Friday, November 26, 2010

Idol is a Tragedy – Literally

Most things we humans do adapt the form of drama, and follow the structure described in Aristotle's Poetics, the classic text on the subject. Not only plays on theater stages, movies and most fiction follow the pattern of drama, but so do sports events, religious myths and practices – and every reality show on TV.

Actually, Aristotle speaks mainly about tragedy, dramas with sad endings. To the Greeks, this was the norm – when not making comedy. A sad ending made for better drama, leaving the audience engaged and fulfilled. Nowadays, Hollywood and the like fear the tragic ending, mistakenly thinking that it will scare the audience off. Quite the contrary.

Sports have tragedy built into the system. There can be only one winner, but an infinite number of losers. So, tragedy is the outcome for most athletes and teams involved. Without these losers, and the anguish of their fans, sport events would lose their dramatic touch and thereby their appeal.

Several TV-shows copying the competition form of sports have the same thick ingredient of tragedy. Look at the most popular one, American Idol and all its siblings around the world. Every season of the show goes through thousands upon thousands of aspiring singers who fall short, and get their dreams shattered. A multitude of tragedies.

It's the same with each weekly show, which ends with one participant having to leave. The weekly show is not about who wins – there's not even a winner pointed out. It's about who loses. And the loser is exposed, so that we can cry with him or her in the most sentimental setting TV producers are able to come up with.

Only the very last show of the whole season focuses on the winner, and that's done rather rhapsodically at the very end of the show. All the way up to that moment, Idol is a series of tragedies, nothing else.

There is also tragedy in what these TV shows do to the music scene and what performers are presented to it – but that's another story.

Here's a collection of American Idol moments on DVD at Amazon

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