America has a mean streak, and it's surfaced in an unlikely venue: the online coverage of "American Idol."
As we head into a finale that will no doubt include Adam Lambert, and may or may not include Danny Gokey, I have to express what I've been feeling for a while.
The reporting on the competition by online entertainment reporters and high-profile American Idol-related bloggers and their commenters has been nothing short of incredible in its vitriolic, sneering, scornful, and yes, downright hateful bias against Danny Gokey.
Criticisms repeated to death
They've resurrected the same tired criticisms ad nauseum, to the point of being ludicrous.
The weakest criticism is that Danny's singing is just "safe" or "mediocre" or "boring." But it goes much farther than that. It gets personal, and in a really vicious way.
It all began very early on in the competition with their assumption that Danny was trying to gain "sympathy votes" due to the tragic death of his young wife. Never mind the fact that this is not something a person who had just lost his wife would be able to NOT talk about. AND the fact that the show itself was responsible for stressing that backstory at the beginning.
A couple of weeks into the competition, the show stopped talking about Danny's wife completely. But that didn't silence the trying-to-gain-sympathy-votes criticism...it continues to this day.
Inexplicably, talk on the blogs and message boards began to the effect that Danny is cocky, arrogant, overly-confident, a jerk. Bear in mind that this is from people who don't know him at all--they're basing these blanket criticisms on seeing him for a few minutes a week on a TV show.
And never mind the fact that his many fans don't get this impression from his behavior whatsoever. (In fact, people that saw him in action during "Danny Gokey Day" in Milwaukee commented on the fact that he was nice to everyone.)
And so, during this entire American Idol season, Danny Gokey has not been able to do one thing right for these people. If he smiles fondly while Allison Iraheta sings her farewell, he's "smirking smugly" or sporting a "s#$%-eating grin."
If he seems sad or teary, he's trying to get sympathy for being a widower. If he smiles or laughs, he got over his loss too quickly. There is NOTHING he can do, and no way he can do it, to please these people.
Even some of the online writers have admitted they can't stand Danny. MTV's James Montgomery fully cops to it in this article:
"... I have written plenty of nasty stuff about Gokey... without ever meeting him and have been congratulated by my friends and co-workers for doing so. And this probably says more about me — and people like me — than any of us would care to admit.
"Do we dislike Gokey for any tangible reason? Is he a bad tipper? Mean to the elderly? No, we hate him because he sometimes appears to be a jerk on a televised singing competition. And that apparently gives us license to say all sorts of nasty things about him, to accuse him of wearing his wedding ring or using the death of his wife to curry the favor of 'Idol' voters. And that's crazy. And pretty mean.
"Perhaps Danny Gokey is proof that we hate without reason. That we are given to jealousy. That we dislike those who are naturally gifted (and dare to acknowledge that fact). That we are all, on some level, elitists, and within us all lies a superiority complex, a bias against those in the so-called 'red states' who somehow find Gokey's story, struggle, faith — and even his voice — inspiring and uplifting.
What does it say about our society?
Whatever is behind the unreasonable assumptions and blatant criticism, it all goes beyond mere dislike or just not being a fan. It's active, aggressive, toxic cruelty, and I don't like the troubling things it says about our society.
We live in an America that places no value on life, where young people are taught that nothing has meaning, there's no right or wrong. So go ahead--be as hateful as you want to be. Hurt people as much as you want to. There are no consequences to it anyway.
You reap what you sow
I guess I'm pretty naive, but I've always subscribed to a philosophy similar to the one uttered by the Steve Martin con-man character in "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels": "My grandmother always told me, it is better to be good and kind than to not."
You can dislike a person, a singer, a celebrity or whatever, without being hateful and cruel. Some of the comments about Danny's loss have been cruel in the extreme.
I also believe in an undeniable law of the universe: You reap what you sow. I don't believe in spreading hatred, for that very reason. I believe in spreading kindness, because I know it's all going to come back to me.
And that's true whether you happen to believe it or not.
The one heartening thing is that this seems to be almost an exclusively online phenomenon. Talk to the average person on the street, and they're surprised to find that there are people who don't like Danny! Sure, there are those who prefer Adam or Kris, but not to the point of hating Danny.
It's just a reality show, I know. Not important in the grand scheme of things. But I hope the unreasonable mean streak toward one person for no good reason gives us all a reality check.