I lost my once-considerable fondness for the National Spelling Bee when I read the first two paragraphs of this column by Larry Elder:
“These aren’t nerds, they are intellectual athletes. They’re all incredibly likable kids that you’re rooting for.”
So spoke ABC’s executive vice president for alternative programming, Andrea Wong, on the network’s decision to air the finals of the 79th Scripps National Spelling Bee–in prime time. The kids received the “American Idol” treatment, with hair and makeup handled by professional stylists. The show included interviews with the contestants, reaction shots of parents and background pieces on some of the finalists. How soon before contestants show up with their own agents and publicists? How long before one of them drops out of the eighth grade to “turn pro”?
I might add that Elder’s column was a favorable account of the National Spelling Bee. Those last two sentences, he explained, were meant as a joke. Alas, ABC’s decision to use “professional stylists” to turn the young contestants into Pretty Pod People was all too unhumorously true.
Stories like this never fail to remind me of a remark George Orwell made to a friend: “This age makes me so sick that sometimes I am almost impelled to stop at a corner and start calling down curses from Heaven.”
That was in 1934.