How clever of Alessandra Stanley. Ostensibly her piece is about the Sanjaya phenomenon. But it doesn’t take anywhere near a “close reading” to know that it’s really an expression of the NYT’s abiding contempt for the U.S. electorate.
“Idol,” now in its sixth season, has its selection process backward. In this country, people can vote for whomever they want — even Al Gore in 2000 — but the last word is left to the Electoral College and even the justices of the Supreme Court.
Note the double-dipping of “even.”
The high viewer turnout for “Idol,” which is on tonight, cannot solely be explained by technological advances or a regression in human nature. It cannot be a coincidence that television voting rights arose so soon after the 2000 election left slightly more than half the voting population feeling cheated. Those who didn’t go to the polls and fear that their abstention inadvertently made possible the invasion of Iraq may feel even worse. “Idol” could be a displacement ritual: a psychological release that allows people to vote — and even vote often — in a contest that has no dangerous or even lasting consequences. (Even losers win out in the end: both Mr. Gore and Jennifer Hudson ended up on the Oscar stage.)
A wonder she doesn’t claim that “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” is Gore’s new theme song.
Once the early elimination process is over, the judges’ role is closer to that of panelists in a League of Women Voters presidential debate. They use their prestige and expertise to help viewers discern who is the most gifted and qualified contender, but ultimately, they cannot override popular opinion, even when it turns frivolous and favors Ross Perot or Mr. Malakar
Needless to say Ross and Sanjaya aren’t easily confused. One has hair, the other doesn’t.
As “Idol” grows more stately and respectable, it’s only natural for viewers to chip away at its veneer. Outsiders always have an inside edge. Mr. Malakar, who is of Indian descent and has an atavistic teen-idol sweetness, is the ultimate underdog: he can’t sing or dance very well.
But neither can anyone else on this supremely silly show. None, however, have Sanjaya’s overwhelming enthusiasm and clear belief in a talent that’s utterly illusory — thus making him the Maria Montez of Pop.
Howard Dean lost his chance at the 2004 Democratic nomination by letting loose an unseemly scream. The same could be true for the pet noir of “American Idol.” If not, it doesn’t really matter. That’s the reassuring thing about television democracy
The “scream” was of course a “mainstream” media invention, as easily revealed by the blogosphere. But as Ward Sutton reminds us, for a “mainstream” that has never let the truth stand in the way of a good lie, it could be worse —