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Britain’s got talent, perhaps — but no taste

I am not a very musical person, but the following juxtaposition in the tv schedules last night struck me as remarkable:

9:30 ITV1 Britain’s Got Talent (results show). Amateur variety acts are ranked by the viewers. Predicted audience 14 million. An industry in itself.

9:00 BBC4 Standing in the Shadows of Motown. Documentary on the Funk Brothers, the Motown Records house band, who played on everything even the amusical like me have heard of, and incorporating live sets with the surviving old guys backing top modern soul artists. Predicted audience, way under half a million.

Hereford T-bone has none of the attractions of udderburger. And sometime in the next year they will let those 14 million vote for a government, too.

30 comments to Britain’s got talent, perhaps — but no taste

  • Or as one wag put it “Britain’s Got Talent” not on the basis of this show it doesn’t.

    Love the fact that a dance troupe called “Diversity” who dance to songs by a kiddie fiddler who got himself bleached, wins over someone who can sing. Wonder if they would have won if they were called “Dance Again” or something.

  • It is often said that we get the government we deserve. Based on the popularity of BGT we certainly do.

    The banality, anti-intellectualism and sheer brainlessness of such programs as BGT and it ilk is one of the reasons I no longer watch television at all. It’s all fast food for the brain; tasteless, easy to make, and lacking in any value whatsoever.

  • Oh no, the high priests of good taste are at it again.

    And sometime in the next year they will let those 14 million vote for a government, too.

    Guy, do you really believe that if you restricted the voting right to that almost-half-million who watch The Good Program you’d get a much better government?

  • Jacob

    Alisa is right, of course. It’s the “dumb masses” that save us from the excesses of the ruling “intellectuals”. We, as libertarian intellectuals, are totally irrelevant, we have failed to make any dent in the leftist-marxist onslaught. No great comfort in having to rely on the “unthinking hordes” for our salvation, but it’s a fact.
    Good thing that Marx was reliably wrong again, and the proletariat like communism like a pain in the a**.

  • RAB

    Well said Alisa.

    As Dorothy Parker said:-

    You cand lead a whore to culture,
    but you cant make her think.

    And that’s what the Soviet system did.

    They had the Bollshoi Ballet and Classics coming out of their ears, but I dont remember it changing the political climate one iota.

    Besides Guy, you rather miss the point of Britains got Talent.
    It isn’t about talent, it’s a Freak Show.
    It is laughing at dwalfs in circuses, and having a look round Bedlam.

    I have been in the business of spotting talent for over 30 years, and spotted quite a bit in that time.

    The thing I always ask myself is, can this Act sustain? Does it have a future over and above the exposure it is getting on National tv in a very narrow framework of time?
    Generally the answer is no.

    Diversity, a dance troupe won and I will happily bet now that none of you will ever fork out good money to see them in a theatre near you.

    The same with poor Susan. A slightly brain damaged lady with a good but not great voice, and the body of Anne Widdicombe, who will be lucky to get gigs at her local Pub in the future.

    Nope, you are conflating the method with the actuality.7100

  • Ian B

    Oh, pfft. Apples and oranges. If I had a TV, I wouldn’t watch the programme about motown because I don’t like motown, and anyway documentaries are rubbish; you can get ten times the information in half the time just by googling. One of the reasons I don’t miss my TV was the realisation backaways of the appallingly low informational density of factual TV programming. You spend an hour of presentation to learn very little. If you want to learn, read a book. Or the web.

    Britain’s got talent is a talent show. This is not the same. These two things are different. Its attraction is the tension of wondering who will win, like a sports competition, and BGT also has the excitement of participatory voting. And, a bona fide heroine from the untermenschen to cheer on.

    It’s popular to bemoan the low intellectual standards of others compared to our own high quality highbrow selves. It makes us feel terribly good about ourselves. It also helps us to justify why we believe things that 99.9% of others don’t. It’s because they’re all stupid! Well stap me vitals, that’s it, of course!

    Well no, not really. Entertainment is meant to be entertaining, not a fucking intellect test. This is the same bollocks as opera buffs sneering at lovers of pop music. Well frankly, when I’m doing the ironing I want to listen to a pleasant melody, not some fat bint warbling about Don somebody in a language I don’t comprehend. That’s not an intellectual deficiit. It’s a lack of snobbish conceit, that’s what it is.

    Mass entertainment is lowbrow, and easy, and pleasant, and not too taxing, like what Shakespeare’s plays were when they were playing to a rowdy crowd at the Globe instead of pseuds at the RSC. It’s just whatever you like. There’s nothing wrong with that.

    If one wanted to name a single driving force of anglosocialism, it is that snobbery that the masses don’t know what they want and need it decided for them. This is where progressivism came from, where the nanny state came from. Why there is a massive nationalised “arts” industry full of leftie pseudo-intellectuals, paid for by extracting the hard earned from our pockets. It’s why there’s a BBC, paid for by us, under threat of imprisonment, because people can’t be trusted to just watch the programmes they want to, and have to have “something better” imposed on them.

