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Beast of the Month - October 2002
Simon Cowell, Sadistically Cruel American Idol Judge
"I yam an anti-Christ..."
John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) of The Sex Pistols, "Anarchy in the UK"
Nasty Simon, in one of his more mean-spirited dismissals.
One year after 911, America is still suffering the humiliation of a foreigner berating and mocking its people with unsympathetic insults and enjoying the misery he has caused upon its citizens.
Okay, maybe comparing Simon Cowell (The Konformist Beast of the Month) with Osama bin Laden is a tad extreme. And perhaps that we are even doing so with a wink is a good thing: one year after "everything changed," it's nice that things have settled enough where we can focus again upon the frivolities of the boob tube.
It's actually been awhile: last time The Konformist BOTM checked out TV-land was in April 2000, after the scandal surrounding the February Sweeps Month special Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire? At the time, the show's sleazy premise (turning the institution of marriage into legalized prostitution for the benefit of a prime time game show) had done what seemed to be impossible: it actually trumped Jerry Springer in bringing television trash taste to a new shameless low. Of course, soon the bar was set even lower: in February 2001, just in time to get into the romantic Valentine's Day spirit again (not to mention another round of TV sweeps), Temptation Island climaxed a season of slimy shenanigan's to become a top twenty hit. As Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire? was to Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? (a repulsive lowest common denominator knockoff inspired by the prime time game show frenzy) Temptation Island was to Survivor. It was a rip-off of the whole "reality" television fad with a fundamentally evil premise: putting four couples on a tropical island with eligible bachelors and bachelorettes dressed in Speedos and thong bikinis, to be "tempted" into "hooking up" (the updated term for "making whoopee" once popularized on The Dating Game) while sipping Mai Tais and Pina Coladas. The idea of seeing real relationships wrecked as a form of mass entertainment made it a tacky, apocalyptic version of The Love Boat.
A second season was immediately scheduled to start November 2001, but then 911 happened, and, for Temptation Island at least, things really did change. The American viewing public, apparently too shamed by the tragedy to continue wallowing in such inherently debased viewing, stopped watching the show in massive numbers, and Temptation Island became yet another alleged casualty of Osama's jihad. (Konformist Note: In December 2001, Temptation Island was a finalist in the highly secretive BOTM computer tabulations, but was narrowly defeated when the Beast-o-meter logarithms concluded that massive war crimes and genocide committed by US-British-Northern Alliance troops at Mazar-i-Sharif was slightly more loathsome than the sleazy show.)
Since then, the quality of television has been on the upward curve, believe it or not. The Bachelor may be inane crap, but at least it's not inherently vile like Temptation Island was. (Sure, there's Big Brother, Celebrity Boxing, Celebrity Bootcamp and Fear Factor, but even these are a slight notch above in taste.) And to its credit, American Idol is a step in the right direction: yeah, there's a lot about the show we at The Konformist could mock - the wimpy ballads, the cheesy melodrama, Justin Guarini's hair - but even with all our cynicism, we can understand the appeal of seeing struggling would-be pop stars belting it out before a national audience to achieve their musical dreams of success. Okay, it's not The Sopranos, 24 or Sex and the City, but the show's painless mediocrity is a step in the right direction in terms of bourgeois brain rot.
Painless, that is, except for Mr. Cowell.
Cowell, for those of you who don't know after the American Idol media blitz, was one of three judges involved with the show (although their job was more to give critiques, as the ultimate judge was TV viewers who voted by phone.) While the other two judges tried to temper their critiques of the performers with empathy (most notably Paula Abdul, who perhaps still nurses criticism inflicted during her own dubious pop music career) "Nasty Simon" - as he became known during the British run of the show this is based on - held no such sympathy. With a relish one would expect from Marquis de Sade as he flogs a French maid, he continuously ripped on contestants for any slight weakness he found in their performance. Thanks to this, Cowell became the most popular "villain you love to hate" on television since Larry Hagman as J.R. Ewing on Dallas (or at least since Jerri on Survivor.)
Okay, you may say, big deal. After all, part of being an artist is that you get digged on. Live with it. (And isn't it a bit hypocritical for The Konformist BOTM award to slam someone else for being a mean-spirited attack dog?)
That's true, except (as one astute contestant put it in an Entertainment Weekly article) normally when you take a critical wounding, you face it in privacy. The idea of facing a crude tongue-lashing for artistic inadequacies in front of a national audience is a particularly twisted form of humiliation. Nobody - not even Shrub Bush, Antonin Scalia or Ann Coulter - deserves that. (Okay, maybe they do, but not harmless Michael Bolton and Celine Dion imitators.)
In many ways, Cowell is the heir of the throne to Judge Judy and "Doctor" Laura, who gained fame and wealth by either ripping on those who step into a pseudo-courtroom or those who are stupid enough to call for supposed advice. Cowell, like Judy and Laura, insists his attacks were a form of "tough love." Actually, it can be better described as nothing more than "wimpy hate."
Perhaps it is fitting that the entire prime time game show frenzy has devolved into the being of Nasty Simon. Say what you will about Regis Philbin, but gosh darn it, he really did seem like he wanted every contestant to win a million dollars. That would make Cowell the ultimate anti-Philbin, at least for now. While Temptation Island may be the current standard for television depravity, humiliation is clearly not out of vogue: the appeal of both Celebrity Boxing and Celebrity Bootcamp is to see formerly famous individuals degrade themselves in the name of fifteen more Warholian minutes. And, while it isn't actually a television show, the successful video Bum Fights shows the trend has some even more appalling depths to fall to: "contestants" are drunken and drug-addicted homeless people who are paid cash to humiliate themselves before a camera. That such a sick idea could become a hit shows that the pathological nature of American culture really hasn't changed much after all.
In any case, we salute Simon Cowell as Beast of the Month. Congratulations, and keep up the great work, Simon!!!
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