Wednesday, January 17, 2007

COLUMN: Talent

Otherwise known as The Most Controversial Column ever. Boy, is this a quick lesson on how one can TOTALLY botch something up. What's that you're thinking? That I've been over-run with hate mail from angry "Grease" fans? No such luck.

Instead, I've been getting mail from folks a little ticked off about my flippant usage of the word "crazy" in this column... and that, by this example, I must have very little empathy for those stricken or affected by mental illness.

Yikes. Obviously not my intention.

My first draft of this column was actually even worse. In that original column, I wanted to celebrate some of the colorful characters we've got here in the QCA -- from the guy who always asks you for exactly $.07 to the gentlemen known around Rock Island as "The Professor." IN NO WAY, SHAPE, OR FORM was I trying to make fun of these people... rather, to celebrate their impact on ALL of our lives.

The whole thing goes back about a year. There's a group on Myspace devoted to Quad Citizens... and a thread started on that message board about some of the more "eccentric" folks in town. I was honestly worried -- the last thing I wanted to read was a bunch of kids pointing and laughing at folks who are unfortunate and potentially unbalanced.

But the Myspace thread DIDN'T become a mockery of these folks... but rather a celebration. It was honestly pretty cool to see all these kids posting about these folks... because in their words, you could tell that they CARED. I mean, miracles don't happen, it's not like they actively assisting these people... but still, rather than mock, they revered. And, in a generation like ours, genuine feelings of compassion and sympathy don't show up too often. When it did on this thread, without any hint of name-calling or anything, I was touched. I really was.

So basically I wanted to do the same thing in the column. To tip my hat towards the eccentric characters that help define our community. To respect those folk out there who never get any credit. And, at the same time, point out the great double standard that, while our society frowns on making fun of eccentric (and, let's be honest, mentally ill) folks out there... we can always tune our dials to the Fox network and see similar eccentric folk being ruthlessly mocked by talent shows like "American Idol." It just upsets me. Period.

So I set out to write the epic column to celebrate our colorful cast of characters in town while simulataneously taking American Idol to task.

I failed. Egregiously.

My first draft of the column was summarily rejected by my editors for being "insensitive" (the exact thing I was trying to avoid.) But upon re-reading it, I realized that, yeah, it was crass beyond belief.

So I reworded it. And turned it in like you'll read below. And I still received a letter (a very SINCERE letter, not a bitch-fest or anything) from a local mental health volunteer who was upset at the piece. And I can't say I blame 'em. It was thoughtless journalism at its finest.

So... to anyone else who might take offense at this column, know that it wasn't intentional. Know that, were I a better writer, I could have picked my words a tad better. But hopefully cut through my awful writing and flippant usage of the word "crazy" and appreciate the point of the column, which is to point and laugh at "American Idol." Thanks for the understanding on this one, gang.

How did you spend your Sunday night? I could have been working on The Great American Novel. I could have been giving my time to charity. I could have been flirting with girls. Yet I, in my infinite wisdom, had a better idea.

That's right -- I watched the debut episode of "Grease: You're the One That I Want," otherwise known as Ninety Minutes I'll Never Get Back Ever Again.

What is it about oddballs that folks find so entertaining? I've never understood it. Heck, if I felt that way, I'd be a lot happier here in the Quad Cities. Let's admit it -- we've got our fair share of colorful characters around town.

Just because somebody's different, does that mean it's our duty to point and laugh? OF COURSE NOT. Why? Because making fun of people is ethically, morally, and intrinsically wrong, that's why. No matter how much the little devil guy on your right shoulder wants to go, "Whoa! Lookit THAT dude!", there's the little angel guy on your other shoulder letting you know that
ALL people are God's creatures and should be treated with as much dignity as you can afford.

So we've established that making fun of people is NOT COOL, right? So why is it that we shouldn't crack up at a guy wandering the streets talking to himself, but it's perfectly okay to bust out laughing at some nimrod auditioning for a talent show whose voice sounds like a cat being force-fed Pepto-Bismol?