    Bollock to it. There’s nothing wrong with Britain’s Got Talent. Stop this.

  • RobtE

    What IanB said.

    Does anyone remember the genesis of the BBC Third Programme? Or the Arts Council? Or the Royal Opera House?

    Oh, and maybe the viewing figures had something to do with this being the third time this year that BBC4 has shown the Motown programmes. Having already watched them twice, I for one wasn’t all that keen to sit through them yet again.

  • mike

    Well I’ve never watched BGT so I don’t want to say anything directly about it.

    The notion that there are universal standards of taste by which BGT and Motown can be compared strikes me at first glance as hubris for all the reasons that Ian B states above.

    Taste is relative to the purpose of one’s actions and the context of those actions. For example, when I’m getting ready to go to sleep or I’m reading a book I’d rather listen to Boards Of Canada’s ‘Peacock Tail’ than The Supreme’s ‘I Will Survive’. Yet when I’m driving around on one of my motorbikes I’d rather listen to the latter than the former! But driving around the mountains on the east coast of Taiwan this weekend, I ignored The Supremes in favour of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Achilles Last Stand’. One is not ‘better’ than another in any sense apart from it’s aesthetic suitability to the purpose of my actions.

    Having said all that, I suspect there is a valid point somewhere between the lines of Guy’s post.

    The fact that different kinds of music are a more or less suitable aesthetic complement for certain actions is not a random accident – it is a consequence of their nature, of the kind of music they are. And so it is therefore possible to make inferences about the likely kinds of action and context in which they’d be preferred by certain individuals.

    It is the same with TV shows – it cannot be strictly inferred from a TV show without any conceptual intrigue that it’s viewers are all necessarily idiots (for example, they may simply be too knackered for anything intellectual), but it certainly does not support the view that they are highly intelligent. Likewise, it cannot be inferred from a TV show that does have some conceptual intrigue that all its’ viewers are necessarily highly intelligent (for example they may simply like images of volcanoes or whatever), but it certainly does not support the view that they are all raving Pelosi idiots.

    I’d go along with Guy to the extent that it is likely many of the people who watch BGT are morons, but that there is no practical way of knowing the numbers.

    At any rate, if you put this information into a wider political context of mass stupidity, you should acknowledge that Guy is probably right – Britain is full of mutants and functional retards and that might well be the very reason why many of them like a TV show like BGT.

    I hope my comment doesn’t come off too much as all professory, but it couldn’t be helped. Someone like NickM or Brian Micklethwait could probably write the same thing better and in simpler language.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    I don’t mind BGT at all. Some of the acts are silly but so what?

    I actually think that such programmes suggest to me that in all societies and at pretty much most times, people like a bit of inconsequential fun; they like to see folk having a go and having a laugh while doing it.

    And let’s face it, the worse our political and economic situation gets, the greater the need for harmless safety valves. One can hardly blame the likes of Simon Cowell, who is as shrewd a man as there is, for filling it.
    The same applies to shows like Top Gear and the enormous success of folk like Jeremy Clarkson; in his case, he fills a real need, the need to say “go fuck yourselves” to nanny statist killjoys wherever they live.

  • Mike: good point about different kinds of entertainment for different moods etc. I wouldn’t go so far as to assume that most people who watch BGT are morons. I’d err on the side of “average intelligence”.

    Ian: you iron? BTW, I like opera, but certainly not all of it and not all the time – see Mike’s point above.

  • I think mike deserves to with the thread, but I want Ian B to win because he was more entertaining.

    (I watch a fair bit of awful TV, sometimes it’s entertaining *because* it’s awful, sometimes in spite of being awful, like the new Knight Rider, which is absurd, but it has a talking, transforming, nanotech car and reminds me of watching the series with David Hasselhoff when I was little.)

  • mike

    Rob: my own view is that I deserve nothing but a slap across the chops for not doing my comment properly.

    As I said, I haven’t watched BGT because I’m not interested, but I do get the impression that if I did watch it, I’d think it was trash and that a great many people who watch it probably are morons. And I don’t care that Jonathan doesn’t like that.

    There cannot be any universal standard of taste, since that would contradict its’ relativity to action, context and individual psychology.

    So I have my own judgements (and pre-judgements) concerning entertainment, music, fashion etc and concerning other people’s tastes in these things. You have them too and there is a reason why – you need to choose how to socialize with or avoid so many different people that it makes sense to economize your use of the information you have about them.

    I think, in agreement with Guy and possibly Gabriel if he’s around, that a great many people who watch shows like BGT are morons because their preference for that show indicates a certain taste which in turn reflects a ‘sense of life’ (borrowed Randian concept) that I judge to be rather at odds with my own.

