Freak Show Profits From Pain

January 23, 2007

News & Commentary

American Idol: The New Gong Show

By RICHARD MEEHAN With ANDY THIBAULT
The Cool Justice Report
http://www.cooljustice.blogspot.com
Jan. 23, 2007

EDITOR’S NOTE: This column is available for reprint courtesy of The Cool Justice Report, http://cooljustice.blogspot.com

It was the spring of 1969. I was a 20 year old college junior in a folk rock band at school.

We responded to a notice of campus auditions for something called The All American College Show, hosted by Arthur Godfrey.

There were four of us. We were a little country and a little rock n’ roll as the song lyrics go. The All American College Show was a contest broadcast on ABC, featuring young talent found on campuses throughout the country. The audition was in front of a single camera in the school theater at Notre Dame University. We weren’t critiqued, criticized or praised in any great depth. We were simply thanked and months later received a call from the show’s producer that we had been selected and were being flown out to Hollywood that summer for the show.

We performed a clod-hopping, bluegrass song: Goin’ Away For To Leave You. This was not a standard by any means. It featured our banjo player, a picker from Nashville. When we performed live, there was an audience of fewer than 50 people. We did have a panel of three judges. I’ve forgotten the first one’s name but the other two were Irene Ryan, who played Granny on the Beverly Hillbillies, and Jim Backus, of Gilligan’s Island and Mr. Magoo fame.

We were hokey and nervous, but Granny and Mr. Magoo got up and danced a square dance reel on national TV as we belted out the song. We wore brocade bell-bottoms, looking something like a bad impression of Austin Powers.

It was Americana; a celebration of college performers. Just good, old fashioned family entertainment. Our star faded in the semi-finals and I returned to finish school and on to law school. It was and remains a magical moment in my young life. After several seasons the show ran its course to be followed by Star Search and now American Idol.

With all its glitz, Idol should be a modern day celebration of youth and talent. In its final weeks it does become that and I confess that in my home we are addicted to it. What has happened now, however, is the antithesis of what a show like this should be. As its ratings increase the show has now pandered to the tastes of the tabloid crowd. On the one hand it showcases potential new talent, but the demeaning, bullying of youngsters — all too willing to allow themselves to be exploited — has now dominated the show’s audition rounds. Whether they are willing victims or unwitting dupes in the vein of Borat, the producers have determined that as much as America needs to pick its annual new star, we have this need to ridicule and delight in the frailties of others.

How does a society that coined the phrase and the concept of political correctness tolerate this? In the 70’s we had the Gong Show. “Contestants” knew what they were buying into. It was a freak show and did not pretend to seek legitimate talent. It never became the phenomenon that Idol has. Last summer we took my 7-year-old granddaughter to the Idol Tour at Bridgeport’s Harbor Yard. The arena was packed with adolescent girls screaming frantically for each of the Idol finalists. It was a true celebration of talent.

Now, each week as megalomaniacal millionaires continue to humiliate and ridicule kids because they are different, they are sending a clear message to their youthful fans: It’s okay to be hurtful as long as there is profit in it.


Bridgeport attorney Richard Meehan Jr. was the lead defense counsel for former Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim’s corruption trial. Meehan is certified as a criminal trial specialist by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. Meehan has also obtained multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements in complex medical and dental malpractice and personal injury litigation. He is a past president of the Greater Bridgeport Bar Association and appears regularly on Court TV.
Website, http://www.meehanlaw.com
Andy Thibault, author of Law & Justice In Everyday Life and a private investigator, is an adjunct lecturer of English and a mentor in the MFA writing program at Western Connecticut State University. Thibault also serves as a consulting editor for the literary journal Connecticut Review. Website, http://www.andythibault.com and Blog, http://cooljustice.blogspot.com

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