Thursday, 28 October 2010


A grand entrance... the X Factor judges
It's the hottest show of the moment. Nearly a third of the British population tune in every weekend to watch it. Everyone's talking about it, with the nation poring over every single detail from Dannii's wrinkle-free forehead to Simon's waistband and Louis' (fast) receding hairline.

It can only be the X Factor. After hitting screens in 2004, Simon Cowell's brainchild has fast become a TV favourite, regularly raking in the kind of viewing figures not seen since Eastenders' Den divorced Angie in the late 80s. In a digital generation where we are inundated by choice and variety of media channels that is no mean feat.

Each weekend, viewers are treated to a drama-fuelled double dose of the X Factor spectacle; complete with feuding finalists, warring judges, catty comments and the kind of bitching that makes the dorm of an all-girls boarding school look tame. Throw in a few sob stories, a lot of crocodile tears and a weekly fash-off between the female judges and it's a clear recipe for success.

And it's not all over after the final credits. Before the last wannabe has even finished their performance bloggers in their thousands have already begun typing frantically about Cheryl's latest outfit. Twitter goes crazy with X Factor hash-tagging and the show dominates tabloid headlines all week long.

Come monday, offices nationwide are buzzing with news from the previous evening's episode - with the men getting equally as carried away - and as bitchy - as the women. And bookies' cash registers are constantly ringing with fans placing bets on who will win the contest.

The X Factor brand is just one big PR machine, with stories churning out of the contestants' shared house at an alarming rate. We've heard it all; finalists found in bed together, arrests for drug offences, arguments over who gets the best song choice - the list is endless.

Catapulted from being nobodies to the most famous people in Britain overnight, the wannabes are subjected to a media circus; with some forced to deal with lynch mobs of press and paparazzi hell bent on their downfall. Readers are told that a 'source close to the show' has leaked some juicy gossip... but it's more than likely the 'source' also doubles up as the show's publicist.

But what is it about this simple concept that has a nation hooked? It is, undoubtedly, the drama. There's nothing Brits love more. The show would be nothing without it; and contestants who attract the least controversial column inches are quickly booted out.

Let's put things into perspective; as entertaining as the show is, there's something slightly unsavoury about the audience being given a chance to play God. We all forget, whilst caught up in the drama, that this is people's lives we're dealing with.

Each week, hearts are broken and dreams shattered as another finalist faces the axe. Their 15 minutes of fame over, they are forced to go back to the lives they led before... never forgetting how they once came within an inch of fame and fortune.

In the meantime, Simon Cowell and ITV are laughing all the way to the bank, making millions off the back of the finalists, who are reportedly paid peanuts to appear in the show. Something seems morally amiss here. These fat cats don't care about the individuals - they only care about how much publicity they generate and, ultimately, how much cash they can make out of them. With contestants such as this year's villains Katie and Wagner kept in purely for entertainment value, it feels more like a circus than a serious talent show.

The whole thing reeks of exploitation. The problem is, the show's bosses are perfectly aware most people would chuck their grandmother under a bus to get into the final 12... meaning they can get away with whatever they want and the whole sordid affair continues year upon year.

So, the show will go on. And we'll all just carry on watching it.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

The overactive imagination

Ever since I can remember I’ve been terrified of the dark. But as the years go by, this fear seems to have developed into the world's most overactive imagination.

The moment the sun goes down it leaps into overdrive, often fuelled, I'm certain, by eating cheese for dinner. My flat, which, during the daylight hours, is a safe and cosy haven, quickly transforms into an eerie, shadow-filled hiding place for ghosts, ghouls and murdering maniacs as soon as night draws in.

It seems physically impossible for me to watch a horror film without enduring weeks of sleepless nights afterwards. For a fortnight after Silence of the Lambs, I slept with the light on, maintaining the logic that doing so would fend off any crazed local transvestites who got their kicks from spying on me through night vision goggles.

Psycho was probably a film that had the most influence on my daily routine. Try as I might to buy a clear shower curtain, they don't seem to be in vogue at John Lewis. So I generally speed through my shower, positive the curtain will be whipped back any moment by an assailant ready to subject me to a frenzied attack.

Although my imagination is one of my best features, I wish it wouldn't automatically assume a hooded maniac brandishing a kitchen knife is hiding in my wardrobe every time I'm home alone. Call it barmy, but I've even adopted a routine of checking inside the cupboards and behind each door whenever I come into the house. Never mind that the burglar alarm was on and there's no sign of a break-in. An ordinary person might call me neurotic.

I'm not quite sure what to do to banish my irrational fears. I’ve tried facing them - forcing myself to watch horror films in a dimly lit room whilst alone in the house. That, unsurprisingly, did nothing but freak me out even further. And my attempts to give up cheese failed miserably after I got halloumi withdrawal symptoms one day in.

So I've decided to cut the scary movies out of my life altogether. Friends who invite me to watch SAW in 3D are immediately turned down. My small collection of horror DVDs have been carted off to the charity shop. I even spent a fortune buying an array of lighthearted films and rom coms.

 Now I'm not sure what I'm most terrified of - grisly films or the fact I now have the same DVD collection as my mother. But I'm certainly sleeping a little better at night.