After watching the enormously entertaining season premiere of American Idol last night, I'm convinced that it's either the most compulsively watchable show on television, or an obviously imminent sign of the final apolcalpyse that awaits us all, the end of the world, the harbinger of the seven horsemen, minus the horses and plus Paula Abdul, which is not a bad compensation, come to think of it. Watching people with no talent assuming that they have talent, only to hear the distinguished panel of judges rip them to shreds in front of the whole world, appeals to our baser instincts, our less wholesome, voyeuristic qualities that get off on seeing other people in pain, while we sit tight, content, relaxed, swigging a Snapple and downing some Doritos. It's not a particularly American impulse, I don't think, given that the show originated in Britain, has licensed spin-offs around the world, not to mention innumerable rip-offs right here in the Philippines, but it is a fundamentally human impulse, of that I'm sure. And while it's undeniably kinda fun, I'm not so sure that it's totally healthy.
This is the thing. Competition makes the world go round, like it or not, love it or not, and a lot of us like to see others win while others fail. That's fine. That's normal. It might be built in to our genetic structure. Whatever. But it seems to me that this obsession with shows like American Idol, on the part of the participants and fans, hints at a darker, creepier desire, the one that says that the only validity in life comes from reams and reams of people worldwide clapping their hands in unison while shouting our names as we stand on a stage and smile and bask in the adulation. It's not the urge to make music or sing nice songs that's wrong, and a lot of the contestants on the show seem to genuinely have that gift; hell, most of the people in the Philippines are fantastic singers who sing for the sake of singing. But it seems like a good percentage of those bouncing around the American Idol stage are there simply because they need to be liked and loved, big-time, all the time.
There's this cool psychotherapist named Arthur Ellis, ninety-plus years old, who has boiled all of our foibles and insecurities and neuroses down into three simple categories, the anxiety over which fuel most of our (usually) irrational compulsions. We think thus:
1) People Must Like Me
2) I Must Do Well
3) The World Is Unfair
That's it. That's all. The winners and losers of American Idol seem to fit squarely into any or all of the above categories. (As do the rest of us.) Ellis's advice is rather startling, in this new-age, psycho-babble society we inhabit -- he recommends a) liking yourself regardless of what others think; b) liking yourself even if you do not do well; and c) recognizing, like an adult, that the world is unfair, so get over it.
So simple, and yet so difficult to follow.
He's basically saying: "Look, fuck what everybody else is saying, do what you want, do your best, and recognize that life sometimes, if not often, screws you over." Most of our problems arise not from the problem itself, he postulates, but from our worrying over the problem, its root, its source, its effect on the rest of our lives. Just like yourself because it makes life easier, he's saying; just live life and take the bad with the good and don't whine.
Again, not easy.
But I can't help but think that he's on to something. All those preening and desperately anxious faces on American Idol so want to be loved, need to be loved, because, well, that 's what our culture decides success is all about -- having groups of strangers applaud us for doing well and scorn us for trying, and usually failing. Fuck it, Ellis says; just get on with it, he says.
Good advice. Advice I will try to follow, to be sure.
In the meantime, should I happen to, you know, accidentally encounter the newest edition of American Idol on Star World Channel 28 next Wednesday at 8:00 p.m. (Filipino time), I might, you know, take a gander for a moment or two.
I mean, come on -- do you expect me to change overnight? And besides, Simon's one-liners, cruel as they are, can be spot-on and dead-on funny sometimes. Life isn't fair, and neither is he, which is either comforting or disturbing, depending on how you look at it.