Thursday, January 15, 2009

Their American dreams are stuck on Idol.

First off, short but interesting piece in Forbes today, in which your host is (rather provocatively) quoted. I don't recall saying exactly that, but I can't really argue the point, either.
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American Idol has begun again, and with it comes another instructive clinic in what happens when blind Empowerment ("It's always been my dream to be a singer!") crashes up against a medium where talent* rules and
unlike what we've been conditioned to expect by the anti-competitive gospel preached in today's grade schoolsnot everyone can win. (In their manic desire to leach all games of their competitive aspect while also downplaying any concomitant sense of aggression, some schools have followed the national PTA's offhand recommendation by renaming tug-o'-war...tug-o'-peace! I guess that would make those grumpy Afghanis who, for centuries now, have run around killing each other while vying for control of a given patch of earth...peacelords.) Show after show at this early, weeding-out juncture, you have AI contestants tromping off stage, post-rejection, screaming/crying into the camera, more or less, "There's something wrong with this show! Simon and the rest of them are crazy! They don't know what to look for! I am the next American Idol...!"

We've talked about this before, in connection with an insightful New York Observer piece by Alexandra Wolfe about the dangers of something she labels TMPR, for "too much positive reinforcement." I won't belabor it here, except to say that until such time as we reconfigure life itself to fulfill everyone's wildest dreams
something I don't think we can realistically do (notwithstanding the frenzied efforts of today's "helicopter parents")there's little sense in raising kids in an antiseptic environment that artificially shields them from failure and disappointment. Especially since, as I've documented in SHAM and elsewhere on this blog, the sort of nurturing, perpetually uplifting environment created in schools does not produce the sort of dogged commitment to success that early self-esteem theorists hoped for. On the contrary, it tends to produce indolence and narcissism, and may even, at its outer limitsas the work of academic psychologist Roy Baumeister and others suggestscause the very violence that schools seek to thwart. In fact, self-esteem-based thinking has shown itself to produce the worst possible combination of traits: a sense of destiny and delusional entitlement in an individual who isn't willing to work for it and appears to resent the fact that it doesn't just fall into his lap.

Incidentally, if you watch the YouTube vid, above, listen carefully for this young woman's in-passing hypothesis, at the 3:25 mark, as to why one of the show's female producers might've rejected her during her most recent Idol tryout.

* That's not to say that I think it takes musical talentin the specific sense of having a good voice, per seto succeed in today's music world. To be honest, it never really did, as I think is clear from the careers of Bob Dylan, Phil Collins and even, dare I say, Mick Jagger, none of whom can sing a lick, if we're making such assessments based on criteria that are purely musical in nature. There's something intangible going onsome certain performance aspect in which the whole becomes exponentially more than the sum of its musical partsthat decides whether a performer will enjoy commercial success. In any case, talent or no talent, it is a highly Darwinistic medium and only a very, very small percentage of those who truly believe that they're "destined for greatness" will get a chance to live out their dreams.

23 comments:

Elizabeth said...

Assorted rambling thoughts, Steve, as I feel I have not much of substance to say in response to your (another good) post.

But, oh, American Idol... How did we survive all these months without it? I, for one, am glued to my small screen TV, looking forward impatiently to the next batch of talentless train wrecks and an occasional raw and real deal. It's fantastic!

Dunno if you saw last night's AI, but there was a breakthrough moment there, something I have never seen in the history of AI (at least its televised version). There was this one very earnest young man who came to audition to show his mother that yes, he was a great singer and performer, something the mom, bless her heart and mind, discouraged him from doing. Apparently the mom (in the young man's words) went as far as telling him that he cannot sing! (Are you as shocked as I am? What kind of a mother does that? ;)

Well, the mom was right, as it was obvious from the very first moment we saw the young man. But the breakthrough I refer to here has to do with a now confirmed existence of a parent -- a mom, no less -- who did her child a favor and told him the truth about his limitations. (If he only listened...) This is the first in the history of AI as I can recall, and, IMO, this mother should be commended and interviewed for posterity and the overall benefit of all parents everywhere (but somehow I suspect she would shun this glory).

