Wednesday, May 5th, 2004

GOOD MORNING ABU GHRAIB

Was I the only one who got shivers hearing George Huff’s strangely reaffirming rendition of “What A Wonderful World” last night, a scene that ended in a group hug?

Here’s a competition where smiles and tears seem sincere. Where families cheer their sons and daughters in defeat. Where the winners always cry over the losers. This American Idol thing is throwing out the script every day. It can’t be scripted. It’s become realer than reality.

The song, popularized first by Louis Armstrong, revived in the 80s by a movie about Vietnam, and sung now by another poor black New Orleans boy who came to the pop stage entirely by accident, seems particularly poignant at this moment in American history, where pictures of very different kinds of smiles cannot be separated from horrifying scenes of debasement. Where the defeated–whether Iraqi, Afghani, or American–are treated with low regard and grotesque inhumanity. Where the winners care nothing for the losers.

In more ways than I thought last night, the outcome of American Idol now matters little.

The show is cornball. Absolutely. It’s lowest common denominator stuff. But look how low we’re at right now, in the world and in our own estimation of ourselves.

At the risk of sounding crazy or duped, it feels like American Idol gives all of us what we need. No matter how we feel politically in this polarized time, it goes a little way toward restoring what Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld have torn away from us in their plunge toward Middle East destabilization since January of 2001–the impulse toward connection and community, away from the gruesome crimes of competition and avarice, and the need to know that there is in fact good, genuine feeling in the world between people.

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