What you choose to do with that gift is entirely up to you – in fact, Free Will appears to be the basis of and reason for our entire existence. But on one urgent matter, please permit me to offer you one piece of guidance:
Life’s too short to watch The X-Factor.
Don’t get me wrong; the show itself is not a bad thing. It is brilliantly produced; often showcases genuinely talented people, and in Dermot O’Leary has the best male presenter on British TV (imagine him and Claudia Winkelman together). As an ex-viewer, I understand that the story arcs of the various performers are compelling, frustrating and uplifting in turn and equal measure.
But here’s the big problem – bigger than accusations of vote-rigging, music manufacture, auto-tune or scouting: it’s exactly the same every year.
There’s a reason why most of the performers are instantly forgettable – it’s that they all blend into one. The comedy one who (shock! Horror!) makes it through too many weeks at the expense of better singers! The one who gets bullied by other contestants, fans, or judges, and can’t work out why! The really young one! The triumph-over-adversity one!
Every culture loves stories. Ancient peoples sat around the fire retelling their history because they had no way to write it down; Shakespeare and Dickens made indelible marks on global culture with their contributions to the literary canon. Today, our stories are made in a thousand different ways, and we’re as hungry for them as ever. I get that The X-Factor is one of those stories. It might be coated in consumerism, but then, so is James Bond. It’s still an important story in our culture.
So I’m not dismissing it; I’m saying we’ve heard that story. To continue to watch it, series after series, year after year, is akin to reading the same book over and again when the library is full of new ones.
We live in a remarkable age, filled with stories and story-makers. Our cities are full of art, music and culture; our computers provide a gateway to a near infinite universe of ideas. In this context, is the X-Factor really worthy of our time?
Sometimes its hard to wrench ourselves away from familiar things, even when they rot our brains. I watched Eastenders for years on this basis. When I occasionally come across that show while channel-hopping, I’m always amazed at how quickly I can pick up a relatively complex story. That’s because it hasn’t changed. It has just kept its viewers entranced in a kind of televisual suspended animation; retracing the same patterns and storylines over and over again.
That’s exactly what The X-Factor does. It feeds us a diet of TV Junk Food which is hard to kick because – with all the flashing lights and famous people – it tastes good. Yet it provides us with zero nourishment.
So I invite you to join me: give up on The X-Factor. Kick the TV junk food habit. Embrace a new story. Life’s too short.