So Jedward are out and didn’t they do it in spectacular style? Moaning and growling through a uniquely atonal version of the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Boyzone classic “No matter what”. It clearly even tested Louis’s powers of positive thinking. At one point the camera turned to him and there he was, fixed grin, singing along under his breath clearly in a desperate attempt to guide his protégés back to the tune. Before striking the killer blow, Dannii was prompted to ask whether this was a singing competition; a question to which none of the other judges seemed able or willing to give an adequate answer. But, you can’t blame Dannii for asking the question as, during the stellar rise of Jedward from zero to Nero in just a few short weeks, their singing ability (or lack of it) has never really been the issue at hand. They are one of those classic TV inspired media phenomena that in these disaggregated days we identify, embrace and celebrate together with a frenzied enthusiasm which is often in inverse proportion to their talent. We love them, we love to hate them and we love to talk about them. Even if you have been cut off from all broadcast, online and print media for the last 3 months there’s no way you can escape knowing about them because everyone else is talking about them, all the time. (I see that even the IAB has written a blog post about them.) And, finally, they receive the ultimate accolade. Jedward are considered to be such an important and populist cultural reference point that both of the main political parties have tried to appropriate their image to knock their competitors.
Such is the power of TV to create and then fuel these incredible phenomena. But their success also depends on 2 other things: our need to find things which bond us together (a need which TV satisfies every day of the week): and our very British determination to embrace eccentricity, to celebrate the anti-hero or the underdog (think Eddie the Eagle), to revel in stuff which is so bad it’s good. And, of course, some very canny advertisers have tapped into this insight. Think of Howard from the Halifax, Michael Winner telling us to “calm down, dear” and the utterly stupendous Ambassador’s dinner party. I was reminded of the amazing long-term effect of TV campaigns like this while listening to the Today programme last week on Radio 4. A story about Ferrero appearing as a possible competitor to Kraft in the bidding war for Cadbury inspired a 2 minute down-tools by the presenters as they wallowed in a nostalgic and loving homage to the famous ad which they all clearly held in great affection. With this, TV, you are spoiling us.