So, tonight TVNZ is rebooting The Apprentice – a truly horrifying thing. Actually, no, that’s too dramatic. It’s just downright embarrassing is all. They’ve tried to brush away the fact that it brings Donald Trump back to mind – saying comparisons are inevitable; well of course they are it is the very platform that made latter-day Trump a hero to far too many million morons. He was a punchline until he sold what was left of his soul and pantomimed being an angry boss and some sort of mogul authority-figure – but we could all see the wires, we could smell the paraded nepotism and we could taste the malignant narcissism.
He had cameos in some films and TV shows, he was laughed at on talk shows – for his hair, for his dumb ideas, for his staggering ability to make ventures fail, to go bankrupt, or skirt around it. And yet when he took The Apprentice on and it was some sort of hit for a bit, he gathered steam with Joe and Judy Trailer, with Dan and Debbie Trucker – and then we know what happened next. It still seems like the biggest fiction ever, hundreds of thousands of undiagnosed cases of PTSD still wrestling with the fact of it all: That Trump was President of America. And for a full term too. He couldn’t get fired – and that was about the only thing he seemed to be trying his actual best at.
So, no TVNZ. I don’t buy the weak brushing aside of the Trump legacy since The Apprentice was his ladder to the White House. I am not at all worried that NZ’s National Party will look to Mike Pero to lead its crumpled clubhouse. But I do think the actual fact here is that the TVNZ peeps love this type of drama. And they think they’re captilising on it. Some sort of minor scandal to ride in on with a reboot of an already failed brand. And the idea that this is clever spin is laughable – even for TVNZ.
The last time they tried to have The Apprentice here we had Terry Serepisos at the helm. And that was joke enough. Funnier still when he – a property developer – went bankrupt. How Trumpian.
I will always remember seeing him walk into a dairy to buy the copy of the Sunday paper with his face on the front – suddenly looking Very Seriously Pissed Off. It carried the story of most of his debts and some of his sidewinding hustle.
A few years prior to this a magazine started up and had Serepisos on the cover – he hosted the launch for the mag. We were invited along as clearly an afterthought. We’d only contributed to the text of the magazine – all we’d done is write the stories. But we were the fugly people in the room taking up space when models and fashionistas were swanning. It was clear that Terry had paid for the magazine – and maybe some of the guest – this was acknowledged in the speeches that night, in his office where the launch party was being held. Rather than look through the magazine we were encouraged to look out the window and take in the view. That was the real art on offer. Apparently.
I got the fuck out of there as quickly as my hulking, gross-to-all-gathered and poorly dressed self could. I wasn’t meant to be there with these fucking arseholes. I wasn’t welcome. And I was hideous to their eye. And why should a writer that added pages to the magazine even be there when advertisers and sponsors and prop-models could be there instead eh.
This is the world The Apprentice promotes. The crawl-over-someone and stab them (front or back) to get the golden ticket world. The myth that working hard means making money. The value assigned to merit being a Christmas bonus.
Now I’m not saying this is not New Zealand. It very sadly is. And we can point to other horrors like the Auckland Housewives debacle. And we only need to think of how Mike Hosking or Judith Collins frames a comment from their respective sides of the microphone. There’s demonic glee if they can punch a poor person so as to knock them another rung or two down the ladder.
Why am I bothered at all about a show I will never watch on a network I haven’t cared about in at least a decade – on a format (old fashioned TV) I spend no time with at all?
The idea that if you’re not invested in it, you can’t comment or shouldn’t bother is absurd. We need to be able to speak up about the things that don’t sit right. That don’t feel right. That blatantly sells short not just the intelligence of all involved but seeks to make entertainment out of cruel and unnecessary competition for fake trophies in allegedly high stakes trading – when in fact it’s just a fucking show. A shit show, no show, dumb show. Nothing will happen. And we know that. It won’t work out. The person won’t keep the job if they’re even offered it. And if they do who cares? What does that mean?
Being good with money would be great – I’m sure. But how is it a substitute for a personality? And the only thing creative about it is usually the accounting.
So I’m having a rant. Because I should. Lots of us should. And we always should.
Last week I shared this stupid Stuff article. Someone whining about a cycleway taking up valuable parking real estate and stopping customers from getting to their business. Ah, but it wasn’t just someone was it. It was Geeling Ching (previously known as Geeling Ng). A model, actor and businessperson. If you want someone to read your story roll in some sort of cheap celebrity angle. So the headline was (arguably racist): David Bowie’s China Girl, Geeling Ching, Leads Fight Against $1m Auckland Cycleway. A dated reference (she starred in the video to Bowie’s song nearly 40 years ago) that has no actual connection with her role/s now, and certainly nothing to do with her complaint.
It was a joke article for many reasons – but what wound me up about it was the horrid clickability desperation. We’d click on that article because of the headline, some of us would want to point out it was a tiny bit racist potentially and certainly misleading and not relevant.
And I did all of that on my Facebook page – mocking the very clear decision to only run this story if they could milk every click-able angle from a headline ever. And someone told me on the page that it had clearly worked. Because I’d shared it.
And my soul died a little more. (More so than the time when I agreed to write for that website every day for years with my photo on the masthead – and they didn’t even pay me a thing until I begged for crumbs). Because deciding that the bad tactic that is designed purely for a high numbers mainstream grab – a sort of driftnet fishing approach if you will – is effective because it worked is a shortcut to thinking. Of course it worked. It’s always going to. And sitting on your hands and saying ‘that’s fine, I just won’t watch’ is only okay some of the time. And only okay if you’re okay with that. Everything is case by case, there is no blanket rule – not one that correctly covers every angle of every situation.
There’s a whole other discussion to be had about the optics of Pero - famous for housing, for real estate and mortgages - being the Trump character in this reboot. Housing is an issue guranteed to wind up almost anyone in the country. We saw that with crying landlords worried about how “their industry” had been hobbled when something approaching a check and/or balance tapped on the window of the vehicle and asked to see some form of ID. “Not all landlords” they seemed to want to yell from one of their houses. “Not all landlords are bad”. But not everyone could hear them because bluetooth speakers don’t always work from shopping trolleys with rolled up sleeping bags in them and pizza-box pillows. Unless of course there’s a charging station near by.
But I’ll leave that part alone for now. Trump clogged up everyone’s time and space last year and for much of the three or four years before it. And now, so soon after, a pack of charmless, box-ticking, corporate swine decides after their liquid lunch budget was cut back just a bit (you know, because Covid’s been tough on us all) that now’s an ideal time for this kind of reboot - and that is really the issue. Play the ball, not the man. Mike Pero can be the subject of someone else’s rant. But this game of football is dirty and cheap and misguided and cruel and a mental health trigger for many people.
So I’m not okay with this. I’m not okay with it, because evoking Trump is a barrel so low that they limbo-danced under a pregnant ant to get to its bottom and to then get right in there where the very good and murkiest of the scrapings reside. And TVNZ got down there in its suited and booted best smugness. And found the dirtiest of bums to lick. Just so they could call you a sucker for watching – and me an idiot for going ‘click’.