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Column: Beyond the X Factor21 March 2010 Zie Nederlandse versie
by Arnold Jansen op de Haar
Philip Larkin, the ‘hermit of Hull’, is in my opinion the finest poet of the last century. The likelihood of a new Philip Larkin emerging is extremely slight. He no longer fits in with our current society.
He kept himself to himself, he dressed like a proper gentleman, he adored Margaret Thatcher, wouldn’t have won any beauty contest, was shy, and moreover he turned deaf in later life. On top of this he refused to become Poet Laureate.
There is a TV Programme, The X Factor, designed to enable people to become famous at the drop of a hat. An all important jury decides which of the candidates go through. ‘You’re through to the next round’ has become a famous catch phrase, so when participants phone home and say: ‘I’m through!’ no further explanation is required.
Politicians can just forget it if they do not have the ‘X factor’. Gordon Brown is a grumpy Scotsman and David Cameron a soft boiled egg; they’re both actually lacking the X factor and so this must result in a draw between the two.
Consultancies that produce management courses increasingly mention the X factor. Actually they refer to an extra ‘oomph’ that a manager should possess but which is difficult to specify. Someone said: ‘I see it the moment someone walks in, it is this extra glint in the eye.’
What this actually means is that the X factor is not the cause but rather the consequence of success. Yet they are entirely at a loss to establish how it originated.
This week Joanna Lumley managed to attract headlines again because she questioned why children want to participate in The X Factor. ‘And when children here want to be on The X Factor I think, Why? Don’t just want to be famous, do something that’s really fascinating. The world is crammed with opportunities.’
Joanna Lumley herself, of course, is blessed with plenty of X factor. She just has to utter a few words and it gets picked up by all the media. I must admit I have spent some time trying to uncover a well researched essay by Joanna Lumley, but it appears that all rests on this one quote.
People who are beautiful are more successful, they obviously sport the X factor. Even animals are not immune; they too can have the X factor. ‘You’re quite stuffed if you are a small, ugly invertebrate,’ was part of the summing up by a PhD student at the University of Groningen, so ugly animals are without X factor which makes protecting them more of an uphill battle.
Susan Boyle proved that ugly people can be runner-up in a talent contest. Yet she is still the exception to the rule. It is almost as if the jury spelt it out: ‘We normally only deal with beautiful people but in exceptional cases...’
Publishers are not exempt from this attitude; they too are looking for a beautiful young novelist to make her debut. In the 1940’s Philip Larkin published two lesbian romances under the pen name Brunette Coleman. Nowadays the reaction would be: ‘Brunette Coleman! Sign off for publication at once!
Today my eldest nephew celebrates his eighteenth birthday. He looks like one of the Greek Gods. If I go for a walk with the ‘Greek God’, all girls stare at us. Well not at me, obviously. I am short in stature, stout, bald and wear glasses; of course they all gape at my nephew. He obviously has the X factor; if only he could sing, he would be waved through to the next round without a doubt.
My nephew hasn’t quite decided what he wants to do, ‘Greek God’ is certainly attractive, but it doesn’t count towards choosing your profession. However, he confided in me: ‘I want to be rich.’
Now I am building my hopes on the fact that he will find out what he is passionate about. He has an ear for music and has an excellent talent for drawing. I believe he has many more talents, but first he has to be convinced of his own potential.
This is from Philip Larkin in This Be The Verse:
Well, we all recognise at least part of this sentiment, especially if your parents encourage you to appear on The X Factor. Philip Larkin lacked the X factor, but his work displayed it in abundance. I believe that this is the message Joanna Lumley wanted to convey to my nephew.
© Arnold Jansen op de Haar
© Translation Holland Park Press
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