Several nights ago it was Tuesday, and I was doing the same thing that I've done every Tuesday summer night for the last two years: watching "America's Got Talent."
Before we delve into anything that's more relevant to this column, I'd just like you all to know that "America's Got Talent" is NBC's gift to those who don't find Paula Abdul's seemingly permanent 0.9 blood alcohol content (she, like all of the successful women in Hollywood, has evolved the adaptations necessary to survive entirely on a diet of alcohol and filter-fed nutrient molecules) enough to distract them from the plethora of testosterone-deficient lounge singers and Southern California cowgirls that make up the rest of the Idol "cast." The "America's Got Talent" TV package, on the other hand, refreshes its audience with acts that range from contortion and gymnastic acts to puppeteers to Leonid the Magnificent, a one supposedly-man act who is suspected to be an entirely different species and therefore warrants a dedicated cult following and his own scientific name (Leonidus magnificus).
Viewers even receive a standard snarky British judge (Piers Morgan), complete with the latest "Insult 11-Year-Old Girl's Dress on National Television" functions and detachable horns. Yes, Piers, it does look very easy sitting behind the judge's desk and hitting the X button.
Now that the shameless "Things That A 17-Year-Old Freak Enjoys" promotional part of the column has passed, it's time to discuss a serious issue plaguing in modern America: let's talk about television talent competitions.
Ever since the advent of "American Idol," reality "talent" competitions in every field have been springing up on televisions all over the globe.
There is nothing inherently wrong with this: many shows such as "Hell's Kitchen" and "Project Runway" are perfectly justifiable exhibits of certain fields and careers that the average American otherwise would learn nothing about _ even though we all know that "Top Chef" hasn't been nearly as interesting ever since America was robbed of seeing Marcel's head shaved in Season Two.
However, these particular shows share a common thread: their outcomes are decided by judges, normally moguls of whatever talent field the show's about. If a particular candidate is eliminated for wearing the wrong shade of make-up or being slightly balding, these shows at least make a pretense of keeping it under wraps. Talent _ and by talent, I mean actual skill in whatever the contestants are being judged on as opposed to "if you'd like to have sex with contestant No. 1, please dial" _ is generally what the show's outcome is centered on.
The true battle against stupidity in reality competitions only begins when the viewers are allowed to vote.
Sir Winston Churchill _ the British may have most of the good historical quotes, but we were a bit busy actually beating the Germans _ once said, "The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter."
Now, I love America. I wouldn't mind at all if every ungrateful son-of-a-something who wants to keep its (the English language deems these people unworthy of gender pronouns) constitutional rights but refuses to stand up in respect for the American flag and the government that enforces them was boiled in its own tax refund forms and buried with a Fourth of July firecracker through its heart. There can be no doubt that the American government (and all governments, for that matter) is always corrupt and, more often than not, just plain silly, but I suggest that anyone who complains about American rights head to China and try to publish a column preaching resistance and revolution against the ruling party; there is a reason that there is no "Lil' Commies" version of the Comedy Central parody show "Lil' Bush."
Americans expect to be able to vote for everything and in everything, even if they know absolutely nothing about whatever it is they'd like to vote for; this avid enthusiasm for ignorance of relevant political issues unfortunately results in otherwise unexplainable phenomena such as George W. Bush becoming the president of the United States. More unhappily for the welfare of American music's reputation worldwide, this voting privilege, which is falsely believed to be an immutable, granted-by-Politically-Correct-Sky-Abiding-Being fact of life, translates to the small screen; "American Idol," "America's Got Talent," and "Last Comic Standing" are three of the "hottest" viewer vote-in reality shows of this year (and by "hottest" I mean one show whose grossly inflated reputation even starving Bosnian refugees can't escape from, and two that I like). Unfortunately, these shows also market themselves as talent competitions.
The idea that a television show could be based principally on talent and yet be judged by people who know absolutely nothing about that field of talent is like the idea that Britney Spears could ever move to Oneonta and become a soccer mom, except with far fewer possibilities for fraternities seeking out the ultimate panty raid.
I am not going to delve into the great demolition of technical singing ability that is "American Idol" because its legacy of voting for everything except vocal skill speaks on its own (and because I don't actually watch it _ it's so famous that you don't have to ever actually see an episode to know all about it). The winner of the second "America's Got Talent," the ventriloquist/singer/impersonator/deity Terry Fator, actually proves that America can occasionally elect someone whose talents eclipse those of a rival bearing only a guitar and a sob story; but this hopeful note is offset by the fact that in Season One, a man and women who performed exactly the same act (with only the costumes changed) four times were, largely due to the woman breaking down in tears after their third identical performance at the criticism of _ who else? _ the British judge, were voted to the Top 10.
This general degradation of actual talent in reality "talent" competitions might not be so dire to the future of America if it were not also reflected in a slightly more important voting venue: politics. And not the sort of politics where the ugly girl and the guy with shifty eyes are voted off first off the island _ the sort of politics with assassinations and nuclear warfare. Unfortunately for the futures of everyone who's going to be alive in the next 30 years or so, the "American Idol" mind-set does not simply evaporate when the viewers click off their televisions.
Whether Average American Steve (he's a bit like GI Joe, except he's got a beer belly and he works in accounting) is voting for the president of the United States or, more importantly, American Idol #442, his voting trend is prone to run rampantly in favor of the irrelevant and the superficial. Cases in point: Hillary Clinton's media execution by sexism. Rev. Wright.
Readers, I implore you; please don't vote like Average American Steve. Voting for your state Congress representatives or the future leader of the world's reigning superpower is not like voting for "American Idol"; you can't click off the effects of the global political scene if Nancy Pelosi's gained five pounds or Vladimir Putin's bomb-button-finger ring is so last year. Whenever your vote is based entirely on political cartoons and newspaper headlines, there is a distinct possibility that the person for whom you're voting will get you killed _or worse still, give poor people health care.
Then again, this message may have arrived too late. Some people _ the majority of the country, in fact _ might say that the country's already experiencing what exactly happens when we elect and re-elect the political equivalent of William Hung into office. I wonder if Mr. Hung is also in favor of "making the pie higher."
Jessie Matus just completed her junior year at Oneonta High School.