As if there weren’t enough cheesy made-for-TV movies in the US based on some larger-than-life pop icon, another one aired recently. Trump Unauthorized was inspired, no doubt, by the hit reality TV show, The Apprentice. Trump Unauthorized is an exposé, a dirty tell-all about Trump and his many loves, like for example, Slovakian women. Truthfully, I didn’t watch the movie. I shudder at this form of public exposure.
As a seasoned viewer of The Apprentice I really do set out to take myself a bit more seriously than most. That’s because I accepted an assignment to write a weekly recap column for The-Trades.com, which covered Season 1 of The Apprentice. I considered my weekly column an opportunity to entertain and educate the masses by providing useful social commentary on an otherwise shallow topic. And maybe that’s why TV movies like Trump Unauthorized really gets my goat: because in some small way such made-for-TV movies serve to remind me that it’s all a bunch of schlock. And this in turn, undermines my credibility.
It wasn’t always this way, however . . .
Thanks to that work, soon after I started writing that column, I got to meet a cast-off from the show, engage in a brief fling, and even secure a book deal (10 Secrets I Learned from The Apprentice Penguin, 2004). It should be noted that the book deal was in no way, shape, or form related to the brief fling. My love interest didn’t have that kind of pull. My dalliances never do. And this all transpired within the course of four short months.
It seems stories like that are what “E True Hollywood Stories” are made of. Unfortunately, I had no intention of following that slippery path to stardom. Drugs, Sex, and Rock ‘n Roll, just ain’t my bag, I guess. So instead, I opted for the creature comforts of sobriety and reclusion wherein I can sit happily perched up on my soapbox and proclaim all that is evil and hypocritical about the world of pop culture. For the purpose of Girlz Only, however, I’ll stick with the subject matter of representations of gender. It’s a touchy subject, any way you look at, but at least this way, I can focus my energies on what I do best: that is, rank on men and women in a socially constructive way.
Back to The Apprentice, which is a ripe topic for representations of gender. You know something has reached cultural icon status when Gary Trudeau uses The Apprentice as fodder in his “Doonesbury” strip. Not long ago, the cartoonist had a piece that depicted a man listening to headlines from The Apprentice promos/commercials. All these headlines had to do with a mythical candidate, “Sheraleeza”, who is shown as ruthless and unethical in her pursuit to become Trump’s next Apprentice. She strips to get ahead, and will stop at nothing. At the end of the comic, Trump says, “Sheraleeza you used sex to promote yourself. You’re fired!” Of course the irony being that the show’s producers were using Sheraleeza’s sexuality throughout to promote the show.
I found the cartoon particularly funny because it hit upon the form of self-aggrandizing hypocrisy that’s inherent in the show. Throughout all three seasons of the The Apprentice, the consistent trend I’ve noticed is its blatant hyper representation of sexuality and its ability to use the female candidates as sacrificial lambs in its quest to boost ratings. While it might not be as shameless in its depiction of sexuality as it was first season, culminating in many of the female cast-offs posing for the Australian men’s magazine, FHM (although second season female candidates followed suit), the show’s promotionals still seem to overwhelmingly employ female sex appeal and cattiness as major marketing tactics. As such, I’m not sure what that does for the credibility of the female contestants, on a whole.
In Season 3 of The Apprentice, two of the show’s male contestants, John and Craig, both behaved in a demeaning manner toward women. While John seemed to have a general disrespect for his fellow females and liked to resort to sexist clichés when working with Erin or Stephanie, his most offensive behavior was directed at Audrey, the so-called “just a 22-year-old girl.” I have to say Audrey didn’t do her best to represent her gender at a level of maturity that might warrant more respect. She broke down in front of the camera and her team several times, spouting off about how hard she had it. Apparently, at some point she said something about wanting to “scar herself” just so she wouldn’t have to be evaluated based on her looks. But let’s face it, Audrey didn’t seem to have much else going on. A huge chip on her shoulder and an attitude that matched it, she seemed beholden to her looks and tried to capitalize on them in the boardroom, even though she vehemently resented the validation she received when based solely on her looks.
Unlike John, Craig’s animosity and disdain was entirely targeted at Kendra. The two fought constantly and their tension definitely reached a boiling point in the final weeks. The majority of Craig’s comments: “I am speaking to you slowly like I speak to my children”, and “I’m giving you respect you don’t even deserve, young lady”, and “You don’t even know what that word (condescending) means”, and “You’re a liar”, only served to further infuriate Kendra. Kendra called Craig a “butt hole”. In the end, however, she managed to get the better of the situation and learn to tune him, but his comments weren’t cross-examined the boardroom. Thus, he was never held accountable for his demeaning behavior.
Gender theatrics are nothing new for The Apprentice. Season 1’s Omarosa had been milking her diva-like persona from the second she stepped on to the set of the reality TV show. Omarosa appeared on a recent episode of Fear Factor, wherein she claimed she intentionally cops the difficult personality as a means of generating more bling and launching her celebrity further into the stratosphere. It works, too. We all hate her and yet no one can stop talking about her. While others who might have achieved more serious success on the show, such as Bill, author of You’re Hired: How to Succeed in Business and Life from the Winner of The Apprentice (HarperBusiness, 2004) and Amy, author of What It Takes: Speak Up, Step Up, Move Up : A Modern Woman’s Guide to Success in Business (St. Martin’s Press, 2004) both books about The Apprentice, their celebrity has waned and it’s no longer as likely that you’ll find mention of them in your typical variety of pop culture tabloid-style grocery store check-out staples like US or In Touch. Even Ereka and Katrina, who later went on to pose for FHM seem all but erased from our memories.
While on the subject of over exposure, one thing that has definitely approved over the past three seasons is attire. First season, the women dressed like New Jersey Hooters girls prior to being reprimanded by Trump for “using their sexuality too much”. After which they transformed overnight into sorority sisters, albeit with an affinity for pleated micro-minis. Second season went the opposite extreme, with women toting Brooks Brothers/Burberry conservatism fashion trends I haven’t seen since Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister. Season 3 has the women streamlining to “acceptable” professional business attire that isn’t too risqué or intentionally provoking. In this light, it’s not as exciting, either.
The men’s fashion hasn’t been as paramount on the show. There was Raj and his bow ties, but aside from that, nada. I think perhaps, in an effort to balance it out a little, maybe more episodes should feature the men in their skivvies. Hey, it worked for Kevin on Season 2. How many times did he answer the phone in his tight boxer briefs? I’m not sure this act didn’t, in and of itself, insure him making the cut to the final four candidates.
The latest season of The Apprentice just wrapped up and delivered a variation in the “Battle of the Sexes” theme. The premise changed from Men vs. Women to Books Smarts vs. Street Smarts. With less emphasis placed on gender, more competition was based on education and ability. Perhaps a telling sign, in the end, it boiled down to two female candidates: a “Street Smart” seller of Mary Kay cosmetics mother from Iowa versus and a “Book Smart” real estate broker from Florida. In a recent interview, Trump was cited as saying he felt obligated to pick a woman this go-around as the last two seasons had only men making it to the final round. The statement irked me in that it somehow serves to downplay Tana and Kendra’s capabilities and contrary to former seasons, I couldn’t think of a man on this season’s cast who would have been better qualified to win this season’s competition than either of those two women.
At any rate, in the end, Trump again went with the more conservative of choices and picked Kendra, the 26-year-old Florida real estate broker. As the promos never lie, I could smell this one coming a mile away. Did I sincerely care who became Trump’s next Apprentice this season? Not really. Especially after I found out that Tana was not in fact a Midwesterner, but a woman who grew up in a fairly affluent suburb outside of Philadelphia and attended parochial school and college there. As a Midwesterner myself, this form of betrayal was just too much for me. Loyalty to an Apprentice contestant, loyalty contrived from some perceived affinity such as girl power, can only extend so far.