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Reality TV Eats Democracy
Zaid Hassan, 4 Jan 04

The Observer (London) in Power Idol? Now politicians audition for votes reports today that makers of the notorious reality tv show Big Brother are in talks to create a political varient of the show Pop Idols. In 2002 producers were astounded when millions voted for contestents, from the ranks of the great unwashed, for one to become the nation's 'Pop Idol.' The idea is that wannabe politicians will appear on the show and be voted through successive rounds by the public. During each round a panel of judges grills (and humilates) each contestent.

To give you some idea of what this might mean, in the UK, 10,000 hopefuls applied to be on Pop Idol 2002, of which a handful were selected to appear on the programme over 20 weeks. As was noted at the time, more people voted on Pop Idol then in the General Election with 32 million phone votes recieved during the show - a pretty substanial mandate by any political standards.

Peter Bazalgette, chairman of production company Endemol, the maker of Big Brother said, "Broadcasters have not yet had the chutzpah to commission a formated popularity contest for politics, but we're now discussing it with them," and "This may be the key to younger voters watching political programmes."

The proposal has set off alarm bells for some. Madeline Bunting in The Guardian warns that, although this appeal to re-engage 18-24 year olds in the political process is a "killer punch," she argues that "Voting for politicians on the basis of a television programme is a politics of boredom and self-indulgence."

While coming somewhat from left-field, it may well be that the irrevocable convergence of politics and entertainment is finally about to happen and in doing so will usher a perhaps paradigm shift for how our political representatives are selected. Cue the music.

(Thanks Al!)

"The Bazalgette project could be used to select candidates for anything from the London mayoral elections - famously won last time by an independent, Ken Livingstone - to 'people's peerages' or even Westminster seats. Even if the programme does not follow through by trying to get them into Parliament, any winner would be tempted to adopt a political career."

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