Calm down dears; Jedward will live on

So Jedward are out and didn’t they
do it in spectacular style? Moaning and growling through a uniquely atonal
version of the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Boyzone classic “No matter what”. It clearly
even tested Louis’s powers of positive thinking. At one point the camera turned
to him and there he was, fixed grin, singing along under his breath clearly in a
desperate attempt to guide his protégés back to the tune. Before striking the
killer blow, Dannii was prompted to ask whether this was a singing competition; a
question to which none of the other judges seemed able or willing to give an
adequate answer.

But, you can’t blame Dannii for
asking the question as, during the stellar rise of Jedward from zero to Nero in
just a few short weeks, their singing ability (or lack of it) has never really
been the issue at hand. They are one of those classic TV inspired media
phenomena that in these disaggregated days we identify, embrace and celebrate
together with a frenzied enthusiasm which is often in inverse proportion to
their talent. We love them, we love to hate them and we love to talk about
them. Even if you have been cut off from all broadcast, online and print media
for the last 3 months there’s no way you can escape knowing about them because
everyone else is talking about them, all the time. (I see that even the IAB has
written a blog post about them.)

And, finally, they receive the
ultimate accolade. Jedward are considered to be such an important and populist
cultural reference point that both of the main political parties have tried to
appropriate their image to knock their competitors.

Such is the power of TV to create
and then fuel these incredible phenomena. But their success also depends on 2
other things: our need to find things which bond us together (a need which TV
satisfies every day of the week): and our very British determination to embrace
eccentricity, to celebrate the anti-hero or the underdog (think Eddie the
Eagle), to revel in stuff which is so bad it’s good.

And, of course, some very canny
advertisers have tapped into this insight. Think of Howard from the Halifax,
Michael Winner telling us to “calm down, dear” and the utterly stupendous
Ambassador’s dinner party. I was reminded of the amazing long-term effect of TV
campaigns like this while listening to the Today programme last week on Radio 4.
A story about Ferrero appearing as a possible competitor to Kraft in the
bidding war for Cadbury inspired a 2 minute down-tools by the presenters as they
wallowed in a nostalgic and loving homage to the famous ad which they all
clearly held in great affection.

With this, TV, you are spoiling us.