I saw Lobster Boy in person. I was sixteen, living in Urbandale , Iowa. I went to a carnival with a school buddy hoping to meet girls. (That was pretty much the extent of my ambition in those days.) We saw the tent, we heard the barker's come-on, so we went in. There was Lobster Boy, sitting on a folding chair, delivering his pat little speech and trying to sell autographed photos of himself.
God knows I was as oblivious and insensitive as only an adolescent boy can be. But I knew I had made a mistake. I knew I had done something wrong. I had committed what I can only think of, even now, as a sin.
I don't know how Lobster Boy felt about himself or his life. I don't think my shame-faced staring hurt him, I'm sure he was used to it. It hurt me.
I've meant to write about reality TV in general, and American Idol in particular, for a long time. But Jill Parkin does it for me:
She is obese, she cannot sing and she is totally deluded. She is surrounded by her hugely overweight family who all share her belief that she has a wonderful voice.Pastor Jeff adds this:
They are not very clever, but they are desperate for her to appear on television. What do you do?
Do you let them down gently, and explain that it would be kinder for all concerned if the young girl was not encouraged to humiliate herself in front of millions?
Or do you clap your hands in delight, certain in the knowledge that your boss, the multimillionaire despot, is waiting with his courtiers in a room nearby - and this young girl is the kind of contestant that pleases him most?
This one will wow him.
How the crowds will snigger and jeer!
Send in the fat kid and let the blood sport begin.
Parkin makes a convincing argument that reality TV is the new freak show of the 21st century. Programs are designed not to find and reward talent, but to display a procession of weak, vulnerable, and socially challenged people whom we can gawk and sneer at. Shows like "Big Brother" and "Survivor" intentionally force opposites together in hopes that a volatile reaction (or even an explosion) will give a big ratings payoff.I despise Idol. I despise cruelty. I cannot tolerate people who revel in, or profit from, other people's humiliation. Simon Cowell is not witty. He's not funny. He's a tedious little thug, a dull, halfwit version of Don Rickles. A punk. A creep.
Except we're talking about people, not chemicals. I understand that the participants know what they're getting into -- well, mostly, anyway. The minimum age for contestants on "The X Factor" has been lowered from 16 to 14, all the better to take advantage of adolescent awkwardness and emotional vulnerability.
And the people who admire him? Let me be charitable and express the hope that they are merely insensitive. Let me express the hope that their choice of television shows doesn't really reflect their true selves. Let me express the hope that they will in time come to realize that a freak show makes freaks of the audience.