Faceless businessmen. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice screengrab
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"I’ve never bought tights in my life": The Apprentice blog series 10, episode 12

Lord Sugar’s rather laboured hunt for a new business partner finally finishes.

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

Read the episode 11 blog here.

At last. Like birds released, we can spread our wings and fly jubilantly away from this cage of glass and steel that has imprisoned us for 12 weeks. Away from the fiercely ironed blouses and hostile pocket handkerchiefs that is the uniform of its inmates. Away from the cruel icy-eyebrowed gaze of its guards, Karren and Nick. Far, far away from the judge (and Supreme Court judge, of course), jury and executioner, Lord Sugar.

For it is the final. To those reading who have stuck with the series throughout, congratulations, and thanks for giving it 110 per cent. To those who had long ago given up but deigned to watch the final, yer a bladdy disgrace. A bladdy disgrace. But probably have more friends than I do.


In an emotional last ever early morning wake-up call, Mark in his serious boxers picks up the banana phone one final time to be told to travel to a random London location in 20 minutes.

He and Bianca – who take separate taxis for some reason, so it may be worth scrutinising the green credentials of their respective businesses if they ever come to fruition – bomb down to the Bloomsbury Ballroom. This is because it has the supremely vague appeal of being a “leading venue for high-profile events”.

“You’ll be pleased to know that I’ve arranged some help,” says Lord Sugar, with a look of a man jollily announcing someone’s death sentence, as a motley procession of some of the series’ past most irritating candidates file in. Felipe grins. Bianca and Mark look queasier than they did at six in the morning.

They pick their teams, with Mark’s furiously clenching nemesis Daniel, pintsized brute James and petrifying lipstick enthusiast Sarah last to be chosen, and go off to launch their businesses.

Sarah is last to be chosen. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice screengrab

“Sarah, welcome aboard, we need some beauty,” says Mark, as the equality of the sexes becomes but a footnote in the history of a world dominated by faceless digital marketing men.

Bianca briefs her team on the importance of selling hosiery in different skin tones for £35 each, while Daniel works very hard at setting his face in a confused scowl and making sure everyone knows he is a MAN and knows NOTHING about tights. “I’ve personally not worn tights,” he growls anxiously to camera, doing a good impression of someone who protests too much, “in fact, I’ve never bought tights in my life”.

And it soon looks like women won’t be buying them either. Well, not Bianca’s ones anyway. Her market research – a room full of businesswomen with legs of all different hues – shows very strongly that her aim for the “luxury market” (ie. ripping people off) is misjudged. They wouldn’t buy such expensive tights. “It’s important that people know the truth about this,” cries Lauren, her concern about getting a ladder extending to the whole of humanity.

Access deniered. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice screengrab

Meanwhile, Mark is putting together his dull digital something-or-other plan to do the same thing as those marketing people who hassle companies about making their online presence more “impactful”, but even more intensely. Face-to-face hassling.

It’s called “Climb Online”, and the promo video features builders and dentists scaling a climbing wall talking unconvincingly about how much they love people pitching to them about having their companies appear higher up in Google searches.

Then it’s time for the pitches, in which “an audience of experts” fills a cavernous function room to look menacingly at the candidate in question, and act as Lord Sugar’s gaggle of sycophants at the after-party, when they gather around what looks like garden furniture, drinking warm wine and discussing things like how “lots of people would buy tights in different colours” and “lots of people are doing the internets these days”.

Unsuitable entertainment. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice screengrab

Bianca gives a slick, solid performance, and the audience of experts coo and purr. Mark, stricken with stage-fright, is rather hesitant at first, clearing his throat in what ominously sounds like it will be a repeat of the disastrous pitchto Tesco he croaked and choked through a couple of weeks ago.

But he gets over it and delivers a passable, if staid, presentation. The only thing that jazzes it up is Solomon and James’ idea of having men in blue and orange lycra Morph suits climbing and falling in an interpretative dance to open the event. It’s everything that is wrong with the modern age: onesies and meaningless digital marketing strategies. But afterwards, the audience of “online giants”, who are disappointingly average height, sing Mark’s praises to Lord Sugar.

