Jerome update

Jerome hadn’t posted in his blog for a couple of weeks, causing me some concern, since if it turned out he had died my light-hearted comments about his health were going to look in rather poor taste. However he’s back now, and looking fairly fit in the photo he’s posted. No word on his scan results or job search though. Doesn’t he know that people are worrying about him?

I fear to watch, yet I cannot turn away

Actually I take back what I said about the X-Factor. Having watched the first show of the new series, I have reverted to the view that they expect us to laugh at the hopeless losers, especially when they burst into tears during the post-rejection interview. To be fair to the producers they do leaven the cruelty with some sentimentality, by featuring stories like that of the girl who only entered the competition to realise her late father’s dying wish. Luckily she had a good singing voice, and the judges were spared the embarrassment of having to crush her dream at the first audition. No doubt they’re saving that poignant moment for a future episode.

It makes for morbidly fascinating viewing for a while, though it is best enjoyed in small doses. I always end up wondering why people are willing to subject themselves to humiliation on national TV (and worldwide via YouTube), when a moment’s reflection would tell them that their chances of success were close to zero.

Is reality TV culture blunting our collective discernment and self-awareness, or merely giving a platform to people who are already suffering from delusions of talent? A clue that the latter is the case comes from the observation that winning a TV talent show is far from a guarantee of lasting fame. Most of the acts that have emerged have been briefly tolerated by the public before slipping back into the limbo of Z-list celebrity. (For some the backlash comes with frightening speed – Steve Brookstein, winner of the first series of X-Factor, was reportedly booed off the stage at his first concert. People weren’t just indifferent, they actually paid money to go to his show and give him abuse). To me this suggests that the audience for these shows is tuning in to see the drama of success and failure (especially failure), rather than to appreciate the artistry of the performers. The alternative – that the likes of Shayne Ward really do represent the musical taste of the UK population – is too horrible to contemplate.

My friend Jerome

Having jokingly linked to Jerome’s Unemployment Blog yesterday, I now find myself worrying about the poor guy. Not only is he out of work, but he’s sick too. Luckily he seems to have health insurance. His doctor sent him for a CT scan, which made me think that Jerome must be really ill, until I remembered that in the US the structure of the health care system encourages lots of expensive investigations, whether they’re needed or not. Here in the UK, with our socialised medicine, we only order scans for people who we think might actually have something seriously wrong with them.

Anyway, Jerome’s scan was clear (apart from some slight abnormality which he is going to get an MRI scan for – and Americans wonder why their health insurance is so expensive) so his doctor thinks he probably has a gastric motility problem. Obviously it’s difficult to diagnose things over the internet, but I would have guessed that from his original description of the symptoms, thus saving thousands of dollars, not to mention all the radiation he will have got from the CT scan. I would probably have ordered the ultrasound to exclude gallstones though.

I feel like I really know Jerome now, to the extent that I feel able to second-guess his doctor about what might be wrong with him. This despite the fact that he or she is presumably a reputable professional who will have carefully examined Jerome and considered all the relevant data before coming up with a rational plan of investigation, whereas all I have to go on is some scraps of information and my ill-informed prejudices about American health care (which I got from watching ER and Nip/Tuck). Completely absurd of course, but like I said before, the internet is great at producing the illusion of intimacy. I don’t know if Jerome will find my interest in his health a bit creepy, though I would hazard a guess that yes, he just might. That’s what happens if you put details of your personal life on the web for all to see though.

And, Jerome, if you’re reading, listen to what your doctor says, not what some stranger on the internet tells you.

Some encouragement

There is some evidence that I am not the only reader of this blog – it gets a few views from people referred by Google, though most of them seem to be searching for something else. I also got a supportive comment from the writer of the blog Surface Earth (have a look, and see if you can figure out what it’s about), but he or she came across this page by accident too. My Technorati authority rating remains stuck at 1, with a ranking of 3,915,745.

Luckily, like most bloggers, I don’t need much encouragement to keep sharing my thoughts with the world. The main problem is finding time to sit down in front of the computer long enough to complete a worthwhile post. It would be a lot easier if I was unemployed.

Blog Idol

I’m generally too much of an intellectual snob to lower myself to watching reality TV, but I will admit to making an exception for shows like X-Factor. Not the later stages, where they get the people who actually have some ability and ruthlessly extinguish any trace of originality or individuality, but the first few episodes, where the experts tour the country sifting through the hopeful masses to uncover some hidden nuggets of talent.

During these audition shows the cameras will invariably home in on several would-be stars, each one eager to proclaim their absolute faith that they are going to be chosen, because “I really want this, I’ve always wanted it.” We then see their acts, which reveal that they would be well advised to direct their creative urges into other projects. They are told as much, kindly by the kind judge, brutally by the brutal judge. Afterwards some appear defeated and disillusioned, but most retain their belief that, one day, they will make it to the top, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

I used to be sure that the program producers included these segments for their comedic value; that we were being invited to laugh at the losers who were deluded enough to think that a lame impersonation of Justin Timberlake or Britney Spears would be their passport to the golden realm of celebrity. Now I’m not so certain. Maybe we’re actually being asked to admire the way these aspiring stars remain true to their dreams in the face of the world’s cruel indifference.

That would certainly be in line with the general trend in our culture to favour emotion over reason, and to believe that the key to achieving a goal is to desire it with sufficient fervour.

Nowhere is the line between desire and reality more blurred than on the internet, particularly the wild frontier of Web 2.0. The barrier between inspiration and publication is so insignificant that anyone with any sort of half-baked idea can present their work to the world. This has generally been felt to be a good thing, representing as it does a major democratisation of the creative process, but the absence of external editorial control does call for a bit self-restraint, a quality that is not always associated with bloggers. So while there is a lot of interesting material in the blogosphere, there is also a not inconsiderable amount of self-indulgence.

I’d have to admit that this blog is not a great advert for the medium, consisting as it does mainly of my inconsequential thoughts on random topics, with very little that pertains to its ostensible subject. I could try to excuse this with reference to my other commitments, but the truth is that, like the X-Factor hopefuls, I am guilty of mistaking a wish to do something for the ability to carry it off. I still think the basic idea is good, and I am going to try to approach it a bit more methodically. Expect a few more weak columns before I get my act together though.