Rebels without a cause now that police have cleared their encampments in New York, Denver, Houston and elsewhere, more than a thousand former Occupy Wall Street protesters joined an X-Factor reject in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday to object to the show’s “concentration on the top 1% of contestants.”
“This is the logical extension of Occupy Wall Street,” said college sophomore Joel Whitten, a San Diego theater major who started the protest to reverse his elimination from the contest last month. “These people helped to shine a light on corporate greed. Now it’s time to expose that same injustice on talent shows like this one. It’s bad enough that some of the other contestants are better, but to reward them for that is unconscionable.”
The Fox series offering a $5 million prize to the best singer unveiled its top 10 contestants on Wednesday. That morning, Whitten camped outside the L.A. theater where The X-Factor’s live shows are taped, hoping to change producer and head judge Simon Cowell’s mind with his “unpolished” rendition of Justin Beiber’s “One Time.” Cowell, inside prepping for the show with co-hosts Paula Abdul, L.A. Reid and Nicole Scherzinger, seemed unaware of Whitten’s presence. But the crowd continued to swell as “occupants” headed home from Oakland and other now-defunct protests and, 24 hours after Whitten had pitched his tent, more than 1,000 people had shown up to “Occupy X-Factor.”
Melissa Keener, a San Francisco office administrator and mother of three who spent her life’s savings on camping supplies to join up with Occupy Berkeley, thinks that Whitten’s protest has the potential to garner more public support: “This is about something that 99 percent of the public can relate to: jealousy. I’m tone deaf. But if I could sing or something, I’d be up there too.”
“I’d be up there too,” four other occupants chanted behind her, one of them harmonizing.
Whitten thinks that the OWS movement could benefit from his own protest’s clear and finite goals. “The problem with OWS is that people said that it had no platform. But we can give it more cohesion because we do have a platform: We all want to be on TV. And we’ll be out here pounding on drums and defecating into plastic bags until that happens.” He snapped a picture of the crowd with his iPhone and paused for a minute to tweet it. “What else is there to do? Practice?”
Dorian Davis is a former MTV HITS star turned libertarian writer. He’s been published in Business Week, The New York Daily News, XY & more. He’s an NYU graduate and National Journalism Center alum. He teaches journalism at Marymount Manhattan College.