Is this responsible TV?

Here is an issue where I simply don't know the answer. At some personal pain (they made me do it), I watched the X-Factor last night. The participants in this talent show for singers had already been whittled down to 32. Now they were told which 12 would go through to the live finals and which 20 would be dumped in the dustbin of musical life.

By the time they get to this stage, the contestants already feel they've made it. They are taken to 'the judges houses' (or rental properties standing in as such) and given the star treatment. The programme has ensured that they have been built up to an immense high. Several of them, in interviews before the decision announced, say things like 'This is my life, I don't know what I will do if I don't get through,' or 'My life is over if I'm not picked.'

I have the genuine concern that at some point, under the immense and artificial air of pressure generated by the show to make 'good television', one of the contestants who is rejected will commit suicide. At this point, those running the show will exhibit their crocodile tears for all to see, saying 'We are so sorry, we couldn't have forseen this.' Well, yes they could. Just this last week, Peter Boatman, director of the company Pro-Tect that lost its contract to supply the UK police with tasers (in effect destroying their business) took his life because of the loss of the contract. When someone puts their work at the absolute centre of their life, it can result in terrible consequences when their chances are taken away.

This is where I am undecided. On the one hand, part of me says 'Contestants know what they are letting themselves in for. If they want to put themselves through this, they've only themselves to blame.' On the other hand I am well aware that the X-Factor is hugely manipulative of its audience (all those sob stories, for example) and put its contestants through unnecessary pressure to make compulsive viewing - and with people's lives potentially at stake, I'm not sure that this is acceptable.

I just hope, if it ever does happen, that the producers will do the right thing and pull the series rather than keep it running. That would be sickening, as they would inevitably pretend that it's 'what [insert name of unfortunate person] would have wanted us to do,' rather than admitting it's because the production company wants to keep making money hand over fist.


  1. It's a hard one - but don't you think that you are being manipulated as much as any other member of the audience? I should imagine that the contestants can only compete after signing a forest of waivers, and that counsellors are on hand. If the times have now changed as much as you say in your most recent blog about Boys' Own Hebridean Adventure, then risk will be minimised as possible consistent with the format.

    And also that the acres of film in which contestants don't say 'it's my lifelong dream' but 'really, I'm only in it for a lark' will have been edited away?

    But if one of the contestants really did commit suicide - how delicious. Their relatives would sell the story to the tabs, and their recordings, such as they are, would make the Christmas No. 1, such is the replacement by sentimentality of genuine sentiment in the target audience. And guess who'd clean up. No, you're way ahead of me.

  2. That I am being manipulated as much as any other member of the audience.


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