Friday, June 1, 2007

On bullying, Hollywood style:

I hesitate to admit that I’ve watched American Idol or So You Think You Can Dance but if you’re going to comment on social phenomena, you’ve got to keep your finger on the pulse of society. If the number of votes for Taylor Hicks last season-- more votes than any president has received-- is any indication, American Idol has captured a lot of hearts. (I’ve also got a small child, which tends to limit one’s evening activities.)

I can appreciate good singing and dancing. I enjoy watching an amateur’s journey to accomplishment. I think, watching these competitions, we all get excited about the possibility of making that kind of unlikely transformation from our own ordinary selves to someone celebrated by the masses. That’s why the shows draw so many votes.

On the whole, these are feel good shows, so why is it necessary for them to sanction schoolyard bullying in the name of entertainment?

The same possibility that makes the shows fun to watch, brings everyone and his brother out to audition. Sure, some of them have self-esteem that’s greater than their talent. I think that‘s a positive thing. Why do the ultra-rich, ultra-successful judges need to ridicule people they consider pitiful? If it is so obvious when someone has such an egregious lack of talent, why does it need to be mentioned at all? And why are viewers so entranced by the spectacle? It reminds me of the worst of the behavior I witnessed on the playground as a child. It wasn’t fun to watch then and it’s no better now.

I wish I could shrug them off as just a few more stupid TV shows, but what America tunes in to tells a lot about what our values are. For me this talent/humiliation show phenomenon is just another indicator of how uncivil our society has become. Yes, the impulse to raise ourselves up by putting others down has always existed, in just about everybody in some measure, but have we always approved it with 60+ million votes (and millions of advertising dollars)?

I’ve heard parents discussing American Idol as one of the few “safe” choices for family viewing. With weeks of ruthless audition episodes kicking it off each season, is it really safe for anybody?

No comments: