May 17, 2007

Social sorcery


The current series of The Apprentice continues where the last one left with, functioning as an unintentional but brutal satire of business. You have to remind yourself that this is not some Generation Game-style exercise in which plucky amateurs are pulled off the streets to perform high-skill jobs with which they are unfamiliar. The would-be Apprentices are already, incredibly, already successful in business. Last night's task, in which they were asked to brand and advertise trainers, turned into some gruesome combination of The Office and Ali G, which was every bit as excruciating as that description implies. Not just people from "the street" live on a street,' mused Jadine, leader of a team whose 'big idea' was a brand called 'Street'. 'We all live on a street. We're all going down the street.' Despite including 'advertising managers' and 'global brand consultants' among their number, the two teams came up with concepts so inept that they would have been laughed off by a recalcitrant GCSE Media Studies class. 'Reclaim the Street...' 'Music is your sole'...

What continually amazes me about the Apprentice is how poor the contenders are at bread-and-butter business skills such as pitching. Katie's pitch last night was so sublimely bad that it was barely watchable - like a painfully extended recurring nightmare of every poorly-prepared job interview experience you've ever endured. Yet Katie herself relished the pitch. 'This is what I enjoy, what I'm good at.'

Katie is this year's justly reviled object of tabloid loathing: what the Mirror called a 'revolting horse-faced toff' whose cheeks have that particular kind of rosiness which is a genetic marker of the hyper-privileged English. Katie has rightly been attacked for her snobbery, but what is really striking about her is the discrepancy between her self-belief and her actual incompetence. She routinely confuses accent with intelligence, and has managed to convince everyone that she is clever simply because she is well-spoken.

Katie, in fact, is a perfect illustration of the unwarranted class confidence that IT recently identified as the main commodity which British public schools have to sell. When last night Sugar confronted her with the fact that she had been on the losing side six times (out of eight), Katie's already rosy cheeks further reddened, not from embarrassment (to which the idiot confidence of her expensively constructed character armour renders her immune) but from anger. Katie presides over disaster after disaster, but her self-belief never wavers.

It is not skills or knowledge, still less intelligence that set the likes of Katie apart from working class people who would rather die than go into go into a room of experts and talk nonsense as Katie happily did in last night's episode. Confidence is the class hex, the social sorcery, that Katie and her class possess. Rather than intelligence, this is a kind of useful stupidity, a functional self-delusion. Once again, the Apprentice demonstrates that, far from being some brutally Hobbesian 'reality', business crucially depends upon a tissue of banal fantasies.

Posted by mark at May 17, 2007 05:49 PM | TrackBack