X marks the spot.
When Fame Academy was on, I argued that a transposition of critical and popular judgement might be under way in tele-land. (Not necessarily a good or a bad thing.) At the very least, what Pop Idol itself did was place the audience, week after week, in the seats of the judges: as an endless stream of hopefuls stepped in front of the cameras (especially in the early rounds) we all became critics. That one is singing flat, that one doesn’t have the right look, etc., etc. With X-factor this small chink in the shifting plates of the culture industry (and they will keep on shifting: new possibilities will open up just as this one shuts down) has closed. Back to swill-shovelling business-as-usual for the venal corporate entertainment machine. The re-jigging of the format, which some unkind critics have alleged is due to possible legal difficulties with similar shows, has been constructed to replace judgement with narrative. In the opening rounds, the viewer rarely saw the acts audition. Instead we got a tiny selection of human-interest stories, alongside the inside-track on some of the acts presumably earmarked for fast-tracking, and a prominent focus on the singers’ opinions of / reactions to the judges. The competition between the three has been the excuse for some grotesqely staged clowning of the stage-villain variety. ‘Oooh that Simon, he keeps everyone waiting… we don’t like him’, etc. And the story of the competition itself has all but obliterated what made earlier talent-show series more open, even if only in momentarily, or in simulation. Once again the viewer ends up factored into the spectacle not as (potentially) critical participant but playing as much a victim of the media machine as the contestants. The fact that people are watching / talking about / concerned about X Factor becomes part of its self-celebrating and insular logic: the audience at home downgraded from subject to object, like the sad desperates hoping to trade their call-centre or chain-store grind for equivalent exploitation (and hard work, I should think) draped in the trappings of fame (limos and clothes will be paid out of your advance, which is hardly going to be big, life expectancy of the winner’s career being at an all time low). Turn off.