The X Factor is exploitative and cruel

Would it sound hokey if I said I like family time? I’m serious. I’m 27 and live abroad and get home often enough to remember it’s important to spend time with them, but not so often as I take it for granted.

So any opportunity to spend time with the clan is good, even if it is watching the utter drivel that comes from British Saturday night TV (any one else remember the halcyon days of Noel’s House Party, Due South and Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman?)

Now a regular charge that is brought against yours truly is I can inject over analysis into anything. I believe I once argued that Blue Peter was nonsensical twaddle that failed its charge to prepare kids for the world. I admit there is an iconoclasm that comes over me like an itch when anyone says something is zeitgeist or ‘everyone loves it!’. But honestly, in this instance, I despise The X-Factor and here’s why.

Firstly, on paper the principle seems sound. You get a bunch of music moguls together and let the great British public audition (although there’s now versions of the show in every country). They go through an audition process for weeks and then they get to the finals and continue or go home by the verdict of the public who text or call in (usually charged at exuberant rates).

Here’s the issue: they’re often called “talent shows”. Fair enough, they seek talent to win and talent is what gets them a record contract and by convention some kind of Christmas No.1. Before you know it, for the briefest of times, the winner is a household name before failing to live up to their promise or being entirely superseded by the successive winners of later series.

But it’s not talent that draws the ratings, or informs the editing process or makes the tabloids. These judges and the audience see hundreds of people before them but only a handful make it into the final cut of show that’s on for an hour every week. No, it’s the ones who look odd, beautifully summed up by Simon Cowell’s look when he saw the frumpy and awkward Susan Boyle for the first time, that get the attention mixed in with a few who can actually sing.

People who are talentless, in the musical sense, or look funny or have weird mannerisms are paraded for our entertainment as the judges with little to no musical ability themselves (they might be able to make money, but then again drug dealers can do that) critique them and shame them before the audience and, of course, the country.

Now I don’t know about you but it took me long enough to overcome a chronic fear of public speaking to know that I’d seriously consider the whiskey and the gun before deliberately going out in front of millions to be ritually humiliated doing something I knew I couldn’t do. There will be no football, tennis or rugby career for old Alastair and unless it’s a charity event in good natured joshing, embarrassing people and upsetting them is cruel and not a wake-up call to do something.

Victorian freak shows, human zoos and the human novelty exhibitions of your John Merricks was once thought a harmful curiosity, at worse an indulgence based in the human need to see the strange and the macabre. But if we really think we’ve moved on and evolved beyond the Victorian penchant of pointing mouths agape at that which we don’t understand or find particularly hideous then we’re more naïve as a country than I could ever have imagined. Why not bring flogging and the work house back and all?

No, be damned the idiocy of these neo-penny gaffs that take advantage of people whose only crime is not being self-aware enough to know that they’re being exploited as entertainment.

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