Clearly, there are many reasons the show has been so successful. As Bradley Wright recently blogged about, the judges are a key factor. Thousands prefer to watch the early auditions to hear the judges respond to the talent-challenged contestants. Simon’s snappy barbs violate my own sense of kindness and the social norm of “being nice,” yet somehow seeing that violated is entertaining (particularly since I am not on the receiving end). The auditioners reflect a central principle of comedy: a character totally committed to his or her actions while completely lacking self-awareness. And there are plenty of those. Let’s start with Simon Cowell—the acerbic-tongued British music producer. His comments tend to be low on consensus—he’s not afraid to offer an opinion different than the other judges and the live audience. (In fact, the audience routinely boo him for expressing negative opinions.) He’s also low on consistency. One week he’ll rip a contestant while the next week he’ll praise the same contestant. Finally, he’s also high on distinctiveness. On the same show, Simon will pointedly criticize one contestant and praise another. How do we explain Simon’s comments? Perhaps he bases his opinion on the particular performance. As the performances differ in quality across singers on a given evening, Simon will express different opinions. If a particular singer’s performances vary across weeks, he will also give different opinions. As an aside, some of Simon’s criticisms are hysterically funny. Here are some of his greatest hits: • “If you sang like this two thousand years ago, people would have stoned you.” • “You don’t need a judge—you need an exorcist.”
• “You sang like someone who sings on a cruise ship… and halfway through [the song] I imagined the ship sinking.” Now, let’s turn to Paula Abdul, the former Laker girl and pop singer. Paula takes a very different approach to judging than does Simon. Her comments are high in consensus because she almost always agrees with fellow judge Randy Jackson. If Randy says a contestant has pitch problems, Paula will chime in too—often repeating Randy’s exact phrasing. The more the audience cheers for a singer, the more Paula will as well. Her comments are also high in consistency—she takes the same positive, supportive approach to a singer each week. If she praises a singer one week, she’s almost certain to do it again the next week. Her comments are also low in distinctiveness. She praises all the singers. In fact, that sets up one of the creative tensions of the show—Paula will gush over a singer and then Simon will lambaste them. How do we explain Paula’s comments? Perhaps she bases her comments on a general desire to affirm and support each singer, regardless of their performance. Her comments tell us more about Paula than they do about the singer—for each singer gets rather positive comments on each show. Now, Paula herself is very quotable, though for a different reason than Simon. Rather than being hilariously critical, she’s often unintelligible—from the tone of her voice, you know she’s praising a contestant, but from her words, it’s unclear what she actually means. Some classic Paula-isms: • “Your voice is truly your instrument” (as opposed to what?)
Welcome to the ‘Free World’
American television has had a huge impact on the upwardly mobile, middle-class urban Indian. In the early nineties, the emergence of satellite television also saw the liberalisation of urban Indian culture. The young urban Indian, who for several years had to make do with the dull fare dished out by one television channel, suddenly had the 'free' world in his living room. America's sitcoms, soap operas, reality shows, movie stars, fashion trends and music have become staple fare that is here to stay. The “Friends Culture” is what's hip and happening. American television programming concepts have also had a huge impact on the Indian television...