How Simon Cowell saved American democracy

Alan H. Fleischmann in The New Republic:

SimoncowellgqannualhollywoodissuepaThere’s actually every indication that young people will flock to the polls. But the pundits still have it all wrong. If high school seniors, college kids, and twenty-somethings flood the electorate this season, it will have a lot to do with Barack Obama for sure. Of course, he’s inspiring them. But there is another man who is as important in their development as citizens and has significantly less faith in the power of idealism and hope: I’m speaking of Simon Cowell.

Cowell is that acerbic Englishman who serves on the panel that judges “American Idol,” the hit singing competition on Fox. For nearly the entirety of the Bush administration, “Idol” has dominated the Nielsens and occupied far too large a space in the collective mind of the nation. The reasons for “Idol’s” appeal are readily apparent: It is about young people performing under enormous pressure and being subjected to Cowell’s acidic wit. But the show also owes its success to its interactivity. That is, the public gets to dial 1-800 numbers and text message the votes that determine which contestants succeed (or fail). The success of “Idol” has spawned a raft of other reality shows where the public votes to determine the outcome.

There are important differences between “American Idol” and our constitutional American system. “Idol” is a direct democracy, for one. (And, like in Chicago of yore, “Idol” watchers can vote as often as they desire.) But, at the end of the day, they are both about voting. And as much as some might scoff at the deleterious effects of “Idol” on our culture, it has created a culture of voting among our young people.

More here.