Why Jared needs to report to America for Reprogramming.
Before I dive head-first into this one, let me give you two important bits of back story.
Fact #1: I have been pretty isolated from American culture for the past few years. I haven't had cable or watched television regularly since 1998. That doesn't mean I don't like television...it just means that I've missed out on a lot of the crap that's been going down during the last decade of television. I still rent and download what I want to see, and if hard pressed I could always go to a friend's to watch the Simpsons, Adult Swim, or whatever. At least I could until I moved to Germany. Do you know what gets primetime play here? Alf. I'm not kidding. Episodes of Alf, The Nanny, Married with Children, Punky Brewster and the like get prime time billing here in Berlin. It's like watching a time machine in action. But I digress. The point is that I've missed out on a lot of the mainstream American television culture.
Fact #2: I had never in my life seen an episode of American Idol before. I'd heard of the show and seen chatter about it online for a long while, but never had the chance (or the profound desire) to watch it. I first saw Simon the judge when he was a guest on the Simpsons, and, well, that's about all my experience with the show directly. Why did I decide to watch it? Because every single person around me was very, very, VERY excited about the two-hour American Idol finale that would be airing while I was visiting. Peer pressure combined with my typical morbid curiosity demanded that I see what all the hype was about. I figured the season finale was a good place to get my feet wet, since it would recap everything that had happened (more or less) over the season. That said, it's time to review this bad boy.
I turned on the television. I saw the opening credits. And then my jaw dropped for about 2 hours. Sweet. Mother. Of. God. Of all the things I was expecting what I found in American Idol was an altogether different creature. Simply put:
It's a freaking Karaoke show. It's like Star Search only they intentionally get people who sing badly (to offset the people who can actually sing). The finale starts with a bunch of random people (who later I figured out were the losers) doing karaoke. God I would hate to be one of the losers early in the season. Can you imagine being told after you'd lost that you'd have to come out and sing anyway again and again and again? It's one thing being a good loser but somehow this borders on cruel and unusual punishment (for the performer and the audience). Still, I can sort of understand the appeal. I go to karaoke nights at bars from time to time, mostly to laugh at the people who can't sing. That's the morbid appeal. American Idol is just taking the karaoke phenomenon to the next level....just like Japan did.
Paranoid Theory of the Week: Karaoke's been huge in Japan for a long, long time. They've had television shows revolving around it for about a decade. A lot of things that are very popular in America these days are all very Japanese. There was a common joke made during the early 1990's about Japan slowly buying America. (This sort of comes from the fact that several towns in California were purchased in their entirety by Japanese companies.) A lot of jokes were made about it, as were some films made and novels written (Rising Sun by Michael Crichton comes to mind). Suddenly, the jokes stopped, the secret joke being that either a) America's culture got tired of talking about it, or b)Japan had bought enough of America to FORCE us to stop talking about it. Fast forward to the present: In the past couple of years all main-stream book stores have added an extensive Manga section to their shelves, Japanese-style animation is all the rage, and America's biggest television sensation is all about a great Japanese hobby: Karaoke. (Not to mention shows like Fear Factor are direct rip-offs of the 1980's Japanese game show Endurance.) Is America becoming a colony of Japan, or is this just America having Japanese Fever? :shrug: I'm not worried about it, but it's a fun conspiracy theory to have, isn't it? I think I should be turning Japanese I really think so.
Now to be fair, American Idol doesn't seem to be just about karaoke. It also seems to be about teaching the contestants how to truly be celebrities. How do they do this? By incessant corporate whoring. Watching American Idol made me harken back to the days when cigarette companies produced television shows: "Camel Cigarettes Variety Hour". (Father of the late night talk show Jack Benny was originally sponsored by Lucky Strike cigarettes.) Back in those days, guest celebrities including Humphrey Bogart had to dance and sing about whatever product the show was selling. You haven't lived until you've seen Bogart sing about the smooth taste of Lucky Strike cigarettes. Back on topic: On American Idol it was just very funny how obvious the product placements were: Coke Bottles were all over the place, music videos starring the American Idols sold Ford cars, and even American Idol got in on the "Star Wars" tie-in madness by sending it's entire audience to a special screening of the film. :sigh: I'm ignoring the fact that more than half the 2-hour special was taken up by commercials. Commercials are what pays for television and sometimes you've just got to deal with the crap. I just wish it hadn't been the SAME 3-5 commercials over and over again. Talk about obvious brainwashing.
The finalists were Bo Bice (fanana fanna fo fice) and Carrie Underwood and they got showcased quite a bit. Carrie struck me as sort of vanilla; there was nothing to like or dislike really, and she could sing....country. God damn you American Idol for presenting role models that support country music.
And what about Bo?
How could you not vote for a guy that looks just like Jesus?
