Do clever people care about the X Factor?

December 13, 2010 by
Filed under: The RSA, Uncategorized 


I hope I may have persuaded Radio 4’s Moral Maze to make X Factor, and celebrity culture more generally, its focus this week. I have told the producer that I am happy to open by declaring: ‘I am an X Factor addict but I am ashamed of myself’ and then go on to attack the pernicious impact of the programme and its ilk on our moral fibre. 

I want to argue that the series is only a little bit to do with music and much, much more a form of voyeuristic exploitation. Every single contestant, from the opening public auditions to the grand final, is required to say that winning and becoming famous is the most important thing in their life. The thrill we get is not from great performances but from seeing people’s hopes get shattered.

I intend to connect this to the wider celebrity culture, one which, for example, sees the best seller lists dominated by terrible autobiographies (John Harris is very good on this today in the Guardian). And because so many celebrities are famous for being famous, the worshipping of celebrity comes at the cost of valuing other attributes like effort, skill and virtue.

Finally, I hope to argue, celebrity culture is also responsible for the way the media (and the public) reduces everything – from sport to politics – to soap opera.        

The problem is that, in order to try to convince the programme, I tried developing arguments against my attack and quickly came up with three:

It is elitist –  middle class people have their own celebrities – e.g. Melvyn Bragg, Damien Hirst, Simon Schama – it’s just we call them public intellectuals  

It is patronising – assuming less educated people don’t know this is all just a bit of frothy escapism

It fails to see the value – in our diverse, atomised society –  of a programme like X factor which gives tens of millions of people something about which they can talk to workmates and strangers 

I would love to know what my readers think. Having said which, I won’t be holding my breath.

 Today, I have asked two audiences – one at a Parenting Institute conference and the other the Great Room audience for an event awarding the RSA Albert Medal to Jeremy Deller – to tell me whether they were ‘Rebecca’, ‘Matt’, or – option three – they didn’t care about X Factor. In both cases option three won hands down.

So, knowing the intellectual calibre of my readers I fear this topic may leave you cold.

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Comments

  • http://www.design4d.co Nik Hilton

    If only X-Factor were hosted in a modern day Colosseum…..have you been entertained?

  • Gill Duane

    Yes, bread and circuses. “It is simply cheap entertainment that helps fill ITV’s threadbare schedules, but it seeps like sewage into our national discourse.” – Billy Bragg.

  • Jake Griffiths

    Matthew – if voyeuristic exploitation is your bag you are watching the wrong pre-Christmas reality show. Ant, Dec and the jungle can help you more in that department!

    My take on it is that you can’t care about the X Factor if you care about music, because it destroys so much of what is good about music in the first place.
    That is certainly a form of cultural snobbery, but I think that’s unavoidable.

    If you are clever and don’t care about music then it is possible to be clever and care about the X Factor. From reading their pronouncements on both subjects I believe many MPs fall into this category.

    All three finalists were ridiculously banal this year – which is the product of designing them by public committee over four months.

  • http://www.workthewind.com Sarah Tanburn

    I’m in the predictable camp – I’ve never watched the show and cannot bear that it doesn’t only act as horrifically gory, mind-numbing opiate, but even infiltrates perfectly normal people, so my facebook fills up with the witterings of friends I thought were equally dismissive of the rubbish!

    I also hate that it makes me sound a right Meldrew, but not enough to participate in the excruciating rituals.

    We (middle-class, elitist, intellectual snobs) do not require MB et al to weep, dress in ludicrous clothes, tell massive whoppers about his life etc etc. (He can if he wants but it’s not a precondition of his status.) I don’t care if people know it’s frothy escapism: it’s still rubbish with unsubtle overtones of cruelty. And people can talk about the weather, the footie (about which I know just as little), politics, their drive to work … The nasty competitive drivel of X-factor does not promote national unity!

    That’s my button pushed and rant posted.

  • Antonio Santos

    X Factor is not on my agenda…they should be talking about WikiLeaks instead.

