The New Celebrity Apprentice and the Scourge of Faux Inclusivity

This post contains mild revelations about the results of season 15 of The New Celebrity Apprentice.

“We now live in an inclusive society where no one’s left out,” Boy George announced during Monday evening’s episode of The New Celebrity Apprentice. He shared this piece of good news while describing the series of ads he and his team had developed on behalf of Kawasaki’s new line of ergonomically customizable motorcycles. “The idea of this campaign,” the Culture Club singer explained to Arnold Schwarzenegger, The New Celebrity Apprentice’s recently installed new host, “was that, you know, anybody can be a biker—not just the traditional person who uses the bike. It’s open to everyone, whatever their sexuality, whatever their age, whatever their gender. And I think that was a really, really positive message.”

A positive message it was. And in response to it, Schwarzenegger replied: “Good.” The actor-turned-governor-turned-TV-host added no more to the conversation. Instead, he went on to fire (or, this being Schwarzenegger, to “terminate”) Kyle Richards, the Real Housewife who had been the project manager for the women’s team. Her firing came partially because the campaign the women had created for Kawasaki had failed to do enough to subvert traditional gender roles. At least, it had failed to do that in Schwarzenegger’s judgment, which is, in the show’s executivecentric universe, the only judgment that matters.

It was all, on the surface, a rousing endorsement of diversity and inclusion—a reality show, just as Boy George suggested, serving as a metaphor for reality itself. And it was unsurprising that the show would do that: The New Celebrity Apprentice, like so many of its fellow reality shows, is extremely skilled at making pageantry out of progress. And the newly Schwarzeneggered version of the show, to its credit, offers many of the same things the Trumped-up iteration did: an equal number of women contestants and men, of various ethnicities and backgrounds; a general focus not on contestants’ appearance, but on what they bring to the table; an opening montage that emphasizes moral extraversion by asking, in all caps, “WHAT IF … YOU COULD … MAKE A DIFFERENCE?” The initial episodes of Schwarzenegger’s version of The Celebrity Apprentice divided season 15’s contestants by gender, pitting men and women against each other and implying, in the process, that both groups are equally fit to compete in the only competition the show respects: the dogged pursuit of money (money, money, money, MUH-nay).

There are many, many criticisms you can make of The Celebrity Apprentice both as a franchise and a phenomenon, only some of them connected to the show’s money-myopia, only some others of them related to the man who was once the show’s host and who still serves, in a major ethical breach, as its executive producer. One argument in the show’s favor, however, is that it treats celebrity as the only currency that matters. In that very particular way, and despite its many absurdities, The New Celebrity Apprentice, which is not a ratings juggernaut but which is a show that airs during primetime on a major TV network, could be a productive force: It could model for its viewers the precise kind of society Boy George was describing in his speech. One broad argument for capitalism, after all, is that it is, as a system, less concerned with a person’s race or gender or age or appearance or sexual orientation than it is with that person’s ability to make money. The New Celebrity Apprentice, say what else you will about it, subscribes to this kind of brute egalitarianism.

But: It does so only on the most superficial of levels. The New Celebrity Apprentice’s sense of inclusion is perfectly attenuated to its genre: It offers “reality” that too often fails to be, well, reality. Boy George made his declaration about the “we” who “now live in an inclusive society” during the same week that will see the inauguration of a man who has publicly mocked the notion of inclusivity itself—a man who was propelled to the presidency with the help of the very show in which the “Karma Chameleon” singer was participating. The New Celebrity Apprentice champions diversity while often, at the same time, questioning its value. And, often, in the manner of its former host, outright mocking it.

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