Category: Media Observation

Why I am not excited that Mel B is joining the X Factor

On the 11th of June, entertainment news informed us that Mel B was joining the X Factor. This news was repeated in a number of newspapers (including The Sun, The Daily Mail, The Independent, The Guardian, etc.). The Daily Mail quotes Simon Cowell as complimenting her on being “…feisty, opinionated and, I believe, will be a great mentor.” The Daily Mail also quotes Mel B’s representative who claims she is “…the original supermum” (really?), she is the biggest X Factor judge ever apart from Simon Cowell and criticises Kelly Rowland for not being present at the live shows. A source informed the Daily Mirror that Mel B “…is certainly not a shrinking violet and will say exactly what she thinks. She will stir things up and be up for a laugh which is important.” The Guardian displays an article from a TV and radio blogger who criticises the other members of the panel, but compliments her “brilliant ferocity”, the fact that she does she “does not critique artists as cut them to ribbons” and her “…splenetic anger will be a handy prop to returning judge Simon Cowell.” The Independent describes her behaviour as a guest judge on a previous series as “…making waves with her ‘Scary’ straight-talking approach.”

It is interesting to read the newspapers responses to the news as I take a very different view. I think she will prove that she is as useful as a decaying turd in the middle of a luxurious carpet. I do not single her out as a corrupting influence among better people, I have always considered X Factor judges to be a parasitic species (The countries Got Talent judges are even worse). With no talent or ability of their own, the judges seem to feed off the contestants by gaining publicity as judges. This is particularly relevant to “nasty” judges as they are either unable to produce popular or high quality music, act properly and have well-known roles or have faded looks, instead they try to become famous by being brutal to people hoping to follow their interests and dreams.

Mel B herself has listed her plans for the series: “I’ve always thought honesty is the best policy when being a judge and that’s what I am going to bring more of this year.” I do not believe her statement. I can remember when she was present as a guest judge in a previous series, she seemed to revel in producing vicious comments to contestants (including an elderly man) while having her hair in a ponytail (which made her look like the character from Gremlins after he has been fed after midnight). She was then offered a position as a judge on America’s Got Talent, which makes it seem like she was creating controversial remarks so she could get a job on another programme. I have also felt something fake about “honest” criticisms being hurtful. I have always considered that there is always a polite way of phrasing criticisms and that being as brutal as possible makes it appear that the remark is a planned method of being as controversial as possible, and not an inspired comment.

Mel B also states her hopes for the programme “…whether it’s spotting an amazing singer, giving someone a reality check or debating with Simon over who’s got it wrong! Now I can’t wait to get started and find some amazing talent.” This is hilarious! Firstly, many people are aware that a lot of singers enter this competition, a lot of these acts become popular due to their talent and win first place on the show. Many of these singers, after they have recorded a debut album, slip into obscurity, until the news is printed that a forgotten singer has been dropped by the record company. The idea that the X Factor judges rescue people from their monotonous lives and present them with fame and fortune is a fantasy. Unfortunately, the show appears to strongly promote this fantasy as truth so that any performer who shows talent appears to have their dreams fulfilled after they have passed an audition, despite the fact that they need to conquer the finals as well to gain recognition.

Mel B is also excited that she will be “…giving someone a reality check…”. This is a popular idea claimed by many of these talent show judges, it is also the most sickening. The considerations behind this statement appears to be that obviously talentless people submit an application form on the certainty that they are the greatest singer that has ever lived. Therefore, it is the duty of the judges to destroy the fantastical pretensions of this deluded individual and will gain extra favour by upsetting them using the most brutal language possible. Unfortunately, I believe that the way the performers are selected hinders this argument. A Daily Mail reporter once investigated the process to select people for the auditions. They reported that, contrary to the myth that the celebrity judges audition everyone who enters, the performers are asked to enter small pods containing producers. After singing to the producers, the entrants were then informed if they were able to progress to singing in front of the celebrity judges. After being told after an audition that they were going to progress through the competition, would the performer really think they were an awful singer? I believe that these unfortunate people then enter the televised section of the competition believing they are talented, only to be told that they are tone deaf by a panel of smug morons.

Just to puncture this false ideal that the X Factor panel are these tough people who speak their minds, there was an event that exposed Simon Cowell as little more than a coward. Before the audition began, the audience was shown a compilation of clips of an elderly woman pulling fierce faces accompanied by scary music. The intention seemed to be to suggest that this woman was psychotic individual who became angry and was threatening to the panel. When the audition was shown, the audience was informed that the elderly woman was in fact the mother-in-law of a contestant who asked to observe the performance. As the singing began, Simon Cowell and Louis Walsh (who were the only judges present) began to snigger and laugh. The mother-in-law became shocked and appalled by the idiotic pairs lack of professionalism (and was not aggressive as previously suggested). Simon Cowell’s laughter punctuated his speech as he informed the singer that she was unable to continue through the show. The mother-in-law remained annoyed as she left the room with her relative and complained about Simon Cowell’s behaviour as the family was being interviewed outside. The mother-in-law became so angry, she returned to the audition room and confronted Simon Cowell, telling him he should not have laughed and he needed to alter his ways. Simon Cowell guiltily apologised and there was a short clip to emphasise this episode. Simon Cowell then stood up and evacuated the room (similar to Sir Robin from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”), whilst accompanied by a burly bodyguard (who has always seemed to me to represent the vicious arm of Simon Cowell’s brutal dictatorship).