  • http://www.nesta.org.uk tim

    Bit presumptious to call myself clever but, while not caring about x-factor, I have been watching. Maybe having pre-teenage children helps but hdd-record and watch conveniently together and it makes a great trojan horse to discuss how how you act impacts on what others think about you.

    My eldest liked Cher to start with but hated her spoilt brat behaviour and general rudeness to other people. Instead she grew to love the love the person that was Rebecca because she was nice to others and also had a good word for everyone, while generally being the best singer on the competition. To me that was the real value of the show – good luck to Rebecca.

  • http://www.supporters-direct.org Dave Boyle

    To briefly rebut your three rebuttals:

    1) Public intellectuals aren’t celebrities; celebrities are more than the famous and over-exposed. The celeb is someone whose life we are aware of and know about as they live it in the public eye. Whilst some may have talent, their key attaribute is an ability / need to live their life as public property.

    It’s the old concept of a-lister combined with the neediness of narcissism and a media industry with space to fill. Its a symbiotic relationship in which we consume them in their daily trials and tribulations and they get a fame kick and contracts to act as brand ambassadors, book deals, modelling shoots and the rest of the stuff which generates celeb incomes. That’s very far from saying middle-class reading types might turn up to watch Slavoj Zizek with a frisson of excitement.

    2) Elitism – taking the Zizek as a starting point, Zizek might change my life (or my attitude to captialism etc etc) and whilst Matt Cardle might do possibly do that, that’s not his aim. The point of X-factor is to make lots of money for SiCo, sell records in increasingly smaller numbers as the interwebs destroys the business model. The by-product of that might be social glue type conversations, but the elitist argument here is that watching people with borderline personality disorder (hello, Britain’s got talent!) is somehow a social service keeping the nation from eating itself in some frenzy of atomised nihilism. I think we’re a little more resilient than that.

    Behind every populist in the media defending people’s right to watch and be entertained by any old rubbish is a bloke making loads of cash out of this state of affairs, looking to co-opt people in some kind of faux-outrage at the middle-class snobs who want to stop them having fun and making a killing. Twas ever thus.

    As for the argument that people know very well that it’s a load of old cobblers, well, yes they do, and yes, they don’t care. As I look at my family’s FB updates, I only see people talking about songs and performances and the nonsense in the press in the week about which judge has apparently slighted which other judge is forgotten.

    The only people who are giving this more signifiance are people who continue to prattle that somehow the X-factor or Simon Cowell has some kind of stardust which needs to be sprinkled on our democratic system or from which we might need to learn some lessons.

  • http://[email protected] G

    I’m not sure if I’m a TV snob or not but I’m not an X factor fan (but I love The Apprentice).

    My wife and son love it though and I get the idea that it’s ‘just entertainment’.

    What annoys me though is the way the contestants are manipulated. They only make it in front of the judges if they’re very good or very bad.

    Pumping up the very bad ones to think they have a chance before slaying them doesn’t sit well with me.

    The other thing that annoys me is that the way judgement is handed down is always harsh – that a snapshot of performance is enough to judge someones character.

    I read some time ago that Alex Ferguson felt that football crowds were becoming more vicious towards players and attributed some of that to the culture of reality shows. X factor isn’t broadcast into a vacuum – if it’s acceptable for judges on TV shows to be damning is it acceptable for people to be like that in other walks of life.

    Clearly I’ve given this far too much thought. May be I need to get out more. Or start watching Corrie or something.

  • http://www.freshminds.co.uk/research Jake Griffiths

    G – if you have heard the stories about how the really bad contestants get through to X Factor auditions (there is a pre-selection phase where the most ‘entertaining’ are invited back) you will know how unpleasant that part of the process is.

    On another note – having looked at your website, are you able to avoid flinching at the shameless manipulation of reality in the editing of the Apprentice?

  • Helen

    Really interesting post.

