One of the pleasures of blogging is that you're introduced to the new and unfamiliar. So I was pleasurably intrigued to read on Think of England about TV's The X-Factor. I'd never seen the programme and thought I should expand my horizons this Saturday by indulging myself in a full two hours (plus another couple on ITV8, or so) of peak-time light entertainment.
Of course, one of the other pleasures of blogging is taking up vehement positions on issues which you never previously felt strongly about (or, indeed, even knew about). So I'm glad to say that I strongly disapprove Brit's unjustifiable soft-heartedness towards the contestants. He's concerned about the amount of weeping that ensues and the effect this has on their 'fragile' mental state. Well, being pretty much an expert on the show now, I can assure him he needn't worry.
Firstly, these young would-be entertainers make no distinction between the public and the private: it's all performance. Weeping allows them to display just one more aspect of their emotional repertoire (pant-wetting excitement seems to be a major component too). Their lives are lived for drama: there is nothing private - or even revelatory - about tears. After all, this is show business - everything is exposed, everything is on show.
Secondly, the contestants wear their weeping as a badge of pride. It indicates 'authenticity' (a word I heard bandied around a quite a bit last night, particularly by Cheryl Cole - I give up on this point, I don't know where to begin). A good teary gush also shows they're 'passionate' about what they're doing: they're giving '110%', you know. Weeping isn't so much an excess of private feeling as a willingness to sing the company song.
(Like Suralan's nasty little chiselers, I wonder how many of these desperately nice individuals would willingly throw everything beneath the juggernaut of their ambition: self-respect, integrity, loyalty, friendship. I'm not sure we want to know).
But let's admit for a moment that an element of this weeping really is expressive of misery. I'm just not sure that it's really enough to express the awful reality of show business failure. This handful of contestants are the snowball sitting atop the tip of an iceberg of thousands of wannabes: graduates of drama schools named after dated drama queens, holders of degrees in theatre and television studies, pub singers, bedroom hairbrush crooners, part-time strippers, moonlighting rent-boys, buskers, laptop tune programmers and mummy's little princes and princesses, all wanting a shot at the big time. The X-Factor failures are the lucky ones.
The rejects may tearfully drain the bitter cup of failure. But it's one that's been sweetened by the odd saccarhine judge's comment and is still infused by the glow of the spotlights. Their talent, unsuccessful for the moment, has nevertheless been publicly justified. They've performed - sang a song, had a good cry, wet their pants with excitement - all on national TV. A season at Butlins may well beckon, 'as seen on TV' featuring prominently on the posters.
But for the others, the ones that don't get this far, failure will arrive in the less glamorous location of some draughty little hall or Mum's cramped front room. Lonely and disregarded. So, for instructive reasons, rather than weep I'd have the failed contestants rend their garments, smear their faces with ash and pull their hair out. This will give a fair reflection of how failure will taste for nearly every single one of the hordes of dreamers dying to get onto the telly and who are doomed not even to achieve X-Factor rejection.
Don't worry about the weeping, then.
Just one more observation, though. I couldn't quite believe that after around about six hours of programming over the weekend all that happens is that one of the contestants is dropped. What's more, this happens repeatedly over what must be a dozen weekends or so until the winner emerges. Forget worries about today's short attention spans. X-Factor, at least, is Wagnerian in the time it demands from its audience and Proustian in the pace of its narrative progression. I, for one, don't have the stamina to last the course.