The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Immorality Idol

by Steve Gajadhar

American Idol is back, not that I care. The show has never done it for me. Too long, too boring and too cheesy. But I watched it last week, Wednesday I think, one of the 2 hour premiere specials. I felt like I was watching the fat kid at the buffet, guilty, yet unable to turn away. And when I realized that I was still watching, I felt something else. Shame.

When did it become okay to put people on TV and collectively make fun of them? I’m sure it’s been a gradual descent from William Hung, but when did the show cross over and become 2 hours of ridicule and abuse. That’s what is really going on once we look past the elaborate moral diversion of “looking for true talent.” If the producers (and the viewers) are really looking for talent, why not show more of it? Even the borderline contestants. How about showing the tone deaf contestants that don’t cause Paula’s eyes to widen, or cause Simon to call them names? A rhetorical question. As with everything TV it’s all about ratings and sponsors, which means it’s all about us. People want to watch the freak show and the TV gods know it.

As a kid morality is intangible. Parents (religion for some, although this is a debate for another post) and experience solidify things until, as adults, we are equipped with a decent set of moral tools with which to deconstruct and quantify right and wrong. The nature of the show asks us to set aside these tools because the contestants have voluntarily put themselves into a position that invites ridicule. It’s okay to make fun of these people. They know what’s happening, they’ve signed waivers etc. They are happy to be on TV. Who am I to make a moral judgement? Perhaps each contestant truly loves themselves and is full of confidence and the mere fact that I imply they are being made fun of shows some deeper, nastier, character flaw within myself? Perhaps. Interpretation is a rainbow of grey. But I still call bullshit.

I was taught not to make fun of people. This doesn’t mean that I’ve never done it. At one point or another I’m sure most of us have, whether it’s piling on in a schoolyard gang mentality, or the quips spurred by anger, jealousy, or envy. I’ve done it, and I’m sorry for it. But making fun of people shouldn’t cross over into the mainstream and I feel that American Idol and reality television are in danger of conditioning us that it’s okay to make fun of people. Of course, this is wrong. Everyone is equal. This piece isn’t intended to imply superiority on my part, and I don’t feel superior and therefore entitled to defend people I don’t even know. This piece is intended to remind us that making fun of people is wrong. Regardless of packaging, regardless of initial intent, and regardless of what Idol goes on to become in later shows. The episode I watched was a freak show packaged as comedy and entertainment, meant to draw in viewers and I daresay meant to make most of those viewers feel better about themselves. Scoff if you like, but if you look deep down inside, right where that little ball in your stomach is hiding—you know, the one that forms when you lie or cheat, do something mean, or say something hurtful—that little ball that’s a combination of conscience and moral cement, the one that eats at you, you’ll see that I’m right, or close enough to the truth that you looked in the mirror for a second. That’s enough. Now go watch the next Kelly Clarkson.

6 Comments:

Blogger J.A. McDougall said...

Sadly TV is often about easy escape, no thinking, no parameters, just easy entertainment for our lazy moments. How lazy we've become.

Wed Jan 24, 10:51:00 AM EST  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

That must have been one terrible show for both you and Tony to write about it. Glad I missed it!

Wed Jan 24, 04:17:00 PM EST  
Blogger Anne C. said...

I was going to write about it, too.

Wed Jan 24, 04:29:00 PM EST  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

I wonder if the people who enjoy these early Idol shows are empathy-challenged? It's a kind of stupidity not to be able to relate to someone else, not to be able to imagine your way inside another's experience. People cannot hear themselves sing, they can only feel what it feels like to sing. And it feels good to sing. The physical and emotional sensation of singing feels ecstatic. People imagine that the way they feel singing is the way people feel listening to them sing. This error in judgement causes the freakshow. All those terrible performers think they are good. The producers of Idol milk that- using people's unrealistic dreams as fuel for humiliation. I can't watch it because the look in the eyes of those contestants- both the innocent pleasure and confidence and crashing failure and subsequent emotional rollarcoaster is painful. It's the equivalent of a torture channel. Which I'm sad to say, I think some people would watch. Religiously. Because they have lost the capacity to empathize. Or never had it. Thanks Steve and Tony for the opportunity to clarify my thoughts and feelings about this.

Fri Jan 26, 10:39:00 AM EST  
Blogger Patricia said...

such a pertinent post, I love this, I couldn't watch it, really, I looked sort of forward to it, the kids and I did like it last year, the finals and I thought, we don't want much tv, they do, on the sly I'm sure, sneaks that they are, however, I just couldn't watch it with them and let them think it's okay, it's not okay, how do you tell a kid, or anyone, it's okay to poke fun sometimes, and then not, it's the wrong message, great post, love it. could you maybe write about the movie ratings and movies like, Saw and Hostel?? can we exile these movies and all movies like them?? xo

Sat Jan 27, 03:24:00 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Steve, you are quintessentially Canadian which equates to intelligent, ethical and kind. I have only watched one episode of this show when it was posted about a year ago at the Maple Room. American television seems sophmoric, without much sense of ethics and morality these days.

It felt heartening to know that someone still notices and cares.

Diane Smith
The Maple Room

Sun Jan 28, 11:32:00 AM EST  

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