    I rather hope that more viewers get a thrill from performances, and the idea that ‘someone like them’ or ‘someone they like’ is benefiting, rather than from seeing hopes get shattered. I think this might be tentatively evidenced by viewers voting ‘for’ a contestant rather than to ‘vote them out’. Or maybe I’m being an optimist?

    I believe it’s the whole tabloid frenzy calculated by Cowell over the contestants to spin money, rather than the actions of TV viewers, which can be viewed as pretty terrible and ruthless. I agree that they are exploited. Yet is the appetite for ‘soap opera’ life and unrealistic material aspirations created by the media rather than the general public? Is this a chicken/egg scenario?

    As a 25 year old who just about scrapes ‘middle class’ status I’m afraid I don’t know any classical music but I could espouse about the joys of The Smiths, Jay Z and Aretha Franklin for a long time. I love pop music. I worry the squeeze on independent record labels. I worry about what our young people are told its important to be in our society – beautiful and rich, rather than happy and kind. I worry about the dominance of television and general screen time on our leisure time. Yet I watched the X Factor with friends; maybe I compromised these principles but it was fun and I liked rooting for Rebecca! A bit of frothy escapism did me good.

    Rather than decrying people for watching the X Factor, isn’t it time we challenged those who reinforce our celebrity culture? If so I think I’ll join you…

  • Francis O’Leary

    One of the very many problems that I believe TV presents us with (that is to say, the habit of watching TV) is that it tempts us to dramatise our own lives. Celebutaninment and soaps are just an aspect of this. Contrast this with our own unedited lives with our banality, and lack of a narrative arc. Our relationships with TV have complexity, and thus it is improbable that a simple explanation can be developed about how detrimentally it influences us, culture and society. A detriment that I fear is that it models the ways people might conduct their relationships and resolve, or fail to resolve problems. I fear that it suggests and legitimises values and pursuits that prioritise acquisition, celebrity and selfishness.

  • http://[email protected] G

    Hi Jake – yes I have heard quite a few stories about the selection process. It’s not pretty. Britain’s Got Talent is another one where the contestants ‘back story’ gets pumped up. That’s not pretty either.

    And yes – I can’t square enjoying the Apprentice with saying other shows are manipulative. It does amaze me every week when they show clips of a gleaming Canary Wharf and then cut to the boardroom – as though this is where it all happens – when I’m sure Sugar’s office is in Essex somewhere.

  • Kosby

    Are we now talking about X-factor, because it’s getting way too much attention? Are we sort of jealous about the popularity it obtain?

    There are too many discussions about how bad a TV programme is and how it may manipulate the audiences, X-factor certainly is not the first one; its the narrative the producer used to tell the “story of a singing contest” that led to its popularity. And if we are that good at telling story, having the same platform and resources, I think we can do that as well.

    I personally just watched the singing part from youtube, I didnt find them perform bad, i dun require them to be perfect, sure there are a lot of choices for better singers, but this is a very personal choice. Its interesting to see how they perform in a different ways than original.

    Ya and we obviously know it is a show and is a story, and the story ended, we are looking for a new story now, I didnt find it relates to someone being clever or not to care about that. However I do hope the producers can use the same technique to tell stories in some programmes that create good value to people as well.

  • Tim Foxon

    X Factor represents everything I despise. I think that’s the main reason I watch it – extracting a grim kind of entertainment value from the sheer transparency of its cynical commercialism, manipulation and banality. There’s a kind of inevitability to it all that makes railing against it kind of pointless (until the Revolution comes, at least). Of course, by participating in the conversation – even in an ironic way (see Guardian blog and most of Twitter) – one helps to perpetuate the brand. For that reason, like Matthew, I am ashamed. But I think I prefer to be a guilty participant than to loftily dismiss it on the grounds of vulgarity. (‘I’m a Twentysomething Postmodernist, Get Me Out of Here!’)

