I’m not the greatest fan of reality TV. Ever since the early days of Big Brother and the excrutiating Pop Idol, I’ve had a dislike for manufactured shows that rely on a conveyor belt of bland personalities with little or no discernable talent.
It pains me when the adverts for premium-rate text vote numbers flashes on the TV screen and that grating Geordie accent bawls “who goes? YOU decide!”. And it hurts to think that, although I will happily press the off button on my remote with vigour, there are hundreds of thousands of moronic couch potatoes who at that very moment will be dialling an extortionately expensive telephone number with the kind of ferocity they’d usually reserve for one that brings the local pizza delivery firm to their door.
This week, I’ve been rejoycing the news that Endemol have finally decided to call it a day and scrap Big Brother (although not for another year because, let’s face it kids, they want another chance to milk your pockets dry before going kicking and screaming into the abyss). It’s an unusual move of putting taste and decency above the chance to inflict more gutter TV on the nation, so 2010 will now allegedly be the last year that we get 24/7 coverage of 12 nobodies living in a house together.
Unfortunately, while Endemol have agreed to this much-needed reprieve, there are countless other shows that are still polluting the airwaves. Tripe like I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here!, the X Factor, Hell’s Kitchen and the awful Britain’s Got Talent are still holding their emotional sway over the great unwashed – to the point where it’s almost impossible to turn on ITV or Channel 4 without being bombarded with Z-list celebrities or untalented warblers who think they’re Madonna.
How have we managed to produce this kind of TV purgatory where we celebrate mediocrity and reward “personalities” rather than talent? Are we really that tasteless as a nation? How else can you explain the fact that Fame Academy (you know, that BBC show where the contestants could actually play instruments, write songs and sing properly) only ran for two seasons, while the X Factor is onto its sixth year and is still filling Simon Cowell’s ill-gotten coffers?
Of course, America suffers from a similar level of ridiculousness from time to time, but they also manage to produce the occasional breakout star. Jennifer Hudson, for example, started her career on American Idol and she’s now won an Oscar. In contrast, the best that Leona Lewis has managed to do is emerge from a bus before butchering Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love.
But our insistance on rewarding bland singers and dancers through shows like Britain’s Got Talent can also be put into sharp context by looking at what our Eastern European neighbours are doing. On the Ukraine’s version of the show, the winning participant was an artist who uses sand to create a narrative scene set to music. It’s one of the most brilliant, haunting and beautiful things I have ever seen and a proper example of the kind of talent these shows should be promoting.
Of course, had she appeared on the UK version, you just know that she would have been voted off for being “too arty and stuck up”, or because the vast swathe of the audience wouldn’t have understood what she was trying to achieve. And then everyone would have been all surprised when it turned out that an ugly fat Scottish lady could sing quite well….