While the music is performed, the cameras linger savagely over the faces of the audience [below]. What a bottomless chasm of vacuity they reveal! The huge faces bloated with cheap confectionery and smeared with chain-store makeup, the open, sagging mouths and glazed eyes, the hands mindlessly drumming in time to the music, the broken stiletto heels, the shoddy, stereotyped, ‘with-it’ clothes: here, apparently is a collective portrait of a generation enslaved by a commercial machine.*
That was flame-haired splenetic, Paul Johnson, enjoying himself hugely in writing about Juke Box Jury, which I vaguely remember from my childhood as being fairly innocuous. I believe there was some potential to humiliate the behind-the-scenes pop stars brought on to meet the Jury after having had their latest single slammed as a ‘miss’. But hardly the coliseum – in fact, all rather bland.
It’s from a piece for the left-wing New Statesman, and it’s easy to dismiss it as illustrative of how socialism can provide a progressive cloak for straightforward misanthropy (and quite an imaginative misanthropy – ‘broken stiletto heels’ spied through a camera sweeping across a seated audience?).
But on reflection I’m not sure it so easy to dismiss – wasn’t he on to something? Hasn’t the ‘commercial machine’ he identified now run out of control, the cameras now no longer ‘linger[ing] savagely over the faces of the audience’ but making them the main attraction?
And ‘huge faces bloated with cheap confectionery’? Ever watched Supersize versus Superskinny? Presented by Dr Christian Jessen – a man who looks if he’s composed of body parts harvested from a gym full of exercise addicts – the programme gives us two children who are to be subjected to some remedial attention, one skinny, one fat. A great opportunity to feel shock, disgust, amusement and superiority, all at the expense of a couple of ten year olds.
Then, of course, there’s Jamie’s Dream School, of which no more needs to be said than this.
Yes, nominally it’s all for the good of the kids, the producers ensuring we see something along the lines of redemption or recovery by the end. But it’s obviously first and foremost entertainment: today’s ‘bottomless chasm of vacuity’ really is something of a coliseum. And, strangely, a large audience of Paul Johnsons peer into it. Reality TV is our own socialism for misanthropes: we can revel in our disdain for people – children, even – whilst hugging ourselves at how morally elevated we are in wanting their salvation.
* Here’s another picture of the Juke Box Jury audience (brace yourself):
The quote is from Black Vinyl, White Powder, not just full of very entertaining anecdotes but also a fascinating history of the pop music business.