In the wake of last week's X Factor, I found myself deliberating on the genre in to which this televisual behemoth should be placed. Mr Cowell would undoubtedly defend its right to be in the 'entertainment' category. The problem, however, is that Dad's Army technically falls in to the same genre and the follies of the Home Guard are a Rhein's length away from the musical ineptitude of Kendro.
Is it a singing contest? Is it a talent show? Is it reality TV? No, it can't be any of those. The production is so tightly controlled and the content so heavily manipulated that 'singing' is a by-product, 'talent' a non-essential and the 'reality' so twisted that if you've got a half decent voice and stack shelves for a living you're shackled to an endless accompaniment from Westlife.
It is, therefore, none of the above. In which case, is it a comedy? A drama? A sitcom? Well, you would be hard pressed to say it's not. A crazy Chinese woman pursuing Gary Barlow around the judges desk is a Far Eastern variant on Benny Hill. As for drama, the show is laden with the stuff, albeit it in a cumbersome and somewhat disproportionate way (cue the 'my life is over if I don't get through' speech). And sitcom? Frankie's got several girl's names tattooed on his arse. Hilarious; not even Joey Boswell managed that. But, to be all of these things ultimately means that the X-Factor is, in essence, none of these things.
Goodness knows it's not a 'politics' show either, although there are plenty of sly manoeuvres and contentious opinions off screen ('cough' Cheryl Cole). And it's not 'religious' despite an attempt from many contestants to manifest a theological intervention to help them through to Boot Camp. It creates news, but isn't 'news' and pertains to affairs that are current but isn't 'current affairs'.
Where, then, should we place this spurious singing, talent, reality, comedy, drama, sitcom, political, current affairs, entertainment programme? It's simple. It's 'Super Market' television; everything for everybody, all conveniently placed under one roof. Many of us don't like it, but we continue to shop there. We balk at its global domination, but continue to support it. And when we see Simon Cowell's name above the door, it's safe to step inside; we know exactly what we're going to get.
And here-in lies the problem. The words 'Super' and 'Market' are synonymous with domination and creates a hostile environment for competition. As I trawl through the internet and scour YouTube, I note a proliferation of new, talented and pioneering programme makers filling cyberspace with their unique ideas. They don't have the obese budgets and they don't have the exposure. But they're there, experimenting, quietly pushing boundaries, trailblazing.
I doubt we'll be turning our backs on this homogenised 'Super Market' television any time soon. But it's worth remembering that it's not a be-all and end-all media diet. If we're ever hoping to have a hand in shaping the future of entertainment we need to show some support to those innovators who don't have the means to compete but whose content is equally, or more, engaging. And for that, we occasionally need to shun the prime time conglomerates, jump online and look for what else is on offer; consider it 'shopping locally'. And next time, when the networks are trying to fill their prime time slots, they too will realise that in a population of millions, not all the ideas for television need to come from one outlet.Suggest a correction