Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Serf Control

welcome back, gentle reader.

jill is so much more eloquent than I am, but I do agree with her.

Blood sport television - or why I can no longer watch the X Factor

Picture the scene: it is your job to select participants for a light entertainment talent show.

You have a roomful of people to choose from.

There are people who can sing delightfully; there are beautiful people; and there are lots of average people with average voices.

And among the crowd is a young girl whom nature has not smiled kindly upon.

She is obese, she cannot sing and she is totally deluded. She is surrounded by her hugely overweight family who all share her belief that she has a wonderful voice.

They are not very clever, but they are desperate for her to appear on television. What do you do?
Do you let them down gently, and explain that it would be kinder for all concerned if the young girl was not encouraged to humiliate herself in front of millions?

Or do you clap your hands in delight, certain in the knowledge that your boss, the multimillionaire despot, is waiting with his courtiers in a room nearby - and this young girl is the kind of contestant that pleases him most?

This one will wow him.

How the crowds will snigger and jeer!

Send in the fat kid and let the blood sport begin.

Did you laugh at 17-year-old Emma Chawner and her family on ITV's X Factor auditions the other night?

Or was there an uneasy feeling that somehow things had gone too far?

And what about when 14-year-old Luke Bayer from Yorkshire cried - and was still crying at boot camp on Saturday.

You enjoy the close-up as he screwed his fingers into his sobbing eyes, or did you feel a little bit mean?

I know what I thought: that with this latest series of The X Factor, Simon Cowell and his team have taken the provision of low grade entertainment to new depths of manipulation and callousness.

One reason has been the change in format.

Even a successful formula needs a fillip now and again so, for this new series, Cowell has decided to lower the show's age limit from 16 to 14, thus bringing lots of teenage sensitivities and hormones into the brew.

When I watched Emma and Luke, I felt as if I'd been dropped into the Colosseum in ancient Rome.

It was like watching a hapless Christian or two being eaten by lions or a defeated gladiator waiting for the thumbs up or thumbs down from a depraved Nero or a mad Caligula.

In fact, for a sense of guilt by association, only a bullfight I glimpsed in a Spanish village this summer comes near the experience of watching Cowell and Co lance their victims to a gory TV death.

The truth of the matter is that The X Factor is no longer a talent show; it's a humiliation show. That is how it's fixed. The contestants, like the bulls, are there to be taunted.

I had hoped that after the initial audition rounds, in which the most unsuitable contenders, like Emma, were obliterated for our amusement, things might get better at "boot camp".

I was wrong.

All that had happened was that the physical humiliations had been replaced with emotional torment. For those who were left, it was time to ratchet up the pressure.

Sob stories that researchers had screwed out of candidates were aired for everyone to enjoy - dead grandfathers, fathers and husbands whose last wish was for the young hopeful to appear on The X Factor; songs sung at family funerals; a survivor from a violent relationship; even gun gang victims.

This was emotional exploitation at its most cynical. And it worked. It didn't take long before the victims began to crack in front of the cameras.

Young Luke was reliably at it again, crying when he was criticised, crying when he got through to the next round.

Indeed the whole of boot camp was awash with tears as dreams, carefully inflated in the early rounds, were popped just when the candidates were nicely poised on the emotional knife-edge.

Of course, the pretence of a search for talent has been kept up with a few good performers, but the emphasis has all been on the vulnerable, the unfortunate and the socially challenged.

And in this regard, The X Factor is far from being the only guilty party.

There's now hour after hour of humiliation TV on every week.

Jeremy Kyle, Trisha, Oprah - they all boil down to educated and sophisticated people encouraging those who are neither of those things to come on TV and make a fool of themselves.

In short they are treated like the freaks that the idle and well-off of the 18th and 19th centuries liked to watch during their tours of Bedlam mental hospital.

These are naive people, manipulated and damaged by others.

Reality TV may not have an exact script, but it is a set-up.

Big Brother and all its spawn depend on a careful blend of people cynically set at each other's throats.

I watched one show recently where clearly the production team meeting had gone something like this: "Let's put this homophobic young girl on an island with this lesbian plumber, and put this chippy northern lass who has two or three jobs in with this spoilt, rich, home counties guy."

It's as predictable as putting a few ferrets in a sack. And about as edifying.

Such programmes show scant regard for the mental well-being of their participants.

Ten Years Younger, the Channel 4 extreme makeover show, recently featured a woman who'd had a gastric bypass which had left her with a size ten body in a size 24 skin. The camera loved her.
Her loose flesh was wobbled, bunched up and swirled round for the cameras. Of course, the programme paid for her whole body lift - a serious piece of plastic surgery which cuts around the whole trunk.
Roll up, roll up and gawp at the baggy lady. Look - they're stitching her nipples in a new place! It was the most serious piece of surgery the programme had ever featured.

