I was going to write a different blog today, and then I watched the X-Factor. And I know I'm not saying anything new here, but the early rounds of these talent programmes really, really piss me off.
They're not as cruel as they used to be, or rather, the cruelty is a bit more subtle nowadays. A few years ago we'd have the judges openly mocking individuals with learning disabilities or mental health issues who had the audacity to think they could sing. Laughing in their faces. But times have moved on apparently. Or, at least it isn't as obvious. Instead the bullying is more underhand. The judges sit and smile sympathetically, as if they are no part of what is unfolding before them. The bullying nowadays comes in the editing suite. Like the guy last week who brought along a framed picture of his cat to sing to, no doubt cajoled and encouraged to do so by the show producers. The judges greet his picture with smiles, maybe the odd bemused look, but to the guy involved they appear as nothing but friendly and supportive. What he doesn't see is what the cameras are doing, controlled by an eager director keen to get the most fun out of this one. Each angle ensuring we capture him singing badly behind his framed cat together with some incessant zooming in just to really ram the message home. Ha-ha. What a weirdo. Ha-ha. Hey everyone, come into the lounge quick, look at this weirdo with his cat picture. Ha-ha. What a freak. Ha-ha. It's just bloody horrible.
Oh, you can sing? In that case, we can cut to shots of your family, of how proud they are of you, of them standing round a television screen being hugged by a pint-sized TV presenter as the judges validate their lives and yours. Then we'll bring on the crap singers, the ones to be mocked. No cut-away shots to your family. Not relevant to what we want you for. It doesn't fit with the agenda of painting you as the outsider. The strange one. There will be no back-story of dead family members or of courage in the face of adversity. Despite the fact that as someone who walks a different walk you've probably been through more struggles in your life way beyond what most people would imagine possible.
And yes, I acknowledge it, my rant against the X Factor is almost certainly based in part on jealousy. Because each time I watch it I'm reminded that my son won't be one of the cute 16 year olds with adorable faces and a huge talent whose stage-school personality borders on just the right side of arrogance. But is the alternative for him really just to be mocked and pilloried in front of the nation? Everyone in this world has hopes, dreams and aspirations. Everyone. They might not always be obvious but they're in there somewhere. The Boy has dreams, I know he does. And just because there isn't always the talent or skill to back up those dreams it doesn't make them any less valid. And it certainly doesn't make trampling all over them any less cruel.
There's talk in the papers about the legacy of the Paralympics twelve months on, and whether it has had a lasting effect on the way the nation views disability. Well, while prime-time television continues to poke fun at some of the more vulnerable members of society in the name of entertainment, there will be no legacy. No matter how quickly someone can propel a wheelchair up a running track.
This blog is about bringing up The Boy. He's 12 years old and autistic. It's written by The Dad. It's my words, my view. Other people will think differently and have different opinions. Good.