Celebrity Apprentice: Dual Deception

Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth. —Oscar Wilde

The public life of a celebrity is close to that of a puppet: a figure, rendered to broadcast certain cultural tropes as directly as possible, is made highly visible to distract from the engineering of the handlers behind the curtain. Every naturalistic gesture is considered, every moment meant to be viewed, to be judged. Whether the hands that manipulate the figure are the same ones that crafted the puppet, or whether the puppet is subject to the dictations of an unseen team, it exists outside the realm of the personal and the authentic. The puppet is a considered reflection, a being in pursuit of an ultimate goal of becoming an icon, an emblem carved into the cultural ceiling of our collective church of fame.

The saturation of access to celebrities has made it possible to separate the puppets from their handlers, to tangle their strings and see their blank-eyed duplicity fall limply to the ground, allowing us to howl with laughter as the puppeteers scramble to regain control over the marred image that results. Whether through Twitter overshares or viral videos of our once-revered puppets drunkenly singing into a cheeseburger, the awkwardness and pain of those exposed nerves of truth have become the soul of new media. They are the life force of that lumbering circus giant, reality TV. To see this high-wire moment of scrambling to maintain the puppet, literally borne out in an improv puppeteer performance last night on The Celebrity Apprentice was mind-blowing.

And meta: Trump is nothing more than an aggrandized puppet master to this sad and downtrodden cavalcade of B-list celebrities. The Celebrity Apprentice is his chance to snatch these puppets from the hands of their puppeteers/handlers/managers and sit with them in his small theater, one doll in each hand, cackling at his own Punch and Judy routine as his children sit by, grateful that his sadistic pleasures have an outlet that doesn't affect them. This week, he stirred the teams to an awkward pitch before even starting the challenge by asking them who they'd want on their team, and then switching Clay without any regard to the requests. Later, in the boardroom, we watched him carefully pull the strings of conversation this way and that to make the desperate, would-be apprentices turn on each other. His lavender-haired son (who always seems to have blood just inside his lips, as though he bites his tongue continually) and eerily beautiful daughter Ivanka gave practiced performances, manipulating the celebrities and later voicing their judgement of the poor moppets' very souls to Trump, as dispassionately as if they were judging wines at a tasting.

These celebrities are in an untenable position where they must satisfy two audiences at once, and in doing so, like a puppeteer turning his back, reveal the mechanics of their illusion to one audience or the other. They must present a sympathetic, "real" self to the reality audience, and a no-nonsense, capable, and "professional" self to the audience of their peers/team/challengers without the layers of managers and stylists and handlers that make the professional self possible. This task is similar to asking a puppet to rise from the ground and start performing without any physical aid, simply because we believe in its reality.

Lisa understands the commerce of uncomfortable truth better than anyone. She is trying to satisfy the duality of her role by keeping two masks on hand and switching them schizophrenically. One minute she is the tells-it-like-it-is insult comic, making a completely unnecessary aside about Debbie Gibson laying a "four-alarm dump" to win the sympathy of the men on the team (who she mistakenly assumes are as violently misogynistic as she is). Then, in the boardroom, she thrusts on the shoddily constructed mask of the Crying Clown, a heartbroken jokester who's sad because she made a "girl" cry. See?! Her hatefulness is the big floppy puppet, but the puppeteer is a sensitive clown...that is the illusion she attempted to pull over on us last night.

Lisa, you fool no one. You don't care about making people laugh OR cry, you care about upping your per-appearance fee for a job you apparently despise. (Her constant griping about doing stand-up comedy for the last 22 years like it's a prison sentence—that's not someone who loves comedy.) Somewhere along the line the most primitive part of Lisa's brain seized on Dayana and wired her pleasure centers to seeing Dayana feel as sad as Lisa is inside. Whatever mask you assume, Lisa, the bitterness in your brain is like a writhing nest of poisonous snakes that occasionally shoot out through your eye holes.

Lisa's neurotic hatred of Dayana reached its zenith when she lambasted Dayana for wanting a job "in front of the cameras"...as if Lisa wasn't painfully aware of the reality cameras that were filming them that very minute, with her makeup as carefully applied as dressings to a wound. Penn and Clay deserve a little tsk-tsk for not speaking up for Dayana to Lisa's crazy face. It's clear that Dayana has become a punching bag with the face of the world sewn onto it for Lisa's twisted psyche.

Aubrey O'Day mirrors Lisa's contempt for her female teammates, although she had the good sense to side with Theresa in the boardroom, giving the show, which is heading into its last weeks, a female majority. But any notions of solidarity were completely undermined by a series of horrifyingly condescending remarks, including:

1. Theresa is not a quick thinker.

2. Theresa has a childlike spirit and brain.

3. Theresa gives all the ideas in her head to the team and all of them are worthless.

Theresa's mask of calm stayed in place. Theresa has clearly made a lot of progress in dealing with her temper.

To speculate about who deserves the dubious honor of not getting fired is to not understand the stakes of this series. The real game here is to see how well these figures can wield the faded puppets of their once-impressive personae as they continue to batter each others' egos.


– Did y'all recognize improv genius Colleen Smith?! She was teaching Arsenio and Theresa and if you collected everything she said to them about improv it would be equal to taking two improv classes.

– What is Lisa's problem with Dayana? Did you hear that she called her a racial slur in a recent interview?

– Aubrey O'Day: Seriously condescending, right? Should Lisa have turned her over in the boardroom?

– Didn't you kind of wish that you could see Arsenio and Clay Aiken do puppet improv together? Clay was seriously impressive.

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