Discuss: Simon Cowell Made $75 Million in 2008-09
There are plenty of reasons to be mad about the state of the economy, culture, labor, politics and every other flawed facet of American life. But there's a certain nauseous, ulcerous anguish provoked by the latest Forbes Magazine survey of TV's richest men, which Simon Cowell topped this year with... God, I can't even write it again. Look back at the headline, I guess. It's not a typo.
Of course, no one here would begrudge Cowell's right to capitalize on a phenomenon partially of his own making. We all figure that American Idol pretty much is Simon Cowell, and that conflation counts for a crapload more than minimum wage. I don't really have any quibbles with any of this, nor can I be too hard on Ryan Seacrest for recently reupping for $45 million over three years. He's a megaproducer, a grinder, he's everywhere. Hate him all you want, but the guy kinda earned it.
All that being said, Cowell is a unique case. Is it oversimplifying to argue that this is a man who has made the biggest fortune yet off watering down pop music to its most flavorless essence -- a producer of everything from puke-smelling rubbish like Wrestlemania: The Record to more polished, Glad-bagged garbage like Il Divo? This motherfucker even attempted to pass off that manufactured, conveniently forgotten classical-kiddie group Angelis as something more than just child exploitation, a system that is basically the economic groundwork for all of Cowell's enterprises. From Idol to X Factor to the international Got Talent, that $75 million comprises the pennies wrung from all the souls desperate for Cowell's judgment, some obviously talented, some obviously not, all willing to work for nothing more then prime-time face-time against the long odds of an industry breakthrough.
Cowell's only defense is a TV empire that has entertained hundreds of millions of people around the world, but he's got no more moral or ethical standing than, say, Kathie Lee Gifford had against the sweatshopping of her clothing brand in 1996. Indeed, he's the labor movement's worst, most unheralded nightmare, a manipulator of cheap, unskilled human resources under the guise of "talent scouting." He's also among the foremost suffocators of scripted programming on television -- a fabulous irony considering the tired predictability of his Idol putdowns. If anyone's dialogue could use a polish, it's Simon Cowell's.
But that's not the mandate here. The mandate is to develop a system by which a regressive, predatory culture has a cheap, constant supply of prey. In that sense, Simon Cowell is arguably the planet's most efficient factory farmer. Not only has he refined this economy of scale to make his own system work globally, but he's actually got the livestock coming to him. All of them want under his pressurized air gun, their skulls caved in, their flesh rended, their limbs twitching in the glare of his beaming ivory grin. And should he spare them, they're happy to supply all the milk Cowell can jerk out of them until a bloodthirsty nation does them in itself. In the interim, maybe they'll even get to fake knowing who the hell Lionel Richie is before singing one of his songs on live TV, or receive precious vocal tips from the likes of... Jamie Foxx and Quentin Tarantino? At least there's a free Ford in it for them if they make the final two, right?
Anyway, congratulations to Simon Cowell for turning all of America into his evil laboratory for the study of hope under the influence of cynicism. He's an easy guy to hate, but $75 million later, he's found a truly repellent formula that works -- a toxic, addictive family recipe we'll buy until we're broke. Or until it kills us. Whichever comes first.
· Prime Time's Top-Earning Men [Forbes]