Saturday, November 6, 2010

Dancing With An American Idol On The Jersey Shore

It's always a relief to see an election cycle end, not because of who wins or loses the races; but because we don't have to watch and listen to the "half-truths, mis-truths, and outright lies" of political candidate ads any longer. Of course, then I remember about what's left on television, and my relief is short-lived. Actually, I found a number of curious comparisons here when looking at politics and popular culture:
  • Many of those eligible to vote know who is on 'American Idol', 'Dancing with the Stars', 'Jersey Shore', and the flood of 'wives' programs from New Jersey, the South, and Orange County. Far fewer knew the cast of characters on their local ballots.
  • Many Americans know the names and life stories of the judges on Idol and 'America's Got Talent', but far fewer can come up with even the names of an equal number of Supreme Court Justices.
  • Far too many people believe that the level of civil political discourse in this country is defined by 'The View', 'The O'Reilly Factor', and 'The Sean Hannity Show'. They believe that shouting down ones opponents, refusing to let people complete the answers to questions, and walking off of the set qualify as good interview techniques.
  • People are often disillusioned and disappointed when public political debate does not turn into a bad episode of 'The Jerry Springer Show'.
  • Candidates and TV shows are both defined, not by the quality of the characters or the level of the writing; but on how outrageous, controversial, and manipulative they are.
  • Far more people seem to get their news perspective from parody shows like 'The Daily Show' and 'The Colbert Report' on The Comedy Channel than do from network news.
I have nothing against any of the shows or networks listed above, but I have to say that I am grateful for the variety of programming on cable that allows me to avoid such programming. 

Quite frankly, I have never seen television as a medium that did well at providing information. Entertainment sure, but information ... not so much. And even the entertainment value of television has taken a nose-dive in recent years. Information and entertainment are now chopped into discreetly defined segments that can be fit between the advertising that pays for it. Any news story or part of the plot that doesn't fit in these visual slices ends up being left out of the story, even if it makes things more difficult to understand. 

To add to the mixed metaphors here, imagine television as a sports league. When there were only a few franchises, only the best of the best rose to prominence in their game and got their chance. When the league discovers that there is a lot of money to be made out there however and add teams at a frightening rate in an attempt to cash in while they can (like any other evil corporation), it inevitably leads to a dilution of the limited talent pool available. 

Eventually, such attenuation means that we end up with what most professional sports leagues like to call 'parity', but which we know really means a level of mediocrity that most of us watching find more than a little objectionable. Cable has now given us hundreds of franchises attempting to dip into the limited talent pool of writers, directors, and actors that exist. When they reach the shallow end of that pool (which they appear to have done some time back), they are forced create celebrities out of people whose only real talent was convincing someone to put them on TV in the first place to fill the void. There are no plots, no scripts, and no performances worthy of note; only bad behavior, worse hygiene, and faux tragedy to entertain the masses. 

Owners of the Roman Empire's coliseums would be proud of the circuses and bloodsport that we have turned cable into, reveling in these thinly veiled and badly acted gladiatorial contests (and that's before I get started on wrestling). Politics has begun to show the same decided lack of talent when seeking its principal performers. While there are some legitimate artists remaining in the field (for which we should be truly grateful), the sheer scope and scale of government at every level has begun to dilute the talent pool. 

In truth, many of those with any real talent have simply abandoned the auditions; finding what the process has become too intrusive, personally abusive, and to ungraciously fickle to make it worth bothering with. While some with a real gift or an overwhelming desire to participate remain, many of them simply find other ways to express their genius, and abandon the political venue to the more venial and power hungry of the inferior players. 

These elections and shows are now often filled with flawed individuals who do not deserve the limelight or the applause. Their lack of ability is exceeded only by their demands for diva status; and once illuminated on these public stages, they prove themselves mostly talentless and particularly unattractive. Yet we continue watch, helplessly staring, often without any care or understanding of the plot or the meaning of the drama unfolding before us. 

Perhaps like watching a traffic accident, we are simply shocked or fascinated by the appalling spectacle and simply cannot take our eyes away. On the other hand, like many other times when sitting on the couch at home, perhaps we've simply been unable to reach the remote yet to change the channel.


Roland Hansen said...

Well, Tim, I guess it all depends on such "as you like it."
"All the world's a stage" is a quote that seems to be appropriate.

Tim Higgins said...


I wish that the fall lineup were as cultured as your comment.

And if "all the world's a stage", then someone needs to tell the bit players to stop trying to hog the spotlight, get a writer in to fix the script, and fire the director for the lousy job he's doing.

Roland Hansen said...

Good comeback, Tim.