Voting and Meaning

01 Mar 2007|Steve Diller

The New York Times recently predicted the beginning of the end of “American Idol.” The writer confidently anticipated that, because voting for your favorite singer is so easy, it therefore has no meaning and would soon lose any value it may have. If only he were right.

The idea that something has value to the extent that it requires sacrifice is a familiar one in economics. But, like many assumptions of the “dismal science,” such as the idea of rational actors, this concept is seriously flawed.

Anthropology (and our work at Cheskin) shows that in the real world, “value” doesn’t come from cost, it comes from significance. As long as people find meaning and/or entertainment in “American Idol,” they’re likely to vote, easy or not.

The strange thing is that they find meaning in choosing between Cliche’d Option 1 vs. Cliche’d Option 2. Rather than assuming that voting can only have value if it’s tough to do, the Times should consider spending more time trying to determine why people find meaning in coming up with a preference for one derivitative performance vs. another. Is it just the pleasure of competition? The sense of belonging to the greater bad-taste musical community? The simple fun of casting an utterly unimportant vote for the better looking woman? Or the geekier guy?

I suppose that, since that show led to a great film performance from Jennifer Hudson, maybe the “meaning” of the show is in the unappreciated losers who show up the inane winners. Since Dreamgirls has made well over $100 million domestically, one could conclude that the audience votes for cliche’, but pays to see quality. That sheds a whole new light on the “value” of voting.

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