“Are you a glory hunter, Lewis?”, Karen Brady asks a teenage scouser. “Yeah”, he quickly assures her, straightfaced. They sit across from one another in Lord Alan Sugar’s televised boardroom, as Lewis takes responsibility for his failure to adequately present their product to the buyers. Along the table, the perfectly-coiffured Harry M smirks with the self assurance of someone who knows they are a winner in life, if not in the context of this particular episode of Young Apprentice.
Brady corrects poor Lewis, right, clarifying what exactly “glory hunter” means in this context. He quickly denies the accusation and ultimately dodges the bullet, and we see the portly Dan, another regional accent (this time it’s a brummie), bear the brunt of another of Lord Sugar’s disappointed finger stabs as he’s fired.
Lewis should have been fired. His presentation to the buyers was horrific: he read most of it from a printout, stumbling over words and phrases like a junior school nativity play. His plucky scouse charm, on top form when caricaturing the plummy Harry M (below left), was suddenly nowhere to be seen as he visibly floundered when speaking in public. Waiting in the wings, visibly fuming as the presentation fell apart, was the sharply-dressed economics student Harry M. School prefect, polo enthusiast and with a cut-glass RP accent, he was everything that used car salesman-esque Lewis wasn’t. If he doesn’t end up winning the show, he’ll end up leading a company or making a killing in business. Why? Because he was born to.
The BBC, with its public service remit, can’t simply fill shows like this with rugger buggers and Sloane rangers, despite their proclivity to win in the business world. So of course, they throw in a few of the Lewises and Dans of this world. Gutsy, charming northerners, probably from a modest background but entrepreneurial. Probably won’t win it, but might get through to the final stages as a feelgood story, before the well-groomed rich kid steps in to win it. Now of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and the Apprentice is by no means the only route into business. Sugar himself is a rags-to-riches success story, and never shuts up about his less-than-glamorous origins. But it feels like something here is balanced in one particular side’s favour.
This same lack of balance has been present outside of the television screen, though. Around half a year ago, we saw a quarter of a million people take to the streets to protest against government cuts and the perceived wealth gap in Britain. The protest was peaceful (beyond the apparently rogue “black bloc” anarchist element, which the main body of the protesters distanced themselves from). Middle class white families came out for the day, shook their signs and placards, then went home again.
Three months ago London went up in flames as the social underclass had a riot of their own. Shoe shops were looted, electronic goods were robbed on demand and angry youths set their own shopping centres on fire. This wasn’t a dialogue or a political challenge: it was an inarticulated protest. This was a subclass of society unable to express itself at the injustice other classes were equally angry about. Even now we see similar groups to the initial ‘safe’ protest occupying St Paul’s in the City of London. They have information tents, lectures, formal demands and a kind of self-organising governance inside the camp. The kids smashing up Foot Locker felt the same sense of injustice, the same half-understood sense of being short-changed and walked over, but weren’t equipped to articulate those feelings in ways other than the primitive violence of their response.
This isn’t to suggest that every rioter in London this summer was merely a frustrated wannabe-critic, unable to find the words to protest against corruption; likewise I’m not suggesting everyone attending the protest march in early 2011 was a chai-sipping Guardianista marching in their Birkenstocks. But it seems to me that when the inherent class divide present in society is now playing itself out on TV for our entertainment, we need to take a step back.
The opposing team on Young Apprentice had a similar issue. Gbemi Okunlola, right, leader of the girls’ team, delivered some equally uninspiring pitches to the buyers. Two of the other girls on her team, both of them young, white, self-confident and well-spoken, wrinkled their noses in obvious distaste at Gbemi’s abruptness and brash attitude. What do they want from her? What do we want? Is the Apprentice aiming to adhere to all of the stereotypes of businesspeople: posh accents, generic suits, and the put-downs and one-liners of the privately educated? In what way is a black south London girl telling her team mate to (for example) “get stuffed” any less appropriate than the latter asking her why she doesn’t “reconsider her attitude”?
It made me despair a little for the state of the nation, as melodramatic as it sounds. The Apprentice is a business show and it’s perhaps safe to say that the lucky rich kids steaming ahead here would be at a loss when experiencing the kind of challenges I imagine kids like Lewis and Gbemi have experienced. But why do they have to have those kind of experiences to start with? The fact is that we can never affect real change in society while those two kinds of protests (for those two kinds of people) aren’t unified. When the university-attending students occupying London can share dialogue with the disaffected youth smashing up KFC, then we’ll see what the power of a pissed-off populace can achieve. Until then, we’ll only achieve a partial revolution serving only a part of our diverse society.
Hayley, left, one of the aforementioned team mates, “passionately disagrees with people claiming benefits when they could be working”. While it’s great for a 16 year old to have strong political views at that age, perhaps Sugar and his cohorts could take advantage of the situation they’ve engineered to get these kids to teach each other some lessons. Make them swap lives for a month and drop Hayley into Lewis’s Merseyside, an area of astonishing deprivation and joblessness. Meanwhile let’s see Lewis realise his brash confidence will fail him every time alongside the polished Toryism of the home counties. It might not teach him what being a glory hunter is, but it’s possible we’d all gain an insight into quite why our society seems to be dizzily tearing itself in two.