Monday, May 11, 2009

Was It Good For You? (On the Celebrity Apprentice Finale)

The Celebrity ApprenticeI’m no culture snob. Sure, I might write something here about Dostoevsky from time to time. I’m even contemplating a soon-to-be-written post in which I’m going to reference Virginia Woolf. But I obviously enjoy (and appreciate) a good, pulpy page-turner, and consume other forms of popular culture (music, film, etc.) as readily as anyone.

Have never, ever been a big fan of the “reality” show thing, though. Like everyone else, I first became aware of the shows cropping up in the 1990s. I noticed when programs like The Real World starting to push music off of MTV, then Survivor (which premiered in 2000) kind of representing a tipping point after which similarly-styled programs began their decade-long TV tyranny. I remember watching some of that first Survivor that summer, the one in which the clothes-optional dude won the $1 million. Can’t say I paid much attention to that one after that first season, however, even in 2007 when poker pro Jean-Robert Bellande was on the China one.

Nor have I bothered much with the dozens and dozens of Survivor imitators (except for American Idol, which does entertain from time to time). Since these shows basically come and go without my ever noticing them, it wasn’t until last night that I bothered with Celebrity Apprentice, despite all of the hype in the poker community regarding Annie Duke’s deep run. Finally did break down and watch the finale last night in which Joan Rivers managed to “win” the hopelessly-contrived “competition” manufactured by the show.

Since there is that poker connection, and since a lot of people are buzzing about what happened last night, I thought I’d share here a bit of my own response to the show.

One of the questions most intriguing to poker players and folks in the poker media is the familiar “Is it good for poker?” question. Always comes up, that one. They ask it fairly often -- about various cultural phenomena -- on The Poker Beat, so much so that someone started a thread on their forum a few weeks ago titled “Sick of ‘is it good for poker’ topic?” The discussion on that thread went back and forth for a while, then some joker jumped in with his own non-constructive entry into the debate:

“Good points, all. But the question needs to be asked: is the ‘is it good for poker’ debate good for poker?”

Now that I think about it, that might have been me. Although my question was about 98% class clown in its inspiration, it actually produced some interesting responses. (As it happens, it really is not so useless to assess once in a while the usefulness of self-assessment!)

Anyhow, I suppose we’re all wondering whether or not Annie Duke’s appearance on Celebrity Apprentice is good for poker. In that WSOP conference call a couple of weeks back, WSOP Commish Jeffrey Pollack indicated that he thought it was, pointing out how it represented a “leap forward for the mainstreaming of poker into our pop culture” and that the “net effect was going to be very good for poker.”

I gotta wonder, though. I mean, did you watch?

Joan RiversFrom what I could tell, Rivers “won” the thing not because she raised more money than Duke (she didn’t), nor even because she demonstrated in any obvious way better leadership skills or creativity or whatever it is the show is attempting to measure in its contestants. Rather, it seemed pretty clear that Trump picked Rivers in the end as the winner of a popularity contest, and her popularity rested largely on her characterization of herself as a person who wanted to “win with honor,” and her characterization of her opponent -- a “pokah playah” -- as someone who was willing to forgo all moral guidelines in her Machiavellian quest to succeed.

In other words, while Annie Duke’s profession as a poker player made her an intriguing figure on the show, it also clearly helped make her the villain. And I guess now we’re left to contemplate whether that’s good or bad for poker.

Even if you haven’t been watching the show, you’d probably heard about Rivers’ shots at poker and Vegas. How she referred to the money contributed by poker players to Duke’s cause as “money with blood on it.” How she referred to her many years performing in LV by saying “I’ve met your people in Vegas for forty years -- none of them have last names,” suggesting the nefarious and/or criminal backgrounds of the inhabitants of Sin City. How she called poker players “beyond white trash.”

And, oh yeah, there was that Hitler thing, too -- a crazily hyperbolic attempt to characterize Duke as a ruthless dictator. That offended some, but not as many as you might think. (Rivers later apologized on her Twitter page -- to Hitler.)

Rivers again sounded the poker-is-gambling-is-criminal theme last night. In the final fund-raising task, Duke raised three times as much as Rivers (about $450,000 to $150,000); however, Rivers was able to diminish Duke’s achievement by referring to the money raised as “mafia money.” Duke again fired back in defense of poker players, but her cause appeared lost.

Annie DukeEven though I haven’t been watching the show, I knew Rivers was going to “win” early on Sunday night and told Vera Valmore as much. The not-so-subtle way the show portrayed Rivers as “all heart” and Duke as “all business” made it obvious. Rivers’ final “America is a charitable nation” speech at the end was just overkill -- she was already destined to be anointed the show’s heroine.

What is a show like Celebrity Apprentice about? It’s about what just about every cultural product produced for mass consumption that achieves significant commercial success is about, namely, reaffirming the status quo. Which at the present time does not include a loving acceptance of poker as a pursuit accepted by the majority of American society. If you didn’t get that before, the show confirmed it fairly unambiguously, in my view.

The show also confirmed a few other elements of the status quo of American culture, none too flattering. I’m not going to explain all of these points here, but if you watched the show, you know what I’m talking about:
  • Men are in charge.
  • Women shouldn’t act like men.
  • Emotion trumps intellect.
  • Greed is good, but don’t be so obvious about it.
  • There are other things to say about how the show reflects other aspects of American culture -- including issues associated with class and race -- but we’ll keep it a poker blog today.

    And as far as poker is concerned, I’ll conclude (for now) that Annie Duke’s appearance on Celebrity Apprentice is at best a push. Might have helped a little insofar as it invited people who hadn’t previously thought much about poker to consider the question of whether or not it represents a legitimate pursuit. But that would require looking past the way the show indirectly positioned poker as part of what defined the show’s “villain,” thereby underscoring cultural prejudices against poker.

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    Anonymous joxum said...

    I never watch any of that stuff - mainly because it is unable to pass the transatlantic bullshit filter. Not that it is a very effective filter, mind you, but this one we don't have, afaik, and thank you for that.

    Anyway - I thought that Rivers woman got voted off the island a few episodes back?


    5/11/2009 2:46 PM  
    Blogger Short-Stacked Shamus said...

    lol @ the filter joxum... Joan Rivers's daughter, Melissa, was also a contestant, and she was "fired" a couple of weeks ago, I believe.

    5/11/2009 2:49 PM  
    Blogger bellatrix78 said...

    Very, very sad about your four conclusions, because I think you hit the nail on the head :(

    5/11/2009 3:35 PM  
    Blogger Grange95 said...

    Loved your post about the show, several solid points. But is your post good for poker?

    5/11/2009 6:21 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    The game was fixed! Trump's sister-in-law, Blaine, is vice-chair to the charity Joan played for. On top of that, Rivers was hired by co-producer, Mark Burnett, for his new reality series on TV Land this fall. NBC commit game show fraud? Can you say "Quiz Show"?

    5/11/2009 9:53 PM  
    Anonymous cheap jordan shoes said...

    I cannot believe Trump selected Joan Rivers over Annie Duke!! Joan Rivers is just a loud, racists hypocrite. She’s argumentative and new listens to anyone’s ideas, etc. Way to go Trump!!

    5/11/2009 10:08 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    clearly the winner was A. Duke. Poker players should boycott any tournament held at Trump casino. Send the message to Trump.

    5/12/2009 1:04 AM  

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