I don’t mind admitting that Shark Tank is flat-out addictive. Essentially, five “sharks” — billionaires or multimillionaires looking to invest money — listen to pitches from entrepreneurs seeking capital for their businesses. Sometimes the entrepreneurs’ ideas are so bad that the sharks will ridicule these people to the point of making them cry. Other times, the business ideas have such profit potential that the sharks will fight each other for an ownership stake in the entrepreneur’s company. Yes, I love Shark Tank, but probably not for the reason I’m supposed to.
Shark tank bills itself as proof that “the American dream” is still alive, i.e., anyone can come up with a great idea and get rich. Some of the relatively successful entrepreneurs include a girl who makes decorative magnets out of bottle caps, a slew of jewelry and clothing designers, two college kids with a coffee-of-the-month club, some guys who made fish bobbers out of shotgun shells, a guy who made a pillow with a “hoodie” attached to it, a woman who made a toilet seat for cats, and a guy who made an “app” that can hide incoming phone numbers so you can cheat on your spouse without getting caught.
True, this is all very entertaining. But what I love about the show is it actually proves that, perhaps outside of the field of biotechnology, we really haven’t created anything of real value since the cell phone and the internet. Sure, there are minor tweaks and improvements on existing products — e.g., I can now get the internet on my cell phone, I can talk to people over my computer, or I can get a pillow with a hoodie sewn on it — but these are all just marginal improvements. Nothing is really “new.”
And I also love the show because it proves that people will buy almost anything they see on television, regardless of whether they need it. My favorite shark — a billionaire who calls himself Mr. Wonderful despite his surliness and mean-spiritedness toward his fellow sharks and the entrepreneur contestants — told one entrepreneur, “This stuff is crap, but you sell a lot of it, and that’s what matters.” Better yet, he told another entrepreneur that their product was “so ludicrous, so frivolous, so mindless — it has merit.” (And these are his rare moments of kindness.)
So with all of the good inventions taken, where does this leave “the American dream”? To answer this question we must, ironically, turn to an Englishman who is not even affiliated with Shark Tank. Five years ago, British actor Rob Brydon said “It’s 2010, everything’s been done before. All you can do is do . . . it better or differently.”
On the other hand, the Brits aren’t the ones who brought us toilet seats for cats.