[Marxism] The Apprentice

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Dec 17 10:31:57 MST 2004

Last night I watched the special 3 hour conclusion to this season's "The 
Apprentice," a "reality" show that pits aggressive, young MBA types against 
each other for a job with Donald Trump. Each week the show concludes with 
the porcine Trump telling the losers of that episode: "You're fired." The 
survivors compete in the following week's contest. It will come as no 
surprise that this show has parallels with the hit show "Survivor," in 
which similar contests are mounted on remote desert islands or the 
Australian outback, etc.. The ex-paratrooper Mark Burnett produced both shows.

During a commercial break, there were ads for another NBC show called "The 
Biggest Loser," where obese people compete with each other in a 
weight-losing contest. In the final moments of last night's "The 
Apprentice," another Burnett production scheduled for next season was 
hyped. It will feature amateur boxers competing with each other. It is a 
rip-off of a show that has already been aired on Rupert Murdoch's network.

For the past five years or so, network television has been awash with such 
competition type shows. Vocalists compete on "The American Idol." Women 
compete with each other to land a job as a professional model or to marry 
(or bed) some hunk.

But "The Apprentice" really gets to the heart of the matter. If all these 
shows are about survival of the fittest, nothing can top sitting in front 
of Donald Trump and explaining why he should hire you rather than the 
person sitting opposite you.  While channel-surfing last week, I stumbled 
across this demeaning ritual that occurs regularly in the final moments of 
the show. Two women, one a finalist from last night's show and the other a 
loser, were shouting over each other about why Trump should pick her. Their 
rival was "incompetent" and they were "winners" in everything they did, 
from high school debates to graduating in the top five percent at Harvard 
Law School. It was truly repellent but fascinating stuff.

Years ago Peter Camejo used to give a recruitment speech to young people 
coming around our movement. He was very good at explaining the 
irrationality of our economic system. For example, in a world of socialist 
plenty, nobody would be arrested for stealing steaks from a supermarket 
when they might cost pennies. They would instead be referred to a 
psychiatrist. (This was before the broader movement had absorbed the 
lessons of environmentalism.) He also made a point that always hit home 
with me. He said that the capitalist work-world was filled with lies, 
starting with the job interview. When you were asked why you wanted a job 
with the First National Bank, you were trained to give the answers that 
they expected, like "You make an outstanding product" or "I have wanted to 
work for a bank since I was in the cradle." You could never be honest and 
say, "I have to pay my rent, buy food and go to the movies. Where else am I 
going to get money for these things?"

"The Apprentice" is built on a fundamental lie, that ordinary people really 
have their heart set on working for somebody like Donald Trump or Michael 
Bloomberg or Ace Greenberg, the Bear-Stearns CEO who is featured heavily on 
"The Apprentice". All ordinary people care about is a decent, well-paying 
job that does not involve exposing themselves to industrial accidents or 
toxins. The people on "The Apprentice" are actually *extraordinary*. They 
are a highly-motivated elite that is totally committed to the ethos of the 
American corporation. They are not just MBA's, but gung-ho MBA's.

Kelly Perdew, last night's winner, fully expressed this tendency. On his 
website (kellyperdew.com), he babbles, "My main objective here is to bring 
together passionate and optimistic individuals and corporations to exchange 
ideas and explore opportunities to work with me and my team." We also learn 
that Perdew is a West Point graduate with an MBA and a law degree as well. 
In the army, he was a military intelligence officer. This combination of 
skills would prepare one to rise to the top of Donald Trump's organization 
and to supervise the torture of Iraqi prisoners as well, no doubt. On the 
home page of his website, he quotes Winston Churchill: "I am an optimist. 
It does not seem too much use being anything else." In the biography 
section, he includes "If," a Rudyard Kipling poem, under the heading 
"Inspiration." The poem concludes with the lines:

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
with 60 seconds worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
and which is more, you'll be a man, my son.

