Sunday, 20 September 2020

Britain's Got Talent Factor

 



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All of us are lying in the gutter, but some of us are dreaming of a three legged dog on a skateboard. 

A few years back on a blog post about Britain's Got Talent I noted:

The most insidious aspect of BGT is difficult to pin down, it's hard to hate a show which wants you to hate it and revels in its own imbecility, there's nothing to land a punch on, it's like fighting a cloud of gas. In the second episode a smash hit was a soprano singing 16 year old girl from Malta called Amy:

She and her voice, the music, the whole package are quite lovely. Most people watching will very rarely, if ever, be exposed to such music. So why then should far right traditionalist fascist type such as me be complaining about it?

 My problem is that Amy is sandwiched between a Mongolian making clicking noises with his tongue and dogs on skateboards, a man hopping on a wooden leg and a man with cerebral palsy doing a stand-up routine mocking his robot voice. My problem is that European art and beauty has been whittled down to just another easily digestible lump of ''entertainment'' to be consumed before the drag routine arrives.

But in 2020 I'm still left wondering what this godforsaken show means, what does it say about our current culture.

The idea of using the masses to entertain the masses was a clever move by the praetorian guard of mass media. There are few things less egalitarian than seeing somebody have their dreams crushed by a giant red-buzzer because you failed to entertain the media mogul with the $4,000 haircut as the audience whoops and cheers at your humiliation.

In the real world everyone says they hate X Factor and Britain's Got Talent, rightly so, but they still watch it and by the end they're invested in it. 

I'm Reminded of a story I heard on some podcast or lecture of anti-fa communist types who go to MacDonalds. The Marxist in MacDonalds is aware of their own hypocrisy so they have to make a few jokes or roll their eyes at the gaudiness of the hyper-capitalist institution they're in. A few head shakes is all it takes before they can earnestly gorge themselves on capitalism's products. A bit head shaking to pay lip-service to the revolutionary larp and then on to what they actually are, willing consumers of capitalism produce.


In Britain the masses have these coping mechanisms too, but the dissonance is cultural. higher forms of cultural expression are boring and old and stuffy. The artistic life of the nation is a barren wasteland where everything looks or sounds like it was produced by a machine, because in most cases it was.

 You can't just un-ironically listen to an album of songs by an Italian opera singer from 60 years ago because that would seem unusual and weird. But you can enjoy it on a platform which you've already acknowledged is a total load of crap and a big joke, like communists in MacDonald's you've already made your disavowal. 

 It's irony, oceans of irony. Ironically back in the age when you could have un-ironically enjoyed a talented young woman singing Italian opera you could have also un-ironically watched a dancing dog or piano playing parrot in some old club in Blackpool.

 In post-modernity nothing new can be created because we can't get to genuine authenticity through the thick shielding of self consciousness and irony.

Britain's Got X Factor fuses together these older forms, like a social club's buffet with the salmon mashing together with the sausage rolls, the soprano gets wedged in with the bloke who squirts water out his ears. 

 Irony is essentially a mask worn to cover up the dark truth, that the mass media can't create anything. Britain's Got Talent Factor arrived just after the era considered as 'The End of History' which was also the end of cultural creativity. The mask of irony is used to plaster over the secret. Imagine a once lucrative goldmine which has given up all its ore, the owners then use gold paint to cover the worthless slate hoping nobody catches on.  

 In Hollywood gold painted slate is remakes of reboots of sequels to comic books.

In Talent Factor it's the audience themselves, they are the circus.

There is a difference between the bread and circuses of Rome and now. Juvenal was describing a system which had created mass entertainment as a form of soma or painkiller for the plebs. Politics and power was the occupation of the elite, distractions were created for the masses so they didn't have to worry themselves with important matters, simply appeal to their base instincts to get them out of the way.

In the west today we don't just get dumbed down lowest common denominator silage, we get political silage. Politics permeates every routine and sportsball event, every movie and every public event.

 The masses can't be trusted for the same reasons authentic expression has to be wrapped up in a knowing  ironic wink, authenticity and truth, are dangerous to systems built on lies. In our version of bread and circuses political messaging is just the same as any other part of the circus and those carrying the 'woke' message are no different to dancing parrots.

 You can tell the political actors in this circus, they have poor camouflage and they angle for the same moment of clarity as the 16 year old opera singer, the new authenticity will be the product of a PR dpt. 

But if you notice the ruse, if you point at the hornet pretending to be a butterfly you'll see it has powerful friends. And you don't get to vote them off the stage with a text message.


 The difference between the circus of the late Roman Republic and the circus of the modern west is that our circus acts as the primary conduit of political activity, because the Roman elite weren't interested in socially engineering the masses into a sick parody of themselves. 

But looking again at that famous quote on bread and circuses something else jumps out at us too, and it's that the people themselves have forsaken responsibility and even, let be honest, adulthood. And this to me is what Britain's Got Talent actually means for the British population. In 1969 prime time television in Britain was Kenneth Clarke's Civilization series, a journey through western history using art and aesthetics as guideposts. 

 Just a few decades later and mass entertainment speaks to and treats that same population as children, woke politics is buried in the content like a parent hides sprouts under a slice of beef on Sunday dinner. Such people don't get agency, like infants everything is done for them.

And they'll keep tuning in because....well.....it's just a bit of fun.





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