And as such, it neatly illustrates how reality TV evolves.

Appetites grow jaded and what once shocked or titillated is soon considered tame. It is the same with the latest series of The X Factor.

The producers will have asked themselves: "What can we do to keep the pot boiling?

"I know, this series let's put children up for ridicule. There are loads of really fat kids out there - and the cry babies, and the ones with braces!

"And we'll throw in the odd kid like Stephanie, that 14-year-old from Lancashire who can really sing, just to stuff the critics."

In short, it's TV that panders to the worst in us.

But perhaps, just perhaps, the tide is starting to turn.

Last week a judge branded The Jeremy Kyle Show a "human form of bear baiting" while deciding not to jail a man who headbutted his love rival during filming of the ITV programme.

Spot on.

But he could have extended that verdict far wider. The X Factor and the rest demean the viewers as well as the participants because we, too, are the pawns of Cowell and his fellow manipulators.

We should refuse to watch sad children made sadder by scheming programme makers.

We should say we are decent people and this is exploitation, not entertainment.

We should do it before some young contestant cannot handle the humiliation or rejection and takes their own life. (The suicide of 15-year-old Rosemary Edwards after a minor family row reminds us how emotionally vulnerable teenagers can be).

It's time to put the ex into The X Factor and its like.

If we don't, it will pull us down until there is nothing to choose between us and the crowd leaving the bullfight or the blood-sated plebs leaving the Colosseum.


Littleacornman said...

Have you read "Chart Throb" by Ben Elton.He's a knob of a standup but a half decent author...

Rosie said...

Well said Jill Parkin.

I actually feel, (sorry everyone) quite contemptuous of people who watch this kind of vile, manipulative , exploitative shit. People who are keeping this on the air by watching (and worse,voting,) and putting money into the pockets of people who produce this crap - shame on you.
People think this is 'harmless' entertainment, but it ruins peoples lives. I said somewhere don't get me started..

Ah well, I suppose people will be putting this down to my Guradian Readership again :0)

Anonymous said...

fk me ! you can afford the guardian ...

i can honestly say i have never seen a complete episode of any of this shite, hence the post ...

H watches some of this ... she wonders why we have problems ...

BurnleyMik said...

I understand all the points made by Jill and Rosie, but at the end of the day these people make their own choices.

They know exactly what all these shows are about and how things are manipulated to suit. The point I am trying to make is that if they really didn't want to do it then have the choice not to.

Anonymous said...

sorry mik, that is complete nonsense !

most of the youngsters ie the most vulnerable, have been "pushed" into entering ... or worse, their retarded parents, families, friends have "persuaded" them that they are good :(



BurnleyMik said...

Yeah, regarding the kids in the X-factor you are correct, but the adults in things such as big brother and the other reality shows have made their choices. If they are exploted then IMO it's their own fault.

Rosie said...

I agree with Mik that adults are responsible for their own behaviour (unless they're lacking mentally, which is a case you could put forward for a few BB contestants), deluded or otherwise but I don;t think its possible to expect anyone under the age of probably 18 to be emotionally ready for this kind of stuff: national rejection, negative comments of an often personal nature, ON PRIME TIME TV!. I also think that often the people that this show targets, not the most intellectually aware people - shall we say, since I don;t see too many Oxbridge graduates turning up- is that the cruellest thing, is they don't often realise they are being manipulated, until they find themselves on early saturday telly being made to look .. terrible. And thats a sorry state of affairs in my view.

Like I say, you can justify this by saying people can make their own decisions perfectly well, but while this show continues to pick on the vulnerable for cheap, unpleasant entertainment, I still feel contempt for those who validate it's existence

Can I afford the Guardian? Only if I don't catch the bus to work :0)

bm said...

I know where you are coming from Rosie and if it was the first series of one of these shows then I could totally understand the point you make, but these people have seen the previous shows and know exactly what they are letting themselves in for.

As for the under 18's then I totally agree that it is an absolute disgrace. Also people should be screened for mental illness before applying! lol.

Personally I hate reality tv shows.

Anonymous said...

The show may be trash, but who wants to be cerebral over the weekend?

Here's my favourite:


I feel a bit sorry for the girl, but her dad is so special that it's unbelievable.
The family's arrogance is outstanding.

Rosie said...

Anonymous you so far miss the point, its untrue. I don't need cerebral on a saturday night either. I just don't need unpleasant.

But if you think freak shows are entertainment, there isn't anything any of us are going to be able to say, is there?