I don’t mean put a damper on the day’s anticipation, but maybe it’s important for us to be a little pragmatic about the big picture. Whether or not David prevails in this thing is almost entirely unrelated to his talents and abilities. The two contestants are so widely divergent in virtually every aspect of their appeal, that the crowning of a “winner” seems utterly pointless. Within the context of the competition, however, we have been able to get a glimpse of what David is likely to encounter in the culture at large as his career unfolds, particularly in the press. So far, it ain’t pretty.
David’s treatment by the news media has bothered me all season. Less so the scandal-mongering about his dad (that’s par for the course) but more the overall condescension he has received not just from sniveling little piss-ants like Michael Slezak of Entertainment Weekly, or the astoundingly lazy and inept Joanna Weiss at the Boston Globe, but across the board in less explicitly insulting ways. The undermining of David Archuleta in the media has naturally intensified over the past week, where the outright favoritism for David Cook (particularly on the Fox O&Os-–those of you with a penchant for conspiracies can mine that ore) has reached a fever pitch.
It is frustrating not because I need anything in the way of validation for my own point of view, or because I have even a passing interest in the outcome of this inane competition, but because it feels incongruous and unfair that David is denied anything resembling an objective, thoughtful, and balanced consideration of his unique assets. I console myself with the knowledge that true originals are always misunderstood by a clueless and callous world, but my analytical nature compels me to identify some of the reasons for this annoying state of affairs.
1. The press can’t abide an inevitability.
Hillary Clinton learned this the hard way. When a competitor begins a race by taking on the mantle of the odds-on favorite, the only possible story opportunity is in their downfall. Even if the press doesn’t intentionally or consciously facilitate this story arc, they support and contribute to it anyway.
2. Reporters on this beat are not music but television critics.
It has been gratifying, though perhaps not surprising, that the more people know about music the more impressed they are with David Archuleta. Television reviewers do not, by and large, know about music (I am not entirely certain what, exactly, they do know about).
3. Those who defy easy categorization are categorized anyway.
The demands of the media machine compel shortcuts to real observation and explanation. Despite the fact that the most superficial aspects of David’s appeal are not the ones that his most thoughtful fans focus on, they are nevertheless the easiest and most available for the media. David is cute and young and has a lovely voice. Of course that can only mean Disney or Josh Groban. Spellcheck, submit.
4. Media mass-appeal is driven on the middle-of-the-road.
It is important to remember that the press is a business with customers just like any other commercial industry. Pandering to the middle is a way of life. David Archuleta is an exceedingly odd duck in this regard, because on paper, he seems to be ideally suited to the mass middle but in practice he is actually much more sophisticated. This state of affairs is far too confusing for a lazy and deadline-driven industry, and I might suggest that there may even be a hint of resentment in the notion that David doesn’t precisely meet these lower expectations.
I can only hope that David doesn’t become convinced to lower his own expectations, because God knows his producers and sponsors will want to please the press more than they’ll want to please David. But before all of that, we get to see him perform once again in the context of this ridiculous show. And somehow it all seems worth it.