The Decline of the American Empire: When “The Apprentice” MBA became standard issue, and our moral compass was overwritten

It’s amazing, but recently on Fresh Air ‘twas opined by entertainment critic David Bianculli that the Trump-related reality show “The Apprentice” will be the most bought “complete season” DVD set in this interview.


Trump, to paraphrase Bianculli, is everything Trump is when he is at his best: instinctively hot, mercurial, impeccably dressed, preening, and equipped with a laser-eye beam that spots defaults and excellences in leadership with a supernatural accuracy.

Bianculli has gotten me thinking though, it is clear that some reality shows teach us something and others show what people will eat while wearing skimpy bathing suits.

Another show which teaches the power of flexibility, adaptability, and the shifting mantle of leadership is Discovery’s Monster House in which goatee’d and gravel-voiced Steve Watson (who has a career doing “Behind the Music voice-overs should this deal go south) acts as a foreman to convert a plain ‘ol house into a house with a crazy theme around it.

To accomplish this, Steve contracts a series of 5 helpers from disparate backgrounds. Some are “art guys” big into paint and foam and textiles. Others are the salt of the construction earth, guys who drive nails into wood. In any case Steve, a quintessential LA guy (yes, even so quintessential he, like most LA people, is not from there), leads these designers into executing a vision.

Time and time again we see the wood-and-nail guys give the bleach hi-lited Steve with this designer coffee the hairy eyeball that in the international language of all workers says: “What the hell?” or “What an idiot”.

Oftentimes we see Steve cheerlead, and receive the same reaction. Other times we see Steve give up leadership dramatically, so that someone else, that the crew trusts can help them get the house done in their thin 5 day timeline. Perhaps that quality makes him a far better leader than many.

In any case, watching these shows provides great object lessons in a lot of the highlights - and lowlights - in Organizational behavior. Work shirkers, people who ride sex appeal (The Donald said that was “cheap”), innovators without backing, geniuses in the wilderness, messiah-complex holders, they’re all there for the public to see - it’s the Harvard Business Journal coming to you sponsored by Chrysler and GE.

In short, we’re giving the MBA education to the world - for free. Arguably some are profiting from this education. It will be remarked in the future how much this trend changed American business.

But why stop there?

Let’s follow this trend to its logical conclusion. As these shows become more powerful master narratives for Americans understanding their own lives, we will come to behave in a more strategic fashion - all of us. We will start to accept justifications based on good business sense. We will accept justifications of intervention that appeal to “efficiency” and “human rights” - even when they don’t.

Chicken little? Where are those WMDs Mr. Bush? Where’s that al-Qaeda connection? When all else failed the war became a concern about “human rights” or the “liberation” of the people. The US’s enemy, the UN, is portrayed as lumbering, slow, and inefficient, clinging to outmoded models of democracy.

In short, it’s the same argument we heard in 1999, the brick-and-mortars will be assassinated by the .com, your outmoded model of ligitimation and action is like a dinosaur, and, lead by “the CEO president” is guaranteed to do Democracy like it should be done (if this be Democracy, The Republic is looking better and better { yes, that is meant to be funny } ).

But just like a business, GWB’s White House tends to make up its moral compass as it goes along. If the war in Iraq is not about WMDs and an al-Qaeda connection (as we are being told we should believe given that the GWB administration can’t substantiate either) and is about GWB’s moral commitment to the ending of tyranny, how do we explain this?

Bush said he had given the US Coast Guard strict orders to “turn back any refugee” fleeing violence between loyalists to Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide and foes seeking his ouster.

– From Channel News Asia

Clearly, our CEO president’s moral compass is not so firmly fix’d, nay?

As the cubicle mentality becomes writ large, those corporate pirates, that know how the pull the strings in such organizations will be increasingly able to use the weaponry of the corporation to achieve ther will: for ill or good.

The appeals to efficiency and “human rights” are the selfsame appeals that Alasdair McIntyre spotted as the signs of an atrophying culture, a culture rotting from within, a country that, according to Gibran, is to be pitied for while it has belief it has not faith.

Again we are back to the cave in Tora Bora, the war of the Luddites, the resurgence of Fundamentalists, and Joerg Haider.

Perhaps our instinctive collective tribal barometer of fear index is why “The Passion” has so charged society?

OK kids, now let’s go to my current problem, is capitalism compatible with conservatism? Once you acculturate 100% of society to thinking like enterpreneurs, 5% will always push against the boundary of taboo for the profits that hide therebehind. 85% will be jealous of those 5% and 5% will be contientious moral objectors - who, by virtue of losing the means to obtain the tools of communication, will fade away.

I believe that the man who’s favorite philosopher is Christ will come to realize his administration directly helped hollow out the heart of actual faith - even if religious ceremony attendance goes up.

?Pity the nation that is full of beliefs and empty of religion. - Gibran