Embarrassed American
May 25, 2006, 9:48 pm
Filed under: uncategorized

The more I learn about the role the U.S. plays in economic and cultural imperialism around the world, the more that cheesy Lee Greenwood song, “Proud to be an American,” makes me wince.

But this post isn’t about politics, it’s about pop culture. If ever there was a time for us to make a cultural statement of response to what it means to be American, now would seem to be it. So you’d think that the Dixie Chicks would have good company singing their protest songs. Alas, they don’t. And their little blip on the news screens in the past week was completely overwhelmed by what? A poorly executed film adaptation of a novel, and American Idol.

I’ve already written about the film, so here we go with the Idol thing. For the record, I watched all of 90 minutes of the whole season, 60 of which was the final competetion night. Truthfully, I couldn’t quite make it through the whole 60. Bad, bad, bad, bad music. It seemed like this season was getting hyped all over the place while I sat in ignorance, and so I tuned in. I can now say with confidence that ignorance is, in fact, bliss. I’d like to spout off about how weak the final two contestants were, but then someone might chime in that the shaved head dude from the top four got robbed. Whatever – I saw that dude, and he wasn’t that great either. To make things worse, Idol forced the top two to sing the original songs that will be released as their first singles. Those songs were bad enough to be on Christian radio. Really. These songs were not the contestants’ own, so I don’t hold that against them. And yet I am clearly a minority voice, given the ratings the finale got (which I thankfully spared myself of watching). How is it possible that America’s tastes are this horrendous? How is it possible that I have read the blogs of faithful Idol watchers praising these people, and also claim to be into U2 . . . almost as though they’re on the same level?

I get that there’s a lot more to this show than the music – it’s the dream of going from back woods Alabama honky tonk to the spotlight of a world stage. It’s people fantasizing what it would be like to suddenly be famous and admired by millions. Heck, most of us would feel really good about ourselves if we were admired by a couple dozen.

Maybe I’m just out of touch. Maybe I am actually an elitist. Maybe I’m not getting something. O.k., fine. I’m o.k. with that. Just don’t make me watch that show any more. And by the way, I mean no offense to those of you who enjoy the show. My reaction is more about the collective response of our culture to all this.

Don’t we have better things to be doing? Like flossing our teeth. Like organizing our closets. Like listening to good music.


2 Comments so far
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Comment by Steve

Hey, Steve,
I confess to “lurking” on your blog since Adele blew your cover. It’s not you that’s boring, Steve, the music is. Although I probably shouldn’t say too much because I probably watched 2 minutes of the whole American Idol thing, total, on my way to and fro across the family room. If you can get your hands on the latest issue of “Cutting Edge,” the church planting magazine published by the Vineyard, I think you would enjoy an article by John Mortensen, a worship leader in Springfield, OH, and a piano professor at Cedarville University. He has some good stuff to say about “masspopcult” and specifically how it has influenced contemporary worship.
But maybe the reason you are bored with “masspopcult” music is that is has become less about ART and creativity and more about marketability.
Mortenson says: “A music industry producer selects and promotes a celebrity, and that celebrity’s songs, based on marketability. Marketability … [means] it must be new and catchy and viscerally appealing at the first aural and visual encounter.”
So you can pretty much say goodbye to “difficult” and “complex” on American Idol, or anything packaged in less than the very narrowly defined American ideal of marketable “beauty.” After all, it IS called “American Idol” and not “American Artist.”
If you’ve never seen the PBS documentary “The Merchants of Cool,” it’s another one that explains how the market exploits and eventually destroys originality.
I’m guessing I’m not telling you anything new, but I’m posting it anyway. 🙂
Take care, and if I ever figure out how to do my own blog, you can lurk back.

Comment by Sue

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