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Baumeister has done good work on the perils of high self-esteem and narcissism, but also on the nature of self; evil; search for meaning; and lately, on sexuality and love. His book on evil made a big impression on me -- so much so that I read the whole thing (which rarely happens). Check his list of publications:
http://tinyurl.com/33xu6t

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Tug-'o-peace! This is the most (oxy)moronic thing I've heard in a while. What about the "tug" piece, huh? It's still evokes unsightly images of a struggle, clenched teeth, and overall hostility. How peaceful is that? Tsk tsk. (That's what happens at PTAs, BTW. :)

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No, it does not necessarily take talent to become a music/pop/singing star. Case in point: Madonna.

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Last but not least: so you are misquoted (or not quoted exactly -- another oxymoron?) in Forbes? Can they do it?

Elizabeth said...

P.S. Correction: I meant to say, It still evokes unsightly images of a struggle...

My apologies. Sigh. But do be patient, please -- it is my second (technically, fourth) language that I'm using here. One gets confused from time to time.

Dimension Skipper said...

Sorta kinda relevant to this post, but actually tying in to a much larger SHAMbloggy theme, the following is quite a long article, but I found it of great interest and I think others who hang out here might like it too. Certainly worth at least a quick skim, I think...

Is it really bad to be sad?
By Jessica Marshall for NewScientist (14 January 2009)

Steve Salerno said...

DS: I'm a bit pressed for time lately, so I'm sorry I haven't given the comments section the attention it deserves, but thanks, as always, for your valuable contributions to "the literature."

Elizabeth said...

Thanks, DimSkip. This is an area of my particular interest and I'm happy (no pun, or is it?) to see that American psychology is slowly but surely coming around to re-evaluating sadness, depression, inner conflicts and other human maladies as perhaps not so bad (let's preserve the tentative status of that statement here, LOL). Maybe in time we (i.e. American psychology 'n all) will come to actually view them as a necessary part of life, without which any form of emotional development (as well as significant human achievement) would not be possible. A tall order, I know, but that's my POV -- and yes, I do have data to support it too :).

Speaking of "a pill for every ill,"
a while back I wrote a snarky riff on this very thing:
http://tinyurl.com/9jcwhf

Elizabeth said...

DimSkip, since this is obviously an area of interest to you, I think you may enjoy reading this:
http://tinyurl.com/9rlked

Check also this book if you can:
http://tinyurl.com/7le46k

And the website which may be useful:
http://tinyurl.com/7sohhb

This stuff is not as technical as it may appear at first, and I hope you find the ideas interesting (and helpful perhaps).

Dimension Skipper said...

Thanks, Elizabeth. I bookmarked the pages for now (quickly noting the authorship on the first one in particular) and will make an effort to get back to them within the next day or two when I have the time required to properly delve into them.

roger o'keefe said...

This is the kind of ground breaking material that is you at your best, Steve, IMO. This is what brought most of us to your blog. It represents a perspective on modern living that you can't find anywhere else, or at least you couldn't to my knowledge until your book came along. If you're going to be "contrarian", as you put it, I think this is how you do it best. The silliness of the whole self esteem nonsense seems so clear when you write about it, I don't know why you venture off into topics that are in your wheelhouse, frankly.

roger o'keefe said...

I meant to say "not" in your wheelhouse.

Elizabeth said...

I meant to say "not" in your wheelhouse.

LOL! Clearly a Freudian slip (to my mind), Rog. :)

DimSkip, no shameless self-promotion there, BTW. (OK, maybe a little bit.) But I really think you may find this stuff interesting and helpful. And of course I'm very curious about your thoughts on the matter(s), whenever you have time (here, or on your blog, or directly to me).

Elizabeth said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Elizabeth said...

Steve, I've watched the Idol "reject" video. As to the reasons she gave for her rejection (around 3:25), the thing I've heard from her is that the producers decided, and told her, that she was "not what they were looking for" -- is that it, or am I missing something?

Steve Salerno said...

Eliz et al: You need to sharpen your listening skills. But I'll save you the trouble. Speculating about the producer's real reason for turning her down (since obviously it couldn't have anything to do with a lack of talent), the girl muses, "Did she not get any dick last night...?"

Elizabeth said...

Ah, yes, thank you, Steve. A perfect explanation, of course.

Indeed I missed that, LOL!

Cal said...

I think the last sentence of your asterisked comment also applies to us wanna-be pro athletes, especially minority kids who see this as the only means out. I definitely believe in following your dreams, but you need to have a Plan B and/or Plan C.

