Simply Dismal

Media, Observatory, Reading & Writing

Warning; rant coming up.

When I was a little boy, there was a programme on (quite late, I think) called ‘Come Dancing’. Is was horrible, and featured cheesy samba couples in ridiculous tight clothes looking like the kind of acts you’d expect to find on a cruise ship full of old people from Florida. It came from the Tower Ballroom, Blackpool, and should have stayed there. Saturday night TV was a graveyard of ‘family’ entertainment, usually featuring a camp comic and bad talent acts.

Cut to the present day, with ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ and ‘The X Factor’. First off, there’s the awkward tautology of that first title, not quite Strictly Ballroom, not quite Come Dancing but amalgamated together to form a nonsensical phrase. Then there’s this, the spectacle of a homophobic bigot appearing on TV’s most gruesomely camp show. From these pictures it appears that the job of her co-stars is to lift her from one place to the other, like a pile of bricks.

By comparison, ‘The X Factor’ is a sort of pretty moving wallpaper, like a screensaver for your telly, and shows young people singing in bright colours. What staggers me is that so many people actually sit down and watch this. Unsurprisingly, it’s on the front of the Daily Mail every day (obviously they’re run out of Madeline McCann stories) but it also makes news in broadsheets. I like to believe that people aren’t stupid. But, like the monkey staring at the Mona Lisa, I can’t for the life of me see the appeal.

Why don’t we just go the whole hog and bring back Bernard Manning, the Black & White Minstrels, ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’ (oh, we did – it’s called ‘Downton Abbey’), the Good Old Days, and start ‘Baywatch’ all over again? But we live in a time when the children’s show ‘Doctor Who’ is being watched by adults as serious drama.

The blame must fall to demographics. TV is apparently watched by a broad middle-swathe of the population. These are the very people we writers all want to reach – but we (myself included) have a tendency to dismiss such basic popular fare as being beneath us.

The problem is that we can’t reach this audience if we try. WH Smith, that lowest-common-denominator of stationery shops that happen to sell reading matter, has a private panel that decides what goes on the shelves, thus artificially depressing the quality of reading matter, keeping it to their own low standards. (They turned down the stocking of ‘Paperboy’, saying it was not populist enough.)

Maybe I should write an X Factor spin-off book – it would be more popular and make more money!

12 comments on “Simply Dismal”

  1. Andy says:

    I loathe and detest “Strictly Britain’s Got X Talent” type shows. I’ve never watched a whole one, I never will (although my mother will watch Strictly, and she’s an otherwise intelligent woman).

    W. H. Smiths are gits, they wouldn’t stock my Brother’s new book as it’s £30 and thus “too expensive for popular appeal”. Fortunately Foyles, Forbidden Planet and Cinema Store feel differently.

  2. Alan Morgan says:

    But this is what people want, or rather what people do with as little effort as possible which it pretty much the same thing in this context. It’s no good surely writers bemoaning that the public don’t want their books, you might roam in a halcyon world of frothy coffee shops and exhibitions, where people read or wish to be seen to – but that is not as it were and I use the word with all the horror that will descend, normal. I live in a little northern village and when picking up the kids from school I am the only one to ever do so with a book. I can only say for certain that one other parent out of the fifty or so there reads. I know this because seeing I was reading, he came over to talk about books. Go around other parent’s houses to pick up the girls and what I will not see is a book. I would venture to say that if all the books in a hundred yard radius of my house were gathered together, nearly all of them would be mine. This is and as would be proudly claimed about here, a working class area. This is where come the local carnival there will be folk who will wear black face to be hilarious Scary Spice.

    So with this in mind and even assuming they will pick up a book at WH Smiths, it will not be yours I am afraid. Paperboy would end up in the Autobiography/biography section alongside the life of twenty-one year old X Factor* runner up. We know who you are, they will not. It’s nice to think that inside every Totally Strictly Extreme Wii Dance viewer there is a prospective Ashington Artist. There is not. Even in the library it takes a lot longer to find Orwell than it does Jordan’s latest and not ghost written piece of arse – I know, I tried.

