“What’s your name?”
“Hi Amrita, would you mind standing on the X?”
“Oh sure. Sorry.” Amrita mumbles to herself. There will be more mumbling by her in the near, collective future of all present in the room.
“How old are you?”
“Uh, 29.” She enunciates this clearly, as it is one of the few things she’s sure of during these proceedings.
“And do you think you have the X factor?”
“Well, I’m standing on one.” She giggles nervously. In isolation.
“Who do you sound like? Who do you want to be like?”
“Well, in my fantasy world, I’m Patti Smith…”
“And in this one?”
She doesn’t know what to say. She tries to make some noise, she tries to obey the “Don’t say Whitney or Mariah!” mantra droning in her head, but it’s not of much use, as it doesn’t tell her what she should say. Thankfully, the judges aren’t interested anyway.
“And what are you going to sing for us today?”
“’Today I met the boy I’m going to marry’ by Darlene Love.”
“Okay, go for it.”
They let her sing for less than a minute. Unlike other contestants, she is surprised at them not asking her to stop earlier. She almost believes she may be good.
“Yo dawg, it’s nice to hear some Phil Spector here” says the always excited, neutralizing one, who may or may not be part of this particular franchise, but obeys the writer’s sound, logical insistence of being from the music industry.
“Amrita. That’s such a pretty name. There was such sincerity in your voice. It’s not easy to sing the 60s girl groups…” says the sometime popstar and best choreographer the MTV age has ever produced. Also known as The Nice One.
“Darlene Love was a solo singer.” says the Neutralizer.
“Okay, let’s get to the point” says the Caustic One that the producers, the editors, the viewers and most/least of all Amrita, really wants to hear from. Those tight, white shirts leave nothing to the imagination. Not that there would be much interest in imagining, Amrita wonders, if they weren’t so tight.
“That was not the most awful thing to listen to.” says the Caustic One.
“No, you have a different voice.” says the Nice One.
“But,” says the Neutralizer.
“But, you’re not a singer.” says the Caustic One.
All three look at Amrita, waiting for a response.
She mumbles, “Okay?”
“Okay? You can’t come into a competition like this, with no confidence, wasting our time, mumbling okay. You’re here to learn, right?” says the Caustic One.
Amrita replies like an obedient puppy, “Yes!”
“No. That is not the response you make. You’re supposed to say ‘I’m here to win’” says the Caustic One.
“Well, I know I’m not going to win.” Amrita giggles.
“Not with that attitude. And not with that voice anyway.” says the Caustic One.
“Why did you come today, Amrita? Do you want to be a singer?” says the Nice One.
Amrita’s face has developed the shade of a sickly tomato. She is in panic mode. She could run away, but she doesn’t want to end up on the promos. She decides to fight instead.
“How was my singing?”
“Horrible. The question we’re asking is, why did you bother?” says the Caustic One.
“Well, you said I could learn, and so I just want…uh,…some confirmation…to know, if I can, or not, you know…”
“Look, stop wasting our bloody time. You’re not a singer. You know you’re not a singer. Nobody has ever deluded you with the idea of your being a singer. I have no idea why you came. Whether you’re the most clueless or endearingly modest person we’ve ever auditioned. Whatever it is, I don’t care. You’re bland, your hair is annoying, and you should get some work done on your nose.” says the Caustic One.
Amrita finally exits the X mark, covering the shortest possible distance to the way she entered from. She can hear the Caustic One saying, “She doesn’t even make good TV. A whole quarter of an hour wasted on such…”
That, I think, is how my audition would go, (hello, my name is Amrita, in case you’re new to this blog) if I ever auditioned for these XYZ type of shows.
I’m sure you must have come across some version of a singing competition in your life (after all, they’ve been around since the ancient Greeks), but the idea of humiliating an inadequate hopeful for the sake of entertainment seems to be rather new. And genius. For you’re justified in your meanness by pointing out the necessity of speaking the truth. To take off the mask of delusion, and make even better TV when they refuse to believe it still.
