Friday, January 19, 2007

It may be too easy, but ....

Everyone has an opinion about American Idol or at least it is the hope of Fox and Fremantle Productions that everyone will, but at the risk of being just another among many, I'll add a bit.

After my evening class this Tuesday, I went home to eat some dinner and watch some mindless entertainment. When I got home the second night (Seattle) of American Idol was on and, as I watched, I couldn't help but agree with something I believe David Brooks wrote in the New York Times last year during the beginning of that season's search for the next pop star--Taylor Hicks, really? The fact that so many of us can enjoy the show, particularly in its opening weeks, reflects quite badly on our characters.

To laugh as someone who not only lacks talent and lies outside most people's perception of beauty and is unfortunate enough not to be aware of either of these facts about himself is insulted and called names by a "big time music producer" who himself has mostly produced what philosophers of music call crap, is really sad. Of course, we might be taking the side of the others at the judges' table who waited until he left the room to laugh at him--assuming I guess that he doesn't own a television. There is a long history of comedy getting its points by portraying the high and mighty getting their comeuppance by being shown exactly that they were neither high nor mighty to begin with or by being brought low to the level of the rest of us or below. In fact, many people conjecture that this was one of the modes of comedy that Aristotle was interested in.

But American Idol gets its points in a much lower, nastier way. We laugh at people who probably don't have a lot going for them in the first place, but who quite mistakenly believe that they have musical talent; more specifically, we laugh at them being ridiculed for having had this mistaken belief. We laugh at the low being brought lower in so many cases.

Of course, for those contestants who are most clearly of lower mental aptitude, the judges do show mercy, usually just telling them that music isn't the right career choice for them or that the competition isn't the right one for their skills. But this moment of humanity seems little more than calculated to demonstrate that the inhumanity in the rest of the program is just good fun.

There's just something about the whole performance that makes me ask myself, "What kind of person am I or would I have to be that I could enjoy this?" The answer is not a pleasant one.