Auditions started this week for the next series of The X Factor, to be broadcast in the autumn. Yeah well, so what. If you don’t like it, don’t watch it; who cares if 19.4 million people tuned in for last year’s final? But the problem with The X Factor isn’t merely the bland uniformity of the music – that the show is, in Elton John’s words, ‘boring and arse-paralysingly brain crippling’ – or even the grotesque parody of the democratic electoral process that it enacts, down to the endless newspaper post-mortems and manufactured outcries over vote-rigging. The X Factor is more than a diversion: it’s a glaring symptom of much that’s wrong with Britain’s political landscape.
The Labour Party long ago gave up any open talk of solidarity or collective action, let alone class struggle, opting instead for the post-Thatcherite rhetoric of individual ‘aspiration’. The X Factor, like the National Lottery, is part of a giant con trick, justifying deep and worsening inequality with the promise that anyone – maybe you – can overnight become one of the super rich. It’s a way of encouraging us to vote not in the interest of society at large, or even our own interest, but in the interest of the rich and famous people that we aspire to be.
A quick look at Google Trends suggests that the fame The X Factor provides is fleeting. Who now remembers Steve Brookstein, Shayne Ward or Leon Jackson? The unremarkable Matt Cardle, his Christmas No. 1 notwithstanding, looks set for a similar fate. But the forgettableness, the ordinariness of the winners is precisely the point: anyone could have won last year or the year before, and anyone – maybe you – could win this year. Just make sure you get in line at the Echo Arena in Liverpool at 9 a.m. on Monday morning. The way things are going, in a few years’ time it may have replaced the dole queue altogether.