I have long suspected that the UK is slipping into a severe cultural decline, but recent events have confirmed this fear. A few months ago Jade Goody died from cervical cancer, and tributes poured in from a host of unlikely sources – including our increasingly populist PM. Actor and comedian Stephen Fry has even drawn comparisons with Princess Diana. Goody’s death is, of course, a tragedy for those who knew and love her, but let’s be honest here, this is a woman famous for nothing more than stupendous stupidity.
Goody’s meteoric rise to stardom was on the back of a show that delights, each year, in assembling a group of misfits whose collective brainpower rivals that of a dead sheep. This is a show that sees fit to replace any conversation that borders on remotely interesting with a sudden influx of strange bird noises. Indeed its most famous export, and the fatal cancer that consumed her, can be seen as a useful metaphor to describe a growing cultural identity crisis; we are in the grip of a malignancy that elevates the imbecilic whilst devouring our hitherto magnificent achievements. This, in a country that gave birth to Shakespeare, Darwin and William Blake.
In the last century alone our recent ancestors created the modern welfare state, laid the foundations for liberal democracy and free market economics, dominated modern music, comedy and literature and pioneered the world wide web, heralding the start of today’s information age. The Claptons, Cleeses and Hawkings of this world are still alive today but are constantly drowned out by the obnoxious chunter of Simon Cowell and his celeb-crazed band of untalented pygmies: the Cheryl Coles, Piers Morgans and Sharon Osbornes of this festering island.
Why on earth do more of us vote in a spruced-up karaoke contest than in a general election? How has it come to pass that more people watched a middle-aged, fuzzy-haired woman’s musical rendition on YouTube than President Obama’s inauguration? Indeed, we now glorify the mundane. You know something has gone terribly wrong when the latest ‘global sensation’ has achieved their international fame by virtue of looking like an ordinary member of society. Susan Boyle, the most recent object of Britain’s celebrity obsession, possesses that extraordinarily rare ‘talent’ of being able to sing whilst looking her age. But not to be outdone (even in death!), a new Jade Goody musical is to be commissioned which will feature the most memorable aspects of her short life. With classic one liners such as, “Rio de Janeiro, ain’t that a person?” and, “Margaret Thatcher, ain’t she a prostitute?” I’m sure it will be a big hit.
Each year, as the first few weeks of X-Factor get underway, we witness innumerable talentless philistines clamoring to get their precious 15 minutes of fame. We are presented with what can only be described as the mentally unstable, for our own sadistic amusement. There are the token elderly widows long since bereft of fellow adult company; overweight acned geeks, and then of course there is the paraplegic put through a vigorous ‘Grease Megamix’ routine before suffering cardiac arrest on the dance floor. All are paraded before us, voices breaking with embarrassment and eyes filling with tears as the barbed comments of Simon Cowell, the ultimate school bully, and the hilarity of his fellow ‘experts’, put them through an ordeal we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemies. We used to have to journey to lunatic asylums to get this sort of entertainment. Today we get it free courtesy of ITV and its agitator-in-chief Mr Cowell, whose ‘creative spark’ would struggle to light the dynamo of an infant firefly.
Gone are the days when to be nationally revered was to have achieved something truly profound. Today the media is flooded with apparent ‘celebrities’, but who are these people and why are they always on my television screen? Hell, Celebrity Big Brother once put a ‘normal person’ into the house who then went on to win the show! And still the programme persists, until presumably something so appalling will happen live on Channel 4 that they cannot hope to ever match it again.
More and more people have stopped living life in favour of watching it. Watching a so-called celebrity dancing, or even lying in bed snoring, is more worthy of our attention than doing the damn thing ourselves. I just hope celebrity/reality TV has a shelf life, for only when we have escaped the clutches of a society obsessed with a fast track to fortune and adulation can we hope to see a return to Britain’s rich heritage of true talent and enduring success.