11 April 2007

Beat the system

While my streak of never watching a second of "American Idol" remains safely intact, I can't help but have some bemused interest in the ongoing saga of Sanjaya Malakar, whose persistence on the show despite a supposed lack of singing talent has created a stir among the show's devotees, with "Idol's" lead arbiter of corporate schlock himself, Simon Cowell, once threatening to quit the show if Malakar goes on to win.

The question has been raised whether Malakar's survival is a harbinger of the inevitable backlash against the show's faux-democratic perpetuation of the squeaky-clean karaoke-machine pop-star image, or whether it is all a clever orchestration by the FOX producers looking to drum up a false controversy. Salon's Audiofile blog even rounded up several prominent music critics to consider the question of whether voting for Malakar with the intent of screwing with "American Idol" constitutes subversion.

I am a bit more sanguine to the idea than most of the respondents, though obviously I don't sanction watching "Idol" and won't contribute to the system by voting myself. But I'm happy to see the success of Malakar despite being a "bad singer" put a shiv in the armchair generals that "Idol" has cultivated who consider vocal pitch the be-all and end-all of musical criticism . It is in part because of this simple distillation of artistic ability that the only substantive criticism I ever seem to find of "Neon Bible," despite the hordes of too-cool-for-you hipsters who are way over that band, is "OMG why do they ever let Regine near a microphone?"

While I'm sure Malakar isn't going to be making any groundbreaking artistic advancements, he has at least shaken the drones briefly from their Simon-Paula-and-Randy induced numbness. The judges on "Idol," like political pundits in the "real world,' are there to dam up the river of democracy, to make sure it flows in a fashion acceptable to their corporate masters and not go anywhere too outlandish. They remain indignant in the face of the public will, a position that must have been perfected at FOX sometime around last November.