But why is it so popular? Sid took the neo-classical argument of demand, then supply: people demanded it, so Fox supplied it. Simple economics.
I'm not so sure. Is it demand, then supply, or supply, then demand? Traditional economics assumes that the market merely responds to consumers' wishes: if we crave gas guzzling SUVs, that's what Ford will make; if we want vapid, mindless television programming, that's what ABCNBCCBSFOX will make. Neo-classical (i.e. the kind you learn in college) economics takes as its initial assumption that people are rational, and that their explicit decisions are perfect reflections of their internal, even subconscious, desires.
But what if that's not true? What if people are not only irrational (which Daniel Kahneman recently won the Nobel Prize in Economics for demonstrating) but, to be blunt, mindless sheep who take rather than make cues? Is it me, or does it seem that television has gotten increasingly dumber over time? If so, is that because viewers have becoming mentally lazier, and implicitly demand television that demands little to no mental output, or is it flipped? Is it that networks produced empty TV--programs where the resolution was swift, where critical thought was not required, where the answers would be delivered to the couch by platter--we then got addicted, and the final demand followed?
I'm inclined to believe the latter. I tend to view fast food and television as more or less the same. Ray Crock realized that people became addicted to his hamburgers and milkshakes, and McDonalds took off. Over time, they've perfected their formula--adding sugar to the french fries, for instance--to become as addictive as possible, as did cigarette companies like Philip Morris and RJR. It wasn't that people wanted their product first, then, but rather they created the demand, and then the demand followed. It became a self-fulfilling prophesy.
Still, I don't imagine it's that one-sided, and I take a certain amount of solace in that. Because if you look at what's happening in the fast-food industry now, it seems that healthy options are becoming more and more prevalent: McDonalds advertising salads. Where is this coming from? I like to believe that a critical mass of people--through education, through heart disease, through childhood obesity--recognized the nutritional emptiness of fries and pies and began to demand something better. In that sense, it was supply, then demand, followed by a demand, then supply rebuttal.
So as people tire of having their minds numbed, will networks begin to offer more thoughtful programming? I hope so. I'm inspired by the fact that American Idol is now being challenged in popularity by Dancing with the Stars; even though the latter isn't exactly a documentary on rocket science, it is rooted in positivity--people watching others dance well and appreciating beauty--rather than negativity, the manna for American Idol. (Maybe people watch it for the good singers, though I'd imagine that just as many tune in to laugh at the bad singers who make fools of themselves). Even if we're not necessarily getting smarter in this instance, at least we're getting nicer.
Maybe American Idol serves as a good social commentary, then, and maybe we are indeed on the upward swing of the parabola: the slope has finally turned positive. Still, it is worth looking at other facets of our daily experience to see where we're heading. While IMing might spell doom for the complete sentence, are blogs conversely helping people become more literate and expressive?
It's easy to shake a fist at corporate boards and TV producers, and some of the anger and frustration is probably justified. But if we're more than just sheep, then maybe there are examples out there--salads, Planet Earth--that could give us hope. Thoughts?