May 22, 2004

Original intent, dysfunctional democracy, and American Idol.

Kate Aurthur, writing in tomorrow's NYT, wants to correct the injustice that is American Idol: "[T]he votes have been so capricious, and have pushed the show so far from its stated purpose — to find the best unknown singer and make him or her a star — that even the panel of judges has disavowed the results."

I'm used to original intent arguments in Constitutional Law, but apparently Aurthur thinks there's some original intent that ought to govern TV shows. Like the usual original intent believer, she thinks she knows what the true intent is. She asserts: "all that matters is the voice." Really? I thought it was (to use the judge's expression) the "total package." She'd like to eliminate the people's vote and have only judges, as if some purer realm could be reached if we relied on judges. Put things in the hands of the judges because democracy is dysfunctional: that sounds like Constitutional Law too.

But why should anyone think a TV show should achieve justice? Half the fun is seeing the voting go haywire for one reason or another. The people who vote are expressing their love through excessive phone dialing. Note that they aren't voting against anyone. La Toya wasn't voted off, like the most interesting characters on the early seasons of Big Brother. Voting people off would be dysfunctional: Clay would have been voted off. La Toya left not because she was interesting, but because she was too cool and reserved to induce enough people to engage in overeager love-voting. So even if you want to engage in misplaced interpretive methodology, the show actually does achieve its original intent and the voting is not a dysfunction in need of judicial correction. The intent is to find an "idol," someone to love, and the voting method is a test of love.

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