Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 17, 2004

The Apprentice

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 4:23 pm

Posted to www.marxmail.org on December 17, 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.

Full: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/11/22/national/main656922.shtml

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.

1 Comment »

  1. Wow, that’s an interesting perspective. I haven’t watched many mainstream shows in the last few years, but this is certainly worth noting. I’ve seen bits and pieces of the apprentice before, certainly seeing this perspective with a touch of mild entertainment, it was admittedly easy to be entertained by watching the program. I think the problem of the day is that such a fundmanetal analysis, something probably a majority of Americans would agree with, is not made. I’m not talking about the deep roots to capitalism vs. socialism , but the general holistic view of the capitalist system in a different light. The reality shows are indeed a great illustrations, it is unfortunate more people do not make such analyses.

    Comment by nateddi — January 10, 2005 @ 8:57 pm


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