“Idols” South Africa and Unfairness

The TV-series  Idols is back for its sixth season. As usual, the judges are more in synch with each other than contestants and their notes. I barely watch television, so whilst working on a table close to the television, I was somewhat “surprised” to hear renditions of Springsteen sound like a rabid dog being pulled backward through a swirling vortex, after sucking on a helium balloon. It could only be Idols.

Due to my current workload of studying dead Grecian, German, English and Scottish men who believed the earth was eternally old, in the glory of Nazism, logical proofs to show 1+1=2, and the sun might not rise tomorrow, I rarely see what happens around me. My brother said a man with a gun and cowboy hat was around the house at one point, but I was too busy rewriting reasons why it’s OK to kill babies to notice. But something caught my attention, in Idols, that I find troublesome in everyday life because it has wider socio-political consequences. That is, the notion of “unfairness”.

When girls with voices like drowned cats in a meat-grinder complain about an unfair decision, we must ask what they mean. Sure some of us might sympathise, whilst the rest laugh (or is that just me?), but after they’ve wiped away their bad make-up, stop to consider: what was unfair?

By entering the competition, you give an allowance to a number of things: being broadcast country-wide on a major television network, the support of your family, the jostling of the presenters, the mockery of a faceless audience (a critic of Dostoevsky calls one of his narrators “a crowd in trousers”, which sums up this type of audience critique nicely) … but more importantly, you allow yourself to be judged. The decisions of the judges, however they choose to make them, cannot be called “unfair” in most instances – you entered Idols to be judged, they judged you (this way or that, it doesn’t matter), and you end up with the result (you advance because of your beautiful voice or you leave crying like an idiot because your precious dreams were dashed).

Here's the formula again: enter Idols -> get judged -> result. Repeat if result = advancing.

When people call “unfair!” they probably have a high opinion of their abilities and expect such recognition to be forthcoming. When it is not, it confirms that others do not reflect their worldview. Alas! Alas! The world does not revolve around you, it does not take your considerations into account. But being grown-up means realising something even more important than “the world” does not view you as you would like: that is, other people. For some reason, this is a difficult realisation for many to make – and it shows up again and again in things like Idols, in politics when different groups argue on different topics (marriage is for heterosexuals, blasphemy is hate speech because it encourages something called Islamophobia), or, for example, lost positions  because someone from a previously disadvantaged group gets it rather than you. A common mistake people make with “affirmative action” – a constantly misused term – sometimes rests in them calling unfairness when applying to a position and losing to someone of a different ethnicity: usually a non-white. But if this is the organisation’s policy, be it a business or university, you can’t call unfair if this is what it stipulates. They do not have to change it to suit your personal needs – who are you to demand such a change anyway? When people call “unfair” they also demand that it be changed. Or, they think the decision ought to be changed or different. But if, for example, it is part of an organisation’s carefully planned policy to encourage more “diversity”, by giving preference to non-whites with marginally less qualifications, that is their prerogative.

Unless they are breaking a law of some kind, I can’t see on what grounds we make such demands of groups to change their opinions of us: be we contestants for Idols or applicants for a job. And of course there might be some cases where people do successfully have opinions overturned because they are treated unfairly. By unfairly, I really do mean the proper use of this word: they are judged according to something that a) ought not to be something that hinders their ability of whatever is the topic of focus or b) disregarded because of some part of their identity. Both could be called just plain old discrimination.

I struggle with the notion of unfairness, since it seems to harmonise with a conception that we deserve some thing. We don’t get what we deserve, we get what we get. Hard work is not even a guarantee, but it statistically will increase your chances; but even then, we do not have enough fingers in the world to count how many passionate artists, writers, businessmen, students, etc., worked hard, 24/7, and simply fell into nothing. Were forgotten. This is the story of an indifferent universe not even gazing, not even ignoring – simply there. So many of us yearn for this rock to bleed sympathy, but it never will.

Occasionally, we will get something – apparently out of nowhere – but not because we deserve it but because it just happens (be it a lightning strike or a dead uncle’s two million dollar mansion and Russian mistress). We don’t deserve happiness let alone something like the approval of Gareth Cliff, Mara Louw, or Randall Abrahams. Calling unfairness is bizarre here. It’s time to grow up, people, and stop believing the universe, god or some cosmic force will reward you for all your efforts. It’s not going to happen unless you actually work at it – and even then there is absolutely no guarantee. That’s just how the rock cuts.

UPDATE: H/T to Mammoth Lord for pointing out a very stupid first sentence, which originally read: ‘The sixth season of Idols is back.’ All I can offer is this.