Mr. Berman has a prediction to make:
Chris Daughtry is the definite favorite, while talent-less Bucky Covington is the most likely to bid adieu tonight. Potentially joining Bucky in the bottom three: Lisa Tucker and, unfortunately, energetic Taylor Hicks in place of oddball teen Kevin Covais. Did you ever, meanwhile, see a contestant more in love with himself than Ace Young?
I am surprised to see how easy it is to make predictions. Everyone seems to know exactly who will win. And there is surprising agreement. Clearly, Kevin Covais will have to go just as surely (and for the opposite reason) that Santino Rice had to leave Project Runway. Kevin was too nice and Santino not nearly nice enough. (We want our icons, in music as in design, a combination of the two.)
But if we are truly a post modernist society, buzzing with variety and novelty, surely the American Idol confidence and consensus should be impossible. Surely, the whole thing should be playing itself out as a great mystery, with, say, performances of emo that shock and puzzle.
That there is confidence and consensus tells us a) we are mostly wrong when we talk about the new structural properties of contemporary culture, or b) there is something about American Idol that smooths the way for our confidence and our consensus. I am prepared to be talking into "A" but I have a feeling that the answer is "B."
After all, there are moments when watching AI where I find myself wondering what decade this is. No one has chosen a song penned in the 21st century. Indeed, as Randy, Paula, and Simon are often moved to observe, clothing and makeup choices often seem to harken back to another time. This is my way of saying that American Idol is a lie and perhaps even a conspiracy. It appears to be crafted to give the impression that American culture remains a mass culture, that happy time when every thing was known to everyone (see Monday’s post on the "death of destination television").
This is the "big brand" approach to contemporary music. Covington is an Eagles imitator. Daughtry is a road house rocker. Ace does Motown. My favorite, Elliott Yamin, a guy who looks endearingly like George C. Scott, covers Stevie. The girls, generally, are anyone anyone wants them to be as long as it obliges them to dress in clothing that no one has worn for several decades.
As we have noted here before, the great fluorescence of cultural invention that is taking place at the moment has certain structural effects, some of them predictable, some not. Predictably, it drives a plenitude of musical production, a fragmentation of consumer taste, and profusion of long tail markets. Unpredictably, it creates a flight to the higher ground of broader choice.
So much for the notion that the center will not hold. The fluorescence of our culture at one end is forcing a new coherence at the other. There are several benefits of this development. One of these is that we are left with an impression that really this a mass society, that nothing has changed. And it’s a very veritable impression. Forty million viewers. God in heaven.
I can think of several institutions that will buy the lie. The business schools will say, "listen, American Idol is proof that we do not have to let contemporary culture into the curriculum.It is business (school) as usual." Several brands, famous for the cluelessness, will also insist that American Idol is a license for complacency.
Too bad. For this appearance of cohesion is, I think, being driven by its opposite.
Berman, Marc. Programming Inside. Mediaweek. March 22, 2006. By subscription. Sorry, I don’t have an url. I get the Programming Insider by email.
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