The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

The Politics Factor

Posted by The Futility Monster on December 14, 2009 @ 09:59

Love him or hate him, he's obviously doing something right. But will the magic work in politics?

OK, I’ll admit it. I’m a fan of The X Factor. But I am in the esteemed company of maybe 15m other people. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

The X Factor is one of life’s guilty pleasures for me. I generally dislike reality TV, finding it too corny and too forced because of the desperate lengths people will go to to get on the media.

However, I love music, of all different kinds, and The X Factor has always intrigued me in that respect. There’s no doubting that year on year, they unearth incredible performers and singers who had largely gone unnoticed. And in any event, it’s an entertaining night in.

The real winner of X Factor though, of course, is Simon Cowell.

And when he tells the media that he plans “a series of big prime time shows leading up to the election in which the public would hear two sides of the argument about several issues” (not a direct quote, but from Kirsty Wark, who interviews Cowell tonight on Newsnight) they are going to sit up and take notice.

And so too are the politicians.

The concept is intriguing to me. Surely trying to make politics meld with the glitz and glamour of the reality TV genre is going to be a fail of epic proportions?

But at the same time, if anyone can do it, it’s Simon Cowell.

It’s clear the plans for this are already advanced. The next election could be just months away. ITV1 is sure to be the location of the “bear pit” (Cowell’s words)… and that would put them right at the heart of the election, which would be extremely unusual for them.

Apparently, it was Nick Griffin’s escapade on Question Time that convinced Simon Cowell that this was something the public would enjoy. The tone would obviously have to be more serious than the usual reality TV fayre, but that would only notch up the populist rhetoric as a counterbalance. Gotta give the viewers something to watch.

Is that healthy for democracy? After all, us liberal lefties would get a bit upset if a show turned into a lynch mob talking up the joys of bringing back the rope, the birch and maybe even that belt reserved only for special occasions. Weren’t some headteachers sickening?

Cowell hopes politicians would phone up and get involved. I suspect the goal is purely to engineer live, vitriolic conflict about an issue on TV. Would politicians want to throw themselves amongst that?

Of course they would. A new breed of fiery rhetoric-spouting orators is waiting to be born into this next generation of the political class; the next phase of personality politics will begin. The rest of them will either have to adapt or die.

If it works, if Cowell can produce a watertight concept, it will be worth watching out for. It may just influence the media narrative in the run up to the next election.

And losing control of that would not be a good thing for any of the main parties. Certainly not Mr Cameron…


2 Responses to “The Politics Factor”

  1. John said

    Oh god – someone shoot Mr Cowell – he’s like a public serial monogamist – `last year I had Alexandra, ditched her for a newer model`.

    People that don’t UNDERSTAND Politics should leave it to those that do. It’s hard enough to find someone in the BBC that REALLY understands it. Now Cowell wants to use our whole democratic system as his plaything.

    How do I know? Why am I petrified by the thought? The clue’s in the article. This article totally degrades your blog. You found it yet?

  2. Thanks for your comment. First of all, I disagree that my article degrades my blog. It is already seriously degraded!

    I have quite a lot of views on this topic in general, more than I could squeeze into an already boring article, but I’ll share a few more of them since you’re interested!

    First of all, I have some sympathy with your viewpoint. I said so in the original article, because I am genuinely afraid of the idea that politics could finally reach the lowest common denominator. A show like this would be unashamedly populist, and since most of my views are nowhere near populist, that would almost universally result in me disagreeing with everything this programme stood for.

    But then I see the mess politics is already in, and the fact that I no longer have any hope in spineless, brainless, lying politicians. My cynical side has finally won. Why not just go the whole hog and turn over the sham of democracy to reality TV? After all, every vote on reality TV is equal, unlike my ballot in an ultra safe constituency!

    Even when I’m trying to be sensible, I still think maybe we shouldn’t close our minds to anything that could engage more people in the issues. The concept is troubling, but politics is changing, so are our expectations of them, and the notions of interactivity and always-on social media are making the old political system look extremely dated. Maybe this is simply what “progress” looks like?

    On the surface it’s an obvious thing: Cowell + Politics = BAD. But dig a little deeper, and I’m not so certain.

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