American Idol, whose eighth season I am currently watching as I have watched every season for the last six years, is a dazzling exercise in psychological revelation and manipulation, played out right before our eyes to the beat of snaredrums and the shudder of electric bass. Don't be so quick to dismiss Idol as corporate/populist puffery. That's the first bit of mind-gaminess about it: In intellectual circles, Idol does not merit conversation. People laugh when I say I watch it. It's below contempt, belonging to the netherworld of trailer parks, novelty welcome mats and Cheetos.