18 Feb 2009

American Idol: Critique of Democracy?

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Here is an email I sent to a Listserv:

Dear List,

On the way to work this guy on the radio was talking about American Idol, and it reminded me of a possible paper topic. I don’t even have a TV and I can proudly say I never watched the show, but for those of you who have, this could be a fun paper:

I think you could show that the rock stars chosen by the evil music industry are much better than those chosen “democratically” by the American people. Done correctly, I think you could convince most Americans that if they had to choose between the entire menu of rock stars produced from one or the other, that they would much rather stick with what the rich elites “tell them” to listen to, as opposed to the people’s choice as produced by the American Idol process.

You could neatly deal with possible objections like, “A musician with real talent won’t hurt his image by going on American Idol.” Right, and nobody in his right mind would run for senator either, and have the press interviewing his old girlfriends etc.

Although I haven’t watched American Idol, I am betting that people (in the early rounds especially) have to do really “obvious” things like make their voice wave around, even though that is amateur stuff to a true musician. I definitely noticed that in some of the comedy shows where they have to give a 2-minute routine in the early rounds and then the audience votes to see who advances. Somebody like George Carlin would probably get knocked out early on because some other guy has a really funny impression of Bill Clinton, but that’s all the guy has. But his 2-minutes are funnier than Carlin’s two minutes (if you’ve never heard of him before), and so Carlin ends up as a cranky janitor.

One last point: Is it a coincidence that (what my dad would call) the golden age of rock and roll coincided with payola? If you’ve got a few rich recording studios, and they think they’ve spotted someone with real star power, they can pay the radio stations to play that song a million times. People think that’s awful and manipulative, but you could say that about any advertising campaign.

Bob M.

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