A Nation Comes Together

The TV is not on here at the Little Café Near Home very often, but sometimes there is an event that draws people here to watch as a group. the most obvious example of this is for major sporting events, but there are other programs that draw in the crowds as well. One of those shows is on right now. I’d consider going somewhere else, but any other place with a TV will have the same show on.

What is this event that draws the nation together? I’ve mentioned it before, but the current season of Česko hleda Superstar is getting down to the finals. The good news is that means the contestants who really, really, suck have all been eliminated. Now we have a homogeneous batch of people who fit the formula. They all sound pretty much the same, craftsmen rather than artists, singing safe tunes written by other people. One of these will be labeled ‘Superstar’, a large fish in a small pond, and will then try to turn that into a career, just like the other winners of the other Superstar contests all over the world.

I’m not sure you can pin all the blame for the superstar formula on the U.S., but as the worlds largest producer of pop clones I think it’s fair to guess that the recipe for the McPopstar was perfected there.

As I was watching the show (I have no resistance to the box of moving lights) I started to wonder: what’s so damn special about singing that these guys are the superstars, while artists in other disciplines toil in relative obscurity? Technology is part of the answer, certainly; electricity has made it possible for there to be a music industry. People are listening to music all the time, where for most other art forms they have to dedicate time to appreciating it. Technology has changed both the product and the distribution.

A hundred years ago there were certainly celebrated musicians and entertainers, but back then there were people in other art forms that were just as celebrated. Maybe more so. I think for a while the writers had the edge — between the invention of the printing press and the invention of radio they had the best mass-market potential. Ah, if only I was born a hundred years earlier! Before that, I’m not sure. Whatever the talented person in each village did, perhaps.

The Buggles claim that video killed the radio star. That may well be true, but the singers are still hanging in there, as long as they are attractive enough. You can’t be a superstar if you can’t carry a tune. Well, let’s just say you can’t be a superstar without singing. With Internet getting steadily faster video will become more and more influential, but the difference is that people will be able to watch anything, whenever they want. By putting distribution squarely in the hands of consumers, we might (fingers crossed) see the last of the manufactured pop star. There will always be those who have big promotional budgets, flashier videos, and whatnot, but already I only buy music from independent labels (not out of any sort of protest, their terms and pricing on downloaded music are better), and I don’t think I’m missing out on much. Honestly, I have no idea who’s popular right now anyway, and I can always find something I enjoy on an indie Web site.

I am told there are even people who use the Web to read what other people write.

The next few years will be interesting. Big extravaganzas like the one I witnessed tonight will work to make the next superstar, while beneath the stage the termites are gnawing on the supports.

2 thoughts on “A Nation Comes Together

  1. I think you may have overlooked other entertainment genres — you may have heard of a man named “Brad” and his lovely companion “Angelina”. Also, I’m not sure that the winners of the various music competitions can be considered more superstars than the Cindy Crawfords of the world, and I’m not sure I’d agree that music is more ubiquitous than graphic arts (see: advertising). In short, I think you are using the word “music” where in fact you mean “pablum.”

  2. Hey dondo! good to hear from you!

    Graphic art is certainly everywhere, coating the world in flashy images designed to make us buy stuff, but the practitioners of that art are usually not celebrated. Given their reach and their influence that seems strange, but since their purpose is overtly to take our money, maybe we’d rather not think about them. Like the background music in a movie, it’s not doing its job right if you notice it.

    A manufactured pop star is really just a giant advertisement, and so that should put them on the same level as the product of a Madison Avenue graphic artist. Perhaps the true artists in the pop music industry are anonymous as well, and not necessarily even musicians.

    It seems that my musings on actor-superstars and ‘media personalities’ was lost somewhere between my hare brain and my tortoise fingers. There are certainly people we see on the screen every day that have become larger than the roles they play, but in general they got there by having at least some measure of talent or, failing that, at least some defining and unusual character trait. (Yes, I know there are exceptions.)

    A few years ago there was a talent extravapalooza in the US that covered many more categories of talent than just singing, but I suspect they eventually realized that all memory of the spokesmodel contestant that took the show into the commercial break was obliterated in the first fifteen seconds of hectic, frantically happy people selling crap.

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