Who Asked You?

Every day's Election Day in modern America, where everything from pop stars to candy colors to the TV news is decided by a popular vote

April 19, 2006|By STEPHEN KIEHL | STEPHEN KIEHL,SUN REPORTER

Imagine a country where the president doesn't read the newspaper, the government goes to war for all the wrong reasons, and more votes are cast for the next pop music star than for the next president.

So goes the promotional material for the new film American Dreamz, opening Friday. The film is a work of fiction, of course, though some would say just barely so. Satirizing both politics and culture, American Dreamz' premise is that we care more about melismatic singers than our nation's future.

The math is debatable: Yes, more people voted during American Idol's 2005 season than on Election Day 2004. But the Idol numbers cover 12 weeks of voting. And you can vote an unlimited number of times for your favorite singer, while, in most parts of the country (excluding, perhaps, Chicago) you only get one vote for president.

Still, it is true that American culture has become more participatory. These days, anything worth its salt is worth voting on, from new ice cream flavors to stamps to television news. The CBS Evening News now allows viewers to vote on the story they want to see at the end of each Friday night's broadcast.

And why not? The winners of American Idol have usually gone on to music industry success. And voters wisely rejected aqua and pink M&Ms in favor of the more regal purple a few years back.

So maybe there's something to be said for more cultural democracy. We just don't want Ryan Seacrest as our president.

stephen.kiehl@baltsun.com

Number of votes cast: In entire 2005 American Idol season: 500 million / Yes, but my little sister voted like 100 times.

In 2004 presidential election: 122 million / More people voted than in any previous election, but turnout is still 20 percentage points behind Afghanistan presidential election the same year.

In 2006 People's Choice Awards: 21 million / Star Wars: Episode III named best movie; it turns out 21 million people can be wrong.

For 2005 Major League Baseball All-Star Game: 16 million (ballots cast) / Two Orioles make the starting lineup; Peter Angelos demands a recount.

For new M&M color in 2002: 10 million / Purple beats aqua and pink as the new color. Burnt Sienna mysteriously not in the running.

For Elvis stamp in 1992: 1.2 million / Young, thin Elvis trumps the older, fatter Elvis. Impersonators don't seem to notice.

For new Ben & Jerry's ice cream flavor in 2003: 365,000 / Primary Berry Graham wins as a temporary new flavor in time for election season; fails to win second term.

For name of baby panda at the National Zoo: 202,000 / Tai Shan, which means "peaceful mountain," wins. Wisely, zoo does not allow Gwyneth Paltrow (mother of Apple and Moses) to vote.

In 2004 Family Circle presidential wives cookie cook-off: 17,000 / Readers prefer Laura Bush's oatmeal chocolate chunk cookies to Teresa Heinz Kerry's pumpkin spice cookies. Note to Democrats: Chocolate recipes always win.

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