One final note, Mel B’s representative informed the Daily Mail that “She’s a judge in three different continents now-Australasia, America and now Europe. Nobody has ever done that before.” Wow. In a list of pointless achievements that must be about the same level as person punched most times in the face and man kicked most times in the groin. Actually that is amazing, when I wrote that previous sentence, I didn’t realise I was also giving advice to Mel B to do next. My advice to Mel B, give up. X Factor judges are only successful as long as they remain on the panel, outside their fame appears to wither and die. You now remain as a longstanding joke, the idea of someone being as talentless as you abusing other people’s lack of ability as spitefully as possible seems ridiculous and you appear to resemble Simon Cowell’s pet rather than a respected person.

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Does the Media Express Opinions that are Based on Incorrect Information?

There is a joke that commonly appears during periods of heavy snow. The joke starts with someone turning the TV on. “I turn the TV on to watch the News. First was the headlines, which were all about the snow. Then, the main report about the snow. Then, a report about how the snow affects my local area. Then, the weather, which predicted more snow. Followed by pictures send in by people of the snow. Finally, why are we obsessed with the snow?” This joke can be used as to represent how the media can attempt to influence our lives and thoughts. The person, in the joke, wants to watch the news, however, the news devotes a lot of time reporting on the snow. The viewer is aware of the snow, but is not hugely interested in it and would like to know about other current affairs. The media, however, is concerned solely with the snow and discusses it on a number of different subjects and viewpoints. At the end, the news programme wonders why everyone, including the viewer, is so obsessed with the snow, the answer being that everyone is not obsessed with the snow, only the media is, which seems to consider it’s opinions to reflect the nation’s and therefore represent the nation’s opinions. As a result, the media considers it’s obsession with the snow to be a widely held belief, when it isn’t.

The media seems to attempt to influence a large number of aspects of the viewers lives by claiming to represent the correct or popular opinions of the nation. This occurs even though the opinions broadcast by media can be outdated, misinterpreted or based on incorrect information. The media also presents a belief that it’s values and desires are superior.

Some people in the media express opinions about work that can be examples of how opinions broadcast by the media can be outdated. I remember an ex-journalist discussing how they got their first job on a TV chat show. They claimed that they wrote to their local paper to ask for work and progressed from their to mainstream journalism and broadcasting. This person recited this story because they felt that young people were unwilling to find a job and, if they were to follow his example, would be able to find a job easily and this would solve the problem of high unemployment. The same man, however, also joked about a newspaper losing a lot of money because it’s customers were looking for news online, rather than buying the newspaper. A response to these two situations is to wonder if the newspapers, including national and popular titles, had a serious cash flow problem and were losing profits at a accelerating pace due to cheaper alternatives being available on the internet. Therefore, it would seem that, no matter how persistent a jobseeker was, it would very difficult for anyone to get a job in that industry due to the fact that the companies were unable to pay for new members of staff. Unfortunately, the ex-journalist did not reach the same conclusion and continued his belief in using old solutions to modern problems.

