Anyone concerned last fall’s elections were an indication that conservatism is dead in America, need not worry too much. I never believed conservatism was defeated in November due to the fact that so many Democrats had to run as conservatives to win, but there are additional, less obvious indicators that support my belief that America is still in many ways a conservative nation. Two of those indicators could be found on your television set this week.
On Sunday and Monday nights the four hour season premiere of Fox’s hit drama 24 aired to an audience estimated around 33 million. Then on Tuesday and Wednesday nights the season premiere of the mega hit American Idol aired to its biggest season premiere audience ever, around 38 million.
The Fox hit drama 24, featuring the superhero terrorist-fighter, Jack Bauer, is not a consistently reliable champion of conservative policies, but it sure does provide Americans with some politically incorrect terrorist-thumping entertainment. In spite of a “war for oil” story line one season that almost drove me away from the show, and some similar occasional bows to the PC police, 24 remains one place conservatives can find scenarios no one else will depict.
Because there are not many other shows on network television brave enough to show terrorists as anything other than white supremacist types or to feature a hero who routinely inflicts torture on suspected terrorists when innocent lives are at risk, it remains very popular with many conservatives. Even the four hour season premiere of 24, which has been harshly criticized by some for being overly sympathetic to ACLU positions by depicting an administration violating the civil liberties of Americans, had plenty for most conservatives to love.
In the season premiere this week, a plot depicting a frustrated and paranoid American taking out his frustrations on an innocent Muslim victim, turned on a dime when the innocent victim was revealed to be a teenage terrorist ready to shoot dead the friend who had defended him. The premiere also showed the fictional counter terrorism unit gaining valuable information (about the number of nuclear bombs set to be detonated on U.S. soil) from detainees at a Gitmo-style holding facility for those suspected of terrorist ties.
While the success of 24 has been widely seen as evidence of an American audience hungry for stories with a conservative flavor, the popularity of the mega hit American Idol says something about the American public as well. I endure the ridicule of some friends by openly admitting that I am a regular American Idol watcher. I have even watched since season one and rarely miss an episode of the talent search program. Politics has nothing to do with my affinity for the show. I love that, once the first few weeks of humiliating auditions are over, it is something I can comfortably watch with my kids and that the show features songs I have actually heard. (Laugh if you like, but I like old Elton John and Bee Gees tunes.)
The early episodes this season have contained some troubling scenes of pathetic, talentless people being ridiculed for not only their singing ability, but for other flaws as well. I am not a fan of that kind of criticism, and won’t defend it, but there are some redeeming aspects of the show and even a few things for conservatives to cheer. One thing the show does is highlight the American dream. All of the contestants, even those with little or no talent, have high hopes they can become discovered and join the ranks of the rich and famous. It’s no wonder. If even William Hung could get a record deal and his fifteen minutes of fame as an American Idol reject, there is hope for just about anyone. As the saying goes -- only in America.
While some might see American Idol as a quick and easy ride to fame, those who watch the show know that it doesn’t quite work that way. Work is definitely a big part of the journey to stardom. The contestants who get past the first cut are not only subjected to grueling auditions, having to learn songs and dance routines in very little time and having to perform them under high pressure conditions, but those who make the final cut work non-stop preparing for each week’s show.
The wild popularity of the show reveals at least a streak of political incorrect, if not downright conservative, thought in the 38 million American Idol viewers through it’s main draw – Simon Cowell. Admittedly, some just love to hate him, but love him or hate him, he attracts an audience. Cowell is sometimes incredibly rude, but what makes him really different from most on television is that he tells people the hard truth as he sees it, without apology. Today children’s sports are often played without keeping score, lest one team have to lose. In a world where it is not uncommon for each and every child on a sports team to get a trophy so that no one is made to feel left out, Cowell provides a breath of politically incorrect air. He reminds viewers that not only can everyone not win, but that everyone does not deserve to win.
I am not claiming any significant political trends are to be found in the popularity of 24 or American Idol. I just don’t believe Jack Bauer and Simon Cowell could have such incredible followings if the country were swept up in a tidal wave of liberalism.