Thursday, May 21, 2009

America Loves a Formula

So, I generally don't watch American Idol beyond the early episodes with the people who can't sing, but think they can. The same held true this year. After those early episodes, when the show is on every night for a fortnight, I lose track of when it is on and lose interest. But by last night's finale, Fox had revved up the hype machine enough that with nothing else to watch, I did tune in (or at least sit down next to Jen who was tuned in) to see who would win.

The big question that made the finale so "interesting," I use the word loosely, was that Kris Allen was the formulaic, easy to listen to, cuddly cute, eligible to lead a boy band candidate while Adam Lambert seemed most at home singing with Kiss given his unconventional look and drastically more interesting voice. The question was, would America go for the formula or the more talented performer who fits no formula?

In the words of the ubiquitous Ryan Seacrest, America Voted and...
It turns out the nation was just as mindless with this choice as they are with so many other things. I don't know if it's because we're all too busy, or all too bored, or simply too lazy to think, but I feel that most Americans, perhaps most people now, in our global culture choose the false, fake, easy formula over deep, complex authenticity whenever the choice is put to them.

We love restaurants with menus so simple and repetitive that we can order by number without looking. The economy is booming and everything's great or it's tanking and it's the great depression part II. The president is a genius or an idiot. Neighborhoods are good or bad. For that matter, the good or bad characterization gets thrown around when we discuss lots of facets of society--schools, companies, churches, entire industries, people-famous and not, ethnicities, countries, cars and houses.

What perplexes me is that I don't feel this is true among individual people that I know. I feel like person by person, most of us get that life is complicated. No situation or relationship or possession is perfect. We get the complexity of life as individuals, so why, as a crowd, do we want to boil life down to this most expected, boring, simplistic, formulaic version of itself? Why, as a society do we vote for Kris and not Adam? What compels some people to define Islam as evil, while others on the other side describe Christianity in the same way? Why is hip hop "just noise" to some and classical music a total bore to others? Why don't the classical people listen for what is compelling in a style not their own? How do we get T Pain fans to hear the genius of Mozart?

Please understand that I'm not separating myself out here. There is something I really like about ordering a coffee at Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks and knowing they'll create it with the tried and tested formula. But on the occasion that I hit the locally owned and operated Berkeley Perk Cafe for their mexican spice, it's different and wonderful. Another example is that when the Double Stuff Oreos are in the cabinet in our house, they don't last long, packaged formulaic food that they are. But it's practically a holiday when Bonnie Hepburn shows up at our house with her homemade chocolate chip cookies (thanks for doing it so much, lately!). Not even on a level with anything on a shelf in the grocery store. They're that good and handcrafted and delicious.

Why are we so likely to give in to group think rather than taking the time to think for ourselves? to examine? to probe? to step back and see something for what it is, rather than how it's packaged? I fear we're becoming a nation that can not evaluate anything and doesn't care to try to do so. I'd love to hear from you if you're in a context other than the US and whether you find this to be true where you are too.

1 comment:

Marcy said...

There is something to be said about simplicity. In Honduras, people love their tortillas, beans, wash clothes by hand & hang them to dry, & live a life of survival. But simplicity still has it's problems as does formula because it is security & safety people are looking for.
In a world that says it's okay to be different we are always trying to make everyone be the same (formula). In our mind we are okay with difference, but when it happens it makes us uncomfortable (not in the formula).
On the one hand, simplicity & formula can create contentment. On the other hand, it can restrict us from change (when culture rises above what the word of God says).
As North American culture creeps into Honduran (with fast foods & malls), it is rejected for beans & tortillas unless a new formula can be created. Thus creating a new 'simple.' This is good or bad, depending on what it is and how it shapes and changes us.
I guess people from all over the world think they are different, but we are all just the same.