I Was Here First
An angry man, scaling the cliffs of coherence and only rarely reaching the top.

This Week I Have Been Mostly Angry At…

X-Factor.

(Oh c’mon; you knew this was coming).

I have been getting very angry at X-Factor, Pop Idol and any other show that is marketed on this desperate desire for celebrity that seems to have gripped us in the past decade.

I’ve been especially vocal about my distaste at X-Factor over the past couple of weeks, and have actually gotten into a couple of little tiffs about it. I was surprised by this because I honestly thought that no one was really taking A) X-Factor or B) myself that seriously. So, after my hyperbolic snark regretfully upset a few folks who I actually like (the ones I upset and don’t like I don’t give a monkey’s about, mouth-breathing luddites that they are), I thought it might be a nice idea to actually sit down and work out why I have such a visceral gut reaction against this show. At least then people will be able to be angry in a concentrated format and get it all out of my system, meaning I can direct all future complaints to this post. Sort of an FAQ on why X-Factor fans think I’m a cock.

And I found out I don’t like it because of what it represents in people, and what it is forcing people to be.

At the very best, people enjoy these shows because they get their kicks from watching vast tracts of desperate people trying and failing to achieve their dreams. Through a combination of clever editing and the you-can-be-anything-if-you-wish-hard-enough bullshit pedalled by an overly PC society, these people have been tricked into believing they’re legitimately good enough to become pop stars. They then go to the X-Factor auditions and prostrate themselves before a group of television executives to earn the chance to make fools out of themselves on national TV. For the chance to have their dreams crushed as an audience of millions points and laughs at them. I’ve never watched X-Factor out of choice, but I’ve been in rooms with televisions before and I’ve watched people watching the show. It’s distressingly clear that “look at the silly man singing his funny little song” is one of the most common reactions; it’s little more than bullying made socially acceptable by an unspoken consensus. “Let’s all get together and laugh at the weird kid. Let’s all get together and be glad it’s not us being suckered in by false hope.” But hey, no one feels bad because it’s on TV and TV’s not real.

And that’s at the very best. At the worst, and this is the music snob coming out of me somewhat, there are people out there actively enjoying the bland, derivative schlock pumped out by the show. These over-polished, pub-band cover songs (and I know that’s a little hypocritical to be coming from me) being sung by singers who were incapable of succeeding in music through any kind of legitimate channel end up diluting the musical landscape through their sheer omnipresence. It’s like victory through attrition and overwhelming force simultaneously; no other artist can possibly match the marketing juggernaut that trundles along behind these songs, so our radio airwaves and TV channels become saturated with this tripe masquerading as real music, convincing people who don’t know any better that this is actually worth listening to because everyone seems to be listening to it. I know that’s a tremendously elitist opinion to have, but I’m damn proud of having it. When you bring me a singer who manages to win X-Factor with their own music, and becomes a chart-topping success with their own music, perhaps I’ll reconsider, but whilst their talent is affirmed solely by piggy-backing on the songwriting credentials of other, proven artists, their claims of musicianship remain thoroughly fucking dubious.

People have told me that I’m maybe thinking too hard about this, and it’s just a silly show with no real impact beyond its weekly timeslot, but I disagree. Culture informs culture and X-Factor does not exist in a vacuum. Just as there is a direct link between Top Of The Pops and the musical tastes of six or seven generations of people, so to will there be a direct link between X-Factor and the musical tastes of a generation or two of children. But that I can live with. People have enjoyed watching and talking about shit for as long as Coronation Street has been on the air. It’s the ethos propagated by X-Factor that I despise and fear. The show is creating a group of people who think their dream of fame, fortune and success is attainable in eight weeks of moderate effort and, whilst that mindset exists now, X-Factor is only ensuring the problem will get worse.

It’s breeding children who think playing music for a living is as easy as buying a guitar. Kids that would go into effort shock at the thought of gigging five nights a week to 16 people, 14 of which don’t want you there, one of which knows the songs better than you do and the last of which is the barman. Kids who think musical longevity is releasing three albums with four decent songs between them, so long as marketing keeps them in the top 10 for a week. Kids whose idea of artistic integrity has been ground into the dust, and who realise that the “x-factor” the show is after isn’t musical talent; it’s how inoffensively bland you can appear and how big a slice of the market they can sell you to.

Occasionally I think I might be over-reacting. I mean, it’s a weekly show that only airs one series a year; how influential can it really be? But then I think of how many conversations I’ve had entirely in Family Guy quotes and how, for about a year of our lives, a friend of mine subconsciously slipped into a Cartman impression whenever something pissed him off. And I remember how many people spend hours upon fucking hours completely missing the beauty of why Monty Python is so excellent by constantly spouting “The Holy Grail” to one another and I think of how many of my friendships have begun through a mutual love of a musician, or a TV show, or an obscure film.

No matter how inconsequential we may render the thought in our heads, X-Factor is a presence in our lives. I don’t watch the show and I’ve written a hate-rant on the damn thing because friends of mine have argued with me over it. To say that the show isn’t influential enough to damage society is to ignore the fact that society is made up of people, and that people are made up of things they saw one day that changed the way they thought about something. And maybe I hate the thing so much because all my shouting and screaming about it; all my bitter, vitriol-fuelled Facebook statuses and blog entries and conversations and arguments about X-Factor and how it actually affects people for the worse will be ignored when that retarded colossus of a show lumbers onto your screen this Saturday. It’s like David and Goliath, except Goliath is a 70ft tall Simon Cowell holding a rocket launcher and David is a crippled kid with a white flag and not a chance in the world.

And then I think: it’s a fucking TV show. Stop getting preachy and go watch the A-Team, you tosser.

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3 Responses to “This Week I Have Been Mostly Angry At…”

  1. I envy your ability to articulate these feelings. To me, the disgust induces an immediate gag reflex and I begin to cough a mixture of bile and blood as a fine mist into the eyes of those who watch it.

    A pity the type who tend to watch it are rarely the type to respond in any way to a logical assessment of their flawed motivations/choices.

  2. I wish it were as simple as dividing the population into Retards Who Enjoy X-Factor and Intelligent, Sexy, Debonair Folks Who Consider It The Last Refuge Of The Intellectually Deceased, but unfortunately I know a lot of Intelligent, Sexy, Debonair Folks Who Enjoy X-Factor which somehow depresses me so much more.

    It’s like seeing a beautiful Persian rug with a bit of sick on the corner. And it makes me sad.

  3. You ask on Twitter, which I recieved through a retweet somewhere down the line, for people to disagree with you. So here goes…

    I don’t. Sort of.

    So yes the show is trashy. That’s a given. But I really don’t think it gives any pretensions of high-art. What it is though is perfectly put together. The judges have their roles, the stage is made of fireworks and lights, and the singers are edited to be the heroes and the villains of the piece. It is a show that knows what it is and how to get people talking about it. And people do. It’s on the front page nearly every day!

    And it is an asperational show when it comes down to it. Ignoring the early auditions, which is essentially televised bullying, the show is about supporting a character and watching as they get better at singing and performing. Watching someone improve, even if it never reaches the level of music you’d listen to. We’re not watching people eating kangaroo penis for a braying crowd her. Singing is a talent.

    And yes, the singers will fade to obscurity, but they are here for these eight or so weeks. They are the sportsman we can get behind, and debate about. X-Factor is fleeting, and forgettable, but addictive whilst it lasts.


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