An ‘Idol’ Lesson For Our Children

Jade Moon
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Wednesday - February 08, 2006
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Super Bowl Sunday always gives me a tiny shudder. Not because I hate football (actually, I’m indifferent), but because of what happened the very first time I was assigned to cover the biggest sporting event in America.

The year was 1987, and I was a newly hired reporter. I don’t remember which teams were squaring off that Sunday, but I remember the hype leading up to kickoff, the excitement of viewers and the glee of everyone at KGMB because we were the Super Bowl station that year.

And then the power went out.

TV sets went black, and an ungodly howl of outrage rose up all across Oahu.

At the station, after a moment of I-can’t-believe-this-is-happening paralysis, we snapped into action. Someone yelled at me to get moving! We needed to cover the fiasco.

And fiasco it was. The lights and TVs were out but the phones were working. It was surreal. The phones didn’t ring, but every time we picked one up to call out there was someone already on the other end of the line just waiting to give us an earful. The calls were pouring in from fans - some polite, but many others apoplectic, shrieking, swearing and demanding that we get the game back on.

I recall answering a few of those calls, then gladly leaving them to someone else while I followed a cameraman around. We got shots of news people and technicians busting out candles and flashlights and trying to fix a horrid situation. Then the photographer and I went out to - what else? - a sports bar, to get reaction.

Yikes. We got plenty.

It was the only time I ever wanted to cover up the KGMB logo on our camera - because it felt like everybody on Oahu hated us. Folks looked at us, I thought, with revulsion, disappointment and disgust, as if we, personally, had let everybody down.

The blackout occurred while HECO was performing routine maintenance at one of its substations. Didn’t matter, though, who was at fault. That outage lasted maybe a half hour or 45 minutes, but the residual outrage lingered on. And I learned that the Super Bowl is not just a ballgame. It’s a national event, and it holds sway over the hearts and minds of millions of Americans.

It is a cultural phenomenon.

Speaking of which, have you been watching American Idol? Millions have, and I can see why. It’s entertaining and funny and fascinating. Simon is a real piece of work, Paula is irritating and Randy is, well, I don’t know what to make of him. But it’s addictive watching people display their hopes, dreams, talents and delusions in front of the entire country.

But - and here’s where a lot of fans might disagree with me - this is not what I’d call wholesome family entertainment. It stopped being that for me when Simon began bashing people simply for being what they are. Now don’t misunderstand me - bashing their singing ability is part of the game. People expect to be judged on that and star potential when they put themselves on the line on national television. Part of the attraction of Simon is that he is honest, brutally honest, about his perception of a contestant’s talent or lack of it. He tells it as he sees it. OK, fair enough. But he crossed the line when he began belittling women for being fat and men because they appear gay. He encourages the country to laugh along with him at people who are outside the parameters of what he considers acceptable.

I am not suggesting you stop watching your favorite show, or even that you stop your kids from watching. I do suggest you watch with your children. That way, when Simon tells a woman she has a great voice, but then behind her back snickers, “we’ll need a bigger stage,” you can explain to your kids that laughing about a person’s physical qualities is petty and mean. Doing it behind their back is sneaky and cowardly. You can have a discussion about why he seems to pick primarily on overweight women and not men. You can have them look up the word misogyny. And when he tells a young man with a high voice that he should “shave his beard and wear a dress,” you can explain the concept of homophobia to your impressionable youngsters. Think of all the possibilities for teaching moments!

Thank you, American Idol, for helping us show our children that popularity isn’t the same as character.

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