Fast Food, Dogs, and American Idol: The Embracing of Pop Culture Mediocrity

A few years ago before I acquired my beautiful puppy Rocco I did a fair amount of  research. I read about different breeds, what to expect from his particular breed, different training techniques and theories, etc. One of the things I learned was that, for various reasons, it is unwise to feed a dog “people food”. And more interestingly, I discovered that dogs are perfectly happy with their own food. Whereas we humans…theoretically…prefer variety (it is the spice of life), dogs couldn’t possibly care less…they just want fed. This has proven quite accurate over the years, as Rocco still gets as excited over the same food that I’ve been feeding him since early on. I did switch brands once, and we made the leap from puppy formula to adult dog food at some point, but essentially he’s been eating the same meal for three years and loving it.

 

Conversely, I recall a trip I was on with a group from my church. I don’t remember what city we were in, but we were going to grab some dinner before the conference we were attending. Conveniently there was a Ryan’s right beside our hotel. The majority rules and I am not one to make waves, so I went along with the plan to eat there, but to be honest I was disappointed. There is a Ryan’s 10 minutes from my apartment at which I can eat anytime I want. When I go out of town I like to try something different, whether it be a local establishment or a chain that isn’t available in my hometown. I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself adventurous, but I do like to mix it up a little bit and venture out ever so gently onto a limb.

 

I realize that not everyone shares my quest for something unique. After all, one of the reasons chain restaurants and stores exist is because of their comfort and predictability. A Big Mac is the same whether you’re eating at a McDonald’s in West Virginia, Montana, New York, or Florida. If someone chloroformed a person and placed them inside a WalMart when that person woke up they wouldn’t immediately know whether they were in Washington DC or the state of Washington. This is convenient & reassuring, but it is also mundane & predictable. And I guess maybe that is what society prefers nowadays. Forget exceptional, eschew excellence, and shun singularity…just give us a tired retread of something familiar and comfortable.

 

This fact became crystal clear the past several weeks as I have been watching one of my guilty pleasures, American Idol. One by one the viewers have voted a person off until we finally got down to our final pair, and then the fans chose their champion. And in so doing the masses confirmed my suspicions.

 

Now let me be clear…I am well aware that everyone has different tastes in music, but that is not what this is about. I may prefer jazz, classic rock, and easy listening, while you may lean toward country, hip-hop, and gospel. That is fine by me. But that doesn’t mean we must settle for subpar quality within whatever genre we like. I love the fact that when I am listening to some of my favorite singers or bands I immediately know their sound. Whether it is Sinatra, Dean Martin, REO Speedwagon, The Eagles, Boston, Van Halen, James Taylor, or Garth Brooks even the most fair weather fans will instantly recognize those voices. Is there any singer in the world as distinctive as Bob Dylan?? Did Fleetwood Mac with Stevie Nicks sound like any other band out there in the 70’s & 80’s?? When you hear a Barry Manilow tune do you have trouble putting your finger on who exactly the artist is?? Do you wonder for even a second who is singing that song when the local radio station plays something by Tom Petty?? No, no, no, and no.

 

One of the things I have had to endure while keeping tabs on Idol these past few months is the vitriolic animosity toward third place finisher Haley Reinhart. I chose Haley as my darkhorse awhile back, predicting that she could possibly make it to the final three. I was absolutely correct. She has a soulful, bluesy vibe and I would buy a record of hers in a heartbeat. But the drumbeat of the soccer moms has been that she screeches and growls, and the hatred for the lovely Miss Reinhart has been stunning to me. It is amazing how some folks wouldn’t know true talent if it fixed them breakfast in bed and drove them to work every day. Meanwhile hacks like Justin Beiber, Miley Cyrus, and Katy Perry rake in millions of the public’s hard earned dollars by selling scrapple but convincing people it is filet mignon. It just doesn’t make any sense to this humble Potentate of Profundity.

 

I do not have anything against newly crowned Idol winner Scotty McCreery. He seems like a nice guy. He can sing. But when I close my eyes and listen to him I hear other voices…Clint Black, Randy Travis, George Strait, Brad Paisley, Kenny Chesney, and a plethora of other male country singers that are virtually indistinguishable from one another. It’s not that I completely hate country music…I don’t. I enjoy performers like Hank Williams Jr., Sugarland, Willie Nelson, Carrie Underwood, Travis Tritt, and Faith Hill. I like voices that stand out from the crowd. Scotty McCreery does not stand out from the crowd despite looking like the love child of Alfred E. Newman and Howdy Doody. I certainly do not wish any ill will, but I think I have food in my kitchen cupboards that may last longer than Scotty’s career. Meanwhile, contestants from this just concluded season like Lauren Alaina, James Durbin, Pia Toscano, Casey Abrams, and of course Haley Reinhart all have not only the tools for success but the extra…je ne sais quoi…to atleast carve out a worthwhile niche in the market. I may be wrong, I may be right, I may be crazy. Or I just might be the lunatic you’re not looking for.

 

At any rate, regardless of the long term prospects of American Idol contestants or even the questionable validity of the show itself, what I find thoroughly intriguing is how it seems to be symptomatic of an all-encompassing move toward mediocrity. Instead of quality we gravitate toward the lowest common denominator. Bookstores are filled with cookie cutter romance novels and uninspired mysteries. Our televisions broadcast dozens of copycat “reality” shows, cops n’ robbers stories, and blatant CSI ripoffs. Strip malls are filled with the aforementioned chain stores and restaurants. Movie theaters show an endless supply of sequels…even if the original wasn’t that good to begin with…because it is easier than coming up with an original idea. And rarely does a uniquely talented musician succeed unless they are willing to either conform or market themselves using some sort of gimmick, like Lady Gaga (who herself is just a Madonna wannabe).  I am honestly not trying to be critical. Live & let live and to each their own. But personally I will continue to look for new, interesting, and genuinely good things. If others are happy consuming the same old uninspired, uncreative, mass produced, bland “comfort food” every day that’s their prerogative. It seems to work for my dog.

 

 

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4 thoughts on “Fast Food, Dogs, and American Idol: The Embracing of Pop Culture Mediocrity

  1. I agree that Scotty was not the best vocalist, and I recall Simon Cowell constantly reminding contestants that “this is a singing contest.” That being said, your views on Haley are also colored by your, uh, views of Haley. And I’m pretty sure that WV MacDonalds have stricter rules than other states… for instance, when making a Big Mac, the roadkill must be used within 24-hours of recovery.

    1. Ha!! I’ve not had the pleasure of eating a Big Roadkill at McD’s…yet.

      Oh sure, I like Haley cause she’s hot. I’ll admit that. But she’s also a really great singer. Lots o’ soul. She’s gonna do good stuff.

      1. Also, I did mention Katy Perry, who by any objective metric is quite fetching. But I wouldn’t buy one of her records. She’s a pre-fab, prepackaged pop star product, which is kind of what I’m railing against.

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