"Yours is the earth" indeed. Perdew is the purified essence of capitalist 
ambition. At one time Winston Churchill and Rudyard Kipling personified 
these ambitions. History, of course, has moved on. Now they are epitomized 
by George W. Bush and Mark Burnett. Farce follows tragedy.

If American capitalism is supposed to be based on the survival of the 
fittest, Donald Trump would be the last person to symbolize such a system. 
Only five months ago, he was forced to declare bankruptcy:

 >>Donald Trump's casino businesses, which have failed to share in his 
highly publicized successes in other realms in recent years, are being 
restructured under a bankruptcy protection plan that would strip Trump of 
his majority stake.

The Donald, as the mogul is known, has achieved renewed celebrity through 
the hit reality TV show, "The Apprentice." Each week, Trump eliminates one 
contestant from a team that fails to make as much money as a competing team.

His signature statement on the show, "You're fired," became a national 
catch phrase. The new attention also put him back on the best-seller list 
this spring with "Trump: How to Get Rich."

Under the plan, announced late Monday, Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts plans 
to enter Chapter 11 bankruptcy next month, emerging within a year.<<


It seems that if Trump is a success at anything, it is at surviving 
bankruptcy. In 1992, he also dodged a bullet.

 >>The Washington Post, November 29, 1992, Sunday, Final Edition
Trump Went Broke, but Stayed on Top;
Fearing a Bankruptcy Quagmire, Lenders Made Deals With Developer
By David S. Hilzenrath, Michelle Singletary, Washington Post Staff Writers

One day in 1990, as Donald Trump tells it, he and model Marla Maples were 
strolling along New York's Fifth Avenue when they passed a beggar.

"You see that man? Right now he's worth $ 900 million more than me. ... 
Right now I'm worth minus $ 900 million," Trump told Maples.

After a decade of profligate borrowing, Trump lacked the cash to make his 
loan payments. Although he owned hotels, skyscrapers, casinos and an 
airline, his debts exceeded the value of his properties by hundreds of 
millions of dollars.

Trump's lenders could have forced him into personal bankruptcy and stripped 
him of almost everything. But that didn't happen.

Instead, the bankers and investors to whom Trump owed money made a series 
of deals that left him wealthy. They let him keep some properties and took 
control of others, and they reduced Trump's personal debt by about $ 750 
million, more than four-fifths of the total.<<

Trump's other main strength is garnering publicity. As a constant item in 
the gossip columns and a frequent guest on the Don Imus or Howard Stern 
shock jock shows, he is always in the public eye. The NBC show is simply 
another brick in the PR edifice.

In 1989, Trump put himself in the spotlight in the aftermath of the Central 
Park "wilding" incident in which a gang of Black and Latin youths allegedly 
beat and raped an investment banker out on a jog in Central Park. If 
anything, she was exactly the sort of person who might have shown up as a 
contestant on "The Apprentice." Trump took out full-page ads in the NY 
Times and other papers calling for a return of the death penalty. Trump 
said in the ad, ''I want to hate these murderers,'' who were nothing but 
"wild criminals . . . dispensing their own brand of twisted hatred." In 
2002, their convictions were overturned when the true perpetrator, who had 
no connection to the youths, confessed to the crime.

Trump made a brief bid as a Republican presidential candidate in 1999. On 
"Meet the Press," he rattled a saber at North Korea and accused the 
Europeans of taking advantage of the USA. He was also a big supporter of 
Rudy Giuliani, who was elected mayor of NYC after promising to get tough 
with criminals like the Central Park "wilding" gang. This year Trump doled 
money out in equal amounts to the Kerry and Bush campaigns.

In a confused way, the 1960s counter-culture represented a breach with the 
sort of competitive mentality symbolized by Trump and the battery of TV 
shows that pit one human being against each other. With the 1980s, such 
values began to recede. Perhaps, if the growing economic crisis and the war 
in Iraq give birth to a new movement that includes the working class, we 
will begin to see a cultural challenge to these values once again. One 
thing is obvious. That culture will certainly be richer and more 
interesting than that of the dominant culture.

Louis Proyect
Marxism list: www.marxmail.org 

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