The Apprentice proves the rat race is for rats
IAM an Apprentice addict and I’m not ashamed to admit it, but I should also confess that I have a sadistic hobby of watching television programmes – like The X Factor, Question Time, The Jeremy Kyle Show – that make me want to smash my living room up.
I have no entrepreneurial spirit whatsoever. I can’t remember ever having looked at another human being and wondered how I might make a few quid out of them. Whenever I have an idea that could make fortunes – like self-cleaning ovens and wasp-repellent bins, which I think are fabulous proposals – I tend to have those boring old concepts of social good or practicality in mind rather than money. Indeed, I edit a news website funded entirely by readers, and despite the blood, sweat and tears of our team I still always feel just a little bit cheeky when I ask readers to dig deep.
The same cannot be said of our Apprentice contestants. The show, headed up by Lord Alan Sugar, who dutifully delivers the “I started out flogging chocolate teapots and made it to the top with ‘ard graft” speech (or something) at least once an episode, features a group of budding business partners already making waves in their chosen fields. Through a process in which they showcase ability and work ethic by squabbling like a bunch of five-year-olds and stabbing one another in the back so ruthlessly it would make Michael Gove blush, Sugar discovers which of the contestants has what it takes to enter into business with a guy who started out selling ice to Eskimos (or something).
THE result is the equivalent of taking the very worst representations of ultra-capitalist culture and making them humiliate themselves to make a few quid before grovelling at the feet of the cockney king of business himself. It really is tremendous viewing. The new series began last week and I thoroughly enjoyed
cosying up on the couch with a cuppa to watch a bunch of well-groomed, suited and booted men (because the men’s team lost – ‘ ard luck, guys), argue like their lives depended on it over failing to sell enough burgers in their first team task.
Yes, this is the world that celebrates that entrepreneurial spark which I just don’t have. This is my window into the rat race; the culture which puts money and the individual first, and where anything and anyone getting in the way must be steamrollered into business oblivion. This, for me, is a snapshot of what caused the financial crisis in 2008.
The culture of greed, rebranded as hard work, which is encouraged and rewarded as the measurement of intelligence and success.
It’s the world in which everyone is viewed as a potential transaction in which we must sell, sell, sell in the pursuit of happiness and wordly goods. And it really is fascinating; the determination in these contestants would be admirable if it wasn’t rooted in selfishness.
This is exactly what the late Jimmy Reid warned about in his legendary inaugural speech as rector of Glasgow University in 1972.
“A rat race is for rats,” Reid warned. “Reject the insidious pressures in society that would blunt your critical faculties to all that is happening around you, that would caution silence in the face of injustice lest you jeopardise your chances of promotion and self-advancement.”
Sadly, Sugar, who I hear began his career selling champagne to the French (or something), and his Apprentice contestants appear to have missed the memo. It is disturbing that we continue instilling these values in our children, and it is incredible that we keep asking the question of what has gone so badly wrong in society.
There’s no question that The Apprentice contestants are bright, inventive, creative and able, but it’s a real shame that our economics, our politics and our society encourage them to funnel all of that energy into getting the best for themselves and knocking everyone out of the way to do it.
You could drive yourself to despair wondering what all these young people could be creating if we lived in a culture which didn’t measure quality of life by material riches, but instead by things like community, good health and public services, the advancement of learning, and social responsibility.
Until we get there – because we must believe that one day we will – I’ll probably carry on watching Lord “I could sell paper to trees (or something)” Sugar and his wannabe apprentices. I’ll just be sure to keep anything I can throw at the TV out of reach.