  • http://www.liberalthought.org.uk Liberal Thought

    The analogy that springs to mind is drink. I love a good bottle of Barolo over dinner with all its complexity and depth but at the same time I like a can of Diet Coke on a hot summer day. When I was younger my palette could understand cheap lager but as I got older my palette and my taste developed and I started to enjoy red wine. There is nothing wrong with cheap fizzy lager just as there isn’t anything wrong with manufactured pop. However I do think broadcasters have a duty to widen their audiences taste and expose them to new flavours, tastes and sounds.

  • http://sanjaysamani.com Sanjay Samani

    Matthew,

    I am also a fan of X Factor. However I am not convinced by the idea that it destroys music. Or particularly claims to even be about music at anything more than a superficial level. The furthest claim it makes is that it is a singing competition, and even then, from it’s very name, it accepts they are looking for “personality”, as well as pure singing ability. Very few of its fans, however clever, probably see it as much more than a reality entertainment show, no different from I’m A Celeb or Big Brother.

    Like music piracy, for it to be destructive you have to demonstrate that sales and enjoyment of other music suffers as a result of the show. Are there fewer people listening to classical music or jazz because of X Factor? Probably not.

    Are there pop acts sidelined as a result of the show? Even here, probably not. Before this year, at worst it blocked out a few weeks of the calendar as opportunities to have a No. 1 record, particularly Christmas. Given Mr Blobby, et al, the Christmas No. 1 spot has never been about music.

    This year, with releases from contestants week in, week out, has made it a 10 weeks where the charts are dominated by acts appearing on the show. And yet, in fact, it has probably now become a new marketing opportunity, with record labels looking to get their songs onto the show. Old songs can have a sales revival, often linked with Best Of releases. New songs can be showcased by the artist appearing on the Sunday show.

    Has it made the pop and chart music landscape more bland? Probably. Do people who are “serious” about music really care about that?

    Well, I have no musical ability and have a fairly narrow taste in music (not chart pop), I like what I like, so I’m not “serious” about music. So someone else will have to answer that question.

  • Robert Toast

    You’re a killjoy nincompoop. It’s nice singing.

  • http://www.g-forceuk.com G

    Is it me or has this blog post generated more comments than usual? Some for and some against but lots of reasoned opinions.

    Maybe I’ll have to eat my words and accept that Cowell might, just might be onto something.

  • Jonathan

    I think you could take the argument further Matthew.

    People who decry the X factor are labouring under some rather precious misapprehensions about the nature of art.

    Firstly, that all ‘good’ art springs from a purely artistic impulse and not from a commercial process, of course sometimes that’s true but often it’s not. Is there really that much difference between the X factor and Herr Mozart hawking his son around the courts of 18th century Europe, or Berry Gordon at Motown exercising a degree of control that makes Simon Cowell look amateur? It’s not just music either; think of Dickens or Balzac churning out content for the popular press.

    Secondly, and this relates to some of your other thinking, there’s a misplaced idea that ‘good’ art comes from an individual act of willed consciousness. Again, sometimes true, but there’s also plenty of examples from the renaissance atelier onwards of great art coming from collaborative processes.

    Of course you could argue that great art somehow transcends the circumstances of its origin, but that would require a detailed engagement with the individual performances within the x factor rather than a lofty dismissal of it as a process.

    So if I was feeling festively provocative I’d put the argument in balder terms. Critics of the X factor are not just snobs, they’re philistines!

  • http://johnpopham.wordpress.com John Popham

    I agree with your initial thesis 100%, Matthew. It is horrible exploitation, the modern Bedlam, and helps to distort young people’s view of the world. I have written about it here http://johnpopham.wordpress.com/2010/08/22/why-i-hate-x-factor-and-lots-of-stuff-like-that/ but that post really only captures a fraction of my many objections.

    I am all the more irked by it because my teenage daughter, who is a very talented actress, singer and dancer, is totally obsessed with it. In the car, on the way to school on Monday morning, Radio 5 Live saw fit to subject us to an extract from the winner’s performance. It sounded horribly out of tune to the extent that it made me wince. When I expressed my anguish, my daughter got incredibly defensive and told me how wonderful the winning performer was.

