Thursday 14 November 2019

Blog: X Factor New Zealand judges' tirade - as reality show viewers we're ALL to blame

Ed Power

By now we've all watched – and been rightly appalled by – footage of two X Factor New Zealand judges (yes, X Factor New Zealand is apparently a thing) delivering a gratuitously nasty dressing-down to a candidate who had the temerity to dress in vaguely the same fashion as one of the adjudicators.

The smarmy, self-righteous manner in which husband-and-wife talent spotters Willy Moon and Natasha Kills verbally bullied Joe Irvine was hard to sit through – which is saying something given the anything-goes standards of viral internet video.

"We have a doppelgänger in our midst!” said Kills, feeling Irvine's 50s influenced image was a rip off of her spouse's rockabilly persona. “I personally found it absolutely artistically atrocious. I am embarrassed to be sitting here in your presence, having to even dignify you with an answer of my opinion.”

As if that wasn't enough, Moon then jumped in, studs up. “It’s like Norman Bates dressing up in his mother’s clothing. It’s just a little bit creepy. It feels like you’re going to stitch someone’s skin to your face, and then kill everyone in the audience.”

But amid the rush to condemn (the two were quickly sacked), has anyone yet pointed out that their knife-twisting unpleasantness really wasn't especially far removed from the traditional reality TV ding-dong.

Nor has it been acknowledged that it's just this sort of public humiliation that has us tuning into these shows in the first place. Fair enough, the Moon duo (a pun for lovers of obscure indie-pop) foolishly overstepped the mark. And yet, their behaviour was part of a reality television continuum, a trend we, the viewing public, have helped entrench.

Joe Irvine on X Factor New Zealand
Joe Irvine on X Factor New Zealand

Consider the contrasting fortunes of X Factor and The Voice – the nice and nasty of talent television. On X Factor (the UK edition) anything goes. Though the judges would of course never stoop to the cringeful pummeling dispensed by their Kiwi colleagues (although Moon and Kills are actually British), there is nonetheless plenty of oomph in their putdowns.

Moustache-twirler-in-chief Simon Cowell, for instance, has made a career out of fist-clenched bluntness. Here is the man who dismissed a starry-eyed hopeful by saying 'I don't know what cats being squashed sound like in Lithuania, but now I have a pretty good idea'.

He also once told a candidate she resembled the 'Incredible Hulk's wife' and said to another that she 'sounded like Cher… after she's been to the dentist'.

Contrast these barbed observations with the endless touchey-feeliness of The Voice, where even appalling try-outs are praised for their gumption and pluck.

What's significant is that X Factor has a track record in minting pop stars while the Voice, in its Irish and British iterations, is frankly rubbish at producing artists with an outside shot of a long term career (quick question: who won either edition of The Voice? You have no idea, do you?)

X Factor New Zealand: Ed Sheeran leads support for Joe Irvine as Natalie Kills and Willy Moon subjected to Twitter abuse  

The lesson, then, is that vicious insults speak to us more than endless fluffiness. Let us be absolutely honest with ourselves: we tune into these shows to watch the judges do their worst rather than because we are interested in seeing a bunch of semi-amateur wannabes visiting appalling atrocities upon Adele's back catalogue.

Thus, without wishing to in any way defend the horrified antics of the X Factor New Zealand judges, can we agree that their red meat presentation style was a symptom of public appetites, and in no way the aberration we've all had such fun condemning it as? Yes, they went too far – however, in our viewing choices, this is something for which all of us must shoulder a little blame.

WATCH: X Factor New Zealand judges sacked for vicious comments - 'I feel like you're going to stitch someone's skin to your face and kill everybody in the audience' 

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