The World’s Got Talent™

Like some nightmare cross between Victorian freak shows and old fashioned vaudeville theatre, the Got Talent television franchise continues its steady march across the airwaves of the world. Argentina, Finland, Croatia, South Africa. . .  the number of countries that have leapt aboard this entertainment juggernaut is now over 20 with new franchises, or straight copies of the format, being developed in a dozen more.

So what is it about this type of show that so appeals to modern audiences?

This Bartender has gone on record as saying the underlying attraction of the show has less to do with talent and more to do with mass audiences embracing one of the great modern myths, namely that we’re living in a meritocracy. It allows us to have faith that, if we have artistic ability, and we believe in ourselves hard enough, the world will recognise it and, eventually, reward us. And it is this myth, rather than any “Art”, which is being voted for by audiences here.

The judges represent our perception of the harsh realities and cruelty of modern life. They will scythe down the presumptuous or the deluded on our behalf, eviscerating them to our collective satisfaction. It is only the truly humble who can be allowed to triumph here, who can represent our desire to see a citizen, one of us, raised up on high and awarded the victor’s laurels.

Perhaps this is why we often see youthful enthusiasm rewarded. . .  Australia’s three seasons have so far produced winners aged 12, 16 and 15 respectively and over half the world’s winning finalists have been 18 or under. Or why artists with street performance roots like Salah Benlemqawanssa or Danish robotic dancing duo Robot Drengene prove so popular. Those who are less aesthetically pleasing to the eye, such as the frog-faced Paul Potts and the Got Talent poster girl Susan Boyle, also allow other cultural cliches to come into play such as “don’t judge people by appearances” and cement them as champions of the underdog.

But does this parade of pubescent break-dancers, the jugglers, opera singers and ventriloquists actually add anything significant to our culture? Or does it merely dress our cultural meritocracy myth in a cartoonishly simplistic outfit and pretend it’s art?

This Bartender has always firmly sided with the latter, that is until he saw the winning performance on the Ukrainian version of the show by “sand animator” Kseniya Simonova. And in her unique and poignant portrayal of the Nazi invasion of the Ukraine, he finally saw something that managed to transcend the show’s contrived format.

Now that is Art.

Art that requires exactly the limitations and demands of the Got Talent formula. . .  without which it wouldn’t exist.

I’m still not sure it makes up for all those singing children and ugly folk, mind you.


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