I usually try to be pretty upbeat on this blog and focus on the things that bring me joy in this often cruel, sad world. I know I’ve tackled certain topics which many find exhausting if not inherently adversarial, like politics. But even then I try to focus on the (in my opinion) fun, less tribalistic elements of it, like classification and objective analysis of rhetoric. If I’ve ever gotten unpleasant when talking about a public figure before, it was only because their rhetoric/oration was weak or their policies have hurt me explicitly in my personal life. However, in this one instance, on a holiday commending the working class and the often forgotten struggles of labor unions…I have to peel back the optimism for a minute and honestly express my disdain towards the Patrician Optimates of the modern age.
I love watching arrogant big shots get their comeuppance. For me, it’s just reassuring knowing that despite their privileged existence, even millionaires and corrupt politicians can be humiliated like the rest of us. It was the silver lining in 2016 to know that Hillary’s twisted dream of being President for its own sake would never come true. (To describe 2016, I’ve often used a paraphrased version of FDR’s famous quote about Willkie from 1940. Instead of “I’m glad I won but I’m sorry Willkie lost,” it’s “I’m sorry Trump won but I’m glad Hillary lost.” ) And that’s one of the great unspoken perks of Shark Tank, a show I otherwise can’t stand. Sorry, but watching the pitchers go into manipulative sob stories for the millionth time and the Sharks insult them personally and/or play around with their lives (“say ‘yes’ in five seconds or the deal’s off the table!”) really got old fast for me.
Specifically, I love the way Mark Cuban continuously undercuts Robert, who often gets visibly bent out of shape about it. Cuban took over Robert’s niche of being a tech company mogul…but much much richer. The entrepreneurs who come in will often ignore Robert to work with Mark (or the other sharks) even after he gives them exactly what they originally asked for. Now and then the fact that Mark and Kevin both sold companies for billions comes up and the camera cuts to Robert looking upset, knowing that he’s a little guy among the sharks and always will be. So he’s like the human version of “little dog syndrome,” pitching a big fit when an entrepreneur offers him penguin slippers as opposed to lions because it’s his way of pretending he’s still a tough guy.
In the funniest pitch of the whole show, (Ez VIP, season 3 episode 1) Robert blows up and finally tries to defend his honor after a year of Mark’s heavy-handed way of asserting dominance. And Mark slaps him down like a little man in front of everyone, with a big grin on his face the whole time. Even the entrepreneur’s side-piece was suppressing a laugh at his expense. From then on, Robert learned his place and never spoke out of turn again in the presence of the big man. He makes overly generous offers and then watches as the entrepreneurs immediately ask Mark what he thinks anyway. He’s content to pick at the scraps Mark doesn’t want, and lives off pity. It’s part of what’s entertaining about the otherwise tedious show, watching the pecking order take hold even among the rich aristocrats.
And to those who’d say it’s mean for me to feel this way…look up Robert. Watch the way he treats people whom he feels as beneath him in this episode of Dragon’s Den. (The pitch is “Barracuda Security,” S5E15, about twenty-one minutes in.) People like him deserve every second of it. The obscenely rich do the same to us little guys, the working men and women everyday and are happy about it. They don’t pay their taxes and steal our bailout money while billions of people suffer and starve in poverty everyday. They have the means to end most if not all of that misery but choose not to and instead hoard untold sums of money they couldn’t spend in 30 lifetimes. With that context in mind, I find it comforting to think that even powerful people can fall.
We should relish in that knowledge because the rich are not inherently better than us as people just because they have more money. They are not untouchable. They are not immune to embarrassment or shame. Their shit stinks and their hair falls out just the same as the poor whom they look down upon. And for the time being, if they have to get some small form of comeuppance by other big shots…so be it. I only hope that one day the plebeians will be doing the humbling instead through a peaceful, orderly and well-coordinated set of societal reforms, but for now I’m willing to take what I can get.