By Aidan Callahan, Back Page Editor
A few years ago, I went through a Shark Tank phase where I watched the show religiously. For the uninitiated, Shark Tank is a reality show where entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas to a panel of investors, dubbed “the sharks.”
Like most reality shows, it quickly loses its luster once you realize just how distant from reality the show actually is. It only takes a rudimentary knowledge of video editing to know just how easy it is to make a boring business pitch look tense and exciting, and you can easily tell any funny moment was a pre-planned bit.
Despite this, Shark Tank has recaptured my interest in the last few months. This is because I no longer view it as a reality show. Rather, I view Shark Tank as a dark comedy about the failures of capitalism and the death of the American dream.
It’s not hard to read the subtext of the show. Shark Tank attempts to portray a world where the American dream is alive and well. Specifically, the show professes that anyone can become a millionaire like the sharks; all they need to do is have a good business idea and know how to sell it. The humor comes from the fact that this attempt fails in every way and only reveals the horrible capitalist hellscape we live in.
The sharks are presented as business experts who live lavish lives, but deservedly so. It’s emphasized that their millions weren’t just handed to them; rather, they earned their fortune using their business expertise. The show literally puts them on a pedestal, as they look down from their elevated seats onto the lowly entrepreneurs pitching to them, as if they are gods on Mt. Olympus hearing the pleas of mere mortals.
However, despite their godly status as business experts, their insights are consistently inconsistent. The reason they invest in one business will be the same reason they say “I’m out” to another. It’s clear their investments aren’t based on business expertise but rather their own personal whims and whatever will make good television.
Kevin O’Leary is the funniest character on the show because he knows exactly how to make good television. It’s clear he’s playing a character: He plays up his rich prick persona because he knows people love to see him tear down some poor entrepreneur with a bad pitch. But what’s hilarious is that he chooses to play this character.
The real life O’Leary is a billionaire who could do whatever he wants with his life, and yet he chooses to go on TV and act like a real life Scrooge. There is no financial incentive here — he does it because he enjoys looking like an asshole. This is hilarious but also deeply tragic because it works. O’Leary perfectly demonstrates how far removed the entrepreneurial community is from any sense of morality, as he is idolized for acting only in the interest of his own greed.
The second funniest character on the show is Lori Greiner. Her whole thing is that she is the “Queen of QVC,” a popular home shopping channel. Yet despite her queenly status, she goes on to Shark Tank and acts as if her QVC fans are cattle for her to manipulate. She’ll openly tell an entrepreneur, “You should take my deal, because I can just tell my QVC viewers to buy your product and they will.”
How little respect must she have for these people? She doesn’t think any of them will ever watch Shark Tank and realize, “Oh, she’s only peddling me products on QVC because she has a financial stake in them.” It’s as if she views them as subhumans who will follow her every command no matter what. And honestly? That’s pretty funny to me in the darkest way possible.
Ultimately, this show reveals that the richest people in the country are pompous jerks who lucked their way into their fortune — but who like to pretend that if you just worked a little harder you too can be a pompous jerk just like them.
The fact that they use their massive amounts of power to put on this charade where they can pretend to be geniuses while giving out life-changing amounts of money seemingly at random is so absurd that you can’t help but find it funny. It’s what I imagine would happen if you gave the characters from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia millions of dollars. So next time you’re watching TV, throw on Shark Tank. It’s a hilarious reminder of the absolutely absurd extent to which capitalism has destroyed American society.