    How in the hell could you sit there and watch a bunch of individuals jumping around and calling themselves by the obvious political hatchet term ‘diversity’? And they win over, apparently a woman who actually can sing? Honestly, I think I’d rather eat a bag of ears than watch that nonsense.

    The second point which I neglected to make earlier is that I also agree with Guy’s sense of disgust at such probable morons being allowed to choose a gang monopoly on force that will presume to rule over the one and only life I’ll ever have. Fuck that and fuck them. It’s not that I want to restrict the franchise to just me, Guy Herbert, Mandrill and Andrew Ian Dodge – I just don’t want democracy at all. I regard it as possibly the biggest political mistake ever made in the West. That doesn’t mean I want chaos either.

  • But Mike, how do you know that people who watch the show are necessarily the same people who vote for politicians/policies you don’t like?

  • mike

    Because, Alice, I don’t like any of the politicians and none of their policies.

    The politicians can all go and eat a bag of each other’s dicks as far as I’m concerned.

  • Mike, Ian B and a few others have said exactly what I thought. I liked BGT.

    Anyway. I was just narked Stavros Flatley didn’t win. Now that was entertainment!

  • I like that scenario:-)

    It’s Alisa, BTW.

    Still, I don’t see what any of this has to do with people’s taste (or lack thereof) in entertainment. If you don’t like any of the politicians/policies (something I can sympathize with), and would rather people didn’t vote at all (ditto), then how do you know that people who watch the show (or spend their time indulging in any other kind of entertainment you and I might consider moronic) are the same people who actually vote?

  • mike

    I do apologize for getting your name wrong, Alisa – I sometimes type too fast and don’t pay the requisite attention to such things.

    To answer your question, I don’t know for certain that the people who watch BGT do vote – but that is quite beside the point (which is that they can vote).

    It is not that people who watch BGT, and who may or may not be morons, get to vote – but that voting happens at all, and, worse still, with morons!

  • Thanks Mike, I get it now.

  • Robert Speirs

    Was it really that long ago that “Motown” and “funk” music were seen as a harbinger of the death of civilization? I thought they were boring then and still think so now that they have become conventional, respectable “art”. The misconception has always been that music is anything but pleasant sounds.

  • RAB

    The misconception has always been that music is anything but pleasant sounds.

    And poetry and prose nothing but pleasant words then Robert?

    Fortunately for critics like me, there is still a belief in the idea that you can “Objectivise”.

    That you can tell the good and the bad from the ugly, and explain why that is so.

    The fact that people still buy the ugly is entirely up to them.
    I just try to point them in the right direction, not force them you understand.

    My main objection to BGT is that it is a cruel con on the people taking part.

    The only people who are getting famous are on the panel(what are piers Morgans credentials for this sort of show by the way, apart from being a mouthy lefty ex Mirror editor by the way?) and those like Simon who own the rights to the show.
    The performers will be forgotten in a couple of weeks.

    Susan Boyle is now in the Priory, emotionally exhausted, that little 11 year old who lost in the semis was completely destroyed in front of millions(she will love to look back on the video of that in a few years wont she!) and the trail of damage goes on.
    Ok, nobody forced them to appear, but it should be pointed out to them at the start that they are never going to win.
    It is a complete Fantasy Island.

  • Daniel J

    From Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate:

    “Skepticism about the soundness of people’s mental faculties also determines whether one should respect ordinary people’s tastes and opinions (even those we don’t much like) or treat people as dupes of an insidious commercial culture. According to relativist doctrines like “false consciousness,” “inauthentic preferences,” and “interiorized authority,” people may be mistaken about their own desires. If so, it would undermine the assumptions behind democracy, which gives ultimate authority to the preferences of the majority of a population, and the assumptions behind market economies, which treat people as the best judges of how they should allocate their own resources. Perhaps not coincidentally, it elevates the scholars and artists who analyze the use of language and images in society, because only they can unmask the ways in which such media mislead and corrupt.” (p. 198)

  • mike

    Daniel J: Pinker is wrong. There are no ‘assumptions’ necessary to either the justification for, or working of a market economy. I don’t have time to elaborate now. Later…

  • guy herbert

    mike:

    Absolutely. But Pinker is not, I think, making the contrary view. He is attributing it to others and emphasising how the “relativist doctrines” generally serve their owner’s power in society. Assumptions to justify democracy and markets may not necessary or valid, but they are are commonly present, and frequently attacked by the same enemies of the market – who are generally less frank about their implicit opposition to democracy, which they generally claim to be promoting by attacking free choice.

  • mike

    Guy: Perhaps, although the passage Daniel quotes reads somewhat ambiguously as to whether Pinker is attributing such a view to others or stating it as his own.

    I will not let that sort of thing slide without a challenge, regardless of whose view it is.

