Perhaps you are a banner-waving BGT fanatic. Or perhaps instead of watching you would rather smother your own leg in mayonnaise and gnaw at it until all that remains is a bloody, eggy stump. But it’s what everyone else is watching, and you’re all out of mayo.
Whatever your attitude to the show, you have to admit that it is a masterpiece of slick editing, sculpting the contestants, their performances, and the audience and panel reactions to precisely fit the specifications dictated by the dastardly mastermind behind it. If anything in the show appears in a certain way to us, it’s because Simon Cowell wanted it to. If we have an opinion on anything in the show, it’s because he sold it to us.
Even I am not strong enough to resist his crafty Jedi mind tricks – I love to criticise the contestants and judge the judges. I wait, wallet in hand and tongue on chin, to be sold the cynics’ special: Simon Cowell, the man we love to hate.
But this mystery shopper would also like to do a little product research first. Let’s get under his skin. Let’s walk a mile in his shoes. The first step towards digging under the editorial veneer of BGT is a little analysis of the judges’ body language. Besides the glossy drivel that is wheeled out of their mouths on cue, what are they actually saying when they’re on camera?
Cowell is characterised by several classic physical traits. Perhaps you have seen ‘The Pigeon’. His eyes widen, he shrugs his shoulders, and extends his neck, with his head moving downwards. Normally it would be interpreted as the classic ‘I dunno’ gesture, yet the edges of his mouth never turn down, as is the usual accompaniment to this expression. More importantly, his palms do not turn face-up but remain unexposed. This gives it a defensive overtone that suggests insecurity with the view he’s espousing or the situation he’s in.
“Relatively insignificant!” I hear you cry. Well, if we take the confrontation over the Sugar Dandies, we can start to peel back some layers. Like an onion. Or bad sunburn. At the beginning of their act, his hand is covering part of his face – again, a defensive position where he wishes to conceal his true feelings of an instant dislike of the couple. He leans over and widens his eyes to the other judges, looking for similar negative reactions, but finds no such confirmation. In fact, seeing them smiling he realises he must smile too. However his eyes still flick between them and the Sugar Dandies, calculating, beginning to realise that his reaction to them may not be the public reaction. Of course by the end he has the audience reaction mirrored, and is the picture of joviality. He turns to David, and there it is! The Pigeon. It is intended to communicate ‘they’re great, who knew?’ but here and at every stage we can see a rejection of the situation. Go on Youtube, see for yourself. You have to look closely though; it’s not like any Mutley can catch The Pigeon.
Simon was unhappy with the whole situation. Notwithstanding his latent homophobia emerging from the closet, he can’t make money out of one foxtrotting couple. But the audience loved them. It seems the Sugar Dandies had Cowell over a barrel.
Now, it is in BGT’s interests to show a little ‘power of the people’ triumphing over the robber baron, to prop up the façade of choice. But here I believe we can see a real loss of control, which is both extremely interesting and rather affirming of the national attitude towards homosexuality.
What about the ‘bromance’ though? Cowell gets on great with Walliams. They said so on the telly. And he’s as flamboyant as a flamingo in feather boa.
Take another look at the scene in the dressing room, where David kneels down with a flourish and kisses Simon’s hand. As David rises he laughs, and insists, “Well, you know, that kind of works for me”. All very droll and chummy. But even as he says it, Cowell makes a ‘shoo’ gesture with his hand, which clearly reveals his discomfort.
My verdict? It’s fairly obvious that the judges aren’t as fraternal as the show suggests, mainly due to the addition of David Walliams. What’s more interesting is that under the surface we are seeing Cowell put in positions outside the carefully moulded comfort zone of the show.
But this only makes me want to watch more, if only to see the (for Simon) challenging acts that don’t fit the mould go further. And isn’t that exactly what he wants?