WERE you one of the 20 million watching the climax to one of the most gripping dramas on British television in recent years? It was such a rare thing: a drama played out over several months, beginning in the heat of summer, exploding to its ultimate climax in the depths of winter.
It had tragedy, triumph, heroes, villains. While in Britain we have what the BBC calls Continuing Dramas – soaps – America specialises in serials where a story plays out over a specific period of time. The Wire. The West Wing. The Sopranos.
In Britain we have The X Factor.
Stop spluttering into your cereal and shouting at your copy of Culture. Hear me out.
I am fully aware that The X Factor is not considered high culture in many parts – I need only witness the withering looks of my colleagues at YP Towers when I try to engage them in conversation about the singing competition.
There is no denying, however, that this series had something special. As a karaoke competition I find it dull to the point of tedium. Following live blogs in which people are sarcastic about the singing was the only way I coped with another bellowing rendition of a pop song. In short, I find the singing dull.
What kept me coming back, week after week, was the sheer drama on display.
Sneer all you like, but Simon Cowell and his production company have absolutely nailed the formula for compelling drama. Flawed heroes. Villains. Characters with a goal. Even a journey, a phrase that has become over-used in X Factor land. Let's not forget that it was Aristotle laying out the six elements of drama in his work Poetics that first gave us the idea of the character's journey and the rules of drama that Simon Cowell has put into practice with such panache.
Despite the fact that I was one of 20 million who saw the climax of X Factor, there is the nagging accusation – and not only from colleagues – that there is something appallingly 'lowest common denominator' about watching the show, as though I were committing some crime against art by engaging with the programme.
While reading live blogs during the Saturday night final I stumbled across an article by Picador novelist Edward Docx that crystallised this. His blog took the nation to task for having the temerity to read Stieg Larsson and Dan Brown novels. Bemoaning their bestseller status he wrote: "Not least among the reasons for the bafflement of fellow writers is the amateurishness of the books... Brown and Larsson ... are mesmerisingly bad."
Snobbery at The X Factor, Larsson and Brown is a valid stance, but it is neither helpful, nor correct. If you look a little harder, you can find the art in these so-called artless artifices. Twenty million others did too.