Monday, February 1, 2010
My yearly ode to American Idol….
Some would look at “American Idol” and think it was the living and breathing personification of the American dream. Nobodies getting a chance to be international superstars; it is a once-in-a-lifetime chance at fame and fortune. Only in America! But somehow I don’t see it as a great testimony to hope and the American dream. In my eyes, it shows just how hope-less so many of us have become.
Celebrity is our new religion. You don’t want to be the best, or the smartest or the most honest or the person who worked the hardest. You just want to be the most famous. However you get there, it’s fame that counts now. Those poor schmucks just want a chance to be somebody, anybody. America has taught us that celebrity is really the only thing that really counts. The only time YOU count.
I watch the auditions and see a little smiling boy looking into the camera as he waits for his father to complete his audition, saying “Daddy gon’ to Hollywood!” He’s probably not old enough to read, but he’s old enough to know that going to Hollywood is the most important thing. Another woman breaks down crying into the chest of clearly uncomfortable Ryan Seacrest after an unsuccessful audition.
It’s no wonder that so many of those young people are devastated. To them, they missed their chance. Not their chance to be on a TV show, but a chance to be somebody for once in their lives. Our obsession with celebrity and money has made us all feel inadequate in our daily lives. Compared to the lives of Beyonce and Paris Hilton and Diddy and Jay-Z, it would seem that our lives totally suck. Nothing in our lives is valuable or important. It cant be because we’re not famous and thats what really counts.
And we, the viewing public, are ever so happy to participate in this process. We vicariously feel their excitement when they exit the audition room with their gold ticket and everyone screams with joy and envelopes them in hugs. Nevertheless, something portends disaster. It’s strangely similar to watching someone who won the lottery and being happy for them, but secretly knowing that its more likely than not that they will be broke in five years. We know the story so well. It happens every year. For 99 percent of them, the dream will be over in weeks. They will leave the show and the spotlight, and then what?
It’s the “then what” part that is so disturbing. How we have come to measure success has become so distorted and myopic. We have young people who are so starved for “fame” and “celebrity” and “easy riches” that their lives become solely a quest for what will make them a star. From Youtube to “Idol,” we are raising a generation whose only barometer for achievement is a lifestyle of celebrity and easy wealth. Fuck a job.
Whereas a generation ago, men and women were happy if they just achieved more than their parents: if they got to college or got a good job and had a family. That was success to them. Now, we deem ourselves failures if we’re not millionaires by 30. We are lost in what we see, what others have, what we don’t have, what we’re not. We don’t feel like somebody in our personal lives, so we go audition for “American Idol,” hoping someone will deem us worthy. Will make us feel as if we matter. Famous people matter, so we want to be them. By any means necessary.
If there was any doubt that the hope of overnight celebrity has indeed overshadowed the hope of achieving something substantive in life, then “American Idol” is proof positive. Is there such a void of hope in this country that “American Idol” has replaced Jesus as savior to the downtrodden? I mean, let’s face it, Jesus won’t get you on the cover of People or a reality show.
And those poor people who are so angry or sob uncontrollably. I bet it’s not only because they didn’t move through to the next round. A woman cried in to her cell phone after being rejected, “They crushed my dream.” For some of them, this is all they believe they can do. It’s like in the movie “Precious,” when the teacher asked her what she was good at, and she said, “Nothing.” Many believe that this made-up, marketing machine of a TV show holds the only key to their happiness.
No one has told them that they are smart and beautiful and courageous and have something unique and important to offer the world. Somewhere along the line, we decided that being a star was more important then being smart, being honest, having a career and working hard. In too many cases, no one has told them that education is what matters. An education will never reject you or tell you you’re dreadful. You don’t need a gold ticket if you OWN the show. The key to success is education and hard work. Period.
No one emphasizes that far more people don’t make it than do, and the biggest stars aren’t where they are because a panel of judges deemed them talented. They worked and scratched and hustled for years.
No one has told these young people that they have unique skills in geometry or a foreign language and can be an astronaut or an ambassador one day. No one tells them they can build bridges or fly airplanes or sit on the Supreme Court. Whatever happened to real American Dreams?
If you ask 20 elementary school students what they want to be when they grow up, the standard doctor-lawyer answer that has been around for a generation, has been replaced by entertainer-athlete. Anytime I hear a young person say they want to be an entertainer, I ask, Well, what exactly do you want to do? They NEVER have an answer. And it scares the shit out of me. If I meet one more 30-year-old who’s working on a record deal….
Just as Barack Obama brings a message of hope to his presidency, I can’t help but watch “American Idol” and lament that this is the extent of hope for so many. We have lost those dreams of peace on earth and good will to men. Of family, of achievement, of community, of ending world hunger. To hell with all that. That stuff is hard.
We just want to go to Hollywood.