    *The tele contest where people who wouldn’t be arsed to vote for a local MP will however pay money to do so for a popularity contest – not a book about Jean Grey’s early years fighting the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, before becoming the Phoenix.

  3. admin says:

    I completely agree with you, Alan, and I do realise that my life is not entirely ‘normal’ – although I do know a lot of people like me, and I see them everywhere in London. The problem is partly geographical, partly cultural (I know some smart people who would not dream of going to an art gallery), partly about money – although many of the things I go to don’t cost anything, partly about time (I’m a full-time writer and can now suit my hours, but only after spending 30 years working in an office) – and partly about curiosity.

    The key thing is not to mind that people will choose the guilty pleasure – I’ll post about this some more.

  4. Stephen Groves says:

    Hi Chris,

    Just want to say if you ever write a x factor spin off book i’ll make you sign ,line and date it , be warned!

  5. Metabrarian says:

    Not that I’m a conspiracy theorist… but is this not part of a wider plan to keep the masses dumbed down, suppressed and happy? I mean, the last thing the hidden elites of this merry isle want is an informed and educated populace. They may start asking questions!

    Maybe this is why we all seem to squat in the InternetWebthingy, the long-tail allows us all to indulge in our little pleasures, unaffected by mammon (I think that’s how you spell it) and the market place.

    I wouldn’t worry about WH Smiths, I’m sure they’re going the way of the Dodo. They can’t seem to make up their minds exactly what they want to be. Amazon & the BookDepository will dance on their grave.

    Oh well back to the drudgery (maybe a nice cuppa first!)

    Have fun all


  6. Helen Martin says:

    I always called them whhhhhhsmith. There may be a couple of outlets left here, but I’ve not seen one for quite a while. Being proud of not reading and saying one is “working class” is hogs wallop. My family were working class or farmers (don’t know where they fit) and all the people of my generation were encouraged to read, there were books in all our homes and books were considered good Christmas presents. What is the matter with Brits? Who cares what your economic class is (except people doing surveys), it’s what you’re interested in, invest your time in, that matters. I enjoy a baseball or soccer game but it’s not all I do by a long chalk. (Don’t sneer, Chris, cheering and singing in the open air is good for the circulation.) Why would anyone cut themselves off from great swathes of music, painting, drama and literature because they were born working class? It’s intellectual laziness, I say, and beneath the dignity of any hard working person.

  7. BangBang!! says:

    Hear, hear Helen!

    I don’t get the rise of X-Factor, Strictly on Ice etc either. I have to admit to being a big pro-wrestling fan but at least we know it’s fixed! Or, pre-determined as we like to say 😉 It doesn’t take a few thousand quids worth of phone calls to get the winner though. (I’m sure there should be an apostrophe in quids there – before or after the s?!)

  8. Helen Martin says:

    Call in the Panda lady! No possessive necessary, the ‘quids’ don’t own the ‘worth’. Parsing that sentence just proves what an idiomatic and non-latinate language English is much of the time.

  9. BangBang!! says:

    Of course! I actually thought of that as I was writing it but ignored myself. If you know what I mean!

  10. Steve says:

    I remember something I saw on television – some talk show – nearly 50 years ago. That’s how deeply it etched a groove in my brain.
    The host was interviewing New York cabbies, and a response from one (although I don’t remember the question) was:

    “I can’ stan’ drivin’ dem English people! Dem English people, dey MOIDAH da English language!!!”

    Appealed to my somewhat – ok, very – ironic sense of humor. Even when I was ten years old.

  11. Helen Martin says:

    What is the difference between pronunciation and grammar? Aside from ‘them’ instead of ‘those’ the cabbie was only using a local pronunciation, not bad grammar. I’d have remembered it the same way you did, though, because it just is really funny. Where does that type of humour fit on the acceptable/disgusting scale?

  12. Steve says:

    I think I’d fit it more on the “Irony” scale.

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