Monday, December 10, 2012

The X-Factor has a socratic question for you. campaigners!

Do you know how much mention there was of The X Factor final on my Twitter stream last night? A couple of posts from Caitlin Moran, the Times journalist with a deep and irreverent interest in pop culture, but that's it.

I follow nearly 300 people and organisations on Twitter. My feed is full of users with a pronounced environmentalist and political slant, but not exclusively so. And the majority of these accounts aren't 'corporate users' - i.e. they come with the rider that all comments and views are the tweeters' own.

So why so little mention of the X Factor? Two theories on this one

Primus, you all have fantastically good taste in music and TV and don't tend to the Notes on Camp approach to popular culture espoused by the Guardian Liveblog on the X-Factor and Strictly.

Maybe you were watching that nice BBC programme on Rome - as several members of my newsfeed were - maybe you weren't watching TV at all.

You have resisted the lure of Cowellian mass culture. Congratulations.

photo courtesy Alison Martin of

Secundus, you tend to focus your communications on work-related issues and are (justifiably) wary of showing Tweeterdom a human face. In other words, you don't like to admit to the world what you watch on a Saturday or Sunday night.

I want to come back to the second point in a future post, but the first, this resignation from mass culture, is the thing that concerns me as an activist and organiser.

Even in a bad season, the X-Factor final pulled in 9.5 million viewers (as against Strictly's 12.5 million), not counting watch-agains.

That's in a population (as of 2011 census) of just over 63 million. So around a third of the population were watching either programme live.

Were you?

Don't worry, I'm not going to make you feel bad for not watching it. You may regard The X-Factor as exploitative, as the bin ends of our culture and our corporate music industry. You may have conceived a passionate dislike for Gary Barlow. You may ask 'Who is Olly Murs?' And you'd be justified on all counts.

But my question to anyone serious about change is simply this: how can we bring people together and make things better if we can't at least empathise with the mass culture that they endorse and participate in?

Another example: I live in a town where a large 24-hour Tesco has just opened next to a small but thriving high street. Many of us know the environmental, social and economic arguments against the big supermarkets well enough I won't rehearse them here. But on Twitter (I search by the hashtag for my town), the consensus seemed to be that this was the most exciting thing that had happened here since the mines closed.

Again, we might tear our hair out at this, but isn't this dumbfoundedness telling? It doesn't mean we're wrong, just that we're not on the same page as many other people yet. And they have may have things to tell us about their lives we can learn from before engaging mouth, brain or well-crafted petition.

I have no solutions to offer in this post, but I'd be really interested in hearing your reflections.


  1. I watched about a third of it. To be fair I thought the finalists were ok. I just find the show fairly dull - it's not really any different from pop idol, is no longer novel - and the fact it pulls in viewers is no excuse not for innovating a new format that might pull in even more. I find it largely depressing that people who are actually not balancing their household budgets already feel it is worth spending money to vote on this nonsense. And also it puts far too much emphasis on people who just sing - rather than promoting people who can write and play their own tracks.

  2. It alternates between gripping and dull in an absolutely fascinating way - which is what Watch Again is for, I guess.

    And it is exploitative of viewers, true.

    But we underestimate the power of the Cowell at our peril.

  3. I love the whole X-Factor pantomime (sorry!) and was rooting for James to win. From the deluded wanabees at the start, via the manufactured boy bands, the amazing songs (all written and performed by the very talented Lucy Spraggan) through to the Marmite Rylan and Christopher. In the end, the talent won through. The reason I wasn't live tweeting? I don't normally watch TV live. In these days of Hard Drive recorders I don't want to waste my life watching adverts and pleads to line the TV companies coffers. I record things and watch a consolidated highly edited version at some later point. Simple as that! Of course, this is a risky strategy and there's always a risk that Twitter or Metro will ruin the surprise, but that's a risk I have to live with....