Friday, January 23, 2009

Dear Charlie:

Now, I don't watch American Idol. I usually hate reality TV, and that show particularly gets on my nerves. I mean, seriously. Some idiot that couldn't carry a tune with a forklift got through how many rounds of judging to stand before the Thundrous Three (or is it the Forbidding Four now?) just long enough to be shellacked on national television?

Sure. Whatever.

But just because I don't watch it doesn't mean I don't get stuck hearing about it at work the whole rest of the week. Egad. And, of course, living in the Middle as I do, I couldn't help but hear the flabbergasted irritation over the whole "be careful" thing.

My initial response was like everyone else's around here: "God, city people are idiots!"

But I try to be a fair-minded individual, so I reserved judgment until I could see for myself. YouTube can be a wonderful thing. And I realized a funny thing not 20 seconds into the poor guy's audition: they were scared of this guy from the start. The first thing out of Simon Cowell's mouth is, "That's not a gun, is it?"

It was a cell phone holder. A cell phone holder. And while I suppose a couple of really tiny-caliber clutch pistols might be small enough to fit into a cell phone holder, I can't imagine that the guy would've gotten past security with one on blatantly bared on his hip.

In other words, these "celebrities" were already twitchy just being in our redneck, hillbilly, Deliverance-esque neck of the woods. How sad. Joking about it, but obviously uneasy.

And then I kept watching. Through the entire 2 minutes of video (basically, as soon as the poor guy opened his mouth with that so-Kentucky accent), all four judges were condescending and, as I understand is usual, Simon was downright obnoxious. No surprise, really, but factored into the rest of the story, it does add luster. And it was just generally insensitive to act that way towards a man that showed them nothing but nervous respect and an attempt at affability that was quickly spurned.

And then, the moment. The horrible, spine-shivering utterance. The menacing hex upon the judges' oh-so-precious heads.

"Ya'll take care and be careful."

I like to imagine that people have the good sense to just naturally understand a person's tone of voice and body language, or at least to know the difference between a threatening and a non-threatening utterance. If the poor guy had said something along the lines of "And ya'll better watch yer backs!" in a silky, dangerous whisper, yeah. Feel free to freak out, celebrity types.

But...be careful? Preceded by a "take care"? And not said with any more ill inflection than a simple "goodbye"? And yet Paula Abdul jumped on it like he'd told her he'd see her in her bedroom that night with a knife and some barbed wire.

What the hell? Does no one ever wish someone a safe journey on either coast? Or is that a common courtesy reserved solely for us supposed uneducated, inbred yokels in the Middle? Or is it just that these people have spent so long looking over their shoulders at imagined perils from us scrabbling, fawning, and barely-sane masses that they don't understand a commonplace, polite sentiment when they hear it?

My most frequent goodbye to friends and strangers alike is, "Drive safe, have fun". Whether they're going on vacation to another country or going to the store for some milk. Whether I'll see them in an hour or a year. Drive safe, have fun. Be careful. Take care.

Ya'll come back now, y'hear?

But I guess the American Idol folks are more used to places were people don't wave at each other when they pass on the street, where a hello is taken as a "gimme your wallet". And as I think about that, it makes me sad. I can almost pity them.

If they hadn't been such jerks to that poor guy who was already nervous as hell.

Do they realize how ridiculous and paranoid and downright stupid they ended up sounding to more than half of the country? I'd be willing to bet dollars to pesos (a bet that becomes less moot every day, ha ha, falling-dollar joke) that everyone from the Rockies to the Appalachians says some variation of "be careful" every day to everyone from their own kin to the bag boy at the grocery store.

And yet those self-righteous prigs sat there and lectured him on how that's not a normal thing to say. I wonder if they go to France and tell people not to say "bon voyage". Or to England and "good luck and godspeed". I can do this in several languages. See, it's polite to wish someone well upon leaving. In every language, including our own.

Duh.

See, they assumed ill intent because of where they were and because of an accent. Or, at the very least, they assumed this guy was an ignorant inbred who had no idea how to talk to The Sophisticates. I mean, this is a time and place where you can't ask someone with a bomb strapped to their chest what they think they're doing without getting slapped with a discrimination charge, and they assumed something bad...just because. And ended up looking dumb as rocks.

Word to the wise, American Idol cast: a funny thing happens when you ASSUME, and it has nothing to do with how I end up looking. And if I have to spell it out for you, then you're dumber than I thought.

And no, I don't think I'll ever bother watching American Idol. Somehow, I don't think it's a big loss.

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