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I'll start by saying that I think Donald Trump is an asshole. I watched most of this season's Apprentice on a whim, not because I thought that it bore any resemblance to reality, but because I was fascinated about how the show was nothing more than a giant advertisement for corporate America. It was a new synthesis of marketing and programming. The basic concept, to center a reality show around the advertiser's products and services was driven by Trump's need to generate drama. Often the decisions in the board room where driven more by the show's need to generate controversy than a genuine assessment of the candidates performance.
During the season finale, I notice that Trump seems to be making a special effort to mention the military service of last year's winner, to the point of asking the candidate specifically whether he felt that his military service was a factor in his success on the show. I found it a little odd that Trump would be using such value real estate on the show's finale to emphasis a point that seemed to play no part in the current season's show.
That was until the commercial break, where the first spot was for... you guessed it, the U.S. Military.
So yes, the show is a farce. Much in the same way that American Idol's "judges", while not actually making the decisions, can frame the performance of the artists to influence the results.
My dad and I get into a debate all the time, over whether the people on the shows are real or actors. Yes, the shows are usually carefully scripted so that they are not reality in any real sense of the word, but I honestly believe that the participants in the show are just ordinary people looking for a little time in the spotlight and that they are not actors.
I believe this because it only makes sense to me that the producers of the show would use people willing to work for free, or at least for the chance to earn a few bucks. I often wonder just how much it would cost to actually hire actors to be in these shows and whether or not the "prize" is less than that cost?
People are predictable, they will perform in predictable ways if given the right incentive, usually to act like fools for the chance to win a lot of money. And even if they act in unpredictable ways the producers of the show can use that for drama as well. In fact, I naturally assume that the creators of these shows bank on the contestants to act in outlandish ways.
The mother of all reality shows, The Real World on MTV was usually constructed in such a way as to guarantee conflict among the cast of the show. It was a formula to pair up a gay with a homophobe, an introvert with an extrovert and at least one person willing to prance around naked. Then it was just a matter of waiting for the sparks to start flying and edit the show for maximum drama.
The new reality shows, exemplified by The Apprentice are no longer satisfied to generate conflict and charge advertisers for the eyeballs. Now they integrate the advertising content into the show itself with eager participants acting out ad hoc commercials in a fixed contest. Its cynical yes, but, in its own twisted way, very efficient; a natural reaction to new technology that is finding news ways to remove or avoid traditional commercial content.
So now we know that Cingular and Coca Cola are sponsors of American Idol, because they are woven into the content of the show. And we accept that the show itself, and the products they are pushing are tightly intergrated as well. With AI, we will have cd' sold by the winner and shows given by the contestants. All to generate revenue. With The Apprentice, the ultimate product being pushed and marketed is Trump himself, a man all too eager to make himself, and his name into a brand.
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