Dragon’s Den

It pays to be a jerk.

Written by Leher Kala | Mumbai | Updated: March 7, 2016 12:16 am

I have recently begun watching Shark Tank on Colours Infinity (9 pm). Young entrepreneurs looking for funding stand in front of five, established, self-made billionaires and pitch new ideas. They offer them a stake in the new business in return for investment. The sharks drill them with frighteningly tough questions, on profitability and value. They also interrupt each other, often bickering like children, and dispute each other’s smarts with personal taunts. When the entrepreneur doesn’t offer them a deal they want, they proceed to trash the idea and it’s future by mouthing contemptuously brutal lines like “You’re dead to me.” People leave crying and shattered, the bullies indifferent, and undeterred.

The show is engaging despite the mean-spirited sharks who are frankly, doing the rich and wildly successful a disservice by portraying them as nasty and aggressive leaders with absolutely no manners. They seem a shining example of the American writer Dorothy Sander’s quote, “If you want to know what God thought of money, look at who he gave it to.” Watching Shark Tank makes me fantasise that if I ever got there myself, my primary objective would be to waste their time and all their money (in the unlikely event I could convince them to part with it in the first place).

No doubt, young and eager business people have a lot to gain from this invaluable interaction with industrialists who’ve made it before them. They’re forced to confront difficult questions on growth and performance and a slew of variables they might not have considered. However, is it really necessary for them to insult somebody’s invention and make them squirm just because they happen to be rich and successful themselves — or far worse, just to up the ratings of the TV show?

Reality TV is pathologically driven by winning. I guess participants are also made of pretty stern stuff and are willing to endure the rigours of humiliation since they’re so unswervingly focused on achievement. We’re all experiencing a cruder, more in-your-face daily rudeness which sadly, is the socially acceptable norm now. It plays out every night on Indian news television; the louder and more acrimonious the tone of the discussion, the higher the ratings. One can debate how much of what we watch reflects our reality but it does somewhat represent the ideals of the time. It can hardly be a coincidence that Donald Trump, one of the original, really successful reality TV hosts of The Apprentice (“You’re Fired!”) is overwhelming the US Presidential race despite a long list of savagely inappropriate comments. Incivility, it seems, is an asset. It makes for effective TV. The old-fashioned, provocative way to make it was to get naked, or get jailed. Now, you just need to be perfectly, and outrageously, horrible.

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