Having watched both The Call Centre and The Apprentice the other night, I’ve got business on my mind. Particularly, I have its endless streams of manipulative rhetoric and the filthy mudslinging/endless positivity dichotomy that pervades the way people approach selling other people stuff.
At the core of my argument is a Marxist undertone. Now, don’t gasp, the idea behind Marxism is not horrible and do remember that Uncle Karl did not make the Soviet Union or any other despotic, suppressive regimes by writing Das Kapital or The Communist Manifesto – the various autocrats did that all for and by themselves. Marx was, essentially, a philosopher rather than a social engineer and a fine one at it.
This even looks like the back of The Office’s DVD
Karl Marx’s philosophical pedigree aside, the annoyance I have is borne out of a frustration I have with pure profit drive. Purely profit-driven ideals, such as the ones in place within companies with aggressive sales strategies, lead to nothing but pointless products and work places and jobs which are in no way intellectually stimulating for their subjects, due to their very nature.
On The Call Centre we have a David Brent-esque, seemingly lovable twerp who goes under the moniker ‘Big Nev’. Now, Big Nev is nothing and everything like David Brent all at once, a little bit like how Boris Johnson is nothing and everything like Harry Enfield’s Tim Nice but Dim character. He is everything like Brent in the sense that he is the subject of a documentary whose premise is a boss whose interests are in morale and being one of the team, but actually comes across as self unaware and as a bit of a plonker (“I’m not a plonker” – I couldn’t resist). He is nothing like David Brent in that his staff respond well to him and his rather lame jokes on the whole (maybe due to a lack of Tim or Dawn types) and in that he is a success in money making terms.
If you haven’t seen this then where have you been?
Nev knows what he’s doing. By giving a human face to cold callers in the eyes of the public as opposed to them being a voice, a stranger, it increases his chances of sales. Equally, by allowing himself to look like a lovable idiot, it casts a handy veil over the fact that he is a shrewd maneuverer.
The Apprentice, conversely, is centred around the figurehead of Lord Alan Sugar. In stark contrast to Nev, Sugar is eager for people to know how well he’s done in business (which is not actually as well as he puts across) and take him seriously, and is not anybody’s friend. Sugar’s show creates a nasty, divisive line between its contestants – clearly picked for their TV allure rather than savvy – by pitting them against each other in a game of profit. We can see the aforementioned mudslinging/endless positivity dichotomy nicely herein.
At no point in either show do we see any personal development (unless the Welsh call centre voice thingy is something you feel is, in which case you’re an idiot). Because of the purely profit driven ideologies of Nev and Sugar and, in fact, modern monetary structures, these folk who are chasing the profits (for the benefit of their bosses, regardless of the paltry commissions they are paid) are not challenged to further their intellectual minds – mainly because such development could lead to them realising what a shitty deal they’ve got and starting up a competitor or bringing down their company.
The Call Centre and The Apprentice highlight how we, in the late capitalist world, are complete slaves to profit. The Call Centre in particular shows where Adorno was right in his seminal essay ‘The Stars Down to Earth’ when he reasoned that “people no longer live together and know each other directly, but are related to each other through intermediary objectified social processes (e.g., the exchange of commodities)”. It is rather crass and ugly that I find all this entertaining and thus engage with it, but unfortunately one can only be what one is (and I am indeed crass and ugly).