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.


John said...

These people are not musicians or artists of any sort. Their goal is not to create something, but to be adored and commoditized, and I refuse to feel sympathy for anyone seeking fulfillment in life through celebrity. They are not plucky individuals being picked on by the big mean music producers; they are shallow, shallow people attempting to whore themselves out for attention, only to be told they’re not worth the asking price. The only difference between them and Lindsay Lohan is that they suck at being famous, as well as singing.

Does that make okay to laugh at them? I was going to say no, but now that I think about it, it kinda does.

Tyler Hower said...

There are reasons that it might be right, even admirable, to laugh at most of them. But there are more than a few cases that really are little more than laughing at the slow kid. And, that makes me feel icky.

Anonymous said...

One of the most horrible things about American Idol is the rounds that people go though. My friend Ben (who is an incredible singer, and has been touring with Rent to prove this fact) went through 8 rounds of producers until he got before Simon, etc. and once they found out he had musical training, the told him no. The final people that are put on the show for everyone to laugh at have also gone through those 8 rounds of producers. 8 rounds of 6 judges in each telling them how amazingly talented they are (these first rounds are group audition so other people can watch). So not only are these final people going to embarrass themselves, but they have been told how wonderful they are too. Another ploy to get reactions from those that audition, find viewers, and rid the world of people with actual talent with training (which seems to be happening more and more these days).