Bo's the Messiah look-a-like that sings like a rock star, doesn't know the mic comes off the mic stand and wears his sunglasses at night (so he can so he can see you). The worst part is that Bo looks like that creepy Computer Major who sits at his computer all day killing Orks or something. Or maybe I'm thinking this because the only other Jesus-like hippy I know is a Computer Major who kills Orks all day. :shrug: Bo was also the loser, in case you were hiding under a rock or don't follow American Idol (which made front page news for the week I was in Florida). Apparently America chooses the whitest most Aryan girl we can find over Jesus. That said look at the contestants just prior to the finale:
I almost feel racist pointing this out, but did anyone notice that out of the final three, the winners were the whitest White girl around and rock-star Jesus? The fact that the Aryans were the finalists was further hammered in when all the losers came out to sing. I'm not saying it looked like a U.N. picnic or anything, but still. Personally I wished the skinny black girl with the huge afro had won. Go human Q-tip, Go!
Since the show really only needed to announce who the winner was, they had to come up with a LOT of filler. This included showing us the worst of the worst auditions (as well as the responses of those being auditioned). Man, was it sadistic. How so?
They put hidden cameras in the elevators so we could see the rejected people cry and freak out when they think they're alone. That's just wrong. Still, if America's all about reality TV, I suppose it's par for the course. Like I said, I really need to get back to America and be reprogramed. The fact that they went so far as to retell the story of Regina Brooks as part of the American Idol season finale was pretty scary. Regina Brooks was the woman who pawned her wedding rings so she would have enough money to audition for American Idol. She was crying before her audition because she didn't know how she was going to get home and she HAD to make it. The obvious thing here is that while she did get there, she obviously didn't win. Breaks my heart. Really. Then again, there were a lot of people crying about being rejected. The producers liked showing that kind of stuff. They particularly liked showing the footage of Mark Scrogins who masochistically punished himself by running into a wall to cope with his rejection. Watching American Idol was like watching some sort of post-modern satire of our society....only it wasn't a satire. Gah.
Speaking of breaking hearts, a previous American Idol finalist Latoya London (a hardcore porn name is ever there was one) was getting drunk in Birmingham Alabama where all the Bo fans were partying down since Bo was from their state. The governor's wife even came out to announce that this day would be known as "Bo Bice" day. Man, that's one holiday no one's going to celebrate. "Let's immortalize the day that he lost. Yay!" People in Oklahoma were also crazy happy about Carrie Underwood (also debatably a great porn name) being a finalist. It killed some time and we all got to hear an old man talk about how he "loves all the ladies".
The judges also put together a rather long comedic skit to buy themselves more time, but the less said about it the better. It did have Randy in drag, Simon kissing a very scary looking Paula Abdul. Of course, watching Paula Abdul bounce up and down pretending to be a begging dog was both amusing and embarrassing to watch.
The last really big thing, before they announced the winner, was having all the final contestants come out singing with an actual musician or band. Why the hell someone chose to sing along with Kenny G scares the crap out of me. Of course you're a loser if your favorite musician in the world is Kenny G. Though it did make me wonder who I would choose to play along with me if I were one of the finalists. While Lords of Acid, Mindless Self Indulgence, and Nine Inch Nails all struck a chord, I finally decided that I would choose to sing along with Gwar. Can you picture it? Kenny G stops playing for a moment and then this giant worm comes out with Gwar and devours him. "You rock Kenny! Time to Die!" Best possible intro ever. Gwar eating Kenny G. I so need to paint that.
In the end they announce Carrie as the winner and everyone gets to go home. My only thought, as they flashed the name Carrie across the giant screen behind her, was that at any moment someone was going to drop a bucket of pigs blood on her and she'd go on a killing spree. Sadly, it never happened but thank you Stephen King for brightening the final moments of the experience that was watching American Idol.
I'll admit that I don't get American Idol. It's not for me. But it IS apparently for about 500,000,000 people in America which scares the bejesus out of me. I've never felt so....so out of touch. All I can say is that I tried to get it. But I couldn't. It's a karaoke show that's become a national phenomenon. Go figure.
On a less bitter or sad note, immediately after the show was "FOX NEWS at 10". Their top story? The results of American Idol! The same ones that had been aired on the same channel no less than 3 minutes prior. Talk about over-saturation. What was also odd was the face of the anchor woman, who's smile chills me to the bone with it's inhuman Joker-line grimace. Or maybe it's just me.
Anyhow, I'm sure there's a few fans of the show out there and in my defense let me make the following statements: This has been the only episode of American Idol I've ever seen (minus a 30 second clip where they promoted Star Wars). I'm basing my observations on one episode, so obviously I'm not going to catch the subtle nuances that lie within the depth that is American Idol. The show's not for me which is a pretty good summary of this article. My bad.
In conclusion: Dear America, I just don't get you anymore. Can I have a refresher?
Copyright 2005 jared von hindman except for all but one of the images. Fox owns most of them and I've used them here purely for critical purposes. I swears.