Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Spring Fund Drive: Keep CounterPunch Afloat
CounterPunch is a lifeboat of sanity in today’s turbulent political seas. Please make a tax-deductible donation and help us continue to fight Trump and his enablers on both sides of the aisle. Every dollar counts!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Factories of Fame

Attempting to find some justification for my continued viewing of “American Idol,” it finally dawned on me that I was actually watching a detailed exposition about the manufacturing of one of the last products made in any significant quantity in our country: fame.

I had initially assumed the show was about music but was soon disabused of that. After all, most of the contestants were adequate but unexceptional. If they had shown up at an audition for a Broadway musical it is unlikely that more than a handful would get past the first cut. I also noticed how much better the accompanying musicians often were than the singer contestants. Further, as with so many so-called concerts these days, the music was frequently driven into the back row in favor of color, lighting, random explosions, sexual manipulations, dancing, acrobatics, excruciating facial expressions, and over emotional screeching of utterly mundane lyrics. Finally, the audience, presumably there to hear the music, engaged in such pervasive screaming that it would have been hard for any sounds from the stage to have actually reached their ears.

Then I realized it wasn’t about music at all. It was a play by play demonstration of how to manufacture famous people in just a matter of weeks. Every move, every scene, every comment, every costume, and every step was calculated to make one think that something important was happening and for good reason. The judges and Ryan Seacrest engaged in endless promotion of the show and its contestants who were, however, the least important, least expensive, least carefully constructed element ? just young performers deliberately ordinary enough that millions of could relate to and fantasize about them. It was Hollywood and Madison Avenue reconstructing the American dream for a post-modern era.

American Idol is a living metaphor of everything that we are now supposed to desire, buy, cheer and vote for. While there are still real artists, heroines, singers, and leaders, their role in American society has been largely eclipsed by fame factories that transmogrify the ordinary into something we are finally convinced is grand.

Perhaps the most startling example can be found in our politics. Bearing in mind the process, culture and style of American Idol, consider again the rise of our two last Democratic presidents ? Clinton and Obama ? or the current crop of GOP contenders.

Neither Clinton or Obama had any particular qualifications to be president. But according to the media and the Randy Jacksons, Steve Tylers and Jennifer Lopez’s of their party they were incredibly magnificent (with a just few reservations for the sake of reality) . . . which is to say the contestants had the ambition while the American Political Idol show had the money, the moxie and the public relations manipulation to turn them into icons. And so on the same night that I watched Scott McCreery returning home to North Carolina and pitching to his old baseball buddies and Obama going to Ireland and playing ping pong with the British prime minister I felt like it was the same show.

Our political contestants have to prove themselves in the primaries just as Idol singers have to prove themselves in numerous weeks of competition, but in both cases the original choice of whom America will get to choose among has been made at the start of the season and largely out of sight of the public. Think of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton as Scotty McCreary and Laura Alaina and you get the idea. The show’s producers would have been happy with either one, because they had created chosen and reconstructed both. And, while you’re at it, think of the trio of judges as panelists on Meet the Press and Ryan Seacrest as the show’s David Gregory, and it all begins to become clear.

Even this year’s undistinguished Republican crowd is reminiscent of the early season Idol shows. We know practically nothing about almost all of them, but months before the first actual primary, the inside selection process is already underway, witness the unexplained sudden departure of some.

The key part of the metaphor is that if you go back to the beginning of the season, you will find something much like that outlined in Wikipedia:

|Contestants go through three rigorous sets of cuts. The first is a brief audition with three other contestants in front of selectors which may include one of the show’s producers. The number of auditioners can exceed 10,000 people each city, but only about 100?200 contestants in each city may make it past this round of preliminary auditions. Successful contestants are sent through to audition in front of producers. More contestants are cut in the producers round before they can proceed to audition in front of the judges, which is the only audition stage shown on the show. Those selected by the judges are sent to Hollywood. Between 10?60 people in each city may make it to Hollywood. At the end of the Hollywood week, 24?36 contestants were selected to move on to the semifinal stage.

