Idol Chat

23 Apr 2004|Christoper Ireland

I cringe when I hear someone in my industry brag that they never watch TV (or only PBS). That’s like a pilot saying he ignores weather reports. Like it or not, popular TV reflects crucial aspects of our very dynamic population. It’s not an exact representation of our collective values–it’s not meant to be–but it is a valid expression of popular culture and an interesting lens on the nation’s current mindset.

Right now, I’m hooked on American Idol. It’s the only show I will watch in “real time,” forgoing the option to save it on my PVR and skip the commercials. This week’s results fueled water-cooler talk among millions of other viewers. Why? Because the audience had to rationalize why the three best performers–all Black females–got the least number of votes.

There are dozens of theories, recapped here and here and here. I don’t know which is right, but I’m fascinated by the process and the idea that millions of Americans are discussing the subtlies of discrimination, apathy, generation gaps, musical tastes and text messaging.

This is cultural fabric–threads of thought that weave together in new patterns. Most of us are not comfortable with the idea that Americans are still too racist and sexist to recognize the extraordinary talent of Fantasia, LaToya, and Jennifer, so we need to dissect the voting and come up with other explanations. Unfortunately, those explanations don’t let us off the hook because they lead to other uncomfortable admissions, like apathy or agism.

My favorite explanation so far came from my sister, Kim. It also happens to be the one that puts the least blame on the audience. She suggests that rival media giants ABC, CBS and NBC are all generating millions of votes for the worst candidates in order to topple the kingdom Fox is building with this entertaining show. This idea alone could create a whole new reality show.

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