A brief note on Reality television...
The guest panellist on Mathew Wright’s programme this morning was psychologist Professor Oliver James. The topic under discussion was that ‘oh so pressing issue’ of has John Sergeant ruined television talent shows with specific reference to Todd Carty (who?) on Strictly Line Dancing On Ice (or something). A subject I’ve just made sound more like a Doctoral Thesis topic than it deserves.
However, apparently someone called Todd Carty, who I should remember as heroic bully Tucker Jenkins from Grange Hill, has proved to be doing for Ice Dancing what John Sergeant did for Ballroom (and presumably Robespierre did for the Parisian Barbers' Union). Despite being rubbish the audience have decided that he should stay on the show in the same way they decided Sergeant had to stay on Strictly despite him knocking out far more talented (and hard-working) contestants. What you’re views on such things are really comes down to whether you believe that such shows are primarily entertainment or primarily talent contests. And at present that's of less interest to me.
Anyway, Professor James explained what he believed to be the psychology behind these voting patterns. Apparently, when previous generations were more commonly in manufacturing and could both quantitatively and qualitatively analyze their, and other’s, performance in 'widget-making' (or whatever): how many made, in what time-span and how well... training, experience and expertise was held to be of primary value. Now, as more commonly people work in service industries they base their assessments of talent show contestants more on the personality and social skills of the contender thus mirroring the primary interactions of their own work-places where hierarchies and ‘politics’ are more relevant; popularity and sociability are held as key skills. As an aside he pointed out that these were the Blair skills that helped him get elected. He said these same interplays are clearly seen in Big Brother contestants as they manoeuvre for both position within the house, the housemate hierarchy and the affections of the viewing public.
Professor James then related one of the sadder things I’ve heard in a while. His seven-year old daughter was very cross with John Sergeant for his continued presence on Strictly Come Dancing and was a big supporter of Rachel Stevens. Said the Professor ‘she still believes that people should be rewarded for their hard-work’. Matthew Wright said ‘she’ll soon learn’. Everybody laughed knowingly.
She shouldn’t have to.
But why should anybody bother training or working hard on Strictly or Ice-Dance if they are going to be kicked off in favour of those who don’t or can’t bother. And what lesson is that for anyone.