If I had a nickel for every time someone's said to me, "I love 'American Idol,' but I only watch the first couple episodes with all the idiots auditioning," I'd have at least 90 cents, and hey, that's enough for one of those cinnamon rolls out of the vend-o-mat in the break room. Shows like
"American Idol," "Grease," "America's Got Talent," etc. have made cash cows out of horses asses.

It all started with the Godfather of Crazy: our boy William Hung. "Idol" auditions were tedious to watch until Willy came in with his whole She-Bang and changed television history. Now, instead of hoping to hear the next Kelly Clarkson, viewers are tuning in these talent shows to see the next trainwreck nutjob.

I haven't quite figured these people out, though they definitely fall into one of two camps. There are the people who are, in my opinion, authentic loons. The ones who come to these auditions thinking they're a step away from fame when they're in fact an octave away from making ears bleed. These are the true whackos, and it should be immoral to give them airtime, let
alone suffer through it.

Then there are the other folk. The ones who watched William Hung and realized that if they came out to the audition and acted as loony as possible, they could have a shot at freakshow stardom. These are the ones I REALLY worry about. I mean, from what I've seen, these auditions are a beast. "Idol" makes you wait in line for DAYS. Could you imagine being so
attention-starved that you'd be willing to stand around for 24+ hours just so you can make an spectacle out of yourself for 10 seconds on TV?

Where's the "fun" in that? What compels someone to want to look like a nimrod on national TV? And what does your 15 minutes of fame get you in the end? Maybe somebody on the street a month later going, "Hey, aren't you that bonehead who can't sing? The one who sucks?" Can THAT sort of interaction possibly be worth the effort?

The ones I feel most sorry for are the judges. After realizing that weirdos = ratings, the producers of these talent shows are letting more and more attention-seeking mouthheads into the top auditions. Every time I see somebody walk into an audition with the whole "whoa-look-at-me-I'm-craaazy" schtick, I hope and yearn for Randy Jackson to just step up and slug 'em in
the face.

Being an idiot can be fun sometimes, I'll admit it. Heck, I've even sung karaoke before, and let's just say no record reps were pulling out business cards. But being forced to WATCH someone trying to be fun by trying to be an idiot is just trying on my patience. Maybe I'm talent-showed-out. Maybe I really WILL find something better to do. All I know is that I'm skipping "Grease" AND "Idol" this year until both the real AND fake crazies are weeded out.

I get enough insanity in my life -- after all, I get C-Span.


QCMediaGhost said...


thescoundrel said...

I worked in Rock Island for about five years. I have met many of the characters of Rock Island. A couple of the individuals that I knew have died. One of them I used to have long conversations with when I had the time. But the two that always managed to get my attention and awe was the one that speaks to his imaginary friend and the one that talks as if he is trying to recite War and Peace in a thirty second commercial promo. If what some of RI’s in the know are correct they both were very learned gentlemen at one time. I have no reason to doubt that after listening to them talk many times over. If you really listen to what they have to say, you can tell at one time in their lives they were probably able to converse and exchange knowledge with the best of the best. Sadly something has created negative situations in their lives that has robbed them of their ability to socialize in a normal manner. It can only be guessed at what knowledge they could have offered and that has been lost to society because of whatever set of circumstances that has placed them on the paths they now travel.

paladin said...

You have no need to apologize----this is just PC run amok.

However, now I understand why the content in the D/A is so bland----it appears everything is run through the PC meatgrinder a few times before it is published.

Anonymous said...

A dear friend of my uses "crazy" to indicate an entire spectrum of adjectival characteristics, from silly to improbable to idiotic to wonderful. And it has been ever so with the word crazy -- remember the crazy-sexy-cool of the jazz era? There's nothing holy about the word crazy or about mental illness, no more than there is about odor or shape or the need for appliances to correct vision. Yet close-minded jerks are properly called "myopic." This is a perfect example of the picksy-choosey game that the PC hordes play.