Allessandra Stanley in the NYT offers a baggy Zeitgeist reading of American Idol's psychological appeal by relating it to our presidential electoral misadventures of the past few years. I don't have the energy to pick the whole thing over, and you can do it yourself if you're so inclined, but here is one bit that jumps out at me:
It cannot be a coincidence that television voting rights arose so soon after the 2000 election left slightly more than half the voting population feeling cheated. Those who didn’t go to the polls and fear that their abstention inadvertently made possible the invasion of Iraq may feel even worse. “Idol” could be a displacement ritual: a psychological release that allows people to vote — and even vote often — in a contest that has no dangerous or even lasting consequences.
Yeah, it can be a coincidence. As a rule, when a writer begins a point by denying a coincidence, you can be pretty sure that they're about to make an injudicious leap. And aside from the vacuousness of relating things so little connected, this argument makes no allowance for the large number of Idol voters who don't feel guilty about 2000 because they were too young to vote or because they never vote and don't care. And clearly to the fan, Idol has serious and lasting consequences. That's why people care about a vote-for-the-worst candidate prevailing.

Ah well. That's enough for now. Tonight's show was good. Tony Bennett was the guest coach so the songs were all standards, and the show is at an advantage when the kids have to sing good songs.

Update 4/5: Chris Cagle has some thoughts about how to do a symptomatic reading of reality TV and legitimation.

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