Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The End Justifies the Mean-ness

We self-described exceptional Americans love a good televised train wreck.  The pain and the blood and the gore are fascinating as long as it is viewed from the safe distance of our sofas.  We idolize exceptionally rude behavior when the daggers are not directed our way.  

Simon Cowell is must see TV because he insults people, usually people we do not know personally and never will.  When strangers are broken down on national TV, we don’t pity them.  We chuckle.  We celebrate their persecutors and tune in for their spin-off program that promises more insults, more mental anguish and more therapy fodder for some unlucky cast member who can’t sing, can’t dance or just looks funny.

Someone else’s public pain is our private entertainment gain.

As Exhibit A, we need look no further than the marketing push for the latest installment of Donald Trump’s reality franchise, The Celebrity Apprentice.  The premise of the show is simple enough.  Sixteen former celebrities allow themselves to be subjected to a variety of humiliations in order to win a job being denigrated by Mr. Trump for a year as his employee.  The compensation package?  You get to be on TV for a few weeks.  As a bonus, you get mentioned on Twitter for a few days.

The build up for the new season is being trumpeted (pun intended) by the NBC network’s news outlets, like the Today show and, neither of which should ever be confused with serious news outlets.  The synergy between a news-esque program that covers natural disasters and man-made tragedies and a reality TV show that highlights personal disasters and creates man-made tragedies is obvious.  We Americans love a good train wreck, real or manufactured.  It sells.

The Donald proudly promoted the upcoming Apprentice season to Matt Lauer with this boast about its uplifting content:

"It's probably as tough and mean and nasty as we've had so far."

The show will feature meanness and nastiness without compare, and this is a positive attribute.  Set your DVRs, America.  The train is heading your way.

The one ‘star’ that Trump takes the time to mention is the single-name superstar, Omarosa, whose claim to fame is rise from anonymity because of her unrivaled ability to be mean and nasty without a hint of remorse or a twinge of mercy.  Her parents must be so proud.

"A lot of people are not getting along with Omarosa," Trump said.  “She's brutal!"

Again, Trump offers these comments as a compliment and as an inducement to watch the show.  Omarosa’s brutality is a strength.  The fact that no one can stand her is a job requirement.  Being mean means good.  Being good means no ratings.  Bad behavior wins.  Nice guy George Takei is fired after 2 episodes.  Lesson learned, America. 

I admit that I watched the first 2 seasons of The Apprentice, what could now be called its golden age, before it jumped the shark with so-called ‘famous’ people in the cast (I typically have only ever heard of half of each season’s cast of 16).  As an HR guy, I liked the Boardroom evaluations of candidate performance.  I know, sick stuff but I justified it as professional research.  That rationalization won’t fly anymore.  The show that pits Gary Busey against Meatloaf has no more redeeming social or professional value.

I can no longer rationalize the show’s raison d’etre, but Trump does rationalize the mean and nasty behavior because, hey, it raises money for charity.  They model boorish behavior, reward those who exhibit the worst behaviors, and lavish the most unstable contestants with copious amounts of air time.  That doesn’t sound like a good cause to me.

It’s for the least among us, Trumps tells us from his perch atop Trump Tower.  But if those same folks being helped by those charitable contributions are learning that to win and get ahead in life, to truly be successful, you need to add mean and nasty to your repertoire, then you can keep that money.  It may be doing more bad than good in the long run.

The end does not justify the mean.

...and Trump is an ass anyway.

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