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!