apprentice. It's easy to put the boot in and decry its exploitative characteristics as leftists regularly do with Big Brother et al. But this particular slice of reality TV is more sophisticated than its stable mates. As comrade Louise pointed out over at the Socialist Unity blog, "the dog eat dog side of capitalism is celebrated not condemned. Capitalism turns even its own rotten ideology into a saleable commodity." But not all is hopeless. Just as a capitalist will sell you the rope you hang him with, so The Apprentice paradoxically undermines the managerial spirit underpinning the career structure of the capitalist firm. We all know middle management upwards are out of touch egotists, but seldom do we have such appalling examples of their incompetence splashed across our screens. What Alan Sugar and the BBC have done is to demystify management. It shows that there's nothing unique about those who strive to lord it over us. They are not especially intelligent, driven, or competent. They might be slightly more sociopathic, but so is business. It sucks in people stilted by the system to reproduce its command and control functions. If you're a human being, you can forget it - as was brilliantly demonstrated last week when Sugar fired Ifti for the crime of feeling down because he missed his family.

The BBC is often criticised for failing to inform, educate, and entertain. But from a socialist perspective in this rare instance, the BBC has managed to fulfill each, and then some.


ian said...

I cant stand Sugar but I appreciate the guilty pleasure. Mine is Dragons Den. Cult viewing watching those young budding entrepreneurs making tits of themselves in front of a bunch of hard nosed millionaire businessmen!!


Anonymous said...

I love the Apprentice although I feel a bit confused about how I should be taking to it as a professed Marxist. I like Dragons Den too even though it worships the pursuit of money. I think it caters for the voyeuristic sadist in me who delights in people's well-deserved humiliation. And at the day the are game shows, aren't they?
Green tea man

Miles Barter said...

You have got the line wrong on The Apprentice.
You are expelled.