Shark Tank is the best kind of trash TV. It’s completely mindless propaganda for The American Dream, a show born out of the 2008 recession whose promise is that you — yes, you! — can escape your dire financial straits with a million-dollar idea, a little marketing moxie, and $300,000 in start-up capital bestowed upon you by a panel of benevolent billionaire entrepreneurs in exchange for fifteen percent of your company and a one-percent perpetual royalty.
Of the show’s recurring panelists — real estate magnate Barbara Corcoran, FUBU founder Daymond John, generally competent tech dude Robert Herjavec, inventor extraordinaire/QVC personality Lori Grenier, vaguely evil Canadian Kevin O’Leary, and professional billionaire Mark Cuban — it is only Cuban who seems to possess even the dimmest awareness of the reality that the rest of us live in. While he rarely plunks his own money down on a company (his favorite excuse is that a product “isn’t tech,” and therefore is out of his wheelhouse) he frequently asks contestants insightful questions that get to the heart of what they’re selling, before giving them some off-the-cuff guidance as they try to figure out whether they want to take a seemingly predatory offer from O’Leary or go with Grenier’s offer to hawk the shit out of their product on QVC. He’s also the lone shark that you laugh with instead of at, as well as the only one who seems the closest to being a regular person in a billionaire’s clothing.
Cuban’s largest investments on the show have included a million dollars in a boxed wine company, $1.75 million in an obstacle-course league, and $2 million in a company that creates really scary haunted houses. He owns a mansion with nine bathrooms, a basketball team (the Dallas Mavericks), has had to issue a public denial that he does NOT own a yacht called The Fountainhead (the confusion is natural; he loves Ayn Rand), and once wrote a book called How to Win at the Sport of Business. He blogs about healthcare policy despite admitting he knows next to nothing about it, and has a clothing line called “Three Commas” because the number of commas in a billion dollars, which Mark Cuban has, is three. Naturally, he is also the Shark Tank shark who’s most likely to run for president.
Shark Tank is produced by Mark Burnett, the reality TV producer extraordinaire behind Survivor and The Apprentice who, in addition to coming across in a recent New Yorker profile as the type of guy who would totally put public executions on network television if he got the chance, is responsible for rehabilitating Donald Trump’s image and inadvertently laying the groundwork for his presidential run. The worst thing about Trump, of course, besides all of the obvious stuff, is that he’s managed to set the bar for presidential competency so low that basically every hyper-competitive rich white man is looking at him and saying to themselves, “I could totally do that.” Howard Schutlz of Starbucks, Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan Chase, Bob Iger of Disney, hedge-fund environmentalist Tom Steyer, and Cuban have all made overtures at running in 2020, but only Cuban has enjoyed the same Burnett bump that vaulted Trump from the confines of the one percent directly into our living rooms.
Be a radical, Be different,Be a change leader Innovate. It’s your generation’s turn to govern. Go for it.But please leave our bad habit of using partisan language “Us vs Them”“Rep vs Dem” “Libs vs Cons“ behind..We are all in this together. Change the Game to Change the World 🙏 https://t.co/fzJJ6gqaOj— Mark Cuban (@mcuban) January 6, 2019
According to their respective IMDB pages, Donald Trump and Mark Cuban have both appeared on WWE Raw and as talking heads in the History Channel documentary miniseries The Men Who Built America. Cuban, meanwhile, has also appeared on Entourage, Billions, and Sharknado 3. Like Trump, Cuban is an asshole to women. In 2011, he was investigated by the Portland police for allegedly drunkenly groping a woman in a bar, and earlier this year, a Sports Illustrated report revealed a Dallas Mavericks front-office culture defined largely by hostility towards women.)
Cuban, who struck it rich in the late ‘90s by putting radio on the internet and then immediately cashed in before the Dot-Com bubble burst, has carved out a niche for himself as a defiant, fratty billionaire. Outside of Shark Tank, Cuban has built a diverse portfolio, helping to fund the online slideshow company SlideShare ( later acquired by LinkedIn as well as the algorithmically powered music discovery app SoundWave ( later picked up by Spotify ). These successful investments more than offset by Cuban’s stakes in the Normie-Twitter-sensation-turned-media-company BroTips, and a hologram company used by Criss Angel.
Regardless of their similarities, Cuban has for some time been positioning himself as Trump’s libertarian-leaning post-partisan alternative. During the 2016 election, he criticized him on behalf of Hillary Clinton, but only after he called Trump “the best thing to happen to politics” and bragging that he could beat both Trump and Clinton if he wanted to.
Last year he shifted to full-on “I’m not running for president (I’m definitely running for president)” mode. At a New York Times event, he laid out a full hypothetical campaign strategy, floating the idea of running under an independent ticket in order to get “right to the Golden Ticket time” in order to debate both the Democratic and Republican candidates. In June, after the news that Howard Schultz was mulling a presidential bid, Cuban told the Times he was thinking about running but was “not willing to discuss [the topic].” And while appearing on a Business Insider panel in December, Cuban claimed it would be “bad parenting” to run for president (he has three children with his wife, Tiffany), but that he still wasn’t certain he wasn’t going to run, all of which sparked flurries of stories in the press which, no matter their actual content, all featured the words “Mark,” “Cuban,” and “president” in their headlines. Given that Cuban spent the better part of yesterday being extremely online, folksily musing that “it sure would be nice to listen to what all the citizens of our country have to say about new ideas and programs,” it is not difficult to imagine a world in which he soon abandons the pretense of thinking about running and actually enters the race.
It’s entirely possible that the American political landscape is on the cusp of a changing of the guard and that today’s socialist and libertarian fringes will soon displace the mainstream Democrats and Republicans as our primary movers and shakers on the left and right. This, I think, is what Mark Cuban is gesturing towards when he preaches some mythical vision of post-partisan politics while simultaneously claiming he’s a “big fan” of noted Democratic-Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Such a potential future might be an okay thing — while many libertarians have weird and borderline unreasonable ideas about how to run a society, if nothing else, they’re actually willing to debate those ideas instead of single-mindedly antagonizing the other side as if this all were a big game of sports.
If we are to enter such uncharted territory, Mark Cuban, a billionaire who cares so much about sports that he literally owns a sports team, is probably not the person we should let steer the ship. He is a product of the same reality TV machine that produced Donald Trump, and he has benefitted from the same willful public ignorance of his business idiocy and reprehensible personal conduct. No matter how much Cuban talks about bridging divides and moving together as change agents of disruptive unity or whatever, he is basically going to run for president to satisfy his monstrous ego. That wouldn’t make him all that different from many of the career politicians who will run alongside him, but if nothing else, at least those people know what they’re doing.