As style dominates substance, politics is another round of ‘Idol’

When Billie Joe Armstrong belts out the lyrics to “American Idiot,” I wonder if he’s mocking the spectacle that is “American Idol.” Ratings were down as compared to last season, but 33.2 million viewers tuned into Season 7’s premiere.

Similarly, “fans” are turning out in record numbers for the presidential election primaries — which is becoming the newest reality show — for two main reasons: the poor presidency of George W. Bush and the novelty of the candidates who are running.

“Idol” proves that the whims of the people are easily guided by the spectacular, and apparently so do the primaries. Our election is spectacular in that this year we have the surprising novelty of a woman and an African-American leading the way in the popularity contest for the person who will replace the much-maligned Bush.

Moreover, the advertisers have made it simple with labels for each of our candidates: Barack Obama, the African-American; Hillary Clinton, the woman; and Mike Huckabee, the evangelical. Labels seem to fall off the slippery John McCain, so we’ll call him Mr. Generic.

The scary reality is that we are now embarking on a reality-show election. Since “record numbers” are turning into our campaign, I fear it’s the same people who tune into “American Idol.” It makes profound sense to elect our next president in the same way we crown a new Idol. William Hung notwithstanding, they’ve done a pretty good job, haven’t they?

Wouldn’t you just love to see Simon sit behind his table and rake Mrs. Clinton over the coals about her appearance? Is she unfairly being held to a higher appearance standard? Or maybe he can interview Mrs. McCain — why do we care about her all of a sudden? Of course, then Paula would have to run up and give out hugs in tears for a touching “moment.” What does Randy do anyway?

Fans will tune in to see the newest, weirdest, stupidest person to show up at the local “Idol” audition. Many viewers only watch this first show in the Idol-trek-to-glory just to see the oddballs who think they can make it. Where does the drive come from that makes someone think they can sing when they really can’t? Surely someone is telling them: maybe their high-pitched-squealing-monotonous-inner-voice is drowning out the criticism.

Do you remember these guys: Dennis Kucinich, Mike Gravel, Ron Paul, Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson? Maybe there’s something to this “Idol” idea that the early auditions weed out the freaks. If so, what sets McCain, Huckabee, Obama and Clinton apart? Are they in to continue the freak show or because they can really “sing”?

This election, we are going to have to work really hard to cut through the extra funk the media is showering on these people. Don’t let media face time be a motivation for your vote.

Take stock, look inside yourself and think about the issues. Dig past the show that’s drawing you in. It’s not the cute teenie-bopper smile of Carrie Underwood that makes her special. It’s her voice — a voice trained to hit notes in perfect pitch and perfect timing. What none of us saw was the tremendous amount of voice work she put in to become so good.

What notes are these candidates hitting? What is it about their make-up (not their makeup) — their blackness, femininity or faith (what does McCain have?) — that makes them uniquely qualified to be commander-in-chief? Remember, the goal is not blindness; it’s embracing the otherness in people that makes them valuable.

I’m interested to watch how this “Donkey and Elephant Show” plays out in the media. Will anyone else ask this question about the sensational, or are they just too afraid to lose ratings?

Please challenge and be challenged to look into the people on stage, through the lens they project and into their uniqueness. As they show up at these auditions, let’s hope that at least one of them can truly sing — and that we, as Simon, pick the one with the best voice rather than the one with the best act.

Duke Gatsos is an English education major. E-mail [email protected]