Remember those golden days when every young and desperate contestant clawing through the treacle-coated lowlands of television reality and talent shows was on a “journey”?
Not any more. They don’t go on “journeys”; they have “stories” instead. Everyone must have a “story”. Even products have a “story”. I saw an ad on the Tube for a popular brand of painkiller that urged me to visit its website to read its “story”. It’s a painkiller, it’s for headaches, I don’t want it to be Jay Gatsby.
“Stories” are inescapable, even in shops. I bought a cheap ring recently at a high-street store and the young assistant kindly told me its “story”, that the cheap stone in this cheap ring was modelled on “pebbles washed up on the shores of Iceland”.
Honestly, if I’d paid £250,000 for this ring and it came with its own house, car, pet cockatoo and security guard I’d be perfectly happy to listen to its “story”. But it cost me £5, so who the hell cares? Which is pretty much (though more politely, I’m not a monster) what I told this young man. “Yes, I know,” he sighed, as fed up of saying this stuff as I was of listening to it.
Everyone is expected to have a “story”, like a passport or a National Insurance number. Maybe we should be issued with a “story” at birth, recorded on a certificate. “Alison’s story: she will like cheap cheese, the orange kind, and everyone will laugh at the way she pronounces ‘moors’.”
News programmes urge us to contact them with our “stories”. Not news stories, in this context, but anything so painfully banal it can take its place in the pantheon on BBC Breakfast (last seen asking people to scrawl on a whiteboard “what makes them happy”. “Not watching BBC Breakfast” is surely at the top of anyone’s list).
This is all down to social media, of course, the great democracy, the great leveller, the conduit of presidents and parsons, where everyone’s story is as important as everyone else’s.
But really, it’s just one more piece of narcissism, one more bite of self-obsession. Just look at ITV’s The X Factor. Having abandoned “journeys”, by and large, contestants aren’t just telling us their stories (“Aidan, tell us all about who your are, your life and your stories”), they are singing them.
The sweetly over-earnest and tearful Grace Davies kept singing maundering self-penned songs about a romantic break-up. Buckle up, love, you’re young, it’s only going to get worse. If your squishy soul is in torment now, what are you going to sing about when you’re abandoned at a motorway service station at 42 by a faithless fool with too much chest hair and a bad combover? Another sang a composition about his grandparents, yet another gave us an ode to his dad. Oh, Jimi Hendrix, we need you! Joe Strummer, come back, please!
See, that’s the problem with encouraging everyone, however young, to have a “story”, it turns them into wet blankets, mimsy miseries with hearts of cotton wool. Besides, isn’t this generation supposed to be angry and resentful? Where’s the grit? Where’s the fury? They surely can’t all be in their bedrooms being nice about their nans?
The X Factor continues on Saturday 4th November at 8.20pm on ITV