By complete coincidence the very day after my last post, on Hidden (collective) talent, I heard the results of the Britain’s Got Talent competition final, which was won by Ashleigh Butler and her dog Pudsey. Between them, the duo netted prize money of half a million pounds, and it is easy to imagine even that vast sum being eventually be dwarfed by sponsorship deals over the coming year.
It is not completely clear whether the talent lies with Pudsey (for his unusual dancing abilities) or Miss Butler (for her ability to train the dog). Either way, the contrast with the talent uncovered in James Whinnery could hardly be starker. Certainly there are commercial realities involved, but even taking this into consideration, it makes me question what value we place on talent – and actually what we really mean by “talent”.
The Hidden Talent show didn’t appear to be a big budget production. There was no prize money on the table. There was no big pay day for the experts involved in developing the latent talent in James – they did it because they love to discover and develop talent. James has clearly gained a great deal personally; viewers of the programme will have derived enjoyment from it, and the experts will have too.
By contrast, Britain’s Got Talent was very much a big budget operation. The prize money was very significant. The “experts” (or judges) who selected the winners in each round weren’t doing it for altruistic reasons (rumoured figures vary wildly, but the general consensus seems to be that Simon Cowell earns £20 million for the series, with each of the other judges earning around £200,000). The winner gained through the prize money, the future value of sponsorships etc.; and as with Hidden Talent, viewers of the programme will have derived enjoyment from it too.
As said, commercial realities cannot be ignored, but somehow this just seems plain wrong. One could argue all day about the relative entertainment value of a dancing dog, compared to that of discovering latent linguistic talent. But the point here is that the money seems to be going to the wrong people. When a dancing dog wins a talent competition, it reminds us that we all enjoy being entertained. But surely, when set alongside something more worthy, the comparison speaks volumes about what we value.
When there is so much valuable potential in the world, it seems somehow wrong that we can’t see big entertainment value in worthy causes, and that we should therefore give such prominence to trivial and shallow pursuits.