Monday, January 14, 2008

Chicken soup for the idol mind.

I honestly don't know how I missed this, but in honor of American Idol's 2008 premiere Tuesday evening, I thought I'd mention that there is now—as of last November, actually—a Chicken Soup for the American Idol's Soul. Oh yes, there is...thus lending credence to the facetious musing, quoted in SHAM, that if the endless brand expansion continues, one of these days we'll see Chicken Soup for the Ax Murderer's Soul. All told, the Chicken Soup franchise boasts more than 100 million copies sold, spread over 148 titles (one of which, Chicken Soup for the Baseball Fan's Soul, includes a work by your host, obtained by arrangement with Sports Illustrated, where the essay first ran). The current Idol-based book, says a cover line, features "stories from top idols from every season," more than 70 of them in all.

"It makes sense that one of the most successful book franchises and one of the most successful reality shows would join forces," writes Kathy Lauer-Williams, reviewing the book for my local paper, The Morning Call. I gave it a thumb-through at a nearby Barnes & Noble—needless to say, I had no intention of buying a copy—and as expected, it's a tour-de-farce in buzzwordery, full of inspirational phrases like "I was following my dreams," "never did I imagine," and so forth.*

It must be said that of all the more successful written manifestations of the SHAMscape, I find the Chicken Soup series among the least objectionable—if the books are being read simply for diversion and a nice helping of the same warm-fuzzies one might get from any feel-good book or from watching The Sound of Music for the 163rd time. As a side note, this is one reason why I was so flustered and upset when Anderson Cooper's people subbed in Chicken Soup co-patriarch Mark Victor Hansen for Tony Robbins during my notorious appearance on Cooper's CNN show back in November 2005. I'd spent days cramming for Robbins, committing his personal background and professional shtick to memory...and then an hour or so before air time, they tell me I'm getting "the Chicken Soup guy" instead. I mean, really—of all the charges one can lodge against self-help, how much can you say about chicken soup?

And yet it's more than mildly ironic that this particular book should be bracketed as "inspirational," because the show itself, as we've noted a number of times on this blog, may be the best mainstream example of what happens when wishful thinking runs up against the cruel realities of cultural Darwinism. If there's a more stark refutation of the "PMA trumps all" movement, I haven't seen it, even though the winners, year after year, insist on crediting their "faith in my dreams" and "belief in myself." In fact, on American Idol, it matters little what your dream has always been or whether you truly believe in yourself; if Paula, Randy and Simon don't share your generous self-appraisal, you and your dream are going down in flames. Since the show's debut in summer 2002, America has watched hundreds of people** discover, to their horror and apparently for the first time, that they suck at singing, and that their fantasy of becoming a pop star, regardless of how heartfelt, is and always was a "non-starter," as political types like to say of proposed legislation that's in the no-way/no-how category. (Sure, lots of people try out for American Idol on a lark, or even as a goof. Still, there are plenty of true believers, a new crop of whom will begin debasing themselves tomorrow night at 8...to the groaning delight of millions of viewers, including, I confess, this one.) They almost certainly, in 99 percent of cases, should've devoted their efforts elsewhere. And they probably would have, too, had they not been enabled by (a) a coalition of friends and loved ones who though it was doing them a favor by encouraging them, and/or (b) today's climate of obsessive narcissism, which rejects any criticism of a person's "individual goals" as "disempowering" and an "assault on your self-esteem!" I might mention here that the other co-founder of the Chicken Soup series, Jack Canfield, is also one of the fathers of the American self-esteem movement, now being widely repudiated by not a few of its other founding voices.

See, on Idol, you have no choice but to accept the grim truth. There are big, burly security guards who'll usher you off-camera and help you give up your dreams, if you still refuse to....

* The careful reader will note the contradiction between following your dreams and never imagining, and that the latter phrase also constitutes a serious breach of the Law of Attraction.
** representing tens of thousands more, of course.

18 comments:

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve - Perhaps some of those "friends" who encourage the tone-deaf to sing and the two-left-footed to dance are really showing a deep compassion for the wold-be stars. If I told you that your singing sounded like a frog under a Chevrolet (as my own efforts have been described by a teenage Sunday School class I once taught), you might think I was just jealous, and continue to harbor dreams of stardom. But if real life show biz people told you that you sucked, it might actually be a reality lesson sufficient to make you redirect your goals to something to which you were more well-suited.

Then again, surely some of these contestants know how bad they are, and are willing to humiliate themselves for a few seconds' attention.

And for the record, I've never heard Steve sing. Probably to our mutual benefit. :-)

Steve Salerno said...

Ahhhh, be careful what you wish for, Ron. As it happens, I am lately in possession of a new HD-camcorder, and given that Blogger now has video-upload capability....ya never know....

Cosmic Connie said...

Oh, goody, an American Idol Chicken Soup book! All I can say is that it had better contain a substantial contribution from Clay Aiken, or there are going to be a whole lotta angry Claymates, and no telling what *they* might do. (This is another subculture that Ron and I, by reason of our day job, have some inside info about. Some of those ladies make the Secretrons look like paragons of rationality.)