    A market economy does not collapse simply because all individuals do not at all times make rational choices on the basis of rationally chosen ends. Just try to imagine it otherwise for Christ’s sake!

    Look, a market economy is simply the process of free exchange allowed to develop over time minus interference from the State. No assumptions are required for this to ‘work’, because there is no justification for imposing collective ends on the market economy to work towards.

    That is a devastating sleight of hand that ought to be pinned down and exposed at first sign in any argument.

  • Daniel J

    The important bit from my point of view was about the assumptions “which treat people as the best judges of how they should allocate their own resources.” This also includes their time allocated to low-brow tv shows.

    Is there really a difference between saying that you have an objective yardstick as to what is worthwile television and claiming that you know better how the resources in an economy should be used?

  • mike

    But it is not a matter of treating people as the ‘best’ judges of how they should allocate their own resources’, Daniel. It is a matter of minding one’s own business. You manage to slide a world of difference into your statement with just that little word ‘best’.

    It is none of my damn business what other people want to watch on TV, and for the most part I’m not interested in anyone else’s viewing choices. That does not mean I must logically concede that other people’s choices are ‘the best’ even if only for themselves. I can quite reasonably think their choices are utter shite – but I don’t need to go around shouting it from the rooftops because it is none of my business.

    “Is there really a difference between saying that you have an objective yardstick as to what is worthwile television and claiming that you know better how the resources in an economy should be used?”

    No, and look here – you speak of the ‘resources in an economy’ as if you’d never heard of the concept of private property. The economy does not have ‘resources’. Individual people have claims to property (whether capital or otherwise), and ‘the economy’ itself is merely an abstraction from the myriad transactions of innumerable individuals. From this point of view it is entirely arbitrary that one may speak of the ‘British economy’ or the ‘French economy’, or the ‘U.S. economy’ – those very terms presuppose State ownership of economic goods, which is simply monstrous.

  • Daniel J

    Mike, I basically agree with what you are saying. Still, the way you formulate your position seems to me slightly paranoid, in a postmodern way, as if language was everything and there was no reality to compare things with.

    The economy does not have ‘resources’. Individual people have claims to property (whether capital or otherwise), and ‘the economy’ itself is merely an abstraction from the myriad transactions of innumerable individuals. From this point of view it is entirely arbitrary that one may speak of the ‘British economy’ or the ‘French economy’, or the ‘U.S. economy’ – those very terms presuppose State ownership of economic goods, which is simply monstrous.

    You are right that too often, collectivists talk about the economy as if it was an organic whole. However, it can also make sense from an idividualist perspective to use the term “economy”, as an aggregate of the individual actions you describe. And it is not “entirely arbitrary” to talk about different “national” economies, especially when comparing different policies and their effects on individual action in different states.

    Anyway, when I said that some people claim to “know better how the resources in an economy” I meant to paraphrase a position I oppose.

  • mike

    “Still, the way you formulate your position seems to me slightly paranoid, in a postmodern way, as if language was everything and there was no reality to compare things with.”

    There is nothing postmodern in what I said. It is precisely because words refer (or are supposed to refer) to reality that I took issue with your phrasing.

    “And it is not “entirely arbitrary” to talk about different “national” economies, especially when comparing different policies and their effects on individual action in different states.”

    You’re right of course, but you miss my point. To talk about say, the French economy, because you want to point to economic regulations passed by the French State makes sense. But take away the State, and what reason is there for speaking of ‘national economies’ any longer? Without the State what reason is there to measure GDP for instance? Do you see what I’m getting at?

  • Ian B

    Mike, Daniel, stop arguing. You are both right :)

    The point here perhaps is that when people discuss what sort of economy to have, they discuss how efficient they are. Free marketeers often argue (rightly) that the free market is the most effective form of economy. This is because it is by far the best way of delivering to people the goods and services they desire.

    Flummoxed by this, the left have retreated into an argument that people are not the best judge of what they should want; that is, their desires are often harmful to themselves. Since the free market satisfies those harmful desires, then that “proves” that the free market itself is harmful.

    There is a whole literature out there of books purporting to prove that we don’t know what is best for ourselves- “Nudge”, “The Paradox Of Choice” and so on. Leftists are arguing that from their point of view, the market’s ability to satisfy our wants is not efficient, because our wants themselves are harmful to us. The state should instead tell us what we need and force us to have that, which would, from their perspective, be more “efficient”.

    E.g. sausages are bad for you. By liking sausages, you are acting against your best interest. Ergo, sausages should be taxed out of your pocket.

    That’s what Pinker was describing. From the quote, one can’t tell if he was agreeing with it.

  • Growls

    There is no such thing as a ‘Free market’ because it needs the baggage of a society to support it.

    Otherwise I would exercise one of two strategies either take what resources I wanted from you or trade with you for them if that made more sense.