“If it is about style and PR, count me out.” In his opening speech of the second of the Prime Ministerial debates, Gordon Brown hits the nail on the head. He alludes to a society which expects nothing less than airbrushed perfection. The media is dominated by slick reality TV, where contestants are revamped into clones of some perceived ideal. But Brown insists this election campaign is not about reality TV. It’s about reality. He implores us to lay aside those deeply instilled expectations we may have for contestants vying for our vote – whitened teeth, tanned skin, extended hair – and to judge on substance, not appearance. The cheek.
But he’s right, isn’t he? We are so conditioned to the reality TV format that we do genuinely seem to be confusing it with the seriousness of the debates. The surge in popularity for Clegg mirrors SuBo’s rise to popularity. Support for the underdog: this really is reality TV politics. Just like John Sergeant’s incredible run on Strictly Come Dancing, or Jedward’s unprecedented success in a supposed ‘singing’ competition, or the Rage Against The Machine Christmas number 1 - once again we are resisting any apparent arrogance in the contestants as well as demonstrating a preference for voting against the perceived authority of the Cowell-like moguls.
Had SuBo been a little more fashionably and socially aware, I dare say she would not have been such a success story. I am no music expert, but her voice can hardly be described as exquisite. And this is my point. It was not her voice – for which she is reputed – which propelled her to fame, but the patronising sympathy of a nation who, out of shame and embarrassment at its prejudice, swept from condescendingly sniggering at her to sycophantically buying her record.
Similarly, were Brown and Cameron a little more persuasive and likeable, it’s hard to believe Clegg would be so popular. Clegg, like SuBo and Jedward and Sergeant, all challenge the format, be it of reality TV or of politics, which is becoming stale, boring and repetitive. But in all cases, their success is not a testament to their individual talent or genius, but the result of an audience or electorate which is eager for a bit of intrigue and excitement.
I look forward to seeing if substance really does hold out over the appearance of something new and exciting.