    This is obviously another pernicious effect of watching X-Factor. It’s like watching Fourth Division football and thinking no other levels exist. You’ll end up thinking the Fourth Division Champions are world-beaters.

  • Lilly Evans

    I have only watched snippets of X Factor a few times. What I saw of it of friday was a show biz extravaganza but not really great singing. Compared with Strictly Come Dancing where participants are in the glare individually it fails terribly.

    Somehow each act needs to have a hard story angle and sell it for sympathy vote.

    I do not think it is a split about class -my sister loves X Factor.

    Finally, I wonder why Simon Cowell had to press BBC to move the Strictly slot?

  • http://viewshed.matinic.us G Dash Nelson

    What this member of the audience thinks is that a television competition that featured Melvyn Bragg, Damien Hirst, and Simon Schama would be amazing. I don’t particularly care what they’d be doing—break dancing, wrestling alligators, or whatever—I’d watch it religiously.

  • http://41places.org William Shaw

    Something interesting, and rather dark, happened about one year in to the publication of Heat magazine; rather in desperation, because it wasn’t doing that well, it started showing celebrities as general laughing stocks, to be derided. It worked. A peek of the knickers of a drunk celeb getting out of a car became the most highly paid pap shot.

    No one’s ever fully explained to me how the shift in pop culture gear from the 20th century desire to create idols to the 21st century desire to humiliate them came about. I’d be curious to hear your theories.

  • http://www.magnifiedlearning.com nigel rayment

    Do clever people care about the X-Factor?

    A clever person might, Matthew, but a wise one would not.

  • miscellaneous

    The X factor is banal and boring. but I do love Strictly come dancing! Can’t decide whether I want Kara or Matt to win…

    generally I despise all reality tv, and that includes question time. mainly because I like tv to either be complete escapism, or factual and informing. I hate opinionated programmes even more than cheap celebrity. so Sorry Matthew, I probably won’t be listening!

  • Livy
  • rhian

    A Parenting Institute Conference sounds ghastly… I’d much rather watch episodes of X Factor back to back..there is some real young talent on there..
    I hate all this snobbery about ‘proper television’ :most of the people who criticise this stuff have never watched it & hey, there are 212 or god knows how many channels on sky + i player, where folk can watch simon schama + david starkey pontificate for eternity so why not let people have an hour of light-hearted fun or ‘frothy escapism’ on saturday nights? Intellectual snobbery and stuffy tv moralising is kind of embarrassing in this post-post-modern age is it not?
    Watching ‘people’s hopes get shattered’ is part of competition in any realm (going back to the stone age.)
    Right , do you know what time the cage-boxing starts on channel 5?

  • Livy

    I’m always gutted whenever Rhian alludes to something I thought only occurred to me… I completely agree with your main point and I always like the sentiment behind your comments, but if you reverse the implication of your last sentence your whole argument actually gets stronger.

    What she refers to as ‘cage boxing on channel 5′ is a sport, not a spectacle. Mixed Martial Arts, or Vale Tudo, incorporates highly complex techniques from a wide range of disciplines all seen in the Olympics up till now. However, when you put a cage around it and fill the audience seats with tattooed, Argos gold wearing ‘meatheads’, all of a sudden middle class North London vegetarians start sneering, in a socially reflexive way, at what they perceive – and indeed verbalise as – ‘barbaric’. Injuries are more frequent and severe in football, rugby, snowboarding, American football and even boxing. In fact, not only has there never been a death or a serious injury in the history of the UFC, but most American fighters actually have university degrees. Coming predominantly from disadvantaged backgrounds, they’re able to earn wrestling scholarships to go to college, as varsity sports are fairly big over there.

    The Ancient Greeks originally used barbaroi during the Persian wars to refer to an enemy, and before long the word was a synonym for anybody who was foreign, strange or ignorant. Why anyone would name their daughter Barbara is beyond me.

