Sunday, 13 December 2009

HOW X FACTOR CREATES SOCIAL INEQUALITY


Last night, Joe McElderry won X Factor 2009. He’s perfect for it – he can sing, he’s nice, he’s pretty, he’s humble, he’s working-class (I think) and he’ll look good branded over posters, calendars and pencil cases marketed for 10 year old girls. More than that though, he’s now a role model for the teen generation. It isn’t so much the winners as the journey which provides the inspiration to the programme’s devotees; just look at the titles of the songs that become the winners’ first singles - ‘The Climb’, ‘Hallelujah’, ‘When You Believe’, ‘A Moment Like This’… The general theme of this is the triumph over adversity, the virtue of self-belief and the persistence of hope. Despite their shitty normal little towns, despite setbacks, the average normal kid with a great voice has done well in the end.

This is heart-warming and entertaining, but it is also fucking bollocks.

Most aspiring pop stars who have intently watched X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent etc, can’t sing, can’t dance and are wasting their time believing. Better advice would be to buy a lottery ticket – at least with the National Lottery everyone stands an equal chance. It might seem that I’m being the Spirit of Christmas Cock here, but most teenagers would be better off uncrossing their fingers, putting a pen between them, and trying to learn. This might not secure them the instant gratification of a £100,000 pay off and crooning alongside George Michael or a psychologically regressed Robbie Williams, but it will better equip them for what is most likely to happen – normality, mediocrity, reality.

The X Factor is so successful and popular because it leeches onto that age-old sentiment that you can cheat the system, ‘surely there’s an easier way?’. X Factor can be seen as a cheat-code for life. Why take the effort to do GCSEs, to try for A Levels and University when you could, from one audition, secure fame, wealth and esteem from the masses? The system still has its effects though, even if people choose to ignore it – if kids aren’t interested in their education, they will be less likely to succeed and less likely to get a decent job. This is the truth – it doesn’t inspire 16 million people to tune in on a Saturday night, it won’t make you and all your friends change your facebook status, but the fact is, there’s a pretty hefty likelihood that if you devote yourself to the hunt for celebrity, you’ll fail.

Meritocracy is so seductive. Pierre Bourdieu emphasised the necessity for a few, a tiny few, working class pupils to excel and to climb the greasy pole of academic success, in order to present the image of a meritocracy. If one scummy little jack the lad from the estates managed to make good of his situation, the others could have done so too – this is the thinking. By letting a few working-class kids do well, the mass failure of the rest of them to gain success is made legitimate. The X Factor winners are an epitome of this meritorious victory – Leona, Alexandra and now Joe can now provide hope for all of those working class kids turned off by their education, by their lives, and now these kids can devote themselves to fostering their X Factor. And these working class kids, most of them, will NOT have the X Factor.

Credit to Joe McElderry, he’s got talent – he could have got a record contract based on his merits, but the X Factor made it a lot easier. But let’s not peddle the idea that this is attainable for all – it just isn’t. ‘Talent Show’ could become as valid a career path to the psyche of the teens as vocational education or A Levels, and who could blame them. They have the myth of meritocracy slapped in their face throughout the year thanks especially to ITV – it needs to stop because whilst all this goes on, the kids who don’t focus upon these dreams are filling up all the ‘legitimate’ paths to success.

The real winners of X Factor – the middle classes who turn their nose up at it.

1 comment:

Ed said...

Good points, but more than that, talent competitions are inherantly anti-social. They radically deny the idea of cooperation and assert that only one out of every X number of people (the more the better) should have hapiness/dream fulfilment. Of course this is the only person we should identify with (or hear about). Consequently we are taught to ignore or disdain those who we see as underachievers simply by virtue of our besting of, or competing with, them. "Success" is fetishised, anything else is despised.