It is that time of year again when we judge the talent/fame hungry of this land. X Factor has been on our screens now for a few weeks, but this weekend will begin the live countdown to Christmas and Simon Cowell’s next few million. I tried to pretend that this year, I just wasn’t interested; that I was now above it and no longer intrigued with the trials and tribulations of those seeking their fifteen minutes. I convinced myself previously that I needed to watch such shows to keep up with the classroom chat of both kids and staff. It would seem I have been conning myself, as already I am quite looking forward to Saturday night’s charade – before you sigh, I know I’m sad!
It fits far to well with my favourite hobby – people watching. I love nothing more than sitting in a café or restaurant and listening/observing those around; viewing the weird and the wonderful in their unknown daily routines. X Factor is simply an extension of this – I don’t go so far as to read the tabloids, watch the secondary channel’s ‘behind the scenes’ programmes or check the website, but I will watch ‘on-demand’ if I miss and episode! There is something so compelling about watching other humans in heightened states of emotions.
It is the modern day freak show, a bunch of ‘normal’ people pointing and staring at an unfortunate ensemble. It is an exploitation that it’s creator, Simon Cowell, has made a tidy profit from and as long as people are watching, can we really blame him? After all, aren’t all cynics just a little jealous that they didn’t think of it first?
Ben Elton’s books deal with all manner of over-hyped, of-the-times issues including climate change, the environment, IVF, social media and of course, reality TV. Dead Famous tackles ‘Big Brother’, while it is Elton’s cutting wit in Chart Throb that addresses the pop industry’s current television high.
The novel follows Clavin Simms, a damning Cowell spoof, who enters a bet with his soon-to-be-divorced-from wife. The divorce settlement (and Simms’ vast fortune) depends on Simms’ ability to fix his own star-finding tv show. Ben Elton documents the events with cunning cruelty that paints so vividly a world we are all sure exists behind closed production doors. Every element is crafted by Simms/Cowell to reach the desired outcome, including the very specific screen shots of solitary tears. The manipulation of the public’s opinion over the ‘Mingers, Clingers and Blingers’, along with that of fellow judges is so very clever and undoubtedly reflects reality with incredible accuracy.
Speaking of judges, the parodied ensemble seems to cut very close to the bone; a mixture of cringe worthy giggles ensued from depictions of Rodney Root (an ageing, lonely pop manager who has a very Irish feel – Louis Walsh anyone?) and Beryl Blenheim (Rock Star turned transsexual who puts her family in their own reality TV show – a smattering of Sharon Osbourne anyone?). Even the key phrases they repeat and the situations they find themselves in echo another world not too far away.
The narrative is funny (it is Ben Elton) but genuinely quite touching in places – it seems to hit the sentiment that programmes such as X Factor seem to ruin through uplifting choral tones and sepia toned film. It lays bare an industry that has taken a strangle hold on Saturday night television in quite a ruthless manner, but one which is much needed in a world so filled with saccharin insincerity.
Elton is cutting, harsh and witty to the end – but be warned, you do feel the need to strangle the pages about half way through. As expected of the lead characters, they follow the very monotone, repetitive, cliché spuming nonsense that comes with the territory. I did enjoy the book (it was some time ago though now) but was ready for the end – much like watching X Factor! I felt the repetition a little dry but, as said, it was much needed in the narrative.
I haven’t read any other Ben Elton novels, but I am a massive fan of his comedy work, performing and writing. I have it on good authority (from Steve) that Popcorn is an exceptionally good book and I only hear good things about his First World War story, The First Casualty. I will get around to reading more, but probably not until after Christmas – I have got a pop competition to watch after all.