The Other Charlotte and I both find The Apprentice, the new NBC reality show in which Manhattan real estate mogul Donald Trump gets to fire 15 out of his 16 fresh-out-of-biz-school amanuenses, spellbinding. The most fascinating person on the show, in my opinion is, of course, Trump himself. Despite that faintly ridiculous hairstyle of his (ducktail plus comb-forward), Trump has star quality. I, like most Apprentice-addicts, live to hear those climactic words of Trump’s, “You’re fired,” directed at some well-moussed young stumblebum who richly deserves his fate. Trump’s in touch with my inner sadist (although he doesn’t come across as mean, just tough and shrewd).
The other star of The Apprentice is the city of New York, its bustling streets and towering skyscrapers glistening under the panning TV cameras. New York is all about buildings, and Trump, whatever you might think about the aesthetic quality of his brass-clad junk-elegant Trump Tower and other structures, has a place among the city’s master builders. The show lets you in on Trump’s earthy NYC roots, which are pure Brooklyn. Trump’s father, Fred Trump, was also a successful estate developer. He had his own table at the famous 21 Club, and when the bevy of gal apprentices on the show won a negotiating-down contest in last night’s episode, their prize was to eat a luxury meal at Fred Trump’s old table. Trump and his father are, among other things, pieces of Manhattan history.
What’s distressing about The Apprentice is the negative picture it paints of today’s young American businessmen, in contrast to old business lions like Trump. So far, the young women on the show seem to be walking all over their male counterparts. Remember that these are real young businesspeople, many with real jobs on Wall Street and in other hot spots. One of them, Kwame Jackson (one of the more polished specimens in this sorry lot, by the way), has an MBA from Harvard. These young on-the-make guys seem to spend most of their energy obsessing about their images–cool ties, hair strands pointing stylishly in every direction–than on business strategies that might actually work. Led last night by the hapless Sam Solovey (oh so justly fired at show’s end) with the task of bargaining for lower-than-list prices on a Trump-selected list of items, they cook up elaborate but pointless strategies that involve a lot of cell-phoning. In a hunt for an off-price set of golf clubs, they pick a store that doesn’t even sell golf clubs, and they manage to get only a measly $1 off the price of a $400 gold bar. Sam, typically, whines afterwards that the team’s dismal failures were all due to its members’ lack of “respect” for him. Grow up, Sam.
The team of young women, by contrast, has its eyes on the prize and naturally wins it. The gals know how to use everything they’ve got. Their gorgeous looks, for example. At the gold-bar dealer’s establishment, they shake their booties and and bat their eyelashes until he knocks a full $10 off the price. But they use their brains, too, calculating exactly how far the golf-store owner could mark down the price of his clubs for them and still make a nice profit (you don’t see the guys doing any of this kind of math). They’re exercising the same instinctive skills that their grandmothers used in persuading the butcher to give them soup bones for free. In their feline cunning, the girls actually resemble Donald Trump–far more than any of the guys.
What all this says about young middle-class American men I don’t know, but it doesn’t sound encouraging. The guys on the show so far have shown a feckless, emasculated quality. I can only wonder if it has something to do with feminizing American education that denigrates masculine virtues and ends up channeling masculine aggressiveness into the strictly superficial: who’s got the cooler cell phone. Or that kids these days learn so little of substance in school that they grow up thinking that life consists of nothing but appearances. Perhaps The Other Charlotte has some ideas about this. At any rate, it was distressing to learn at episode’s end that Sam, for one, had no deeper reflections about his Trump experience than this: “He shook my hand! He’s my mentor!”