"I wouldn't wear it in public". Photo: BBC/The Apprentice
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“You can ride a canoe, but can you ride a yacht?” The Apprentice blog: series 10, episode 2

It’s the second episode in a week of the new series of The Apprentice, meaning the producers have really given it 200 per cent.

WARNING: This blog is for people watching The Apprentice. Contains spoilers!

Read the episode 1 blog here.

 

As the drop-shadow WordArt title graphic for The Apprentice rolls onto our screens for the second episode this week, viewers may be asking themselves whether they really possess the endurance for this. Do they have what it takes? Are they just a lily-livered passenger, not up to the task, or will they demonstrate the ruthless stamina required for watching 19 people trying to figure out how to make a glorified Christmas jumper?

Yes folks, hold on to your skill-sets, it’s a design task.

Those with institutional Apprentice memory will remember such stand-out inventions from previous series as the inapplicable app “Slangatang”, sexless dating site “Friendship and Flowers”, the “Book-Ease” that made reading more difficult, the useless utility belt “Pooch Pouch”, the million “Splish-Splash” screens Amazon declined to buy… the list is an endless production line of ill-conceived inventions.

This episode, in an echo of the Today programme politely investigating the “pre-loading” phenomenon among Young People, The Apprentice decides it should go all techy on us, a few years too late, by asking its fresh batch of non-trepreneurs to design and sell a piece of “wearable technology” to retailers.

“Wearable technology” brings to mind those gaudy rubber watches with lots of functions that make you fitter, happier, more productive, only ever really championed by twenty-something media industry insiders and the Chancellor. But this flies way over the heads – probably at peak Shard level – of the candidates, as they look more towards the superfluous-LED-infested-garments market.

The teams remain divided up into boys and girls, the latter exchanging their initial team name “Decadence” (a play on “decade”, apparently) for something more suitable, “Tenacity” (a play on “ten”, maybe? Let it go, guys). They are all woken in the usual way – hustled into a fleet of cabs at the dead of morning to pointlessly stand in a tenuously-related London location. Lord Sugar turns up at Imperial College to command them to make some wearable tech for the three retailers he’s inevitably “laid on”. Of course he has.

He suggests Robert – the “arty farty” one who tried to make hotdogs “so Shoreditch” in yesterday’s episode – be project manager for the boys, because of his modish east London ways. Robert duly shirks the task, insisting he’s too “luxury” for such an ordeal. But who then? Which of the boys could possibly lead a task on inventing a piece of wearable technology? I mean, there is Scott. He was only oddly specifically prepped for such a task by having attended a conference on the very topic of wearable technology a fortnight ago, but go on then, he’ll have a go.

"All women are wearing jackets". Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

There is also reluctance among the women’s team to lead the task, as they each deploy their best hosiery- or scarf-based excuses for why they should avoid pioneering a fashion task. Eventually, marketing officer Nurun puts herself forward, only to insist later on in the heat of the boardroom that she was “coerced”, woefully lamenting that if the challenge had been to create “a burka that changes colours”, this would have been her remit. We all have our strengths, Nurun.

She proves unable to make any of the big decisions – like whether their jacket should have flashing lapels, a heat regulator, or a built-in pocket phone charger, so they go for all three. Why this garment in particular? “All women are wearing jackets,” is Lindsay’s explanatory – and only – contribution.

The jacket returns with some enormous plasticky epaulettes on each shoulder: solar panels. Wouldn’t they have worked hidden beneath the material, shielded from the sun, the team earnestly debates. “That’s one thing we didn’t ask,” their team leader sadly concedes. Karren Brady watches it all with her “I don’t have to deal with this shit in the House of Lords” face on.

A glorified Christmas jumper. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

Sarah, the villain of episode 1 with her insistence on “females” being “more attractive”, does a sinister job of modelling the solar powered fairylight-cum-hotwater bottle invention in a pitch to a retailer, standing stock-still, hand on hip, as her pockets slowly warm up and lapels flicker with despair. “We can switch on a few lights, and help you attract someone that you like,” moots Ella Jade in her pitch, as civilisation shrivels up and dies.

