I've seen American Idol maybe twice, and I know the most entertaining part of the show is laughing at the losers. Fine. It's funny to see awful, untalented people parade on stage. Most of them know they're awful, and the ones that don't need to have their illusions shattered some time -- it may as well be on national TV.
But the situation with William Hung is different. He's awful, and as Candace points out those promoting (or exploiting) him are profiting off the traditional Asian-male stereotypes Mr. Hung embodies. What disgusts me more than the suppliers of this nonsense, though, are the consumers.
William Hung may act oblivious, but he's not stupid; he's one of the suppliers. He's making tons of money, and he must know that to continue his success he has to keep playing the fool. I get the impression he's gaming the system and making the most out of the twisted opportunity the entertainment industry has created for him. I also suspect his promoters and handlers know that he's in on the joke, and that they're happy to play along as long as he's willing.
I don't think William Hung is an idiot, and I don't think his promoters are racist, but they're all profiting off the lowest common denominator in our society. This is nothing new. From America's Funniest Home Videos to Jack Ass to Punk'd to The Apprentice, the audience loves seeing other people get hurt and embarrassed. That's the very foundation of the reality-TV revolution.
The 2000-year-old man once observed: "Tragedy is when I bang my thumb, comedy is when you fall down a manhole and die." Almost all comedy denigrates someone or something (that someone cares about).
When it comes to Mr. Hung, there's no doubt that part of what makes him funny is his race; the humor is inherently racist. Is it worse than the racial humor in movies like Friday or Malibu's Most Wanted? Is laughing at racist jokes worse than laughing at the 88 guys who get their arms and legs chopped off in Kill Bill?
No. What's insidious about people laughing at William Hung is that, unlike the audiences of the movies above, they aren't in on the joke. Most people don't realize Mr. Hung is acting the fool for their amusement, they think he really is a fool, and they revel in it.