With the economic struggle, political upheaval, and general unrest the United States is suffering through, it seems almost silly Americans would find hope, encouragement, relief, and strength from a televised reality singing competition, namely, “American Idol.” However, like every other season, I still find myself getting geared up for the Wednesday night performances and the Thursday night results. By Monday I am starting to mention how we only have “two more days until…”
As a psychotherapist who is seeing more and more people and families in emotional, spiritual, financial, and social need, I have to admit my own intrigue surrounding this phenomenon. I, like everyone else in these times, am struggling. However, I can feel my burden grow lighter as I prepare my dinner meal to go and curl up on the couch (a very special thing because meals are eaten at the dining room table) to watch “American Idol.” The moment is almost like an antidepressant kicking in. So, are there key ingredients about the show that are working together to create just that? I believe so. And, I believe we can learn from the combined affect of these ingredients and apply them to other aspects of our lives to help us combat depression, burnout, fear, and other emotional struggles.
Ingredient 1: The show is definitely entertaining and entertainment has always been an avenue of escape from some of our more harsh realities. Bob Hope dedicated much of his life to providing entertainment to our military troops. This was his way of encouraging our military. He provided a source of strength in an unconventional way. His entertainment did not provide physical boot camp but it served more as a refugee camp for the mind. Entertainers have followed in his steps and have continued to dedicate their talents to show their support of our military families through entertainment. Therefore, during these times when so many of us feel we are waging personal as well as public wars, is it any wonder that the entertainment aspect of “American Idol” is a pain-reliever, escape mechanism, and short term antidepressant? I don’t know for sure, but it seems logical. And, it is definitely information worth looking into.
Ingredient 2: Intrigue. Curiosity killed the cat and on Wednesday and Thursday nights I am a cat. I cannot wait to see what is going to happen. Every week I am surprised or shocked. What will be the theme of the night? What will Jimmy say about each contestant? Who will choose what song? Are there any surprises this week, who are the guest performers, will the guest be someone from my childhood who brings back good memories? The judges – we all want to know what they will wear and what they will say. You best know I hang on to the edge of my seat the entire show just to see what might or might not come out of Steven Tyler’s mouth! During all of this intrigue, who has time to be wondering how tomorrow’s bills will get paid, if that contract at work will pan out, if those divorce papers will come through, what the doctors will say, or what political party will pass what bill? Intrigue paired with entertainment and yes, I am beginning to experiencing relief. Evidently, the majority of the rest of America is also. In those moments of relief, rest does happen and healing does occur.
I learned during my education that the drug of greatest addiction is whatever drug brings relief. So, guess what, America keeps going back to the TV Wednesday and Thursday nights for their drug. We know two key ingredients are entertainment and intrigue. What else is there that makes this potent antidepressant one that can heal and can prepare us to go back into the battlefield?
Ingredient 3: Control. Oh, boy. Don’t we all need to feel a little control in our lives right now? I know I have the need to have a sense of control over the unknown and I see desperation for it in the young and the old. I see it in students and teachers, the wealthy and the poor, male and female. Nobody seems to know when financial crisis may change their lives or when political judgment may change their status quo. As gas prices soar causing so much financial instability, everyone wants a control to escape man’s greatest fear, the fear of the unknown.
Supply and Demand. The producers of “American Idol” have hit the jackpot. They give us, the home audience, just enough control to keep us coming back. I have heard many complaints that the process of multiple voting has ruined the show. Quite the contrary. If we could only vote a very limited number of times I do not think near as many people would care to still be watching. We would lose any sense of control. Isn’t that what politicians are complaining is happening at the polls? We believe our votes are so insignificant that on the grand scheme of things they do not matter. But on “American Idol,” technically, we can vote as many times as we want within the two hour time frame. We believe our votes count. The judges and Ryan Seacrest remind us of repeatedly how our vote counts. In turn we translate this to mean we count. We are validated. We control the outcome.
Have you noticed how the show has made us more powerful than even the judges? It is sort of like a governmental overthrow. The judges’ one save was only good up to a certain point so if we want, we can come back and counter their save. We see them actually powerless to choose the American Idol. We, the people, will choose our American Idol. Now, how genius is that in a time of social and governmental unrest?
If we take our lead from “American Idol” it appears some of the key elements essential in creating a natural antidepressant are; entertainment, giving an escape route that provides mental rest and relaxation, intrigue, which preoccupies the mind and shuts down worry and anxiety, and control, leading to empowerment and reaffirming who we are. It sounds a little like a recipe for hope.
Hope lives in each of the contestants every week. Hope is reaffirmed in us when we see the contestants’ hard work pay off. From watching so many success stories from each season, we know it is not just the lone winner who “wins.” This recipe for hope redefines success so that success becomes attainable. And, like Bob Hope with the military troops, our minds have experienced a refuge so that we are encouraged to move forward.