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Where is the X-Factor?

Off the fence
Where is the X-Factor?


Edwin McGrealOff the fence
Edwin McGreal


Maybe I’ve no attention span. Maybe that’s why I can’t sit down and watch the likes of X-Factor or Ireland’s Got Talent.
But I would like to think that somewhere in my brain exists a quality control function which most reality TV doesn’t get past.
Don’t get me wrong - I don’t have a blanket hatred of the genre. The Apprentice (the BBC version I hasten to add) is a high quality production but I am genuinely perturbed about the attraction with X-Factor.
Most of the contestants can’t sing - that is why they are not professional recording artists - and the judges, Simon Cowell (pictured) in particular, relish making them feel as uncomfortable as his trousers look. Sure, there’s an odd smidgeon of talent but it appears to me to be mainly people so desperate for fame that they will leave themselves open to ridicule in front of millions.
Maybe the ordinary person likes to see someone who might be just like them have to go on an emotional roller coaster, to have their innermost hopes and fears laid bare to the nation. I’d call that car-crash television and grimace at the sight of it.
But it would appear I am in a minority. The grip the show holds became all too apparent on the Saturday night when Ireland played Italy in the World Cup qualifier when three of our football team chose to stay in to watch X-Factor instead of joining us in the pub for the game.
And what’s more they didn’t disguise the fact. They’ll talk openly about X-Factor. They don’t think they need counselling. They think we’re mad, can’t understand why we’re missing out on it.
Reality TV shows do appear to capture people’s attention because they can emphatise with the ‘ordinariness’ of the contestant. But I fear it is part of a dumbing down of television in general. And why? Well dare I say choice is the problem. Choice has eaten into people’s attention spans.
I won’t say ‘God be with the days when we had only RTÉ 1 and Network 2’  but what has happened is if something is not gripping a viewer for every second of a programme, they’ll turn to another one of the 300 channels they have on their Sky Box.
A simple thing as an ad’ break can sound the death knell for a show. Where two minutes previous a documentary might be captivating, the viewer might set off on a flicking rampage and end up starring mindlessly at a repeat of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.
Choice is great but with choice comes high demands. The Simon Cowells of this world are only too aware of this. So they throw on big dollops of drama and lashings of emotion. Some viewers are hooked. Job done. But at what cost?