Here in Saigon, when I have absolutely nothing else to do, I may wander into the T.V. room and let myself vegetate for a while. In Vietnam, the main source of television entertainment comes from HBO, BBC, NHK, and for regular sitcoms, Star TV. Star buys most the the shows that do not do too well in the states I think except for a select few. Keeping in mind that my only source of info and culture from the West comes from the CNN homepage and Star TV I do not have a well rounded picture what-so-ever.
I recently finished watching The Apprentice and am curious as to why this television show is so popular. To me, it is a bunch of back stabbers who share an all to common vision of making the big time in the business world and will do anything to achieve success. When I was in business school, it was mostly about crunching numbers, labor contracts and other pretty dry subjects. It wasn’t until my Senior Seminar that we got to conduct case studies and had to put on presentations. I guess it would have been more exciting if we started yelling at each other or if there had been tense background music. It is intriguing how this reality tv show has glamorized putting together marketing packages and boardroom meetings. I guess this is a boon for business schools across the land but the reality is that business is not as much fun as it would seem. Constantly worrying about deadlines, cash flow crunches, and lack of sales does not seem so fun without a T.V. crew around.
Further, in modern society it is hard to imagine why we give such prestige to companies that sell soda water (Coke) clothing (Levi’s) and movie stars who serve the same function as clowns, which is simply to entertain. Perhaps it is the power that these companies command which is so alluring. I have met many country managers of companies such as these here in Vietnam and more than a few of them are a bit arrogant. If we look at the big picture, I think they should all be taken down a few notches (who cares if they make soap more sexy) and should elevate those that truly help humanity progress. To me, the scientists at NASA, advocates of Human Rights and those who bridge cultural differences should be elevated.
If we look at what country managers of companies such as Nike and Levi’s actually do, I’m sure it would not seem so attractive as T.V. tries to make it. Imagine those people in dirty sweatshops negotiating with the manager of the sweatshop to produce more orders for less price. This creates more overtime and less pay for the workers. The country managers also have to meet demand for their markets and a budget, but the people actually creating the jeans also have to make a living. The sweatshops often bid for contracts and the winners are those who can do so at the least cost (basic rule of business). But to win, they usually have to break the law and push their employees harder.
It would be fun to see the contestants of The Apprentice be assigned to produce the most amount of jeans in a sweatshop in a 6 month period on a normal worker’s pay. The U.S. is now a service oriented society and in the position to buy manufactures from the poor countries instead of producing it themselves. I believe this to be a normal path to help countries develop since they had absolutely no economy before and sweatshops at least provide some income where there was none before. It just irks me to see the reality behind all the glamour that The Apprentice creates.