Bernheimer’s phrase, “Zagat-think,” is a great update of good old “groupthink.” Zagat and American Idol both have been crafty about commodifying mass opinion and packaging it (between covers or commercial breaks) in a way that flatters the participants and makes money for the creators.
I sometimes wonder if Idol et al haven’t birthed a new aesthetic built somehow on whatshisface’s thesis about the wisdom of crowds. But then, after I’ve filed a not-so-upbeat review, and been inundated with livid e-mails from Idol viewers or fans of, say, Clay Aiken, I’ll remember what we’re dealing with here: Brute force. Zagat-think or Idol-think is a phenomenon built on numbers. Everyone in it has a sense of the sheer size of the thing they’re part of, and how much volume and manpower and animus they can bring to cheering on what they profess to love and to rebutting critics. The bigness is the point, and arguably as much a source of satisfaction as any song that gets heard along the way.
I’m not convinced that gung-ho Idol watchers are making artistic judgements in defense of Kelly Clarkson or Chris Daughtry or Carrie Underwood. It’s more like they’re hooked on being enthralled. The experience they’re championing isn’t the music, per se; it’s an addictive, sensational, quasi-interactive television bonanza that also holds out the lure of stardom for anyone. And heaven help you if you get between them and that, or even suggest it’s not entirely about the music.