Reality (&) Television: Celebrity Apprentice and The Donald

"We ain't got no friends, our troubles never end, no Christmas cards to send, Daddy likes men."

America, meet your new royal family. Manhattan may not be Camelot, but with its dragon-sized rats, plastic-surgeried princesses, and barons of real estate, it may just be the perfect headquarters for the nefarious wheeling and dealing of the Trump family. Royal wedding got you down? Tired of clicking through photos of Princess Beatrice’s uncanny representation of the female reproductive system in chapeau form? Osama, who? Try two hours watching the grandiose aspirations of the nouveau riche instead!

Here’s an embarrassing disclosure! I absolutely love Celebrity Apprentice, but I am constitutionally incapable of watching it without another more pressing diversion to partially distract my attention from its crushing monotony. Celebrity Apprentice is the background noise to my household chores, and while I’m certain I couldn’t match socks without it, I’m also convinced that our relationship is like listening to Hannah Montana while studying for an exam, rather than the requisite brain-enhancing classical music. After two hours of repetitive arguments, redundant business jargon, and ceaseless pettiness among adults, I need a thesaurus to come up with that third synonym for perpetuity.

But as the internet explodes with the possibility of a 2012 presidential campaign for Donald Trump, I am moved to examine my affinity for Celebrity Apprentice, and the social factors that cause an exceptional businessman, and a pretty mediocre guy, to believe that he is qualified to lead a country of millions.

It’s clear from the start that I’ve never watched Celebrity Apprentice for The Donald. In fact, this fourth season of Celebrity Apprentice, and eleventh season of the Apprentice franchise, is the first season I’ve watched all the way through. When this round of Celebrity Apprentice began back in March, I had just watched an excellent documentary about Joan Rivers. Rivers triumphed in the final round of Celebrity Apprentice 2, and her experience as a contestant on the show encouraged me to watch the first episode of the new season.

What I encountered was an intriguing mix of B-list celebrities (and below…way, way below), ludicrous challenges, deserving charities, and an abundance of kitsch, all subject to the unparalleled hubris of one Donald J. Trump, Sr. Most of the contestants had cursory careers as musicians, models, motivational speakers, or exemplars of reality television stardom, but I think the most appropriate occupational categorization is simply, “personalities.” I wouldn’t go so far as to say that all the contestants are untalented, but what does Gary Busey have in common with LaToya Jackson, Meatloaf, Star Jones, and Lil Jon? An enormous personality, and no qualms about expressing it.

So this, then, is the appeal of Celebrity Apprentice for me. Has-beens and wannabes with something to say, even if their careers are in a slump, or never took off at all. There’s no pleasure in watching successful people argue with other successful people about who happens to be more successful. The real treat is seeing scrappy underdogs coerce, squabble, and undermine their way into a brief encounter with The Donald’s limelight. Amongst a crowd of clowns and rubes, Trump emerges as the buffoon most likely to succeed.

What then do we make of this purported presidential campaign? As no formal announcement has yet been made, it remains to be seen whether Trump might garner enough early support to launch a serious bid, however, we can certainly ponder his qualifications for the job and wonder why he seems to think he’d make an exceptional president.

I would guess that before the wildly popular Apprentice franchise, which first aired in January 2004, Trump was not a household name. Surely Trump was known as a real estate mogul in New York City, but it’s doubtful that his future constituents across America were familiar with his particular type of wealth and nepotism. The Apprentice allowed Trump to become the nationwide brand of which he’d always dreamed. Remember the t-shirts emblazoned with his essential manifesto? “You’re fired” became a unifying catchphrase across the country, at least for a few years. Was a presidential run a long-term goal in Trump’s ten-year plan since he first uttered that resonant phrase?

Or is Trump’s political ambition the result of years of yes-men telling him he can do anything? “Your hair looks especially wind-resistant today, Mr. Trump, and by the way, have you ever thought of running for president? You’ve got my vote!” It strikes me as incredibly arrogant that a man believes he can ascend to the highest governmental position in the United States with little more than a popular television program and several thousand greased palms. Has anyone asked Trump about his foreign policy experience yet? Or perhaps which newspapers and magazines he reads regularly in order to stay informed and to understand the world?

I digress. This shouldn’t be an attack on Trump, but more a questioning of his impetus for considering a presidential campaign. I am finding it difficult to discern what exactly in his background has helped shape the desired characteristics and attitudes of a world leader. When I think about Trump, I think about money. How is someone whose defining attribute is a Mammon-like talent for creating and maintaining wealth, except for those occasional forays into bankruptcy, in any way qualified to become the next president? Have reality and reality television become so enmeshed that a competent television personality directly translates into a competent presidential personality? Will I finally learn what the celebrity-endorsed Reaganomics was all about through its latter-day counterpart in Trumponomics?

I’m mostly indifferent to the death of Osama bin Laden, save for one crucial detail. As Barack Obama strode confidently down the red-carpeted hall, toward a podium where he would address millions of people across the world, he stepped on a few toes. These toes were undoubtedly encased in custom-made leather Oxfords, and possibly afflicted with gout from a lifetime of caviar and rare game. As our ever-stoic Barry delivered his initial greeting, superseding Trump’s latest dismissal, a nation of reality TV enthusiasts were jerked from the palatial hell Trump had assuredly created in his own mind, and forced to encounter the brutal nature of true reality television. Stay tuned.

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