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The X factor vs. high culture

The X factor has only just finished and our papers are filled with this years winner, Matt Cardle crowned on 12th December 2010. You may also have read articles about other winners from popular television shows: Strictly Come Dancing winner Kara Tointon and I’m a celebrity get me out of here, Stacey Solomon are a few seen in todays newspapers.

So what do we make of all this madness? Is popular television affecting the nation?

Radio 4 aired a thought-provoking debate on high art vs popular culture, 15th December 2010. Michael Buerk hosted the programme along with an intellectual panel: Matthew Taylor, Claire Fox, Clifford Longley and Michael Portillo.

The programme offered a variety of points of views about X factor and the effect shows such as these have on our nation and culture. However with only a forty-five minute programme, areas being discussed were limited. These are a few of the opinions and points raised on the programme:

  • Attacks on X factor are against chavs and the ‘stereotyped’ people and does not pose as a threat to society.
  • Critical opinion “music has a moral value…precious in the world” and a programme such as X factor can be considered culturally offensive.
  • Simon Cowell is strongly responsible for reducing music to homogeneity and thus being counter-educational.
  • Should the X factor be taken seriously?
  • Has celebrity culture taken over different parts of our culture? This question could not be elaborated as the subject is too great for the shows allowed time.
  • Does the show contain ‘talented’ musicians? Just because the formula of X factor has appealed to the mass audience showing its success that does not prove they are extremely talented but simply the manipulation of the media is at play. This success can be compared to the popularity of McDonalds restaurants, just because millions of people consume the produce does not necessarily mean it is of high quality, or the ‘best restaurant’.
  • People on the X factor are ‘puppets on a string’.
  • The culture in the 21st century is consumed differently to previous times. We are not cultural dopes we are active audiences (theorist Stuart Hall), look at Twitter on a Saturday night. This is a fast-moving medium sharing the nations opinions.
  • The celebrity culture is dominating our lives. The beginning of X factor provides an insight into the contestant’s personalities and lives. Celebrities dominate the best-selling books in our charts.
  • The beginning of X factor (30 seconds) plays classical music in the opening. Is the X factor a gateway to more music?
  • Some people on the X factor are simply being humiliated for entertainment. Is this morally right? However, for some contestants they may enjoy the ‘one off’ experience however for many this will not be enjoyable.
  • Passive viewers feel they have ultimate control over the outcome of the competition. Is this right?

The show offered a range of views to entertain the reader however the arguments were too broad and due to the limited time they could not be expanded fully. The X factor by active readers can be viewed as entertainment, escapism or useful in the context it is consumed. For example, a sociable evening with friends eating a takeaway. However are these popular programmes offering culture. Culture adds to (our) beliefs, values and personalities, and is a show such as the X factor doing so in a positive way? Are we able to see this programme as beneficial? Art and culture should be able to challenge and stimulate a viewer (exercise the human mind) and should not be based on popularity.

Perhaps our attention should be focused on the content and quality of the art culture in our society: do we need more writers? More true musicians? Listening to the programme alongside others sparked further discussions. Has television been dumbed down? Blaming the X factor is not necessarily the answer for the collapse of culture and civilisation but it may be the alert needed to lead our society to a culturally appreciative world.

Related articles

Rewind Radio: Moral Maze; Chris Evans; Cheque Book and Pen

BBC 4 Message board

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