We end, as we always do, in the boardroom. There’s time for one final unnecessary sexist comment (Nick on seeing a real-life woman wearing tights: “Mr Hewer had minor palpitations”), one final mangled metaphor (Sir Alan: “singing the song for high quality, you make a rod for your back”), and one final firing. Bianca goes, and Mark wins the investment, as Lord Sugar decides, “the devil in me says the service industry”. Ooh, you devil you.

Putting the Mark in marketing. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

I've been blogging The Apprentice each week. This is the last instalment. Read my blog on the previous episode here. Click here to read the whole series. 

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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No, J J Abrams – Star Wars was never “a boy’s thing”

Women love things that are “for boys” because these things are actually “for humans”.

In 1977, millions of people went to cinemas to see Star Wars: A New Hope, and afterwards, a good portion of them were suddenly rendered invisible. It didn’t matter that they rushed to line up for the sequels; it didn’t matter that they were eager to buy and play with the toys; it didn’t matter that they grew up to read the novels and explore the expanded universe and sit through the prequels and introduce their children to something they had loved as a child. They’re a group that overlaps with the invisible force that haunts comic book shops, or plays a lot of video games, or makes up nearly half the audience for superhero films, or, to one New Statesman staffer’s persistent, possibly-only-half joking incredulity, liked Doctor Who long before Russell T Davies got his hands on it. 

With less than three weeks before J J Abrams’s rebooted Star Wars hits screens, the director went on Good Morning America yesterday to talk in vague, broad strokes about his turn with the franchise. But the otherwise-unremarkable interview made headlines because of one segment, when Abrams was asked who he most excited to hear from about the film. He said:

“Star Wars was always about, you was always a boy’s thing, and a movie that dads take their sons to. And though that’s still very much the case, I was really hoping that this could be a movie that mothers can take their daughters to as well. So I’m looking forward to kids seeing this movie and to seeing themselves in it, and seeing that they’re capable of doing what they could never imagine was possible.”

That invisible group of Star Wars fans, who love that well-known “boy’s thing”? Women, who have spent the past four decades loving the franchise just as much as all those fanboys, even if no one else – the fanboys themselves in particular – seemed to take much notice. Abrams’s offhand remark coincided with recent headlines like Bloomberg’s “‘Star Wars’ Toys Aren’t Just For Boys Anymore as Rey Takes Over”, a reference to the female lead of The Force Awakens, portrayed by Daisy Ridley. Across the web, aside from stirrings by the now-mandatory Internet Outrage Machine, the overwhelming response seemed to be one of sad and somewhat resigned frustration, with women sharing memories of falling in love with the series, essentially saying, “We’ve been here this whole time.” My friend Lori Morimoto, in “An Open Letter to J J Abrams”, wrote, “I’d like to tell you the story of a girl who became a Star Wars fan. I hope you can suspend disbelief over my existence long enough to make it to the end.”

Star Wars is a universe populated by complicated gender politics, on and off screen. The three original films fail most facets of the Bechdel test (I laughed out loud here seeing the suggestion that A New Hope deserves a pass because the only two named female characters could have talked offscreen). Princess Leia’s enslavement and escape (and the bikini she wears while doing it) is a cultural touchstone that’s launched a complicated feminist dialogue over the decades. And it is perhaps because of the mostly-male cast in the films – and the long-held assumption that science fiction is a primarily masculine property – that the franchise has long been marketed exclusively to boys, despite the massive and loyal female audience.

But the modern Star Wars empire is helmed a woman, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, and when she revealed that two-thirds the story team behind the newest film was female, she also pledged that there would be a woman in the director’s chair before too long. And since one of the leads in The Force Awakens is a woman, her character, along with a black male lead – portrayed by John Boyega – sparked anger from the reactionary white guy corner of the internet in recent months (sorry that the SJWs ruined your movies, guys!). For films that once portrayed a place so alien that only white men were allowed to speak to each other, the widening of representation in this reboot apparently looks to some like a political – or, to them, a politically correct – act.

