Nick Lezard: Britain may have talent, but taste?

Why is popular entertainment' synonymous with rubbish?

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So it is over at last. For a while. These are evil times for those of us who do not give a tinker's curse for Britain's Got Talent. Actually, I do give a tinker's curse for the programme, and it is a rather fruity one which would not look well in the opinion pages of a national newspaper.

Once, while enduring the programme, with a mixture of bewilderment and nausea, just so I could stay au courant with the mood of the nation and see what the fuss was all about, I slipped into a reverie. What would happen, I wondered, if someone with original talent appeared on the show? What would the audience's reaction be if, say, Joy Division were to be magically reincarnated and allowed to perform?

It is not hard to imagine. There would be an outcry. Disgust and bafflement would figure prominently in the national reaction. But that's what I'm feeling already. Whenever something ghastly like this preoccupies my fellow citizens, I murmur "sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof" and move on, but a country that not only tolerates the celebrity of Simon Cowell and Piers Morgan but considers them as competent arbiters of aesthetic achievement has clearly lost its way. Of course it is part of the gag that these repulsive individuals constitute two-thirds of the judging panel but it is not a gag that I find particularly amusing, or one that reflects at all well on those of you who endorse it.

The staggering success of Susan Boyle provides us with a neat encapsulation of all that has gone wrong with Britain. It is not her fault that she considers "I Dreamed A Dream" a suitable vehicle for her talents. Were she to stand up and belt it out at the end of the evening in her West Lothian local, The Happy Valley, it would actually be both hilarious and touching – and even I would raise a glass to her and give her a hand, for sheer brass neck if for nothing else – but for her to become an "international sensation".

Clearly, the worldwide appetite for saccharine rubbish is not only undiminished but growing, like scum over the face of a badly-maintained pond. Has anyone, besides me, pointed out that "I Dreamed A Dream" is rank aural slurry of the highest order? When did it become mandatory to give pap like this our wholehearted approval? It's not a song, it's an insult to the very idea of songwriting. "I Dreamed A Dream", forsooth. What else are you going to do with a dream, genius? Look at the lyrics some time and see if you can do so without feeling at least faintly ill. ("There was a time when love was blind/And the world was a song/And the song was exciting" etc.) I note, glumly, that the composer of this unashamed dreck is called Schonberg, whose name is depressingly close to Schoenberg, a rather more interesting and challenging composer, but one whose works are therefore unlikely to appear on Britain's Got Talent.

Yes, yes, I know the show is all about popular entertainment. But since when does "popular entertainment" become synonymous with rubbish? If there's one good thing about it, it is its very dimly-remembered grounding in old-fashioned variety and music hall performance. These were robustly vulgar in the best sense of the term: memorable, or bawdy, or, indeed, given over to cheap sentimentality. But these days it is cheap sentimentality that has triumphed, and all we have now is a culture that has become homogeneous, entirely bland. It's not Susan Boyle's fault. It's ours.

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