Thursday, April 26, 2007

You call that compassion?

Last night on American Idol they had their 2 hour special "Idol Gives Back".They raised alot of a money and probably look on it as a success, but I found it mostly disturbing.

For starters, their number was something like 1-800-idolaid. Idol Aid just sounds wrong.
Then there is the fact that Ryan and Paula made small children cry. Not because the kids are poor and hungry and prone to cry any way, but more they're getting prodded with a sharp emotional stick so they look pathetic for the camera.

Scene: African Hut
Ryan: Where are your parents, sad African children? (jab)
Children: They're dead.
Ryan: Dead? Really? You live here alone? (jabbity jab)
Children: Yeah, thanks for bringining it up.
Ryan: You must feel pretty terrible about your parents being dead. Everyone loves their parents and you don't have any. (jab, jab)
Children: (eyes well up with tears)
Ryan: Oh. You're crying. Well that's natural, your life does suck, but don't worry, it's ok. I still have nice hair. (pathetic attempt at a hug)

Scene: Community Center at which I'm certain the children were prepped for the cameras
Paula: So, your life sucks, what do you hate most about it?
Girl: Um...
Paula: Come on, someone as pathatic as you must be sad.
Girl: Well, my mom works three jobs because we're poor. (unconvincing crying and sobs)
Paula: Don't worry honey, you're not alone. Isn't it good to know you're not alone? (unconvincing concern)

During the scene with Ryan and the children Simon was just silent, but later Simon was his typical rude self, going on and on about the deplorable conditions of the hut they visited a dying woman in. I know he was trying to convey to a tv audience how great the need is, but to criticize the little these people have right in front of them just seems wrong. He kept talking about how awful it was that this women was dying in a hut like this. I yelled at the tv, "Then buy a her a hospital room Simon!"

These people are professionals in entertaining but, clearly, amatures in compassion. They noted death rates, they relayed how many of the people they met died. The did not bring medical professionals or even medical supplies on a trip to visit aids victims. They ran very low on hope, not even making good use of the monetary hope they were offering. Even the background music they chose didn't make sense, songs like "Waiting on the world to change" and "Chasing Cars", which depict inaction and apathy, hummed along as we watched people helping others & scenes of tearful little children flashed across the screen.

The highlight of this thing was seeing Carrie Underwood sing to the little African kids. She hugged them and looked into their eyes. If it was an act, at least it was a good one. The reason it works, in spite of the fac that we have no way of ascertaining if Carrie really feels for these kids, is that people feel being compassionate when they see compassion. It motivates us to give. Seeing people be rude or unfeeling only makes us angry.


Jon said...

Your social commentary is spot-on. I didn't see this particular episode, but after reading your post I am glad that I did not.

Jason Hesiak said...

What else is expected from an "American Idol." With genuine compassion the idol must be smashed. Then the show is over.

Melody said...

Don't be silly. Vocal excellence and compasion are not mutually exclusive. Heck, celebrity and compassion are not mutually exclusive, merely rare.

Jason Hesiak said...

No...but vocal excellence and American Idol, while not being entirely separate, are in fact two separate things. The "Idol" is not the voice, but the crafted image. With true compassion the crafted image of "American Idol" is smashed.

Melody said...

Yes, they are seperate, but I don't see how compassion smashes American Idol...

Jason Hesiak said...

The crafted image of American Idol intentionally excludes true compassion, true union with persons, souls and reality. "American Idol" is illusiory, and in that is no different from any other idol. The audience watches and drools...becoming famous vicariously in the fantasy land of TV with the folks on it...folks who aren't even realted to him or her in "real time" or space. In the "actor's" lack of being related in "real time" or "real" space, the "producers" can and do thus manipulate the image to suit the vicarious toungue-panting of the audience. Tongues don't pant for reality. Reality and tongue panting are in fact mutually exclusive. Reality and compassion are inseparately interwoven.

Melody said...

Mmm. Or maybe we just enjoy the olympics...or the super bowl...except for people who don't care about athletics.

Jason Hesiak said...

I won't deny that such referenced enjoyment of competition (not necessarily bad) is an aspect of what's going on. But the presence of that "aspect" in the crafted image doesn't change my point, no? The point of a guy who does in fact enjoy good performance art that is meant to reconcile us to reality rather than to extend us in the direction further away from it.

Melody said...

Try that last bit in coherant English and then we'll talk.

Jason Hesiak said...


1. I enjoy good performance art, insofar as it is meant to reconcile and reconnect us with reality, rather than the opposite.

2. Good ol' competition is an aspect of what's going on in "American Idol."

3. Competition is only an aspect of what's going on in American Idol. What this means is that the presence of competition as an aspect of the "show," as an aspect of the image being presented to the audience, does not change my point that "American Idol" means to present an illusory image through which the panting audience can vicariously have their moment of fame. It also doesn't change my point that the producer's intentionally craft the "image" to be not only condusive to the panting, but to induce it.

4. Which also doesn't change my point that true compassion would mean the smashing of the "image" of "American Idol." Since compassion means to truly reconnect or reconcile to reality.

Jason Hesiak said...

Coherent English? I'm working on the whole "coherent english" thing. Trying...

Melody said...

Well certainly they're trying to portray a certain image...that is sort of what art is all about. Expressing X.

I don't know about living vicariously through these people, but even if that is the goal, that's also the goal of many a novel, so I hardly see where that's a problem.

Compassion means to reconcile reality? Since when?

Jason Hesiak said...

"Compassion means to reconcile reality? Since when?" You won't find it in the dictionary, since I'm not trying to DEFINE compassion. But going back to the Latin, "com" means "with." The "passion" part comes from the Latin word for "suffering," and is also related to Greek word for "pathos," which also basically means "to suffer."

