The Appeal of "American Idol"
Recently, I've become a somewhat reluctant devotee of the hit TV show "American Idol". I say "reluctant" because, as with my very brief stint of watching "Desperate Housewives", I find the show clashing with some deeper-held values of mine, yet still having a magnetic attraction of some sort. I recently read somewhere that more Americans cast votes for Taylor, Elliot, and Katherine than they did for George W or John K. That says something, doesn't it? Something about the power of media in America and the pull of popular culture. I suspect that "American Idol" has the appeal it does because it captures the essence of the American Dream: that, in America, with enough hard work and talent, anyone can make it to the top. It seems to sprinkle in a blend of populism and the appearance of grass-roots democracy which tap our collective psyche. On a darker side, the show is brilliant marketing and unabashed capitalism. The cynic in me worries that the music industry is in cahoots with the network and producers to exploit the performers for skyrocketing sales ("exploit" or is it, "partner with"?). I'm not convinced that the winners of the competition are necessarily the most talented; I suspect that, instead, they may be those whose constituents and home-grown support are the most organized and willing to phone in their votes. The appeal of "American Idol" is a great snapshot into many aspects of our culture, including its less-appealing attributes: a tendency toward image, shallowness, and superficiality. At the end of the day, "American Idol" blends school-age popularity contests, campaigning for class president, and beauty pageants, which, come to think of it, are also products of our culture, aren't they? Could it be that the show's popularity is a sign of its conceptual savvy: it's an admixture of democracy, reality TV, entertainment, and American cultural values? What do you think?