Sunday, December 14, 2008


Strictly and X Factor Appeal to Divided Demographics of Britain

Seeing as it's Sunday and nearly Christmas, I'm eschewing politics briefly to comment on the two reality show biz competitions screened last night. [I can already feel a bit of a rant coming on so stop reading now if you are resistant to them] I've been a fan of Strictly for years. While I cannot dance for toffee I've always admired those who can so the basic premise of 'amateur does good' appeals strongly, as does the competitive element. XFactor I had not really seen before regularly but I was drawn to watch it by the full page articles being written about Cheryl Cole, the latest person to advance from car crash social background, via a talent show, to the status of National Treasure.

The two programmes are poles apart regarding presentation and mirror the division of our country into different classes and cultures: Strictly's 'Wimbledon' contrasting with XFactor's 'Championship Darts from Purfleet'. I discovered that in this dichotomy, I am well into the middle class part: I enjoy the dancing but abominate the presentational style of XFactor. The former focuses on the dancing, or at least it has since the withdrawal of John Sergeant. The presenter Bruce Forsyth tells execrable jokes and, despite his catchphrase denials really is doddery. But he is an old time pro who presides genially over a genteel middle class celebration of ballroom dancing: Guardian and the Times stuff. XFactor, however is The Sun, Star, News of the World and People rolled into one in its appeal.

The latter really was a strange concatenation last night. The 16 yearold leprechaun, Eoghan Quigg,sang dismally flat and then duetted inexplicably with Boyzone. JLS, the fourstrong act sang harmoniously and might have been good if their act had not been joined and upstaged by Westlife. Similarily with Alexandra Burke, the only genuine talent in the final- and eventually worthy winner- whose thunder was stolen by the duetting superstar, Beyonce Knowles. To make matters worse a legion of 12 yearold dancers crowded the stage for Quigg and constant eruptions of 'fountains of light' in the background bestowed a tacky, Las Vegas style false glitter to the proceedings.

The presenter of XFactor, Dermot O'Leary, seemed to declaim tabloid headlines rather than perform any discernible role. And as for the much bruited charm and wit of Cole, I thought she uttered, along with her fellow judges, the most anodyne of banal comments. What was really irritating was the fact that they offered no criticism whatsoever, just variations on the theme of 'Eoghan, you are already a major star!',something which is plainly not yet the case. As for the minor public school boy super-smug Simon Cowell, there was not even a hint of any of his famed barbed comments or wit, just the same mish-mash of tired superlatives as the others.

But worst thing about the show was the cacophanous noise. There was no attentive aural space, it seemed to me, in which the contestants could properly perform. We had shots of Dungevin and Derry where it seemed every denizen below the age of 10 had been coralled to scream their support for the diminutive Quigg. And so it was for JLS and North London Alexandra. Even the judges useless comments were shouted at top decibel force above the shouting of the inexplicably hysterical audience.

Oh, and the tears! Everyone's lips seemed to be helplessly a-quiver, whether contestant, judge or audience member. It was as if Cowell had imported all the very worst of his US television 'entertainment' experience to cascade over us like a giant skipful of lukewarm dirty washing up water. Why did I watch it if I hated it so much? Well, I had no idea it would be so bad but, God knows, I won't be doing so again. At least the contestant with the most talent finally won, so a kind of justice was done in the end.

To be fair to X-Factor (and I only watched the results) this was the final, so it's more a celebration. The harsh Cowell criticism is for the no-hoppers at the start, isn't it? And aren't Strictly finals similarly self-congratulatory?
It's a fair point Stephen but what about the 'freak show' number by the no-hoper audition failures? I thought that truly dreadful-just for the audience to mock people who in some cases were clearlymentally ill.
You're probably right!
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