Friday, May 27, 2011

American Idol? Give Me Some Scientists Instead



"Do you watch American Idol?"

The question came from a relative of mine who is a huge fan. No, I don't watch it, I said. "YOU HAVE TO WATCH IT!!" was the incredulous response.

I started chuckling, because this relative is a 50-something Baby Boomer who wears Jimmy Buffett tropical shirts. I'll confess that I don't understand the whole American Idol fascination. I tried watching it for one season simply so I'd be able to tap into the cultural zeitgeist ("Can you believe so-and-so got voted off last night?") but it was too painful. Why would I want to listen to people putting a Sinatra spin on old Journey songs for months on end? Oh, my ears!

Yes, I realize that such views put me far afield of the cultural mainstream. I'm totally uncool with some friends and family members who would never, ever watch something like Frontline. But that's okay. It's good to be the nerdy oddball who watches Hardball. Someone has to do it so they can bore everyone at family barbecues.

Perhaps my biggest beef with American Idol (and the ever-increasing number of shows like it) is that they aren't about real people doing real things that actually really matter in the larger scheme of things. Where is the reality show called American Scientist or American Actuary? Okay, I'm sort of kidding about American Actuary, but who knows? It might be interesting and we might learn something new about the insurance we buy.

It's time for Hollywood to give scientists and other way-too-smart-for-their-own-good people their 15 minutes of fame, because smart people can be incredibly entertaining. It's that fine-line-between-genius-and-insanity thing. How about a reality show that follows people navigating a graduate school program or a scientific workplace? How about a show that follows people working day in and day out for a cash-strapped non-profit organization? How about a show that makes us say, "Wow, I didn't know that job was so interesting"?

Show me a show like that for change. More smarts, less arts. Sure, it would most likely get low ratings unless the awesome Mike Rowe hosts it, but at least it's not just another boring talent show. We have enough of those already. Plus, our young kids might get the message that being a highly-smart solutions seeker can be pretty cool, too.

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