Junior version of Apprentice

As Facebook statuses about ‘Junior Apprentice’ steadily clogged my newsfeed, my anticipation for a quiet hour alone with iPlayer and a strawberry Frijj became ever increasing. In previous years, I have been a slave to ‘The Apprentice’. Many a night have I spent shackled to the sofa with housemates, watching the inevitable media-friendly relationships artificially blossom, and snickering away over Cassetteboy’s remix of Alan Sugar (“I won an egg and spoon race once”, “I got a B in GCSE French”) to satisfy me during the interim between series.

In fact, it’s with this kind of enthusiasm that I approached the Junior version, rounding up my friends to come and join, insisting that “it’s meant to be REALLY good” to anyone who’d listen.

And it was. Nothing is funnier than watching some self-important, loud-mouthed, egocentric numpty fall from the height they created for themselves, and I don’t believe you if you say that’s not part of the enjoyment in it. ‘The Apprentice’ is popular mainly because, firstly, people love to think that they could do better than said contestants, and everyone loves seeing some overconfident, seemingly arrogant and unshakable contestant’s demise at the end – the graceful thank you to Sir Alan for the opportunity, or even better the Machiavellian sneer to the remaining few, all topped off by the wheely suitcase walk of shame. It reminds us that everyone’s human, and makes for some pretty entertaining shenanigans.

Nothing is funnier than watching some loud-mouthed, egocentric numpty

Yet something was holding me back from my usual plethora of TV heckles. The fact is that ‘Junior Apprentice’ comes pretty close to exploitation of children, and I didn’t feel comfortable watching it.

Yes, the contestants are as obnoxious as ever. Bossy and patronising, there’s little to distinguish them from those of years past, apart from the fact that well, they’re just kids. Is it really right for us to be laughing at them? Perhaps. I certainly would not criticise anyone for enjoying something that was intended for enjoyment. What I do question, however, is the morality of the program. It seems just a step too far. Whilst their icy and foolproof adult counterparts seem unlikely to change, everyone goes through embarrassing phases as a child. Think back to your younger years, what was yours? I’ll bet that whatever your childish obsession, you probably advertised it loudly to anyone who’d listen. You’ll also have escaped the media circus which these children, whether wittingly or not, are now involved in, and will be for the rest of their lives. One of the contestants, Adam Eliaz, has already been accused of sexism, prompting articles that will appear on Google searches for years to come. Perhaps it’s different in his case as he’s 17 and should arguably know better, but can the same be said for the rest of his competition?

This comes at the same time as Katie Price has launched her new make up range for children, first made controversial when the pictures of her two year old daughter wearing false eyelashes, eyeshadow and lipstick, were released online.

I’m not trying to be hysterical about this – I’m all for children setting up ruthlessly competitive lemonade stalls, and for girls to play with their mummy’s make up when they’re little, if that’s what they want to do. What I’m not for, however, is this growing inclination to capitalise on it. Children will always be prone to mimicking adult behaviour, in some cases better than others. Indeed, some of the children on ‘Junior Apprentice’ are arguably no longer children in any event. But then there remains the few who are.

Society seems to be growing towards a tendency for children to become more ‘adult’, and the playful tone of boys pretending to be like their daddies is gone. Personally, I’m hanging on to my final year of University as one more year of freedom, and would advocate those still at school to do the same while they can. As entertaining as it is, the ‘Junior Apprentice’ is symptomatic of a society which is striving to profit from children, whatever the cost. So, just like lovely old Margaret who has now gone to study papyrology, I’m out.

5 comments

  1. the fact he’ll end up on google for years to come is his problem. each contestant gave up their right to anonymity when they agreed to be on national tv.

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  2. Yeah, but the question is whether at their age they’re really in a position to forfeit those rights. The mere production of the show assumes the legitimacy of kids putting themselves in this position, which is surely influential when the kids opt to do it. I agree that they all seem pretty mature, but even if it’s inappropriate in only one case, the fact that the people who led them into that position are the same people making money from it is quite distasteful.

    Also Charlotte, Sir Alan is no longer – he is now Lord Sugar, (which has pretty creepy overtones).

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  3. 29 May ’10 at 12:59 pm

    Recovering Poet

    What a great piece article – unpretentious and unsensationalist in addressing a real issue. We do expect/impose premature adulthood on younger and younger children. I had never considered the show in this light, but looking back on my ‘poetry phase’ (!) sheds a new perspective on the whole thing.

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  4. Firstly, I’d like to say this article is really well written.

    However, being 18 not too long ago and understanding that the contestants on ‘junior apprentice’ are 16 and 17, I can’t say I agree with this being ‘child exploitation’.. If at 16 I can (or atleast could when I was 16) make the choice to drop out of education, I think it is perfectly reasonable for these children to go on a tv show. I dont think it’s any worse than laughing at the idiots who put themselves up for Wife Swap or any of the other reality tv shows. It is denial to suggest that we do not watch these shows to laugh at those dumb enough to put themselves up for them, and if the 16 and 17 yr olds on the show aren’t capable of realising this then maybe it’s time for that much-needed ‘hard life lesson’.

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