It’s that time of year again. The nights are drawing in. Winter is on the way, even if we have been granted a last reprieve with the current weather. In September people stop basking in the evening light and go indoors to huddle round their televisions seeking some saccharin comfort from the cold through brightly coloured images flashing hope and warmth.
It’s time for the dirge of emotional manipulation that is X-Factor. I saw the first signs that it was back on air on twitter a few weeks ago. It wasn’t long before my wife realised it was back on too and there went my Saturday evenings. Like that. Keyser Söze style they were gone. Replaced with two hours of wallpaper music hooks that crescendo when another hopeful is granted a nod and a wink from four androids playing out pantomime roles. Or when another mentally ill contestant is wheeled out for the nation to collectively laugh at and humiliate like some Victorian freakshow.
To say I hate X-Factor is something of an understatement. As a show it is worse in concept than dragons den, where a group of millionaires sit round destroying people one by one then, if they feel like it, they can step in to pick up the pieces for a relative pittance that gives them controlling interests in a business that they probably know will make them a tidy sum. Shows like this make me cry out loud for a special TV gun that you can shoot at the screen and actually hit people on the show. It should be the next gaming innovation. Imagine Duncan Ballatyne harrumphing dourly and then screaming in agony as a viewer shoots him in the leg from the comfort of their own living room.
But X-factor is worse. On Dragon’s Den I only want to shoot the Dragons. On X-Factor I want to cluster bomb the whole fucking set. Those people in the audience whose faces go agape when it turns out that a fat, old or funny looking person can actually sing!Shock horror! The four judges who pretend they actually care about anything other than their pay or exposure on the show. Playing to the audience or the stage like they’re delivering a Hamlet soliloquy in the West End, shedding crocodile tears about some imagined defining experience to add to the shows emotional impact. The contestants themselves whose only dream in life is to waste whatever talent they may have in being moulded into manufactured pop-stars-by-numbers churning out vacuous shit they’ve not even written til their sell by date runs out and they find themselves spat out the other side doing the club circuit and returning to their day jobs with nothing but wasted years to show for it.
Then there’s the production values. Jesus. It’s like an exercise in brainwashing. Every aspect of the show. Narrative, back music, stories, contestant interviews. It’s all there for one purpose. To manipulate the viewer. To prompt an emotional response. To release a sufficient amount of endorphins in the viewing public that helps them forget that they’re stuck in their living room eating a TV dinner on a Saturday night with no cash, winter outside and in the midst of a period of economic woe. X-Factor is more than just an opiate for the masses. It’s a fuck-off huge needle full of brane anaesthetic that gets pumped straight into the eyeballs of millions of people every week through the airwaves. That makes my TV gun sound ever more plausible doesn’t it!
But more than anything else that I hate about X-Factor (and there’s a lot of hate there) I hate the way the press and media fawn over it. X-Factor has a hellishly long run. It blights the television on weekend evenings from September through to December, then signs off in time for Christmas so that Cowell & Co can knock out a money-spinning Christmas number 1 and the general public can turn their attention to blowing their meagre incomes on worthless trinkets, overeating and watching more mindless fare .
Now you may not realise that but this is nearly 4 months. Almost one-third of the year is devoted to this weekly practice of gawping at crooner wannabes and vicariously riding their emotional highs and lows even though you DON’T EVEN KNOW THEM. If X-Factor ran forever and you watched twice a week it you’d be devoting almost a years worth of evenings in every ten to X-factor. Think about a year’s worth of evenings and what you could do. Read a book. Cook a nice meal, go out, wash your fucking hair. Clean hair is way more important than eye-codeine.
But this four months of X-Factor is nothing compared to the year-long hysteria it generates in the British Press. For about 6 months before it starts screening we have the headlines screaming. Literally frothing from the tabloid gutter like overflowing sewage from a drain. Every year it’s the fucking same “who are the judges going to be” “Cheryl dropped” “Cowell not to appear”. This is a 6 month-long marketing ploy so cynically blatant that a marsupial can see through it. See that Koala-bear over there? The one eating leaves and climbing trees? He just told me that dropping Cheryl was nothing but a hysterical publicity stunt jumped on by the press to promote the show. But the story is still dragging itself kicking and screaming into the papers even now…
Of course, usually once the show starts the press have plenty more to froth about. First the auditions. Where they poke people who seem to have mental health issues like Ceri Rees out for the pubic to bay over. Brilliant. The press gets to screech it’s disgust at this exploitation – all the while still promoting the show.
Then there’s the “boot camp” when the kiss and tellers come out to play … ooh look Lascel Wood (who is he?) did a porno…. FOR SHAME! The press go wild here as people no-one had ever heard of or cared about suddenly find their private lives and chequered past on display for all to see and tut at.
Then in the finals it’s all about the special guests showing too much flesh. Cue the Daily Mail outrage where they MUST SHOW EVERY PICTURE of Rihanna or Christina Aguilera’s X-rated set.
Finally X-Factor season closes with the press dribbling like goons over who’s gonna get to number one. Oooh will another “rebellious” (but still big-label owned) act trump the X-Factor to number one? Have Sony just DOUBLED their potential Christmas week single sales?
Then there’s the slump. The diabetic coma of January after the press have squeezed all the pulp out of the show and sucked the bone marrow from every last contestant – and they focus instead on the final acts as they progress to “stardom” by topping the charts with ear-bleedingly awful set-piece trash written by middle-aged men for teenage girls to consume – before the circus starts again.
Now I know that half the people reading this will wonder aloud – why don’t you just turn it off or ignore if you don’t like it” – Well, you see it’s not that easy is it? I’ve discussed pressmosis before – the fact that you don’t have to watch something to know about it. The tabloid press cover X factor on their front pages for the best part of 4 months of a year. They cover X-Factor on other pages all year round. If you do a google news search on X-Factor in the UK in the last 24 hours you get 4,350 results. That’s 4,350 British stories about X-Factor in a single day. Try to follow the news and ignore the weight of that hype.
The other thing that annoys me is that there is a lot of news that people could be made aware of. Euro debt crisis, government cuts, famine in Africa, war in Libya, uprisings in the Middle East, floods in Pakistan (etc ad infinitum) – if the press devoted as much time for a few weeks to one of these subjects as they do to X-Factor in the same period of time then shirley, shirley, things would be just a little bit better in the world.