    Middle class people either avoid watching reality TV or avoid admitting to it, not because they have a problem with exploitation or the triumph of mediocrity, which are both common enough in most of their professions; they avoid it because they don’t like to think of themselves or be seen as the sort of people who watch reality TV.

    Livy

  • Phil H

    X factor – reflection of society. Those contestants who capture the public’s imagination have a significant opportunity to make a meaningful change to their life.

    The fact that for many of the contestants this is the only realistic way out of their minimum or low wage job should be of interest/concern as none of the finalists seem to be either stupid or inarticulate.

    Matt the middle class waster is catapulted out of his bohemian, still at home at 28, status. Single mum Rebecca and overweight Mary carry the torch for the decent working class. Both Mary and Rebecca now have a fighting chance of having some financial security as their raw talent and innate niceness shine through the contest and these atrributes should translate into pound notes.

    The fact is for a sizeable part of the population, who live outside London, the opportunity for a steady job with career prospect simply does not exist. The X factor is a plausible way out, hence its popularity and iconic status.

  • http://johnpopham.wordpress.com John Popham

    I’m sorry, Phil, I really can’t agree that X-Factor is a “plausible way out”. Given that there is at least one Lottery winner (usually) every week, the chances of winning the Lottery are much higher than succeeding via X-Factor

  • John Drummond

    There are four compelling reasons why the X Factor is relevant.

    First, it is about entertainment. It’s great family viewing.

    Second, it’s about discovery. Rebecca is a major new talent.

    Third, it is about our fascination with the lives of others and that is a good thing.

    Fourth, it is a cracking example of democracy. We influence the outcome.

  • phil h

    Take your point John. I should have qualified the statement by saying, “provided you have a talent for singing.”

  • Emma Maxwell

    When we watch the X factor together I have a family moment with my teenage children. And not just with the people in the room: as we watch they text my mother-in-law and sister-in-law about the progress of the show. I have a sneaking suspicion that many middle class people watch Strictly Come Dancing on the BBC to get their fix without feeling so soiled, but actually having switched from one to the other this year, my conclusion is that Strictly involves much more rudeness and ritual humiliation of contestants. That said, we NEVER watch the X Factor audition programmes because they ARE shockingly exploitative. Such popular shows have always existed on saturday night .. surely the utter conviction of most people under 25 that music is a free commodity available online has more to do with the decline of the music industry than x factor?

  • Matthew Taylor

    Thanks for all these fantastic comments – and it’s great to see some old friends like Rhian and Livy back on the site. I’m sorry that I haven’t written much of late that has been terribly engaging (it’s been a difficult year and I fear my spark has dimmed!!!) but I will draw shamelessly on these contributions for the programme this evening (Radio 4 at 8!).

  • http://www.birminghamsalon.org Jason Smith

    Gill – “It is simply cheap entertainment that helps fill ITV’s threadbare schedules, but it seeps like sewage into our national discourse.” – Billy Bragg.

    This quote really says more about Mr Bragg than it does about the xfactor. Some of us have been trying to avoid the ‘sewage seep’ of his so called entertainment for more years than we care to remember. Bragg has never had anything good to say about popular culture and in this he shows his contempt for ordinary people but, has also never put forward a defence of the high arts. He therefore must actually think his own music is good! Delusional?

  • Billy

    I feel a certain amount of trepidation entering this discussion… I don’t know how you define you “clever”?

    I don’t know if I am clever – I take X Factor for what it is. Whatever your argument and perspective, it is fantastic TV. The production values on the show far outstrip anything else on domestic TV. Everybody entering this “contest” knows what this is about – there can not be anyone, surely, that does not know what Simon Cowell is about? Perhaps that is the definition of “clever”?

    Taking a position that viewers are not clever is to denigrate the best part of 20 million people. I, for one, am not comfortable being the morale arbiter as to why people watch. It is way too easy to make the Gladiator comparison that has already been made in this thread – that it is just following the crowd and to see people fail. That is not the reason I watch.

