Regrettably, the American consumer has received a bit more from the Japanese than electronics and Furbies. Yes, there has been a Pacific-rim export far worse than a small gibberish-speaking robot.
Let’s just set this up. Take every annoying pop song of the past 60 years. Squash ’em down into instrumental, terrible-sounding MIDI files, then compile them into one central, mobile reserve. Add in one or more, oh, we’ll call them “entrepreneurs” to run this library of sorts and we’re ready to go.
These entrepreneur-types wheel this “live” bank of music up to your bar (my bar, his, hers, whomever’s) and set up shop with microphones, teleprompters and plenty of speakers that have the capability to ruin anyone’s time, depending on the prospective content.
I say ruin because, in this instance, they do ruin. Everything I enjoy about my random attempts at enjoying a drink and a conversation are ruined by some mumbling idiot covering “Without Me,” or a couple of belligerent sorority sisters who decided it’d be grand to attempt a rendition of the Pointer Sisters.
Karaoke is such an intolerable activity to watch, listen to and — in my experience — participate in. Yet it has captured the salivating attention of this country for nearly two decades. It has evolved within our pop conscience beginning with the ’90s MTV show, “Lip Service,” and taken the A-train to the annoyingly successful cultural obsession that is “American Idol.” Within that time period it has barely left a venue standing unaffected.
Secretly, every American wants to be a pop star. I understand this much, I really do. I also know the only thing that was ever endearing about karaoke was little Japanese businessmen fumbling broken English over Neil Diamond. Once it jumped the creek, it became the first sign of the impending apocalypse that we all know will be caused by America.
Let’s put this into perspective here: How many bars are there in Columbus alone that offer tone-deaf drunks the opportunity to take the microphone and treat their fellow patrons to two to five minutes of misery? Well, there’s too many to even bother counting, but there’s such a wealth that any unsuspecting idiot can wander into any random spot and encounter the horror; the horror that makes one pack up the wallet and run away, never to return.
Maybe I’m the only one who feels this way. Many will acknowledge the enormity of displeasure they receive from hearing other people “sing,” but will endure all the same, biding their time sucking down drinks and waiting their turn to mount the stage. The cycle perpetuates itself.
For a joint birthday party last April, I partook in a karaoke disaster. I held out until I was drunk and impressionable. I thought it would be funny. The only funny part about karaoke is that it’s not funny — it’s abhorrent. I gave my all to Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” and I received enough self-imposed guilt and shame afterwards that I nearly asked for a flogging. My tablemates were equally disturbed by my vocal talents, but were more than excited to grab the microphone when I was done and their songs were cued.
If karaoke were a fad, that’d be fine. I, and others like me, could simply wait it out. But the machine of audible death refuses to relent until it has taken the soulless voice of everyone. Jeez, if only fight clubs really had caught on — grunts and thuds are much softer on the ears.
Ian James, The Lantern, Ohio State University.