In other words, though the illusion is that the American Idol is picked by tens of millions of viewers, this is far from the case. It all started in seven cities with 10,000 or more contestants in each. This was winnowed down to 24 to 36 before the public was brought in. The fame factory eliminated some 70,000 in its own manner and of its own choosing, before the public had a damn thing to say about it.

In other words, a pretty good analogy to American national politics. And to how we get to choose a lot of things in this land. . .long after many important choices have already been made.

So don’t be surprised in the coming months if you hear Wolf Blitzer of Chris Matthews say of a presidential candidate, “His speech was a little pitchy but clearly he is in it to win.” It’s just another season of American Idol.

Sam Smith edits Progressive Review.

 

 

More articles by:

Sam Smith edits the Progressive Review.

May 23, 2018
Nick Pemberton
Maduro’s Win: A Bright Spot in Dark Times
Ben Debney
A Faustian Bargain with the Climate Crisis
Deepak Tripathi
A Bloody Hot Summer in Gaza: Parallels With Sharpeville, Soweto and Jallianwala Bagh
Farhang Jahanpour
Pompeo’s Outrageous Speech on Iran
Josh White
Strange Recollections of Old Labour
CJ Hopkins
The Simulation of Democracy
Lawrence Davidson
In Our Age of State Crimes
Dave Lindorff
The Trump White House is a Chaotic Clown Car Filled with Bozos Who Think They’re Brilliant
Russell Mokhiber
The Corporate Domination of West Virginia
Ty Salandy
The British Royal Wedding, Empire and Colonialism
Laura Flanders
Life or Death to the FCC?
Gary Leupp
Dawn of an Era of Mutual Indignation?
Katalina Khoury
The Notion of Patriarchal White Supremacy Vs. Womanhood
Nicole Rosmarino
The Grassroots Environmental Activist of the Year: Christine Canaly
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
“Michael Inside:” The Prison System in Ireland 
May 22, 2018
Stanley L. Cohen
Broken Dreams and Lost Lives: Israel, Gaza and the Hamas Card
Kathy Kelly
Scourging Yemen
Andrew Levine
November’s “Revolution” Will Not Be Televised
Ted Rall
#MeToo is a Cultural Workaround to a Legal Failure
Gary Leupp
Question for Discussion: Is Russia an Adversary Nation?
Binoy Kampmark
Unsettling the Summits: John Bolton’s Libya Solution
Doug Johnson
As Andrea Horwath Surges, Undecided Voters Threaten to Upend Doug Ford’s Hopes in Canada’s Most Populated Province
Kenneth Surin
Malaysia’s Surprising Election Results
Dana Cook
Canada’s ‘Superwoman’: Margot Kidder
Dean Baker
The Trade Deficit With China: Up Sharply, for Those Who Care
John Feffer
Playing Trump for Peace How the Korean Peninsula Could Become a Bright Spot in a World Gone Mad
Peter Gelderloos
Decades in Prison for Protesting Trump?
Thomas Knapp
Yes, Virginia, There is a Deep State
Andrew Stewart
What the Providence Teachers’ Union Needs for a Win
Jimmy Centeno
Mexico’s First Presidential Debate: All against One
May 21, 2018
Ron Jacobs
Gina Haspell: She’s Certainly Qualified for the Job
Uri Avnery
The Day of Shame
Amitai Ben-Abba
Israel’s New Ideology of Genocide
Patrick Cockburn
Israel is at the Height of Its Power, But the Palestinians are Still There
Frank Stricker
Can We Finally Stop Worrying About Unemployment?
Binoy Kampmark
Royal Wedding Madness
Roy Morrison
Middle East War Clouds Gather
Edward Curtin
Gina Haspel and Pinocchio From Rome
Juana Carrasco Martin
The United States is a Country Addicted to Violence
Dean Baker
Wealth Inequality: It’s Not Clear What It Means
Robert Dodge
At the Brink of Nuclear War, Who Will Lead?
Vern Loomis
If I’m Lying, I’m Dying
Valerie Reynoso
How LBJ initiated the Military Coup in the Dominican Republic
Weekend Edition
May 18, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Donald, Vlad, and Bibi
Robert Fisk
How Long Will We Pretend Palestinians Aren’t People?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail