America’s Got Lawsuits – Still

August 1, 2017 by  
Filed under Rachel's Thoughts

A few years ago I posted an article with the help of my friend, Allison K Williams, that articulated my feelings for the show that makes its obscene fortunes on the backs of skilled artists who hope to gain any morsel of exposure at all, America’s Got Talent. You can find that article here: http://rachelpeters.com/americas-got-lawsuits/2158/

Every season when the show starts anew, I get many hits on that old article, presumably, from people who are asking google what their gut is telling them — is the game rigged?  The answer: of course it is.

Now, I feel exactly the same way about this show as I do all the other manipulative and humiliating reality shows. It’s right up there with Wife Swap. They ask human people to sign away their right to any dignity or truth for the hope of being the one who’s edited to look respectable.

In that first article Allison and I wanted to let the audience know how on these shows – although the talent is very real – the deck is entirely stacked.  It has to be. That’s the nature of these shows. Somebody has to write the story and the makers have to decide who’s the hero and who’s the fool.  If there is no obvious fool, they will create one by any means necessary, because that’s how they’ve structured their story to go.

This particular show, unlike all the other reality shows, is a little personal for me because I have a lot of circus friends who end up auditioning for it.

That said, I walk a tightrope between how I feel about the creators and producers of these shows that squeeze artists dry and use them up to line their pockets, and needing to support my friends who choose to use these shows as a venue.  I will absolutely back an artist who makes this choice, even though I can’t support the show, itself.  I will be proud of them if they win the game, but I would never encourage them to play.  A game that cheats is a tough game to win. If you can make it there (and have a good therapist lined up afterwards), you can make it anywhere.
I think it’s possible for me to support the individual while steering clear of supporting the franchise.

So, I watched some this year’s early episodes of AGT, because I recognized a new batch of familiar faces in the promo. I powered through my fear of their humiliation to try to support these individuals.

I noticed a big change in the way they make AGT.

The show is still intentionally giant, manipulative, and intimidating with it’s deafening buzzers, of course, but interestingly, there’s less humiliation (on air).  They’ve started to skip showing the bad acts entirely only showing us the medium-to-awesome acts who audition.

For a moment I was proud of that choice someone inside the belly of AGT made…  But only for a moment.
I don’t for a minute believe that it was made from any producer’s sudden burst of conscience or Simon Cowell’s sensitive side.  They have proven from decades of globally-wide contests from Talent to Idol to X-Factor that they do not care about how foolish they make any person look or that they could (and have) ruined people’s otherwise fairly decent careers with their untruthful edit job, behind-the-scenes manipulation, or judge’s comments.
They have a very long history of not caring about what they do to people.  They haven’t just grown a conscience now.  “The fish stinks from the head down” and the head still sits in that judge’s seat.

If you look around, you’ll notice AGT is simply following a larger trend in contest shows on TV.  Audiences don’t seem to like getting anxious over the parade of humiliation, because most of us have an emotion called “empathy”. When you treat people poorly, it makes us, the audience actually feel bad for them.  If this is hard to understand you may be on the spectrum of a disorder called “sociopathy”.
There’s a point where our fascination with the car crash turns to sadness for the injured.

In fact, if you do a little digging you’ll find that the booing that happens on AGT often doesn’t happen with any talent on the stage. When people do poorly on stage, the audience mostly feels sorry for them.  As the tales go, before contestants come out, the show will offer $50 to anyone who can boo the loudest.  Then when it goes to edit, they have something to splice in.  And since the  contestant has signed away their rights in their contract, there’s not much that can be done about this manipulation of the truth.

Along with changing television trends, I believe AGT was also having a hard time getting people come out and audition, if they knew they had a high chance of being ridiculed in front of the world after signing away all rights to human dignity (#7) for their terrible offense of trying.

The routine use of “bait and switch” is used lure less-than-qualified acts out to audition, making them believe they have a chance, then pulling out every stop to humiliate them on a national platform.  It’s literally a dystopian plot line from the show, Black Mirror.
I had even been on the receiving end of the bait-and-switch when the show’s main job was to openly mock anyone they could get their hands on.  The person emailing me made it sound like they thought I was wonderful and that I should let the world know it by coming out!  The thing is, I knew they didn’t think I was wonderful.  Because I wasn’t.  I didn’t have any video on my website, only a few photos, and I had only done my comedy fire-eating routine a small handful of times.  I actually didn’t immediately know what talent they were emailing me about, it had been so long since I had done my show.  Moreover, the reason I quit doing it was because it wasn’t great. If I didn’t even care about my act, there’s no way AGT did. They couldn’t have seen anything I had done and thought I was appropriate for a winning act. There was nothing to see.  Their attempts were manipulative from the start and, because of my backstage knowledge, I could see they’d have made me one of their many bumbling, emotional idiots.
The talk around the variety performance world was full of warnings about why one should never go on AGT.

So, now they get it.  Finally.  Good.  …Right? …Well, they get what the show needed an external makeover, anyway. That doesn’t mean they’ve learned how to treat people.
AGT has seen the rise of contest shows like The Voice, Penn and Teller’s Fool Us, and even Little Big Shots, where the acts are carefully vetted before anyone gets televised, and so what we’re left seeing is all good — the audience feels good for contestants. Everyone’s a star.  These shows understand the audience has gotten exhausted from being anxious for the underdog.  We want a safer place to be entertained. We want to believe that even if the contestant (who could be our daughter, our father, our cousin) doesn’t get far on the show, they still did pretty well and probably went away feeling pretty decent about themselves.

I’m glad this is the direction AGT wants to go, but I’m bothered that they’re so blatantly following the lead of other shows and that they were SO late to the game that we know for certain they didn’t do it out of any personal conviction.  It’s only about staying on the air.  They’re being forced to play nice (on the surface).

Once we get past the shiny, blinding, new veneer of “we only show you happy stuff now”, we need to still listen to contestant experiences of how they were treated, after all is said and done, because as the old adage goes, “a tiger doesn’t change its stripes”.  It’s obvious to me that the show still uses the same formula to get their weekly story told. We still see all the same over-the-top reactions, meltdowns, and nerves.  It’s the same show with the same exhaustive contract that warns contestants the show can do anything they want to them. …So something sinister has got to still be lurking under the surface.
(I have since received private emails from rejected contestants from this year who have confirmed that humiliation and contempt is still a mainstay of the show, whether we see it on-air or not – it still gets reactions from audience and contestants. Anything for their story.)

I’d like to think Mr. Cowell himself is probably a very sensitive and human person – at least when it suits him.  He loves animals and he seems moved by touching stories.  I believe he must choose to see the great things he does for the small handful of people who’ve done well on his shows and that way justifies the bucket loads over the planet, over the nearly two decades, and multiple reality shows whose lives he’s damaged.

What I think needs to be pointed out here is that people should be treated with dignity whether or not they’re talented.  In our moment of birth and death we are all equally talentless, powerless, and poor. Someone’s ability to advance your career or be fun to hang out with does not determine how precious and worthy of compassion they are as human beings. This is a wisdom and an understanding that I believe Mr. Cowell is missing from his life, because every show he creates reflects the same attitude.

But hey – kudos for this new direction on the show. At least we don’t ALL see the humiliation anymore.  This season the mistreatment of people is mostly kept inside the walls of the coliseum.

Take some time to read these articles I’ve been sent by a reader about what is still happening that we just don’t see from our living rooms:

Fame 10’s article, published last year: http://www.fame10.com/entertainment/americas-got-talent-10-behind-the-scenes-secrets
#9 is cruel on its face.
#7 –  “…everyone must agree that producers can trick, exploit and embarrass them — and even depict their personal stories in a manner that ‘may be factual or fictional’ — and they can’t sue for any reason.”
#2 – Therapy for all: They are fully aware of how badly they’re damaging people. They take necessary steps to protect themselves.  Not you.

Daily Beast’s article, published a few months ago: http://www.thedailybeast.com/tyra-banks-stands-accused-of-terrorizing-an-americas-got-talent-contestant
If these allegations against Tyra are true, as weak as Ms. Bank’s character may be, my guess is that she was probably doing what she was told to do. The personality of an organization trickles down from the top and seeps through the whole system.

So, if you have ever considered going on this show, please don’t be fooled by the new face lift.  It’s the same show.  It will never be a different show.
If you are determined to go on this show, I will support your choice to use this venue.  But be aware, keep your eyes open, and take advantage of the free therapy.

Personally, if I’m going to choose a contest show to watch and enjoy, I choose shows that treated people respectfully from the start and never required abusing people, whether talented or not, to get their ratings. Instead of relying on human abuse to make a show, why not just make a decent show?

Try the Gong Show! It’s “just for funsies” and no careers are made or broken by participating.  The prize is $2000 and a trophy, and at the end of the show everybody, gonged or not, comes out and dances as they celebrate the winner’s success. It’s a silly game and everyone knows it.
I’ve heard personal backstage stories from both winners and non-winners and they seem a respectable show.

I want you to enjoy your TV and I can’t tell you what not to watch based on my principles.  But when any TV show involves real human people beings’ lives, please don’t get lost in the manipulation.  Just be aware that some shows – whether they show you the damage or not – are intentionally hurting people to get drama and to claw their way to the top.
When a bull in an arena starts kicking and flailing, look for the small skewer stabbed in his haunches.

And now, enjoy the entertaining and respectful segment from Penn and Teller’s Fool Us, with Jonathan Burns.
Watch how, even though he absolutely didn’t fool them (and he knows it and they know he knows it), they treated him like a peer.  And take note that the prize on this show is a trophy and Penn and Teller’s respect.
He was paid to perform and he was treated well during his time backstage.