This nasty side has come to a head in my mind via this sobering column by Lisa de Moraes in the Washington Post:
The Daily Beast put me on to the story, and they have a clip of Paula Goodspeed's audition. If you watch it, you can actually see the thin line between comedy and tragedy right before your very eyes!
And now -- the dark side of the four-week-long Bad Auditions portion of "American Idol" that traditionally kicks off each season of the country's No. 1 television show.
A woman found dead of an apparent drug overdose in a car near "Idol" judge Paula Abdul's Los Angeles home on Tuesday night was an Abdul obsessive who had twice auditioned for the Fox singing competition. She was handpicked in the fifth season to become one of those wannabes the show's three judges would savage on national TV during the early weeks of that season.
So in hindsight, the basic summary here -- a woman who was an obsessive fan of Paula Abdul, one of the celebrity be-pedestaled judges of American Idol, commits suicide after being ridiculed by her, uh, idol -- strikes as sort of inevitable. The show in its current incarnation had to eventually lead to this sort of unnecessarily tragic end.
Of course, we can't blame Paula or the show for the psychological issues of others. This suicide occurs three years after the point of impact, and that's more than enough plausible deniability for the courtroom of public consensus to let American Idol off the hook. There's little point in trying to assign a dollar amount for damages due to a particular crime.
But at the same time, there's an obvious misappropriation of value here. It feels like a karmic sin to see a show that so brazenly resonates with our spirit of love, companionship, communion (talent, after all, is nothing more than a connection between two people) but then use that power for EVIL.
Which is to say, it's not inherently bad to laugh at people who sing horribly. Or are clearly a few posts short of a blog. But you don't lie to them, prop them up, tell them they're amazing, only so the fall can be more entertaining to us normals.
In my head this current cycle, this business of laughing at those who are unawares, will always be pinned to William Hung; he was the gateway drug. But from Punk'd, to Borat, to Idol ... it's a cheap laugh, that comes at the expense of a Real Life Human Being. And we all eventually realize it (there won't be a Borat 2) and feel bad. Or worse than bad if you're Paula Abdul right now.
So anyidol, my question is: Can Obama fix this? I know he's got a lot on his plate, but in some sense it feels like we voted for Obama specifically to help realign our fundamental values. He was the one who showed a willingness to make the sacrifice.
Leadership isn't about having the tools; it's about having the heart, the balls. We all have a sense of the greater good -- hence, bloggers and writers abound! -- but our leaders are the ones who take action.
We all know how to be healthy and get in shape, but sometimes we need a trainer. And it feels like the real mandate for Obama is to be our moral trainer. Sympathetic, yet demanding; showing us how to indulge and have fun with talent showcases, but not take it too far lest someone end up killing themselves.