Strictly Speaking…

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that Tess Daly has a smile more forced than Mel Gibson’s drinking ban. Also, that Bruce Forsyth is unable to subtly read an autocue. Simply put, this year’s Strictly Come Dancing is almost certainly the intellectual equivalent to a tepid piece of dough.

As an avid viewer, I watched week, after week, after week, as actress Kara Tointon was crowned series winner alongside an over-buffed, Eastern European professional who would make an adequate assassin for Jason Bourne. Uncomfortably, one has to ask themselves – In buying into the mindless Saturday-night soiree of Strictly, and condemning it’s Saturday night rival ‘The X Factor’: am I in fact an utter and unabashed TV hypocrite?

The parallels between Strictly’s fluffy celeb dance-fest and Simon Cowell’s talent parade are perhaps reasonable. Both shows dominate TV ratings, press coverage, phone-in cash, and a blueprint for a form of entertainment that caters to the lowest-common denominator of creativity, effort and intelligence. I cringe just as equally when Tess Daly acts like an automaton, as I do when Cheryl Cole makes a surprisingly sincere and dull comment. Brucie’s jokes make me doubt my own sanity, just as I am beginning to doubt that Dermot O’Leary is an actual thinking, feeling or functioning human being. In the TV-viewing hierarchy, Strictly and X Factor leave the families of Britain glued to their armchairs, polarized between either desperate has-been, dancing celebrities, or desperate, whining, wannabes.

However, these two shows are divided by one very simple facet: cruelty. Although equally as mindless, Strictly’s ‘celebrities’ are at least rewarded for their humiliation – through a reasonable fee, the opportunity to appear on low-rate chat shows, and the joys of steady work and the occasional name-drop in a weekly gossip-rag. When Anne Widdecombe is getting lifted like a heavy load on an industrial forklift, at least I know that this woman has achieved something beforehand: she is a university graduate, a politician, a woman fully aware that her stint on Strictly will not bruise an already generous ego.

Meanwhile, people tell me that the humiliation and malice of the X Factor, is perfectly acceptable because these poor morons apparently ‘know what’s going to happen’. But do they?

The audition rounds of the X Factor are an inglorious burlesque of bullying, masquerading as the search for a star.

This year alone producers put a duo on our TV screens who engaged in violence towards each other, and edited that violence with a slow-motion capture and an accompanying Pink! song that describes having a scrap. These girls are not mentally sound and also clearly not intelligent enough to realize what they are exposing themselves to. The audience jeer, and the girls are mocked for their attire, expressions and speech. Perhaps they make a few hundred quid selling their story to Heat Magazine, but very little else.

I don’t object to laughing at bad singing, or bad dancing for that matter. However, as the opening to Susan Boyle’s 2009 audition for ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ displays: shows within Cowell’s repertoire are edited to exaggerate audience cruelty towards the downtrodden.

Susan’s pre-audition VT shows her stuffing a sarnie into her mouth accompanied by a comedy-bump sound effect, followed by the obviously-forced admission that she is a 50-year old virgin. Audience members roll their eyes, the judges look at her like she is freshly-made cow-pat, today Susan Boyle is a star: but her story is a reminder that Saturday-night talent shows poke and prod contestants who are unaware that they are either untalented, socially awkward, or damaged.

Instead, what the X Factor gives its viewers is the desire to insist upon, and delight in, the failure of others. Strictly may have the odd not quite so dancing-queen, like the bumbling John Sergeant, but it is predominantly a joyous showcase. There is surely no tamer form of entertainment than watching a D-List celeb emerge from their cocoon of desperation and blossom into a waxed, buffed and sequined ballroom dance proficient. Meanwhile, the X Factor is laden with exploitative stories of grief, death and failed dreams of stardom, manipulated into convenient narratives to excite our pity – that is, until the said applicant is swiftly swept from our consciousness after failing to make it through boot-camp.

What I admire in Strictly is an ability to inspire admiration and triumph in a mass audience, what I denounce in the X Factor is it’s perpetuation and preoccupation to burn its contestants, (sorry Katie Waissel) at the public stake.

It is not only the campaigns of contestant hate that frighten me, but also Simon Cowell’s ability to use the X Factor as his own television oligarchy, tyrannical in its pursuit to control anything it can in the public realm. When the trophy has been given, and the confetti descends, Strictly disappears entirely off the showbiz radar. Yet, the X Factor forces upon me, one, or often a couple more, disposable music artists, essentially acts as a form of propaganda informing me what my Christmas number one must be, and is not-so-subtly also instructing me that the most valuable form of charity is to buy a soppy cover version sung by Cowell’s contracted minions. I commend the servicemen of this country, I fervently commend any form of charity, what I do not commend is a charitable effort that is in fact a crudely disguised as a vehicle to raise the profile of Cowell, his contestants, and his media empire.

Currently, X Factor champion Matt Cardle’s ‘winning’ song, ‘When We Collide’ has been knocked off the top spot of the UK singles chart after threeconsecutive weeks. And the X Factor formula will soon allow Cardle’s cover to over-take Eminem’s ‘Love the way you Lie’ as the biggest selling single of 2010. Whilst Cardle indifferently mopes his way through another band’s song, Eminem’s dark, autobiographical melodic rap-rant will have its triumph and success usurped. Luckily, Strictly champ Kara Tointon and her Russian hunk have disappeared into the dance sunset, and in turn out of our minds.

Strictly speaking, I think I will stick with Bruce Forsyth, and for now, safely and innocently, keep dancing with the BBC.

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