The boys don’t do much better, shaking with suspense during Scott’s between-pitch pep talks. Jaw clenched, nostrils flaring, teeth grinding, in that harrowing bluish light reserved for gritty police dramas, he seethes “we’re gonna smash it”.

Like a convict psyching his fellow inmates up for a breakout, Scott sweats aggression into the whole task. “I’ve put my balls on the line,” he breathes. All this heartache for a creepy grey jumper with a spyhole and some Christmas lights on the front. “Privacy is history,” chirps Robert, merrily demonstrating the jumper’s attached camera as GCHQ softly places its orders.

Daniel clearly sees the product’s shortcomings during his pitch, as he admits to the retailer: “You wouldn’t go in a public place with it. No, you wouldn’t go out and about.” It’s a rare moment of honesty in the programme, which nearly costs the pub quiz director (yeah) a rich future of lies and obfuscation.

Scott's face twists in a chilling rage. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

But in the end, it’s Robert and Scott who get hit in a double firing. The former is dismissed prematurely as “dead wood” even before boardroom time – the Apprentice equivalent of detention without trial. Scott leaves in a more traditional firing, and by the wild look in his eyes probably goes on to punch a wall or hijack the black cab that picks him up and mow down the next wearable tech engineer he comes across.

I’ll leave you with Robert’s baffling last words: “You can ride a canoe, but can you ride a £250,000 super luxury yacht in the South of France, Cannes?” Well, to use a more traditional metaphor, you can’t sail anything when you’re up the creek without a credible business strategy.

 

Candidates to watch:

Jemma

Her role model is Simon Cowell.

Quite quiet for the duration of the task, she popped up at the end to sternly insist the solar shoulder pads could be styled out as a stripy design, rather than the visible and cumbersome energy devices they really were. A positive thinker?

 

James

“Del Boy’s my nickname.”

This yappy yuppie was highly unpleasant and shouty during the entire task, giving the mild, bespectacled tech developer a bit of a fright when they met during a design meeting. He’ll start to get on everyone’s nerves in future tasks.

 

Scott

Is he... ok?

 

I'll be blogging The Apprentice each week. Click here to follow it. Read my blog on the previous episode here. The show will air weekly on Wednesday evenings at 9pm on BBC One. Check back for the next instalments every Thursday morning.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

© THE TRUSTEES OF THE BRITISH MUSEUM
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How Native American culture fought back against the colonisers

The British Museum's new exhibition reveals the resilience of First Nations culture.

In the Great Court of the British Museum stand two enormous cedar totem poles, acquired in the early years of the 20th century from the north-west coast of North America. One was made by the Haida peoples and the other by the Nisga’a, two of the nations that make up the many-layered society stretching through Alaska, British Columbia and Washington State in the lands which, today, are called the United States and Canada. These peoples, whose history dates back at least 9,000 years, have been remarkably resilient in withstanding European and Russian incursion from the 18th century onward. Besides the Haida and Nisga’a, there are the Tlingit and Kwakwaka’wakw, the Tsimshian, the Coast Salish, Nuu-chah-nulth and Makah groups.

Now, for the first time, the British Museum is bringing together objects from these cultures in an exhibition that showcases one of the world’s most recognisable artistic traditions, and demonstrates how cultural identity can endure even in the most terrible circumstances. First Nation rights and identity are still very much under threat, as protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota show.

The exhibition takes its title from the legendary Thunderbird, who uses his strength and power to hunt whales – a skill he is said to have given to some of these communities. His legend persists into the present day. The Thunderbird can be seen here on a club collected by Captain Cook in the 18th century, and on a 1983 print made by the contemporary Kwakwaka’wakw artist Tony Hunt.

The objects on display are set in cases painted with a pale green wash to evoke the colour of fresh cedar bark. Some – such as the totem poles in the Great Court – evoke the power and majesty of these societies, while others are domestic items that combine beauty and usefulness in equal measure. In the first category are two potlatch “coppers”, shield-shaped plaques about a metre in height, made from what was an exotic and valuable metal. The potlatch is a ceremony, often days long, of feasting, dancing and giving of gifts. Such copper plaques, patterned with spruce gum in the sinuous “formline” design, which is as distinctive to the north-west coast as intricate knotting is to the Celtic tradition, were a significant part of the ceremony.