    The voting records have just been released; about £15. 5 million pounds was raised. If you equate £1 per vote then that is far less than the sum of those watching (it is roughly the same number of those watching the final alone). So what drew the millions that didn’t vote to the programme? There are hundreds of thousands (possibly millions) who watched every week but did not vote – why did they? If they were not “clever” were they dumb?

    There is lot of intellectual snobbery about the X Factor.

    I am a very well educated and read person. I have a Masters degree and can hold my own when it comes to an intellectual discourse.

    I love the X Factor.

    The Greeks mastered and set out a “system” of performance more than two thousand years ago. All we are doing now is translating what they have given us into a contemporary media – and, as was the case then, the intellectual classes got very cross at those that popularised and somehow denigrated “true” art. They may have been right, but really, how many of those that so vociferously object that the X Factor is commercial tat go and support “high” art? How may of those that have so much to say about the evils of the X Factor support the arts in this country? I have a sense that those people that so vociferously object to the X Factor also decry the Turner Prize. I am going to use stereotype now – how many of the readers here went to ENO last year? I did. I had a great time. I saw one of the best things I have ever seen. I still love the X Factor.

    Frankly – get off your high horse. See it for what it is and don’t be so quick to decry anybody who enjoys these shows as dumb or culturally unaware. I will fight that fight with vigour and passion.

  • Tim Foxon

    @Billy

    I sympathise with your point of view. I attend ENO regularly; I also watch the X Factor. One aims at the highest possible standards of artistry and intellectual rigour; the other aims to make as much money as possible. For me, the risk is when the profit motive begins to infect all cultural production. I believe that genuine art can only exist in a space where there is some degree of ‘insulation’ from the commercial imperative. As a society we must fight to protect that space, whether it’s safeguarding public funding for the arts, retaining the BBC licence fee, or preventing the marketisation of the education system. My worry is that all of this is in danger from the prevailing neo-liberal ideology.

    Jeremy Hunt’s words to Andrew Marr in an interview earlier this year are quite telling:

    ANDREW MARR:

    Let’s talk first of all about the general arts budget – the subsidies that go to theatres and arts companies all round England particularly in your case. There’s a lot of theatres. There’s a lot of good and relatively popular things that are going to have to close, aren’t there?

    JEREMY HUNT:

    Well I hope not. Listening to Sir Tom [Jones] just then actually reminded me how fantastic the British music industry is, and it’s interesting that we have new contemporary acts like Coldplay and Leona Lewis who are huge hits in the United States. And I think what is very important is that we remember that there is a strong link between the funded arts sector, subsidised theatre, and the commercially successful music industry and film industry. And the creative industries overall are employing two million people in this country.

    If an X Factor winner (albeit a particularly talented one) is being held up by our Culture Secretary as the best example of British artistic life *because* she is a huge commercial success in the USA, I think there are grounds to worry, even if we enjoy watching the programme.

  • Petepresto

    So, what makes anyone think that the commercial basis of the music industry is any different just because it is so transparent. The ‘moguls’ of the industry have always managed – manipulated – the commercial environment in which they operate.

    The only difference between X-Factor and the old grey whistle test/top of the pops, and yes i know that they are very different presentations of the way that music is brought to the masses, the only difference is the move to prime time.

    Popular music has always been for the masses, the only thing that differentiates the leaders from the followers is their success. That success can be commercial or artistic, aesthetic or challenging or simply cash generative.

    simon makes millions from x-factor but so did radiohead from giving their album away for free.

    if you enjoy watching simply enjoy it for what it is – personally i don’t care for it, strictly or the apprentice but don’t hold myself to be better than the people who do but you can if it makes you feel good.

  • Richard H-S

    We all worry about what X-factor is doing to us all but lets not get too hot under the collar. A few random observations:

    Its well produced by a talented bunch of telly people who could probably do something more interesting with their talents.

