Making fun

I’ve been troubled by American Idol this year. Of course, it’s essentially unchanged: why mess with a winner? But I left watching this week’s shows worrying about whom they were ridiculing. I fear they’ve started going after the people from — how do I put this with a modicum of delicacy? — the short bus.

Take the scenes about the little guy with the gigantic eyes and his tubby buddy; they made fun of the first but then seemed to realize that they should not make fun of the second. Why let one off the hook and not the other? Because one was more of the bus than the other? Because the stars thought they’d gone overboard? Because they feared the impact on their image? Because they wanted a new shtick? Don’t know.

Now I’m hardly politically correct. I’m a Howard Stern fan, after all. And I believe that on Howard’s show, everyone can be themselves and be taken at face value for that; everyone can be the butt of jokes; everyone is in on the joke; they are all part of the inner circle — that is, the wack pack.

And I can make the same argument about American Idol: No matter who appears there, they are there because they want to be, because their is their shot at stardom and everybody wants to be a star. But I think it’s a bit different on Idol in that there is no middle ground: You are either a star or you are fodder for ridicule. And if you’re the latter, you are what makes the show tick in its first weeks. So Idol wants more people to make fun of. And most times, those are just people who are either trying to get attention by being ridiculous or who do not know how ridiculous they are. But now they are also making fun of people who are not in on the joke. And that left a bad taste.

Making-fun-of is staple of TV. Why do we like game shows? So we can make fun of the losers because we think we’re smarter than they are. Why was afternoon trash talk a hit (until we tired of it)? Because we liked making fun of people with worse lives than ours. What is reality TV all about? Making-fun-of.

But I’m asking — just asking — whether there is a proper limit to whom we make fun of. Or instead, if we discriminate on that basis — ‘You can’t be on TV because we we don’t want to come off badly treating you like we treat everyone else’ — is that unfair to these would-be stars? Don’t know.