It is also interesting how people in the media use the sayings “In the past…” and “We need to get back to…” when discussing current problems. This suggests that the commentator has become disillusioned with modern times and wants to undo the actions that led to our current problems (an interesting discussion of this aspect of modern life is provided in the book Turn Back the Clock by Umberto Eco). Sometimes, this desire to use past solutions for present problems does not present as undoing a mistake, but the use of outdated methods to solve problems. An example of this disparity occurs when someone publishes or sells something offensive on the internet. After an offensive product or piece of media is offered to consume on the internet, it is common for people to become outraged and demand for the source of the controversy to be removed. In response to the outcry, it is common to see commentators appear on the media and say something similar to “In the past, we did not have such a demand for censorship.” A number of problems can be identified with stating this simple argument. Firstly, the phrase “In the past…” is actually fairly meaningless, as it does not say when in the past they are referring to. For example, are they referring to the times when the Police enforced the Obscene Publications Act? Are they talking about times before people used the internet to release whatever material they wanted? Secondly, this argument ignores the way the internet has changed how a larger number of people can access a wider range of material. Before internet use became widespread, the public viewed material through the TV, books, newspapers and radio. The content broadcast through these mediums was controlled by publishing and broadcasting companies, which employed staff specifically to ensure that these companies publish material and broadcast programmes that follow the company’s values (such as legal experts, commissioning editors, editorial staff, etc.). These company’s ensured that they did not broadcast material they were not comfortable with (either because it was offensive, libellous, immoral, etc.) The television show Screen Wipe by Charlie Brooker provides more information on how the media companies control what material is shown on television. Companies on the internet, however, do not seem to want to control what material they produce. For example, the internet shopping corporation Amazon provides facilities to allow self-publishing and for independent sellers to sell products to consumers. This allows anyone to sell products and publish material regardless of content as the company does not employ people to decide what is suitable (some aspiring writers could claim it is much easier being self-published than published by a company as you can’t reject your story like the publishing businesses can). Similarly, Twitter and blogging sites allow people to publish material that hasn’t been reviewed by employees of the company, therefore, these websites companies do not know what information and opinions are published on the website. In fact, many internet companies publish material (including self-published books) that contain spelling mistakes, which demonstrate how little of the material is reviewed before becoming publicly available. So, when there are complaints about material publicly available on the internet, it can be because the internet companies exhibit less control on content than the traditional mediums. These opinions are mentioned as mere observations of the potential fallacy of an argument and is not meant to be an argument in favour of control of the internet.

How the media uses statistics can show how opinions broadcast by people in the media can be based on misinterpreted information. There is a radio show (called More or Less) broadcast on BBC radio with a specific aim, it invites listeners to suggest statistics, that are published in the media, that the presenters can investigate to determine the accuracy and validity of the conclusions based on the statistics. It is common for the team involved in the programme to find that the research, that led to the statistics, came to conclusions that were exaggerated by the media or the subsequent reports ignored the limitations of the research. During one edition of the show, the presenters tracked down the source of a rumour circulated on Twitter, who cheerfully explained that he had invented the entire story. The book The Cameron Delusion by Peter Hitchens suggests how data from political surveys can be manipulated by the media. One method is to ignore the majority of respondents (who reply that they do not wish to state an answer, are unsure, will not vote, etc.) so that the results of the survey suggest a majority of the interviewees hold a political view, when in reality it is a minority. On some TV chat shows, they also discuss allegedly widespread problems that affect only a minority of the population (for example, asking why do so many men cheat on their pregnant partners when a survey revealed that only 10% had done so). Unfortunately, many media commentators seemingly relish these statistics (partly because they appear to confirm the commentators own beliefs or they show that the commentator is a better person than the respondents). A strange example of commentators opinions being based on misinterpreted information occurred on a TV chat show. The topic discussed on the chat show was about people secretly being unable to do common tasks, this topic was chosen after someone read an article that suggested modern people were unable to perform a number of simple tasks. Instead of discussing their own failings, the panel (made up of TV personalities) examined the list and smugly wondered why the respondents couldn’t complete the tasks. Some of them even asked how the people in the survey couldn’t complete the most obvious chores, but never considered if the real reason the respondent claimed they couldn’t replace a light bulb (one of the tasks) was because they hadn’t tried it, instead of them being physically unable to do it. I would like to explain that I do not blame the journalists who report these statistics, it seems that these reporters have a limited space to describe the research and results and would need to remove information considered excessive.

How the media presents opinions based on incorrect information can be described using the reporting of crime stories and national emergencies as an example. After a serious crime or emergency has occurred, it is common to see large numbers of experts discussing how they believe the incident occurred on the media. A large amount of analysis of the incident occurs straight after the event, when it is not completely clear what actually happened and the analysis contains a lot of speculation. It takes many months for the official authorities to examine the event, analyse the causes and report on what different factors led to the event occurring. Unfortunately, less media interest takes place after the facts have been verified than when the incident occurred and seemed to be a pressing issue. This means that the media’s opinions on the subject are based more on speculation than verified fact. An example of this was highlighted by Newswipe by Charlie Brooker when it discussed media coverage of a school shooting. The newscasters asked an expert what led to the incident and the commentator angrily replied that he was always advising news organisations to downplay the significance of similar incidents as they led to more crimes as people of a similar mentality of the criminal would watch the media coverage and repeat the crimes. Another blogger has also claimed that media commentators wish to appear knowledgeable and certain about a subject, therefore, they make claims based on speculation or evidence from a different scenario rather than admit they do not know about a topic or do not have enough information to reach a definite conclusion. The news magazine Private Eye contains a special section that lists information stated by journalists and commentators that is incorrect or contains hypocritical opinions. Another example occurred when a TV chat show discussed power cuts. One of the panellists, a TV personality, bluntly stated that the reason power cuts occurred was because the government prioritised developing solar power over more efficient methods of generating electricity, until a fellow panellist, a TV presenter with a scientific background, replied that the evidence suggests that solar power was effective and the reason it is not fully operational was because of a lack of infrastructure.

These limitations can cause opinions to be broadcast in the media that are incorrect and based on limited evidence. Unfortunately, there seems to be little demand in the media to review the evidence commentators use to inform their opinions, so that myths and fallacies transform into undeniable truths as increasing numbers of commentators repeat the opinions. Another problem is that many commentators in the media seemingly wish to impose media values (based on publicity and entertainment) on people’s lives. I won’t discuss this subject now as I sense I am boring whoever is reading this article.

Was Janet Street-Porter Correct to Complain About the Work Ethic of the Young?

On Saturday the 25th of January, Janet Street-Porter claimed in her regular column that young people had the wrong work ethic. She began the discussion by quoting a statistic from a columnist at the same paper (The Independent) that “1,700 people applied for eight jobs at Costa in Nottingham last year” and suggested that this implied that “young people are lazy or have the wrong attitude is over-simplifying the problem.” Miss Street-Porter then stated that she disagrees, believing that “School-leavers don’t have a grasp of what work entails”. Unfortunately, she does not clarify what it actually is she disagrees with. Does she not believe that the Costa in Nottingham was swamped with applicants? Or does she not consider that these job seekers actually wanted a job? She then also complains that school leavers had inadequate grades for Maths and English, which may explain why they are seeking a job rather than continue studying to become mathematicians and English teachers.

Miss Street-Porter also claims that the school-leavers had few social skills and had no concept of service. I would have thought that customer service skills were provided by the employer as training, rather than a subject to be studied at school. How does she know young people have no social skills? Are they any different from the stroppy teenagers from the past? I believe the reason Miss Street-Porter selected these two points as criticisms was linked to the vision of the future she wrote about a number of weeks ago. In the future, Miss Street-Porter believes that manufacturing jobs will be almost non-existent and work involving labour (such as building work and agricultural jobs) will be accomplished by immigrants. Instead, a lot of jobs will exist in the tourism sector and service industries. I find it feasible that Miss Street-Porter would criticise people for not possessing the skills required to remain in a job in her prediction for the future.

Miss Street-Porter also chides the young for wanting to become stars of reality TV, using TOWIE and Made in Chelsea as examples. Personally, I believe the media can persuade people that becoming famous on these shows is more favourable than less recognised success, by giving a lot of attention and praise to these people. I also believe that it is not only reality TV personalities that wish to become famous, many television presenters and so-called TV personalities seem to have an urge to remain as well-known as possible by turning themselves into a brand to sell clothes and books or by appearing in as many television shows and advertisements as possible. Why does Janet Street-Porter mention TOWIE and Made in Chelsea and not Katie Hopkins or Myleene Klass? How many times has Miss Street-Porter contributed to these people’s undeserved fame by appearing with them on Loose Women? Doesn’t this validate their deserving celebrity? A number of people entering talent shows claim they have already got a job, but prefer to sing as they believe they would get more money (these people are not just young). She also uses an example of an eight-year old girl as proof that young people have no desire except to become famous. An eight-year old? How different would the column be if an eight-year old had passed her a note stating that he wished to be an astronaut when he got older?

The next part of Miss Street-Porter’s piece concerns a cable channel she launched in 1995. Her former trainees are praised for willing to work for little money to learn the trade, whilst participating in long hours and performing tasks unrelated to the job. The internet also seems to be filled with people having a similar work ethic. I am sure the people filming videos and uploading them onto Youtube do so for very little money. A large number of websites also exhibit written pieces and artwork based on the artists favourite stories, surely these activities took at least some time to complete and perfect. Does Miss Street-Porter not consider these artists to be as genuine as her own former trainees? Were these also the only trainees she took on? Or were there others who were less willing to commit to the channel? Were there also others who did work-hard, but were unable to become rewarded with the fame and fortune of the others?

The next part of the argument seems a little contradictory to me. The column seemed to agree with a Tory minister who claimed that young people should recognise that success starts with accepting a job at minimum wage and working hard to rise up the chain of command. Miss Street-Porter compares this to her own time at college, where she had a number of different jobs to pay her college fees to nurture her ambition of becoming a professional writer. The contradiction is that she expects people to accept low-paid job with the idea that they would be able to progress onto more senior positions within the same company, while her low-paid jobs were independent to her ultimate ambition and success was not related to how hard she worked at these jobs. Is it even true that hard work alone can allow people to swap menial jobs for success? The comments section at the bottom of the electronic version of Miss Street-Porter’s article has a number of comments that suggest that some low-paid jobs have no chance of progression and that employers have no desire even to pay their employees a fair wage (a number of comments agree with her though). A full-time supermarket worker told me there was no way to become a manager other than to obtain a degree in retail management. Another person told me that they knew someone who was employed as a supermarket worker for 28 years, this ended when the manager made a comment that lead to an argument.