Lest we forget: Chicken Soup co-creator Jack Canfield was also in "The Secret," and is one of the "Three Amigos" (along with Bob Proctor and Michael "Zormak" Beckwith) in a money-grubbing affiliate program that capitalizes on The Secret. Even a lot of the Secretrons were upset with that program, but it's still going strong.

So what's next... a Chicken Soup for the Jerry Springer Guest's Soul? THAT I would probably read.

Mary Anne said...

Let us not forget that a lot of the former American Idols are being dropped from their record labels. American Idol maybe a dead dog.

American Idol also does not let really talented people participate. I know of some professionally trained singers who auditioned for the Idol producers and were told they were "too good" to be seen on the show. American Idol is not all it appears to be either.

There is a new contender for Chicken Soup for Whatever, it's called Common Ties. Common Ties tries to find the "uplifting" side to the curve balls life throws us. There is: Common Ties for Divorce, Cancer, Cat Lovers, Dog Lovers, Sisters, etc.

RevRon's Rants said...

Your aspirations to singing stardom aside, keep in mind that the name "Steverino" has already been taken. There is, however, a bit of a dearth in Italian crooners of late. :-)

RevRon's Rants said...

"Chicken Soup for the Jerry Springer Guest's Soul"

Such a book would have to come with a box of crayons, thus transporting Canfield into yet another "literary" realm.

Steve Salerno said...

Ohhh, Mary Anne, I think it's way premature to start singing dirges for Idol. I always said that Taylor Hicks was more of a cult phenomenon (i.e. like Sanjaya, last year) than an actual performer, so now that the dust has settled, it's no great surprise that people don't particularly care to hear him sing. (And let's not forget that his CD still sold 600,000 copies; a lot of singers would take those numbers.) Carrie Underwood is one of the brightest lights in show biz, Clay Aiken still does well enough, Fantasia is much in demand in several entertainment realms, several of the others have launched successful careers. (Bo Bice comes to mind.) And even aside from all that, there's the sheer pageantry and human drama of the show, which is An Event unto itself--a must-watch for many people--apart from any contributions it makes (or doesn't make) to the ranks of quality singers.

Mary Anne said...

Yeah, Idol is not dead, but the big stand-outs are Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood. The whole record industry is having problems and Jennifer Hudson made it as an actress, NOT a singer and she was booted off. That is a good case for NOT being an American Idol, but a runner-up. Unless you are Sierra, then you get Celebrity Rehab. I am not the only one who thinks American Idol might be getting old. Fantasia can't even make it to her Broadway show, The Color Purple. I wonder what the Big O is saying about that, since she is one of the producers?
Idol may not be dead, but it might be wimpering this season.

mikecane2008 said...

I don't know if you've watched the series since its inception, Steve. If you have, I'm certain you would remember this one bit that really made my hair stand on end.

It was the tryouts episodes, of course, before the real competition.

This teenaged blonde girl was there from, I think, West Virginia, with her mother. Mother did not look the slickster or college grad.

The camera focused on the duo, the girl had some lines of some sort, and the mother came out with this line: "She's got the total package."

I still cringe.

Hmmm... I wonder if it's on YouTube. You go ahead and look. The memory is frightening enough for me.

Steve Salerno said...

The total package, huh? I'd make a ribald comment in the John Holmes vein, but it's late, I'm too tired, and...well, is there such a thing as lowbrow overload?

Cal said...

Here's a recent NPR Talk of Nation program on a woman who lived a year trying different self-help books and the first one she tried was one of Jack Canfield's.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=17763470

Steve Salerno said...

Yeah, I think we talked briefly about Lisick a few weeks ago--CMC brought her up, as I recall, and I noted that she actually mentions me and my book in her book. And oddly enough, the only reason I know that is that an NPR reporter who'd gotten hold of an advance copy of her book brought it up during an interview with me some months back. Small world, huh?

Your PR Guy said...

Ya'know what I'd like to see and hear. An Idol winner say bluntly, "I won because I worked my ass off; and, quite frankly, I sang better than anyone else in this competition."

But that's not what people want to hear.

My question is, why do we always credit our "determined faith, our resolve" whatever intangible it may be, to the cold hard facts?

Steve Salerno said...

Ahh, that's the question of the hour, PRGuy, and one that will resurface again in tomorrow's post. Hope to see you there.

mikecane2008 said...

Point I was making -- apparently missed in your I-Want-To-Sleep-NOW! mind -- was that "entertainmentese" is now being spoken by people you'd never think would.

Neil Postman cringes in his casket...

Steve Salerno said...

Geez, Mike. Could we get any more sarcastic?

Steve Salerno said...

OK, you won't get this if you didn't watch Idol last night, but...

"If you were Columbo...I'd Peter Falk you..."?

a/good/lysstener said...

Steve: LOL, YES! I saw it and thought it was hilarious, if also spooky or creepy as I think Simon put it. I thought the guy was going to get arrested any minute!

Or how about "If you were a bath tub, I'd caulk you." Too much!