Friday, November 14, 2008

Hate to say I told you so ...

I really hate reality TV shows. It's cheap, vulgar, mindless and insulting programming and we deserve better (I wrote about this back in April). I don't mind if it has some validity; the very first Big Brother was fascinating viewing as a social experiment. You may recall there were even psychologists in the studio who described the various behaviours being exhibited. But it could only ever work once as Big Brother 2 contestants would know what to expect. And, sure enough, it's descended into a freak show and we are all encouraged to come and point at the socially inept, the fatuous, the ignorant and the pathetic. The psychologist pundits have now been replaced by mediocre celebrities, fashionistas and gossip monkeys.

I've always tolerated talent shows if their purpose is to provide opportunity. They're not something I watch but I appreciate what they're for. In the 1960s and 70s we had shows like Opportunity Knocks and New Faces that launched many stars including Lenny Henry, Les Dawson, Lena Zavaroni and Jim Davison. Later on came Stars in their Eyes, a rather odd show that allowed people to show off their mimicry of a singing celebrity. But it did create careers and it wasn't cynical, exploitative or designed to humiliate. You watched it to see how close the impersonation was. But then came Pop Idol and American Idol and the X Factor and we entered a whole new ballgame. And that game has just suffered its first tragic casualty.

Paula Goodspeed was found dead outside American Idol judge Paula Abdul's house on Tuesday. She was 30 years old. A couple of years ago, she was humiliated by the Idol panel, particularly by Simon Cowell who commented, 'I don't think any artist on earth could sing with that much metal in your mouth. You have so much metal in your mouth'. Her very public slating made her a laughing stock and she recorded on her MySpace page that 'It's very hard reading such awful things being written about yourself or hearing things being said ... not like a lot of people would understand what it's like having so many haters, just because I made the mistake of trying out for a singing competition before I was even ready vocally, emotionally and physically.'

Paula Goodspeed had a history of mental illness and had to be warned away from 'stalking' Paula Abdul whom she idolised, even creating life-sized drawings of the singer and dancer. Abdul has said that she is 'deeply shocked and saddened at what transpired. My heart and prayers go out to her family.' Goodspeed apparently took an overdose of prescription pills outside Abdul's home.

But what did Abdul, Cowell, Jackson and all of the other reality judges expect to happen when you put a vulnerable and (sadly) deluded young woman on national television and then proceed to destroy her? What possible entertainment value can there be in laughing and sneering at people who are talentless or even mentally ill? It's as if we've returned to the days of mocking those less fortunate than ourselves. It's just one step away from the carnivales and freak shows of old.

I for one am disgusted by it all. We are better than this.

14 comments:

doctawho42 said...

Christ that makes me sick. That poor, poor woman. I feel unspeakably sorry for everyone involved.

Debby said...

Sadly, Stevyn, it would appear that only some of us are better than that. Others seem to thrive on it. I've never mistaken maliciousness for humour or entertainment. On the same token, watching Big Brother or Survivor reminds me of Lord of the Flies. Take a skip on that as well.

John Soanes said...

I hadn't heard about this, but it sounds like a very sad situation.

In a strange way, the talent shows on TV seem to both perpetuate the idea that they could be your way out of your humdrum prole life, and simultaneously encourage us to laugh at the people whose talent is far outstretched by their optimism, hope or delusion, and for whom it's simply not going to be that one shining moment when their lives change.

But who's fostered the belief amongst the would-be stars that they can leapfrog years of hard work to a moment in the spotlight (and it is usually a moment, there are dozens of Alex Coxes for every Leona Lewis)? The shows themselves. No wonder people who have neither the talent nor the mental resources to accept rejection are drawn to audition.

"You too can be a star! Yes you! You! Come and audition, you could be the next Michelle McManus! Yes you! … No, not you, you're garbage! Ha ha! Get out - but try to cry into camera three as you go, please!"

But of course there's one overrriding reason why this news is unlikely to stop the thundering juggernaught of 'reality TV', I fear, and it's one that might only be heightened by the current climate: these programmes are, by TV standards, cheap to make, aren't they?

Diane said...

