I love Shark Tank. It’s one of my most recent guilty pleasure shows (move aside, Dance Moms). On Shark Tank, aspiring entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas to a panel of investors–the “sharks.” The sharks–including the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, Mark Cuban–are all “self-made” millionaires and billionaires that invest their own money into these ideas and try to make them into business success stories.
The more I watch the show, the more I think of Shark Tank as the epitome of a celebration of capitalism. Viewers spend an hour watching business owners pitch the latest product of this or that (which usually no one needs–my latest favorite? An alarm clock that stores bacon inside and begins cooking it at the time you set your alarm to so that everyone can wake up to the smell of bacon. Because obviously I need that in my life). To top it off, they also watch as investors “make dreams come true” by rewarding the most innovative and successful ideas with large sums of cash.
In a way, Shark Tank also reveals some of the problems with capitalism while mostly just glossing over them. Viewers are left with a sense of “business as usual” and don’t really question some of the fundamental issues with business competition as Shark Tank portrays it. Perhaps one of the best examples occurred during what was potentially the largest deal in Shark Tank history. In a pitch for “First Defense Nasal Screens,” Joe Moore explained that his product was a lightweight, discreet nasal filter that could prevent the inhalation of 99% of allergens, dust, and contaminants in the air. The product had already earned him an $8 million contract with the United Arab Emirates. So the sharks had to ask: Why haven’t you taken this product to the big drug companies to be invested in?
“I have,” Joe explained. But those big drug companies explained to him that they were actually competitors with his product. “Why should we prevent it for $1 when we can treat it for $14?”
While I can think of a few good answers to that question, the sharks kept going as if that was of course the appropriate answer any company (and especially one that makes billions of dollars) should give.
So while I’ll continue watching Shark Tank (I find Mark Cuban very amusing, thank you very much), I also view it with a much more skeptical eye. What does this show say about our priorities as a country? These contestants are touted as living the “American Dream.” They’ve come up with an original and innovative idea and are making money from it. What happens to all the people that buy the products that appear on the show? Are they happier? Bacon might make me happy in general, but not enough to buy an alarm clock for it. That doesn’t mean, though, that I haven’t considered buying some of the other products on the show. If I did, would it be because I like the product? Because I like the show? Because I want to say something about my connection to both? Maybe Mark Cuban has the answer.
Check out Shark Tank here: