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Saturday, December 02, 2006

The myth of reality TV

At last somebody has put in print what many politicians have been thinking but dare not say in case they alienate young voters. Marina Hyde in this morning's Guardian writes that the new orthodoxy that young people will never pay attention to politics unless it's like Big Brother is utterly absurd:

It's the sheer wrong-headed inevitability of this exercise in engaging youth, which appears to be inspired by that endlessly quacked modern orthodoxy that more young people vote in big reality TV contests than in general elections. In the vague interests of accuracy, this is complete nonsense. In Britain's 2005 general election, Mori research showed that voting among 18- to 35-year-olds was in fact 3% up on the 2001 election, with 5,696,907 people in the bracket taking part. Across all ages, a total of 6,363,325 votes had been cast in the most recent Big Brother final, but that figure does not take into account widespread multiple voting, so graspingly encouraged by Channel 4. Naturally, one is loth to ask the awkward questions. But if someone is willing to spend time and money voting 17 times for some spiteful dimwit to win a cash prize, perhaps we should not expend similar seducing them into voting in a grown-up election till they are at least 35.

Nevertheless, it appears to have been decided that, by 2016, young people will neither comprehend nor be interested in anything at all unless it has been refracted through the familiar prism of a talent show with celebrity judges. Even food items will have to compete for their all-important text vote before they can be persuaded to upload them off their plates, while a table-side panel of Gordon Ramsay, Lorraine Kelly and David Icke bickers stagily about the respective merits of the chip and the steak.

She concludes that if current politicans are hell-bent on "learning" from reality TV, they ought to note that, time and again, these formats produce nothing of lasting value whatsoever, be it someone who can shift more than two singles, or a celebrity worthy of admiration as opposed to ridicule.

Personally, I have always taken the view that reducing politics to a Big Brother style beauty contest insults the intelligence of voters and in particular the younger electors at whom these sort of tactics are inevitably targeted.

Contrary to the views of many national newspapers, young people are intensely interested in the issues and want to make a difference through their vote. If they do not cast that ballot then it is because we have failed as politicians to convince them that we can change things for the better or that we do not offer what they are looking for. It is not ease of voting that people are looking for but a reason to vote.
List of UK acts created by reality TV that were still signed by a major label after the release of their second album:

Will Young
Girls Aloud

That's it.

If we add in US reality TV, then the list now adds on:

Kelly Clarkson
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