Also, even if a person "makes it" in entertainment or sports, most of them don't have long lives. I think of the one-hit wonders in music, most women over 40 in acting, and even flash-in-the pan athletes. There are very few who get to the level of The Beatles, Michael Jackson, The Rolling Stones, Madonna, etc.

Jen said...

Steve, first of all, congratulations on your blog's readership. It's funny that I started coming here right before you decided to give it a new life. And now, I just can't seem to stay away. It's the best "self-help" around. ;)

To Dimension Skipper, thanks for posting a link to that article on sadness. This part made me laugh:

Without taking time out to reflect, he says, "you might stay in a state of chronic stress until you're exhausted or dead."

For someone like me who is prone to melancholy, the thought of actually exhausting yourself with sadness to the point of death is slightly amusing, in a morbid sort of way.

Steve, I watched that video last night while folding laundry and caught the comment about the imagined sexual frustration of the judge being the probable reason the contestant didn't get selected as an idol. It was interesting listening to her talk, although I have never watched American Idol and often wonder what it is that moves people to want to become "famous." My daughter happens to be one of those people, though. :)

Dimension Skipper said...

Just popped in for a moment, but had to respond:

"Without taking time out to reflect, he says, 'you might stay in a state of chronic stress until you're exhausted or dead.' "

For someone like me who is prone to melancholy, the thought of actually exhausting yourself with sadness to the point of death is slightly amusing, in a morbid sort of way.—Jen

Glad you liked the article, Jen. However, I think maybe one of us misunderstaood that quote you cite d. Seems to me the author was saying that sadness, melancholy, depression, are maybe an inbuilt means of managing or easing stress and the pace of a hectic life. It's the stress of the hectic life that would kill if unchecked by the sadness reflex. One would not be "exhausting yourself with sadness" as you put it. In essence, the sadness helps, serving a somewhat beneficial (though perhaps hard to see at the time) purpose.

At least that's my interpretation.

Dimension Skipper said...

I just went back to the article myself and this is the full paragraph:

What's more, says Paul Keedwell, a psychiatrist at Cardiff University in the UK, even full-blown depression may save us from the effects of long-term stress. Without taking time out to reflect, he says, "you might stay in a state of chronic stress until you're exhausted or dead". He also thinks that we may have evolved to display sadness as a form of communication. By acting sad, we tell other community members that we need support."

The author is actually quoting someone else, but I still read it as the idea that depression is a built-in means of the mind to pull back from overwhelming stress and depressurize. The depression is essentially the mind's way of reflecting on all that's going on. So depression is the "cure" for overwhelming stress in a sense, a pressure valve.

As I said, at least that's how I interpret it.

Voltaire said...

Sometimes I confess I get a little impatient seeing these kinds of articles by Steve about the inanities of the TV. If the idiot box is such a source of irritation, then why not just get rid of it? That's what I did. For me the Internet is enough.

Elizabeth said...

But, Volt, we love our idiot boxes! Almost as much as we love complaining about them (or, likely, more).

What would we do without TV -- pay attention to our lives, or, even worse, to each other...? Perish the thought!

Volt, you reckless soul...;) No TV in your home? How ever do you manage to get through each day?

More seriously(?), we like to put it down (and for good reasons, most of the time), but TV is a great uniter providing, among many things, a common ground for people who'd otherwise may not have much to talk about (as sad -- or not -- as it may sound). It is THE source of shared cultural experiences for so many (most?) of us. Of course we like the Internet, too, especially since it gives us a chance to complain, collectively, about TV (and also the wasted time we spend on the Internet).

Dimension Skipper said...

I didn't get the sense that Steve was complaining about American Idol, just that he was using it as a jumping off point for illustrating a larger SHAMbloggy life theme.

Voltaire said...

Volt, you reckless soul...;) No TV in your home? How ever do you manage to get through each day?

I once lived in an apartment complex that had cable TV salesmen come by almost monthly. I'd wait for them to give their speil and then say "but I don't have a TV." It was so much fun to see the expressions of unbelief on their faces and see them get confused in giving their presentation because their training never seemed to include the possibility that someone might not have a TV.

Elizabeth said...

It was so much fun to see the expressions of unbelief on their faces and see them get confused

Reckless and wicked! Tsk tsk...;)