I admit, my younger self used to laugh at these hopefuls. It maybe because of the way they’d edit the shows, or just the fact that laughter is literally infectious. Now, as my grown-up cynical self, I wonder if these subjects of ridicule ever get paid for making such great TV. They should, for these shows thrive on such extremes – praising to the skies vocalists who can literally reach the skies with their voice, and mocking the skin off of those who were tethered to the ground anyway. The prejudice is nicely balanced out by the profusion of sob stories of those who ace the audition, while those who have equal claims to sob stories but not passable talent are mocked. Champion the underdog, but only if the underdog can sing.
But, like everything else in mass media, these competitions hold a mirror up to nature as much as anything else. It amazes me when people wonder why a beloved celebrity can have haters and how they deserve our sympathies and admiration at their strength in dealing with them. Doesn’t life prepare us all for such unpleasantness? I have more than enough experience in having people who don’t like me, who laugh at me, whom I rub the wrong way. I’ve had people tell me things like “you don’t deserve to be loved”. If I ever get upgraded to celebrity status, it doesn’t mean that such things told to me by thousands of people I don’t know is going to hurt more than that one person who told me such a thing when I had little to nothing going for me.
But, why do we allow such a blatant culture of humiliation, of outright bullying to exist in the first place? Why do we invest in it, even celebrate it? We always think of bullies as Somebody Else. I’m a nice, compassionate person, I can’t ever think of hurting someone like that. Not intentionally anyway. But, is that really true? Or are we all sociopaths?
I’ve got an empathy thing going in 2018. Not the nice, lovely connotation of the word, but literally looking at things from somebody else’s point of view, and drawing conclusions, no matter how unpleasant. Just the other day I realised, I rub people the wrong way all the time. I’m a desperate people-pleaser, a total whingebag, prone to embellishment just to capture an audience, fishing for pity, not love, as if my life depended on it. It doesn’t make me a bad person, but I’m not being an active good person either, not really contributing much to society. But, now that I see what others see, does that make me a deservedly viable subject for mockery?
I’ve always been laughed at. I wish I could tell you mean-girls culture existed only in high schools, and only among girls, but that would be wrong. It is age, gender and culture neutral. Having money can save you just a little bit, but there’s always, always going to be people who partake in such casual, light-hearted cruelty towards you. And these people will inevitably be cooler than you in some way – either they’ll be pretty, or rich, or record producers. They’ll have power, and the easiest way to demonstrate that power is to exercise it on the powerless.
It would be nice to do the obvious, which is to do the opposite. But, that would be a superhuman feat that even the nicest among us are mostly incapable of doing. What we can do is separate our judgments from our behaviours. Acknowledge that we’re helpless with the former, but we can try and make more of an effort with the latter. That is what makes you a decent human being. Of course, you’re going to judge that girl for being fat, or that boy for having acne. You’re no saint, and even saints fuel their entire careers by pointing out what’s wrong with you. But, why not try being nice instead, even if you can’t help acknowledging to yourself that there are aspects to their entity that others, including yourself, find objectionable? It’s so tired and old and unnecessary. Why not try being a grown-up about it?
We allow the culture of humiliation to sustain in adulthood because human beings are inherently wired to be prejudiced. You aspire to be a certain way, and by disapproving of the contrary, you protect yourself from it, in case you find something of yourself in it. Maybe it will rub off on you, maybe it will distract you from where you should be. Maybe you will lose what you already have. It’s so much easier to avoid it or crush it, instead of allowing yourself to consider it. It takes a lot of work to find yourself secure, and even then most of us reach a point where we lose all that we believed, or carefully constructed about ourselves. If that wasn’t the case, we wouldn’t have so many older and supposedly wiser people partaking in prejudice, in humiliating others.
But, you can’t help what people say or do. I’m not going to dig out that Taylor Swift lyric from a few years ago to help accept the inevitability of the situation, but I’m going to reiterate another cliched piece of wisdom – the change starts with you. I can’t help being an object of ridicule, but I can make a conscious effort not to ridicule anyone else. Even if they’re asking for it. I have to really try not to make anyone feel bad about themselves on my account. It doesn’t mean the world will suddenly become a much nicer place to live in, but what good am I (or you) if I don’t even make an effort to make it nicer?
Have you ever been humiliated? Have you ever humiliated someone else?