In the face of the reality of the suffering in the world, we as humans have the choice to either: A) turn our back on it and either fool ourselves that it won't happen to us, or forget about its having happened to us, or B) turn out back on the sufferings of others, since it would mean that we would have to face our own sufferings.

"American Idol" presents the illusory image that ignores the reality of suffering...EVEN here in the Amerian soul. In fact, everything about American Idol is a motion on the OPPOSITE path-os. Which means that to truly face the reality of the suffering elsewhere (Africa) would have meant to face our own suffering here, which "American Idol" isn't exactly meaning to do.

So, you said: "Well certainly they're trying to portray a certain image...that is sort of what art is all about. Expressing X." The question then becomes "What is 'X'?" Is 'X' the picture of reality, of what its really like living in the world? Or is 'X' a false and illusorty picture meant to ESCAPE FROM reality (particularly by some means other than a God-empowered Exodus from Egypt)?

This would then provide a means for judgement of "real" or "good" art. American Idol, then, would not measure up. Not that that was the topic of discussion, but its related. The Psalms are art. Singing in the name of righteousness, reality (Is-real) and the "blessed meek." American Idol sings in the name of an American Illusion.

Jason Hesiak said...

BTW the Exodus from Egypt was just an example. The path(os) of the Cross is a much better one. There Psalm 23 (I think it was that one) was at least referenced, and probably sang in full.

Melody said...

I feel you've made a logical leap here.

Basketball doesn't exactly to anything to "suffer with" anyone or address reality in any way other than the score board...but I wouldn't say that to have compassion you would have to smash Basketball.

Plus, I don't think a little escapism is a bit thing, as long as it's not all consuming. Sort of like fatty foods, it shouldn't be ALL you have, but a little a nice treat.

And, I would have to say that just because you're expressing something that does not nessacerily encompas all areas of reality (not everyone is drinking clay water in Africa) does not mean that it is invalid.

I think you're reaching.

Jason Hesiak said...

Well, I'm not going to be pushy about my point, since its OK to disagree.

But basketball isn't performance art, and American Idol isn't a sport. Although we are talking apples and oranges then, I will still oblige. The corresponding truth in basketball to what I mean to say about American Idol is the reality of hard work and good character ("the sweat of your brow") leading to the path of life rather than destruction.

As for escapism...I actually agree with you. Not that I would condone the previously referenced panting of the audience. And I would also say that it would depend on the place of the "escape"...or what we mean when we think of "escape." I'm not saying we can't watch American Idol if we're Christian; I'm just asking what it might mean to us. Really, I'm simply noting my lack of surprise at American Idol's lack of genuine compassion.

As for your third paragraph...I'm not sure how that relates to my point, so I don't know how to respond. I mean, my point isn't that expression has to encompass all of reality in order to be valid. My point is that idolatry doesn't guide one into facing the reality of clay water in Africa any more or less than it guides one into facing the reality of suffering humans here in America (mostly in very different ways from the folk in Africa).

In other words, I'm not necessarily expecting American artistic expression to lead Americans to understand the reality of living in Africa. What I am saying is that an American "show" whose whole aim is avoidance of American reality cannot expect to "show" the true reality of living in Africa either. Rather, I am saying that it can ONLY expect to "show" the reality of living in either Africa OR America; but that's completely different from actual com-passion on or with folks in America or Africa.

Melody said...

American Idol and basketball games are both competitions, that was more my point. I'm still looking at it as a competition...since that's why most people watch both.

Ok, well it's reasonable that you're not suprised that they lack compassion. As an organization/company/franchise/whatever, I really wasn't expecting all that much either.

What did suprise me was the lack of normal human responses from individuals on the show. I would think they would at least know how to feign compassion for the audiance or that the shock of being with the impoverished might get some real emotions out of them, but not so much.

Third paragraph addressed your attitude towards art, which seemed to say (my perception could be off) that an image is false if it does not address poverty/compassion and I just don't see how every image can do that.

And I think we'll just have to agree to dissagree on the point of American Idol. I don't think it's about escapism or avoidance any more than any other competition.

Jason Hesiak said...

Agree to disagree...sounds good...but to explore where that is occuring...

I'm less than convinced that American Idol is essentially a sport. As I mentioned, I think that competition is more something that adds entertainment value to the performance. Whereas there is some performing that occurs in basketball, to add entertainment value to the sport. Its a question of essence. I think it'd be difficult to make the argument that American Idol is essentially a sport. But if that's your argument, and that's the grounds of our disagreement, then at least we understand each other.

And as for the lack of personal reactions of Paula and Ryan and Simon...I don't even KNOW them personally, so I don't have the foggiest idea how much any of that was an act or terms of whether any of them are truly compassionate...but I am thinking of Paula, Ryan and that situation...basically as agents of "American Idol." More precisely, I am thinking of them AS actors...IN that situation...IN a "show" that is meant to be exactly that...a "show."

Insofar as it is meant to be a show, the individuals appearing on your T.V. screen mean to put on an act for the show. So then the truly-compassionless essence of the "show" must shine forth in the individual actors; it only makes sense. I'm also not necessarily thinking of "American Idol" as the decision of a producer, or as a coorporate entity, although all of those things come into play - AS WELL AS the panting of the audience (and the producer's/coorporate entity's desire to enduce the panting). That's my take on that.

And you said: "And I think we'll just have to agree to dissagree on the point of American Idol. I don't think it's about escapism or avoidance any more than any other competition." But you had previously said: "Well certainly they're trying to portray a certain image...that is sort of what art is all about. Expressing X." So I guess that's where we leave off at this juncture...competition or performance art?...

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