15 December 2009

Voting in the name of

As the steroid-injected, bloated cash cow that is X-Factor collapsed off the TV schedules, no doubt ITV executives were cheered by the advertising and phone-vote revenue raised, and Simon Cowell is calculating the precise number of burgers the carcass will make. And newspapers anxious about the sudden lack of stories can fill some time this week by talking up the viewing figures - 15 million on average, apparently, across the weekend's shows. The Evening Standard described the fact that more people voted for the final's contestants over the weekend than elected the current government at the last election as "the most interesting statistic".

No doubt the Daily Mail will join this chorus tomorrow, as a fitting subject for much tutting about lack of interest in politics (all Gordon Brown's fault) and the dumbing down of the population (also Gordon Brown's fault), probably as part of a dismal A N Wilson piece. But even if we ignore the millions of citizens ineligible for the electoral role who do vote for TV talent shows (the under 18s), it seems an odd comparison to make, much as the media loves to do it.

If, in order to vote for Bill or Ben (or whatever the finalists' names were), viewers had to go to their nearest school with a registration card between 7am and 7pm on a Thursday, as opposed to sending a text or ringing a premium rate number, the number of votes polled on X-Factor would diminish considerably. I'm sure over the weekend more people ordered takeaway pizzas than voted Labour in 2005, but that doesn't necessarily represent a collective expression of disillusionment.

But it does seem to have given Simon Cowell an idea for greater political engagement, as he says he wants to organise X-Factor style shows involving politicians ahead of the general election. Debating issues, fortunately, not singing (story here). According to the BBC, he wants to create a "bear pit" atmosphere, with a live studio audience and viewers voting via telephone. He wants to put on a show where a large studio audience was divided up according to its view on an issue, and then "a red telephone would allow politicians to ring in to state their case", which leads me to believe that he's gotten Prime Minister's Questions mixed up with Deal or No Deal.

Although I would welcome Mr Cowell's creative involvement in organising such an event, my greatest fear is it would spark a counter-campaign on Facebook, and before we knew it, the lead singer of Rage Against the Machine would be Prime Minister.

No comments: