Monday, November 10, 2008

The X Factor and heroes

posted by Brit, in Bryan's continued absence

Readers of Thought Experiments spend their Saturday evenings either (a) contemplating profound philosophical conundrums and turning them into esoteric poetry, or (b) in America, so you will never have heard of The X Factor.

I will therefore explain that it is a populist television programme which consumes approximately 93% of ITV's weekend schedule, and which has two aims. The first and by far the least of these aims is to find, by way of gradual, painstaking whittling, a member of the public to sing a Christmas Number One (the previous two winners have been called Leona and Leon, so by my process of logical deduction the prize will this year be won by someone called Leo. Get down the bookies now and put your mortgage on it). The second and more important of The X Factor's raisons d'etre is for a smart alec bully called Simon Cowell to humiliate a bumbling Irish porker called Louis Walsh.

But anyway, I do not intend to sneer at The X Factor any further because I come to praise it. A few months ago I visited SeaWorld in Florida, and among the many surprising and delightful things I encountered there was a reaffirmation of the US's attitude to its military servicemen. Soldiers and their families are given free entry, special reserved seats and discounts galore everywhere they go. At the beginning of the killer whale show, members of US and UK forces in the audience - "heroes" - are asked to stand. Their close-ups are projected onto the big screen and are met by a huge wall of applause - unaffected, genuine, apolitical, non-cynical.

As an Englishman witnessing this, I felt many things, and not least, shame at the way we treat our own active servicemen. In terms of the media, the BBC is the worst. Oh so good at covering the pomp and solemnity of Remembrance Sunday, where the soldiers of the Somme are sufficiently abstracted and poeticised to celebrate, the Guardianista Tristrams of BBC News have completely bought the Michael Moore line when it comes to the men and women in Iraq or Afghanistan. The notion that soldiers can be "heroes" is banished. Instead they must fall into one of only two categories: human rights abusers and prisoner torturers; or hapless idiot victims of our wicked foreign policy, uneducated and suckered into signing up.

The one comfort is that this attitude has never reflected the attitude of the general public, and it has taken The X Factor to prove it. The show's charity single is in aid of wounded servicemens' organisation Help for Heroes, it is called Hero, and it has smashed sales records for the year. Say what you like about Simon Cowell, but don't knock him for populism - the alternative is often far worse.


  1. I thought this thing came from the states. you live and (un)learn...

    vote for John Sergeant!

  2. Excellent post Brit.

  3. Hear hear. We've always been ambivalent about our soldiers - Kipling nailed it.
    Vote for John Sergeant!

  4. Brit, if you ever again post a link to AA Gill I will hop onto the next intercity and confront you in the loft of Bryans barn, lying there in your sleeping bag and kick your cat.
    Good post on our establishments attitude to its soldaten

    Vote for Malcolm Sargent

  5. Not a big fan of Gill then I take it, malty. Thanks, Paddy.

    Vote for Sergeant Bilko

  6. John Sergeant: more power to both his left feet.

  7. I'll stick to 'hapless idiot victims of our wicked foreign policy' thank you very much.

    Have you ever considered why we draft only males in the age of 18-21? They're the only ones with enough hormones and not enough brains that will willingly sacrifice their lives for a vague cause, but hey; they'll be heroes!

  8. Draft? Only males? And is there nobody over 21 in the forces?

    Too many funny cigarettes I think, Bob. Back in your windmill til you sober up.

  9. Sophie - did you know that that reason dogs can't dance is because they have two left feet?

    Bob - rather cynical. As Dr Johnson said, I'm one of those men who thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier, or not having been at sea. The majority of our soldiers are good and brave lads and lasses. I, for one, admire them.

  10. Great post, Brit, and how right you are. Michelle Obama's mission, besides raising her two girls, will be to help out the families of servicemen & women. Lord knows, they need some help. We're gonna be in for a wave of returnees with medical and mental health problems, probably lasting for decades.

    Damn G.W. for getting us into Iraq, though I do think the Afghanistan incursion was necessary. Now, if only we'd ever captured the wretch Bin Laden....

  11. So hands up anybody who would join the forces now to defend, uuhh, western civilization.

    It is a nice looking gesture to those poor people who let themselves be suckered in to join the army, that we 'support' them and honour them and proclaim them as heroes. In reality it is much more cynical then what I am saying here.

    Have you seen how the recruiters work in the US? They go to the poor areas of town and sucker those teenagers that have no better prospect. As a reward they get shot, earn little money, but therefore they get to be called heroes. If that's not cynical, I don't know what is.

  12. Oh, and I was in the army by the way. I was drafted at 18 and in my time only males were drafted.

    We also smoked funny cigarettes, but not on duty.

  13. What's wrong with nice gestures?