ABOUT HALFWAY THROUGH the debut series of The X Factor (New Zealand) I started making some notes about why I liked the show. I should add that I liked it un-ironically, though not unreservedly; I’m not insane. Of course the show is mostly reviled. Here are some of the reasons I’ve heard: it’s exploitative of the participants and the audience, cynical, divorced from true ideas about musical talent and embarrassingly shallow; a crass, heavily scripted overseas commercial operation in the guise of an open, local, community-minded show. And the judges? No-account has-beens or lightweight nobodies, mangling the language and looking to bolster flagging careers while posing as mentors. I get all that, agree with most of it, and yet I continued to watch. Why?
An early driver, I suppose, was connected to that aspect commentators report as finished-with; namely appointment group viewing. We have teenage daughters – a key segment of the show’s target market – and we watched it as a family. (My guess is that the show was consumed like this around the country, in denial of the commonplace about atomised viewers and on-demand habits.) However, near the point at which there were six or seven contestants left, I was aware things had got strange – I was sometimes watching the live show by myself. My fellow-travellers appeared less than hooked, drifting in and out of range – even talking through some of the judges’ comments. I stayed to the end, where I was rejoined by the fair-weather cohort. Jackie won. She cried. Woop-de-shit. See how easy it is to slip into hostility. Still, it’s worth noticing that the result, for the viewer at least, wasn’t really the point. Winning isn’t the object of our contemplation. Losing might be.
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