At the weekend, embarrassingly, my wife caught me in the act. I hadn’t done it in a while, several years in fact, but I finally succumbed: I watched X-Factor again.
In my defence, you can learn a lot about life by watching this perennial behemoth, and it is possible to assess the direction of a generation by observing its POP culture.
By definition, POP (popular) describes the mood of the general public. Using X-Factor as a gauge, up until this series, the trend defined by the music contained was one of predictable formula, gaudy stylisation, overproduction and a consequent sterilisation of artists, pop and, indeed life, it seemed. It was at this point that I stopped watching, despite the protests of my, then, young children, to mourn the loss of individuality, craft and originality.
In the Taoist classic, ‘The Tao Te Ching’, the infamous Chinese sage, Lao Tzu writes:
‘The Tao begot one.
One begot two.
Two begot three.
And three begot the ten thousand things…’
I’ve loved these lines since my teenage years and have played with the meaning ever since. At the weekend, a new relevance to X-Factor hit me right between the eyes!
Something is lost with every step away from the undiluted source and essence of the hum of life unfiltered (Tao, God, Universe, Field of Potentiality, who knows?).
Something is amiss when the mass print of posters replace single pieces of original art. Something is wrong when modern roofing adorns Cotswold cottages instead of thatch; and when a diary packed weekend of activities is used to ‘relax’ instead of a day spent around the house in ‘sloppy Joes’, something is awry.
The X-factor had initially begun as ‘Pop Idol’, a televised talent competition in search of the next singing sensation. It was arguably the first show of its kind, at least on the scale that it operated and was the ‘Tao’ of talent shows. It was a complete success, and its combination of songs, emotional back-stories and varied talent lead to on-going series (The Tao begot one. One begot two.)
But like all things that move away from the original, it began to suffer the effects of its success. Production replaced passion; tabloid characters surpassed talent, and quantity overshadowed quality. With each series, the show stumbled down a mountain of predictability that appeased the masses, the sponsors and the television networks.
For those of you accomplished at reading between the lines, you’ll know that this piece is not about Mr Cowell and his talent show. It is merely an everyday metaphor for own lives and the problems we face as we stumble down our precipices of status quo.
But in this series, I saw a glimmer of hope; a return to Grace, you might say.
Grace Davies, a competitor on the show, sailed into the final of X-Factor this weekend as the public voted, yet again, for her to stay in the competition. What is more impressive is that she has done it on the back of a string of wonderfully written and performed original works. More remarkable still is that the X-Factor bosses have allowed such originality!
As the public show their appreciation for original, rather than mass produced, work (and Grace is only one of several competitors marching to their beat this year), it points to another esoteric phenomenon found within Far Eastern philosophies.
In 2007 I walked Japan’s sacred Buddhist trail- the 88 Temple Pilgrimage. It is a 1,400 km walk around the circumference of Shikoku, one of the four islands that constitute Japan’s mainland, stopping at eighty-eight temples along the way (You can read about it in my book ‘The Hardest path’).
The circuitous route of the pilgrimage and the number 88 (turned on its side), points to the Buddhist view of the cyclical and never-ending circle of life. And it is this idea that is represented by Grace, her original tunes, and X-Factor.
After the Tao has become three, and the three have become ten thousand things, and beyond, life itself starts to resist the distance from its source. It wants to go home. It wants to feel simplicity and purity once again. It is time to return to Grace.
Thankfully this will happen to us all, as we can see happening in the decisions of the Saturday night voting public. As the waves of the sea flow and the breath from our lungs move in and out, so too will complexity give way to simplicity; uniform to originality; mundane to sublime.
It is refreshing to know that we can only stray so far from Grace before returning to the comfort of her song, and although we know that once home we’ll want to roam once again, for now, we can enjoy being close to the source. And while I’m here, I might throw on my sloppy joes and watch the final.