Shame on NZ X Factor
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As a member of 'Generation Y', I dutifully tuned into X Factor New Zealand this weekend to watch the drama, the showcasing of NZ's greatest talents, and the arrival of one of the world's most talked about shows to the shores of Aotearoa.
OPINION: What I saw was something that was a disappointing indictment of how our culture apparently derives pleasure.
The audition that evoked this feeling was that of Mitchell Wahl, who performed Elvis' I can't help falling in love with you. He talked about his attachment to three "really, really nice" chickens of the 50 that he owns, and his wish that he had one of them, Phoebe, with him at the audition. He believed that his voice - which everyone else heard as screeching and screaming - was fantastic.
The audition proceeded, with Mitchell attempting to sing, and being roundly laughed at by the live audience, the four judges, and thousands upon thousands of others at home and on Facebook and Twitter right across New Zealand.
The official X Factor NZ twitter account even began referring to him as '#ChickenMan'.
This audition was aired purely with the intention of mocking Mitchell, of encouraging people to laugh at his expense on a national stage.
How disgusting it is that the producers, MediaWorks and FremantleMedia Australia, chose to take advantage of someone, to exploit them and ridicule them for the purpose of ratings.
In one interview in 2011, X Factor judge Stan Walker talked about his own experiences as a young person being bullied. You would therefore think he would understand how it feels to be on the receiving end of such treatment. One would imagine that this background has taught him not take advantage of those less fortunate, to laugh outrageously at them on television, and leave them oblivious to the situation all the while.
What is perhaps even more concerning, is that this is seemingly what improves ratings for television shows, that, as a society, we have created a demand for such ridicule, that what we find funny is the way those who are different, or who are affected by life's random lottery of tragedy, behave when put on national television and are told to sing.
It's not to say we shouldn't share a chuckle at poor auditions, we all do, and those contestants take on that risk when they sign up for that show. But the crucial point is that they understand that risk and are aware of the reaction that occurs.
By contrast, it's clear Mitchell did not understand how he sounded, what going on the show actually meant, and not one of the judges actually chose to tell him the truth that he was not a good singer. They instead played along with and perpetuated the joke at his expense.
Some have claimed that Mitchell was just an actor and the audition was a stunt to drive up ratings. If that is the case, it's only more deplorable, as it indicates that the producers have actively sought to portray someone for the humour viewers derive from it.
We are told as youth that bullying is shameful and wrong, and is most pernicious when directed at those less fortunate than ourselves. Yet we have media that actively facilitates it.
X Factor New Zealand should be ashamed of their decision to air this audition. NZ On Air should be ashamed that funding from New Zealand taxpayers was used to support a show that chooses to exploit the idiosyncrasies of individuals as a platform for ratings. All those New Zealanders who engaged with this act of modern media ritual humiliation should be ashamed of themselves too.
Those that are different to ourselves are not to be laughed at and are not to be taken advantage of. If we want to move past discrimination of these individuals in our society, we must not allow mass media to facilitate the bullying of them on the grandest stage possible.
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