I don't watch any reality-based television either (except for, occasionally, the one show noted in my 100th post... shameless plug there ;). I just had a conversation about this subject with a friend of mine. Though we both agree that everyone participating/trying out/etc should KNOW what they're getting into (as you pointed out with Big Brother), there will always be those who simply don't get it, or who just aren't prepared for the reality of it... and get hurt as a result. I don't understand the 'reality' phenomenon (I always say I have enough of my OWN reality... I don't need anyone else's), but the bottom line is that as long as other people do and are willing to watch, it will be there. As a people, we stoop to alarmingly low levels sometimes. Sigh.

willow said...

Ah, finally someone who HATES them as much as I do. :P

Stevyn Colgan said...

I just have very little else to say. It's a sad, sad state of affairs and I can only see it getting worse. How long before the first televised unnatural death? Five years max.

Bill Stankus said...

I think it's a tad too simple to blame the TV program. Yes, these 'reality' shows are schlock, stupid, vapid and etc. But ...
Goodspeed, it seems, was emotionally crippled long before her audition and emotional problems are not necessarily detectable by others, especially those who who are selecting applicants for a talent show. Could the program's judges been more alert about people such as Goodspeed, with hindsight the answer is, yes.

I suspect the kind of people who audition for these programs, as a group, are eccentric and different in many ways from those that slog to work doing average things. Goodspeed might have presented herself as just another fringe type - the kind who boost ratings because they don't have talent. What she was told prior to her camera time we will never know.

Yes, an unfortunate situation but other than trained doctors and psychologists who could know the consequences of Goodspeed's embarrassment?

This is not offered as an excuse - just an observation that what we see on TV is not the same as what actually occurred.

chris hale said...

Did you hear the quote from Ms Abdul when they told her?

I'm speechless. I don't know what to say and not in a good way.

Which just about sums up her articulacy. Strange how some folk are reduced to burbling incoherence when they don't have an idiot board in front of them.

Stevyn Colgan said...

Bill - I have no argument with anything you say. If it was easy to spot these kinds of fragile, damaged people in need, we could do more to help them. I'm more angry about the overall concept of laughing at people who - even to a barely pubescent TV researcher - are obviously not rowing with all of their oars in the water. Around the same time that Paula was auditioning in the USA, we in the UK were watching Robert Unwin 'The Chicken Factory Man' who, when Simon Cowell told him he was the worst singer in the world, replied 'Thank you'. And how everyone laughed at his confused little face. It ain't right.

Chris - It's often the case, matey. I've met a few celebs in my time and it always amazes me when some of them simply can't operate without a script!

Jon M said...

I work with children with autism and it amazes me how many people with the condition turn up on the auditions programmes. Actually, it doesn't amaze me, what amazes me is how the programme makers can cheerfully allow them to perform for our amusement. Ignorance I guess?

Stevyn Colgan said...

Jon - I know. My wife worked in the care profession for years and she can spot them immediately. It's all very sad. I think that ignorance is maybe being too kind to them. Uncaring seems more on the button to me.

justsomethoughts... said...

i'm not sure why anyone would subject themselves to mr. cowell's maliciousness (it's the money and fame, stupid). i dont watch the show, but have caught snippets of it here and there. i'm always amazed by just how mean he is. i'm also sorry that so many people would find his scathing remarks entertaining. thats entertainment.

Stevyn Colgan said...

Justsomethoughts - Welcome! Simon Cowell has always excused his behaviour by saying that he's being honest. Yes, he is. But what he forgets is that his opinion carries huge weight within the industry and therefore is more crushing and hurtful than if a contestant heard the same words from you or me. There are ways to tell someone that they are a bad singer than don't involve rudeness, abuse and general slagging of. Most of the other judges manage it. It's all so unnecessary. But the sad fact is that a certain proportion of the public love to watch it. It's made Cowell - who was already a millionaire - into a megastar. Hell, they even created a version of him for the Shrek films. And because of the fan-base he will just carry on. I, at least, have the remote control at my disposal and can change channel. And do so.

justsomethoughts... said...

that certain proportion that you speak of is obviously big enough to warrant his "mega-stardom". a sad indictement of those watching.