The Proper Gander column from the December 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard
A new adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has appeared on our screens. The main character is Willy Wonka, who sits at the heart of his gleaming business empire. One day, he decides to hold a competition to lure the greediest children into his exclusive world. In a cruel endurance test, the selected kids are picked off one-by-one until the winner is rewarded with their own company. In the BBC’s new version, the affable-yet-intimidating Willy Wonka is played by Lord Alan Sugar and they’ve changed the title to Young Apprentice.
This is really a youthful spin-off from The Apprentice, of course. But that shouldn’t stop the estate of Roald Dahl from claiming royalties. In both Apprentice shows the contestants divide into teams which compete to make the most money. Their tasks are usually to market and sell a product: ice creams in week one, baby products in week two. Each week, a member of the losing team is ‘fired’ by the pointing of Lord Sugar’s chubby finger. Oompa-Loompa co-judges Nick Hewer and Karren Brady unfortunately don’t break into song after each contestant leaves. Instead, they sit disapprovingly in the background, occasionally raising an eyebrow when someone says something crass, such as claiming a flower arrangement had “rainforest chic”.
The teenagers taking part are all of the Veruca Salt variety: over-confident, self-obsessed and as irritating as sandpaper underwear. They all speak in vomit-inducing slogans from motivational posters: “I’m not focused on making friends, I’m focused on getting to my goals”, “I’m a ball of enthusiasm waiting to explode”. In fact, they don’t behave much differently to their pound-sign-eyed older counterparts in The Apprentice, and that’s what’s most unsettling. People are rightly concerned about children being exposed to sexual or violent influences. But why aren’t more of us also worried about how they can be corrupted by the world of big business? Why should children aspire to be money-hungry power-dressers with a permanent sneer? On a visit to London’s Natural History Museum, one contestant announced “I hate both nature and history but if it makes money then I’ll get to like it”.
And during a task to flog gadgets to the over 50s, another said “old people do just wanna like sorta dash their money ‘cos they just don’t see the point in saving any more”. Sadly, the winner of Young Apprentice will be the one who takes these attitudes furthest.
Perhaps they’ll use their winnings to open a chocolate factory?