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The Camden Curmudgeon on The X-Factor and what to do about it



John-and-edward-pic-itv-903 Last time, our resident pop culture sourface The Camden Curmudgeon railed against ‘tipsters’ and the BBC Sound Of 2009 poll.

Now, bringing bags crammed with the antidote to Christmas cheer, he’s back. This time he has Simon Cowell, The X-Factor and its dominance of the music charts in his sights, but offers an unexpectedly mind-bending solution…

Criticising The X-Factor is akin to criticising mud.  Whatever you do, whatever you say, it’s still going to be there, staining your trousers and ruining your carpets. Best just walk round it. Stand on the stones. Wait until summer and it’ll dry up and go away.

But then, every so often, there’s this urge to jump right into the middle of it. To splash and to wallow in the crapulence and regress to a mental age of three.

Which, as Calvin Harris has proven, can be fun. And the day you stop finding the fun in that is the day you start failing to derive pleasure from scribbling manically on the walls of social convention with a massive thick crayon, the day Michael BublĂ© becomes your soundtrack of choice, a Saturday afternoon 99p hot-dog drenched in flat-pack mustard from the Ikea canteen becomes the treat to get you through the week ahead, and your existence becomes entirely inconsequential.

My point?  How much more enjoyable watching The X-Factor is if you have a mental age of three. And criticism. Or more specifically, how pointless it feels criticising The X-Factor or whoever releases records on the back of it, even though it dominates the charts at this time of year with a spirit-sapping inevitability. 

Normally, year-upon-year, you can understand the way it avoids many of the barbs thrown at it. Aside from the gigantic exposure it offers to whoever appears on it, most of the contestants can sing, in the way that most people can drive, after six months of lessons, a written exam, and a two hour practical test with a trained professional.

From time to time they even manage to unearth someone who could be described as ‘good’ – if by ‘good’ you mean they can do a passable impression of a current, well established recording artist.  It’s not and never has been about music; this is about mass-producing celebrities.  The fame game.

Yet this year they’ve broken with convention and mixed up the set of faceless, amorphous, interchangeable wannabes with a pair of human beings so indescribably bad at doing any of the things you’d expect from musician or, if you prefer, an entertainer that it’s, it’s… Well, it’s indescribable.  So much so that the only way to describe them is to invent a word.  So let’s call them Jedward.

They can’t sing. They can’t dance. They approximate the former with this weird, slightly out of sync harmonisation which sounds like someone has pressed play on one of them a nanosecond before the other.  They attempt the latter by flinging any one of eight limbs out in any direction with such violent and random force it’s as if someone’s attached a car battery to their gonads. 

As for their haunted, dead-behind-the-eyes looks and the rejected-from-Beetlejuice-for-scaring-animals costume choices… well, the less said, the better.

But, tearing ourselves away from laughing at this year’s oddities, what can you, me, us do about The X-Factor? We’ve tried criticising it: taking the high-ground, snidely remarking how awful the performers are. We’ve tried ignoring it: saying how it has no bearing on us as ‘proper’ music fans.  

Neither has worked. The unwinnable war on drugs has nothing on the battle to stop Simon Cowell. So rather than waste your time and energy, what about something revolutionary.  What about…caring?

I’m serious. Perhaps the only way to beat it is to join it.  Given that what is basically being decided here in front of tellies across the land on Saturday evenings – and Sundays too, is it? – is at the very least going to be the person spoiling your Christmas, shouldn’t we, as people who supposedly care about these kind of things, try and get our opinions across in some way?

If you consider yourself a music fan, find the one faceless, amorphous, interchangeable wannabe who offends you least and vote for them. 

Like Lao-Tzu said: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” The first step to subverting the utter dross that gets delivered to us via these type of shows – specifically this one – could well be to help pick the least drossy one as the winner.  Let’s face it, what Chinese philosophers can’t teach us about reality TV isn’t worth knowing.

Besides, 30p per week is a small price to pay to keep Snow Patrol covers out of the charts. 



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