Thursday, May 22, 2008

America's Neon Hustle

Up until last night, I had never seen an episode of American Idol. That’s not because I’m some fussy elitist, mind you— I’ve watched more episodes of The Single Guy and Suddenly Susan than I care to admit. It’s just that I never got around to catching up on the show’s first few seasons, and at some point that failure became something of a badge of honor, on par with my accomplishment of not throwing up for 14 straight years (a streak terminated, sadly, by an ill-fated tub of KFC mashed potatoes a few years back). Anyway, a fluke series of events finally made me cave to inevitability, and last night I finally succumbed, sitting through the finale of America’s most popular show. I’m glad I did.

I suppose I should start off by saying I didn't enter into this arrangement totally ignorant of American Idol’s workings. Thanks to Ken Levine and Alan Sepinwall, I think I have a pretty good idea of what’s been going on this season, whether it was the ill-timed apotheosis of little David Archuleta, Paula’s drunken soothsaying, or the inescapable sense of a formula starting to fray at the edges. What I wasn’t prepared for was just how irritating that formula could be. In particle physics, there’s something called the Pauli Exclusion Principle, which essentially states that if you affect one particle in a certain way, its partner will be affected inversely. Watching the show unfold, it was hard not to think back to that dynamic, because every time something cool and exciting happened, it was almost immediately undermined by something equally odious.

Take Graham Nash. He’s a great performer, a living legend, and perhaps most relevantly, one of the few artists from the 60s who has consistently managed to not become a total parody of himself. I was really excited when he came out on stage, in other words. But his duet with Brooke was such shameless pandering (and so devoid of harmony) that it made me reconsider my previous assessment of Nash and his accomplishments, to the point that when I was re-listening to Déjà Vu after the show, I couldn’t stop thinking about that desultory duet. Has American Idol ruined CSNY for me? God, I hope not.

There were quite a few other good/bad moments, like eventual winner David Cook’s bliss with ZZ Top being followed by the unforgivably talentless Jonas Brothers (or, Hansen without the guilty pleasure of "MMMBop", which, come to think of it, wasn't even that pleasurable). But through all that, I remained mesmerized. To the extent that there’s anything culturally redeeming about American Idol, it’s probably how unabashedly American it really is: outrageous spectacle, style trumping talent, rabid commercialism at its most unforgiving. It's a force of nature, propelling an everyman into an international superstar, while simultaneously able to destroy my confidence in what I once cherished. Here’s a show that embodies, rather perfectly, the very ethos of this blog's spiritual namesake, bashing its viewers into perfect submission with the greatest of ease.

I can't wait for next year.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i had a record of not vomiting for my entire life until i saw america idol.

how does one write an article about such a tragic waste of television time (and human brain cells) and manage to include a physics lesson
and seemingly credible analysis of american culture?

i have no clue.. but you did it