The winner takes it all

The winner takes it all

While it has been a perception of the civil service for years (largely thanks to the TV show Yes, Minister) that mediocrity is to be rewarded and cultivated, the celebration of mediocrity in wider society is something that hasn’t really been noted, except by a small coterie of academics who bemoan the quality of university entrants each year.

This week Brian Cowen and Gordon Brown were drawn into a debate on the ‘reality’ television show X Factor, and the relative merits of different contestants. Showing off a particularly parochial attitude, An Taoiseach was minded to defend Irish twins John and Edward Grimes against the jibes of his UK counterpart.

“I hope they go all the way,” the Taoiseach is quoting as telling a national newspaper. He was speaking from Berlin, where celebrations were ongoing for the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall (surely nothing compared to the twins beating Welsh contestant Lucie Jones in this week’s X Factor).

Cowen, a man who has been known to hold a note himself, is certainly listening to whichever PR adviser is telling him to ‘get down with the kids’ and show his fun side. And, true to his Fianna Fail roots, patriotism is his priority in this case. John and Edward were not alone in being discussed on the airwaves or in the Cork Independent offices this week.

Breffny Morgan, Cork’s foremost Harvard graduate, is still in the running for Bill Cullen’s Apprentice despite his bumbling manner and perceived slowness. Many people are now seeing Breffny as the danger in the long grass, a typical cute Corkman who is playing the rest of them for fools. And maybe that’s the case.

I don’t always agree with my colleague Neil Prendeville (page 12 of this week’s Cork Independent), but I’m certainly of one mind with him in preferring ‘the Breffmeister’ over Jedward and the Cowell-directed circus that surrounds them.

The sad thing about all of it is that both Jedward and the Breffmeister have garnered huge public support simply because they both seem so… stupid.

When did idiocy become a qualification?
The example of Jade Goody is always trotted out in these cases but it doesn’t apply – Jade Goody did not enter a talent competition. She entered Big Brother, a show that, of its nature, promoted those with a comic level of stupidity.

However, both Jedward and Breffny are contestants in competitions in which the other participants are a lot more deserving of the eventual prize. Jedward are taking part in a singing competition, and clearly can’t sing. Breffny is taking part in a business competition, and clearly knows nothing about business.

And both are being supported massively by the voting public.

It does make one wonder whether the culture of ‘it’s the taking part that matters’ has damaged the very definition of achievement. If every participant in a Sports Day egg and spoon race gets a medal, what is the point?
In any kind of competition, for most people, it is not the taking part that matters. You don’t do a job interview ‘to take part’ – you do it to get a job.

It’s winning that matters in both X Factor and the Apprentice – the contestants know that winning is the difference between being set on the path to success in their chosen careers, or being left on the scrapheap.

And the justice of giving Jedward a recording contract (my ears hurt already) or Breffny a €100,000 job (I’m probably jealous) is questionable. The winner takes it all, after all.



  1. It could just be a reflex… Perhaps the viewing public is sick of these contrived shows, and are therefore rooting for the stupid, the awful and the downright cringeworthy as a comment on the programmes themselves?

  2. It is worth noting that it's called the X-factor, not the I can sing really well or perform really well factor. So whatever it is that gets people to like someone despite they being not very talented they appear to have it.

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