Equally intricately worked is a basket made of cedar twigs and cedar bark, used to catch fish. The bark on the basket is wrapped in an alternating sequence around the twigs: a technique that brings not only beauty but strength to what is, in effect, a delicate net. From these two objects alone, one can begin to grasp the sophistication of life on the Pacific north-west coast. The people of these cultures built highly complex and rich societies, all without the benefit of agriculture – evidence of the bounty of the bays and islands. In this lush geography, artists and craftsmen made works that are a source of wonder today: look for the joins at the corners of the elaborately decorated Haida box on display and you won’t find any. The chests are made from a single plank of red cedar, which is steamed until pliable; the two ends are then pegged together. They can be used for the storage of clothing, also as drums, or for cooking – or even for burial. They are a good symbol for the adaptability of the cultures of the north-west coast.

The new exhibition is laid out over a single room. One side of the room spans the earliest stone tools and historic weapons made in the region, up to objects from the time of Captain James Cook’s arrival in the 1770s; the other features art and regalia from the museum’s collections, including contemporary work and examples from the modern era. The latter addresses what might plainly be called cultural genocide: the often willed destruction of First Nation populations, in both Canada and the United States, by disease; by the residential school system, under which children were taken away from their families to be “educated” out of their culture and beliefs; and by the attempted eradication of languages and religious practices.

One of these banned practices was the potlatch itself, outlawed in Canada from 1880 until 1951 – long enough for a culture to vanish. Yet it survived, the curator Jago Cooper told me, as a result of “people going into museums and studying, or grabbing a grandparent and asking questions. People were incredibly industrious when it came to restoring their culture.” The show opens with a video of a vibrant potlatch.

There is evidence of that restoration and revival in the regalia worn by Chief Alver Tait in 2003 when the Nisga’a totem pole was first raised in the British Museum after decades of storage. He and his wife, Lillian, performed a spirit dance “to bring life back to the ancestors in the totem pole because they had been resting for so long”.

Much of the material here has been seen less frequently than it might be. In Missing Continents at the British Museum, a BBC Radio 4 programme made last year (and still available on iPlayer), the artist Antony Gormley, a former British Museum trustee, argued that the cultures of Africa, Oceania and the Americas are overshadowed there by those of Europe and Mesopotamia, which take the lion’s share of permanent displays at the institution.

Temporary shows such as “Where the Thunderbird Lives” allow a glimpse of the museum’s hidden holdings, some of them simply too fragile to be seen very often, or for very long. At least one of the objects, a gorgeous yellow cedar cloak, collected in the last years of the 18th century on George Vancouver’s North Pacific voyage and painted with an oystercatcher and two skate figure images, is a “once in a lifetime” object – it can’t be exposed to light for long, so now’s your chance to see it. We don’t know who made it. Some of the others, such as the “welcome figure”, carved with open arms, can’t even be attributed to a specific culture. That is, of course, true of many items in the museum’s vast collection: we don’t know who made the Sutton Hoo Helmet, or carved the Rosetta Stone.

The past cannot be changed: it can, however, be acknowledged, as this exhibition gracefully does – for in the work of the contemporary artists here, one sees, in diverse ways, the continuation of their ancestors’ traditions. What looks like a traditional Tlingit spruce root twinned basket is made of glass, by the contemporary Tlingit artist Preston Singletary; a copper pendant echoes the great potlatch coppers but the image printed on its face shows a detail from a US$5 bill (this was made by the Tlingit artist Alison Bremner). Ownership of culture and definitions of culture are questions more hotly debated than ever before. “Where the Thunderbird Lives” is a thoughtful – and beautiful – addition to that debate. 

“Where the Thunderbird Lives: Cultural Resilience on the North-west Coast of North America” opens on 23 February and is at the British Museum, London WC1, until 27 August. Details: britishmuseum.org

Erica Wagner is a New Statesman contributing writer and a judge of the 2014 Man Booker Prize. A former literary editor of the Times, her books include Ariel's Gift: Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath and the Story of “Birthday Letters” and Seizure.

This article first appeared in the 24 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The world after Brexit