Carrion for Cultural Vultures

The Voice is back on, and I’m struck watching it by the choice we get to make between quality and spectacle. The Voice is about quality: celebrity coaches vying for the best singers; singers seeking coaches to make them better.

Voice producers omit the bad auditions–in fact, the show watches as if only good-to-great performers even get in front of the judges.The train wreck audition footage–a staple of American Idol–has no place, because that’s a cheap way to build an audience and contributes nothing to peoples’ lives.

I first noticed the choice being made between quality and spectacle while watching episodes of Top Chef and Hell’s Kitchen. The former is all about good chefs straining to be the best, while the latter is about a bunch of cooks being humiliated by a maniacal chef. Watching one of those shows amounts to an investment in a story about quality and the struggle to improve. Guess which one.

No matter our medium, the stories we tell can either connect people who are driven by quality and improvement, or they can provide carrion for the cultural vultures who feed on humiliation and mockery. Also, we get to choose which stories we want to consume.