Bring us your dysfunctional, your freaks, your talentless masses. America wants to know them, to love them, to scorn them, and to be like them.
Judging from the popularity of programs like American Idol, Jerry Springer, Dr. Phil, et al ,it seems to me that American society loves public humiliation. Indeed, our nation thrives on it. These programs are showcases of what’s wrong with us. We watch them and say to ourselves, “There but for the grace of God, go I.” These shows reassure us we are not alone in our in our dysfunctions and aberrant behaviors, that there are others out there who are at least as screwed up as we are, if not more. These are people just like us and, like them, we want to be on television too, even it requires that we be publicly humiliated.
There was a time, in the not so recent past, when public humiliation was avoided at all costs. Back in colonial times, in the days of the Puritans, public humiliation was a form of punishment. People were put into stocks and pillories in the town square and pelted with rotting fruit and feces for various infractions of the law and social mores. Now, public humiliation has become the path to fame and fortune. Just how in the hell did that happen?
I take great care to avoid exposure to American Idol but it’s impossible to avoid it completely. Even from my limited exposure to the show, it’s clear to me that American Idol is much less about showcasing talent than it is about public humiliation. It’s the sheer awfulness of the contestants that attracts viewers and some have been so awful that their total lack of talent brought them their 15 minutes of fame. People watch to see how badly Simon is going to cut them down. In this age of political correctness where we go out of our way not to offend anyone, it’s apparently okay to be insulted and belittled by a so-called celebrity with a fake English accent on national television.
I also take great care to avoid the various “freak” shows. I’m sure there’s a certain fascination factor, like a wreck on the highway but, just the same, I’d just as soon not look. Frankly, it concerns me that the people who appear on Springer and Dr. Phil could be my neighbors, people I work with, or people I do business with. Do I really want to know about their quirks, fetishes, psychological problems, etc.? That’s just too much information, thank you.