The welcome diversity of the leading cast highlights all the good intentions in Abrams’s statement: that this new film promises more than a panoply of white guys, that girls and people of colour can see themselves reflected back in these new heroes. All the girls who thought the movies weren’t for them because they only saw men onscreen, or the endless line of male action figures on the shelf, have a point of entry now – that’s what representation means. And that’s certainly worth cheering for, even if it only took us 40 years to get there. But it’s hard for all the people who aren’t white men who’ve found other points of entry over the years, who managed to love it without seeing themselves there. I can speak from personal experience when I say that a lifetime of media about white guys hasn’t stopped me from finding characters and stories to fall in love with.

Here’s a theory: you might not have noticed that you were surrounded by female Star Wars fans all these years because you were the one who rendered them invisible. Women who like things such as Star Wars, or comics, or anything else that leads journalists to write those painful “not just for boys anymore” trend stories, have had to take it from all sides. Enthusiasm for something seen as the province of men clashes with mainstream perceptions of femininity. Even women liking this stuff in the context of traditionally feminised fan spaces, like fanfiction, find themselves fending off assumptions from men and women alike, perhaps the accusation that they are sexualising something too much, or they are placing too much weight on the emotional elements of a storyline. Basically, that they’re liking the thing the wrong way.

But women’s enthusiasm for perceived “male” spaces is always liking the thing the wrong way. The plainest illustration of this is the Fake Geek Girl, in meme and in practice: the barriers to entry are raised immeasurably high when women try to join in many male-dominated fannish conversations. The wonderful Noelle Stevenson illustrates this beautifully – and then literally, when a guy challenges her on her work. I’m sure that just by writing about Star Wars, I’m opening myself up to the angry gatekeeping-style pissing contests that men like to toss at women who claim to like the things they like. (Let’s get it all out in the open here: Star Wars isn’t my fandom. I saw the three original films on dates with my first boyfriend – our first date: Star Trek: First Contact, because we were clearly the coolest kids in town – and upon rewatches as an adult nothing grabbed me. But I am also a fandom journalist, so that’s kind of how this works.)

There’s a persistent myth – and I say persistent because I keep seeing these deluded boys get mad in new viral posts – that women who claim to like geeky things are just pretending, the somewhat confusing notion that they are doing it for attention. (And then there’s the inevitable anger that in this supposedly desperate plea for attention – why else would a woman claim to like their beloved characters?! – these women still don’t want to sleep with them.) And what never seems to occur to any of these gatekeepers is that these women were there all along, liking these things just as much – and are finally being given the cultural space to be open about their interests and passions. But that space is given haltingly; plenty of women, tired of waiting, are going out and taking it. The result is the tension (and, at times, outright hostility) that has marked certain corners of the fannish world in the past few years.

Women love things that are “for boys” because these things are actually “for humans”. There are many reasons that people love Star Wars, and most of them are universal things: the themes, the characters, the archetypal struggle of good versus evil. Most of the time we default to the white guy; he struggles with things we all struggle with, but somehow, he is deemed most relatable. Abrams, Kennedy, and everyone behind the new films should be applauded for their efforts to give non-white guys a turn at the universal story – I think these are incredibly valuable choices, and certainly will make the films vastly more accessible, particularly to children.

But we don’t just need Rey on screen and Rey dolls on the shelves for mothers and daughters – those same mothers and daughters have found plenty to love without many women to look to on their screens. We need boys to love the female heroes as much as we’ve loved the men over the years: we need universal to be truly universal. And when we express that love, the default reaction shouldn’t be a challenge: not, “You don’t like this thing as much as I do,” or, “You don’t love this the right way.” Isn’t it easier to say, “Oh, I’m so glad that you love this, too!”

Elizabeth Minkel is a staff writer for The Millions, and writes a regular column on fan culture for the New Statesman. She is on Twitter @ElizabethMinkel.