T.S. Eliot was right. April really is the cruelest month. Except for April 12 (my birthday a.k.a. the best day in the world), the month doesn’t have that much going for it. It’s a predictably pleasant month. Sometimes there’s sun. Sometimes there’s rain. Sometimes there’s a collective groan that can be heard from those forced to listen to their mother discuss the “nice” weather. I get it, Mom. It’s sunny in other parts of California. That’s wonderful. Could you now continue to discuss every nuance of the clouds you saw today? Ugh. Welcome to April.
I actually don’t hate this month. It’s my favorite besides the fictional month I created when I was seven called “cake month.” Okay, the name’s not that creative, but then, when I invented the name, I was distracted by cake. I wish I had cake right now. I wish I had something to offer you fine people (person? Mother, is that you reading?). It’s just been a slow week television-wise. “Game of Thrones” is back on. It’s wonderful, bloody and has a badass dwarf. “Mad Men” continues to slowly stir the pot of the 1960s social scene. But, until the April 15 premiere of Lena Dunham’s “Girls,” there’s very little to talk about.
For this reason, I managed to weasel my way out of my Snuggie cocoon and actually read the news. I very rarely follow politics since I was unjustly cast out of my elementary school student elections, but this week, it seems politics has crept into my life whether I like it or not. Ron Paul’s stopping by, Rick Santorum is saying U.S. history isn’t taught at UCs (so, what have I been studying these past four years?) and ASUC campaigning has begun. But I’m not going to talk about real politics here. I’m going to talk about NBC’s talent competition show, “The Voice.”
It’s no secret that for the past 10 years, “American Idol” has maintained its hegemonic rule over primetime talent competition programs. Every week, it absolutely dominates the ratings with well over five times the numbers shows like “30 Rock” or “Mad Men” could ever pull. But, lately, that reign has been challenged. NBC’s “The Voice” has steadily risen to a ratings level on par with “American Idol” in its second season and I know what y’all are thinking: “Jessica, thank you for writing about this very important topic.” Well, invisible person that I’ll call Dave, you’re welcome. I was going to write about quilting blankets from cat fur, but youths love pop stars more.
And while cat fur quilting is by far the most delightful way to spend an evening, Americans seem to think watching singing competitions is also entertaining — even more so than actual politics. The ratings for CNN’s February Mitt Romney-Rick Santorum debate earned only 4.7 million viewers in comparison to the 10.83 million who tuned in to “The Voice” on Monday or the 17.9 million who watched “American Idol” on Tuesday. The numbers don’t lie. Of course, politics is more critical for the future of our country, but a show that features a cover of Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” may just be more democratic.
Television, by nature, is a democratic medium. Anyone can watch anything they’d like. And now, they can watch their favorites at anytime. But talent competition programs are particularly more democratic than the rest. There are no restrictions on who can vote. Age, ethnicity, gender, even citizenship status are all irrelevant. The vote (or votes, as the number of times is also often unrestricted) is all that matters. In this way, pop star competitions may even go beyond democratic tendencies. These shows are populist, entertaining, and people love them.
Now, I’m not trying to start a populist revolution. The only thing I ask of our government is that they make cake month a reality. But there is something these politicians can learn from the producers of “American Idol” and “The Voice.” Make yourself accessible. Politics is a performance. Presentation is everything. And sing more Bon Jovi.