    The build ‘em up and knock ‘em down approach is little different to Antiques Roadshow. AR and ‘shagger’ Aspel put a pretty sharply focused mirror up to Englishness. Perhaps the difference is that X-factor changes our behaviour whilst AR simply shines a light on what we already do.

    I can’t be sure but think that ‘It’ll be alright on the night’ and other such ‘blooper’ rubbish used to be the highlight of a weekend’s worth of telly. One might argue that X-factor is considerably better for us. Plus you can get your blooper fill from YouTube whenever you need it.

    I’m too young to really remember ‘Opportunity Knocks’ but imagine that it was pretty terrible.

    The UK TV sector is pretty vibrant and exports to the rest of the world. Something to be proud of?

    Merry Christmas.

  • http://marisolperry.co.cc/ Marisol Perry

    I feel a certain amount of trepidation entering this discussion… I don’t know how you define you “clever”? I don’t know if I am clever – I take X Factor for what it is. Whatever your argument and perspective, it is fantastic TV. The production values on the show far outstrip anything else on domestic TV. Everybody entering this “contest” knows what this is about – there can not be anyone, surely, that does not know what Simon Cowell is about? Perhaps that is the definition of “clever”? Taking a position that viewers are not clever is to denigrate the best part of 20 million people. I, for one, am not comfortable being the morale arbiter as to why people watch. It is way too easy to make the Gladiator comparison that has already been made in this thread – that it is just following the crowd and to see people fail. That is not the reason I watch. The voting records have just been released; about £15. 5 million pounds was raised. If you equate £1 per vote then that is far less than the sum of those watching (it is roughly the same number of those watching the final alone). So what drew the millions that didn’t vote to the programme? There are hundreds of thousands (possibly millions) who watched every week but did not vote – why did they? If they were not “clever” were they dumb? There is lot of intellectual snobbery about the X Factor. I am a very well educated and read person. I have a Masters degree and can hold my own when it comes to an intellectual discourse. I love the X Factor. The Greeks mastered and set out a “system” of performance more than two thousand years ago. All we are doing now is translating what they have given us into a contemporary media – and, as was the case then, the intellectual classes got very cross at those that popularised and somehow denigrated “true” art. They may have been right, but really, how many of those that so vociferously object that the X Factor is commercial tat go and support “high” art? How may of those that have so much to say about the evils of the X Factor support the arts in this country? I have a sense that those people that so vociferously object to the X Factor also decry the Turner Prize. I am going to use stereotype now – how many of the readers here went to ENO last year? I did. I had a great time. I saw one of the best things I have ever seen. I still love the X Factor. Frankly – get off your high horse. See it for what it is and don’t be so quick to decry anybody who enjoys these shows as dumb or culturally unaware. I will fight that fight with vigour and passion.

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  • John

    I prefer what has been called a better heeled type of media, ie. discussion shows, talking heads, maybe Schama talking in a chatty style, or more introspective dramas than Miss Marple on TV or DVD and all this applies via the internet. Programmes like X-Factor are not my first choice but I have no problem watching them if it takes my fancy and usually when others are around as it is good social viewing for we can all laugh together at it. When in USA i love watching Court TV, a certain fascination at who would want to expose themselves to public humiliation.

    As for the humiliation of the participants, well all I can say is that people walk into this with their eyes wide open. As one guy wrote above the mass public know it is frothy entertainment, i agree most people are not that naive to take it seriously and to think they do is where i sense a patronising attitude. The mass public are smarter than some critics give them credit for. Enoch Powell, that cerebral man always gave voice to this saying he would never talk down to an audience or simplify what he was saying whether it be on politics or the history of the bible, he always said talk up to people and they listen up. The point being that bar some, most people at all social levels are wiser, drier and more ironic than commentators allow for.

    What is wrong with light entertainment anyway? It is only bad if it has some insidious effect on bringing down our values. I have never heard anyone explain convincingly that it does.