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Pap Idols

by Robin Scher / 09.08.2010

“The Victorian freak show never went away, now it’s called Big Brother or X Factor where, in the preliminary rounds, we wheel out the bewildered to be sniggered at by multi-millionaires.'” – Andy Millman (Ricky Gervais, Extras)

In a drought of television programming, I found myself watching Pop Idols. This show jumped the shark from the very first episode – when audiences were subjected to the inane grin of Colin Moss, but you won’t believe the depths to which it has plunged.

Pop Idols – a globally franchised platform for the discovery of freshly minted Britneys, Myleys and Justins. Jewel in the crown of the new pop cultural imperialism. Slop bucket of popular dreams. The absolute expression of commoditized mediocrity. And occasionally, fun to watch. Not anymore. Things have gotten way too dark and weird. It’s the baroque phase of this show: decadent and in decline. Enter an unfortunate girl in a wheelchair. A muscular disease has reduced her to a pair of deformed stumps for legs. Insert formulaic human interest montage – her strength, her courage – followed by her audition.

Now it seems likely the judges will gently let the unfortunate physically challenged contestant down – explaining that although she is indeed a mildly talented singer, Pop Idols takes a whole lot more than a good voice. For one thing, you need legs. Two of them. Preferably well toned and sticking out of the bottom of an ultra short miniskirt – with strappy fuck-me pumps snaking up the ankles. You need to look like someone others want to be/or get with. That’s the prevailing stone age brain-dead logic of the entertainment industry. And it’s harsh. Always has been. Fuckable sells. Instead, fuelling the deluded dreams of this poor contestant, against all odds, she is wheeled into the next round.

In a way the move neatly mirrors the new orthodoxy of reality television: the iron-clad rule of post-Oprah overcoming. Suffering sells. Adversity sells. That’s the idea. The reality show feeds off maladjustment, tragedy, conflict and tribulation. Nothing gets a camera crew to the house of an Idols wannabe quicker than the lure of adversity. We’re then given the agonising “background” behind the “singing sensation”. What’s annoying here is the privileging of pain. Why can’t an unfortunate contestant remain simply that? A contestant. Why do they have to be elevated into a universally resonant “human interest story”? Why does the show have to take a “special interest” in the specially challenged?

Does their status alter the judging process? It all smacks of a vaudeville side-show run through a PC makeover for a public adrift in mindless sentiment. Once axed, the disillusioned “Pap Idol” must come to terms with an “emotional rollercoaster” – compliments of Idols. It’s cheap and nasty.

The show is a massive success and consistently, terrifyingly rakes in more votes than national elections. If the producers had their way, the most watched and popular part of the show, the embarrassing audition episodes, would run and run until the end of broadcast eternity. A permanent live feed of gormless ambition and sweet-natured self-delusion. Truly a mirror of ourselves. However a winner needs to be found – for marketing purposes. This in itself is a farce. A few months down the line ‘Pop Idol Winner X’ will be performing at Menlyn Park or guest judging beauty pageants. Another smear on the skants of local celebrity. When you see them, the winner, count their legs. And sneer.

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