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Why do what Simon says?

PUBLISHED: 10:39 23 April 2010 | UPDATED: 17:09 06 July 2010

BAYING crowds at the stocks, gallows and freak shows relishing in the public humiliation of others might feel like history book stuff.

But as a society, we haven't really moved on very far.

BAYING crowds at the stocks, gallows and freak shows relishing in the public humiliation of others might feel like history book stuff.

But as a society, we haven't really moved on very far.

We still enjoy cruel voyeurism and poking fun. But instead of the village green or big top, we gawp at the TV, lapping up the inadequacies, delusions and, wickedly, the obvious mental fragility of others. Often, we don't even realise just how mean we're being.

It's only “a laugh,” isn't it? People believing they're super-talented when really they're totally hopeless? We split our sides at their uselessness, encouraging our children to mock them too.

The curtain went up on Saturday on our annual modern day freak show, Britain's Got Talent, where the deluded, deranged, certifiable and plain sad parade themselves for our delectation.

Many deserve our sympathy but all they get is mirth and disdain.

Every time we laugh we boost the giant cash cow for Simon Cowell, so smug with his deft manipulation of the world's 'little people' his self-satisfied sneer is practically permanent. But we can't complain - we made the monster and we love it.

Even he says he might quit because so many “horrific” contestants are standing before him. But he's encouraged them. He only has himself to blame, taunting them with the dream ticket of fame and fortune.

I didn't join the 12 million viewers of Saturday's first episode - three million more than tuned into the historic first UK televised live debate between the party leaders.

Three million more people considered it a greater priority to watch squeaky girl singers, pointless dance troupes, dodgy magic acts, dancing dogs and a performer who puts his clothes on back to front than the country's potential leaders. Worrying.

If this pap is more relevant to people's lives than who will take a country on its knees into the next decade, it says much - not just about the politics of Westminster - but about us as a nation, about our priorities

As the latest BGT batch shuffled on to the stage to boos, taunts, mocking baying or to applause hailing them as the new Messiah, the real star of last year's show was quivering on the edge again, pulling out of yet another appearance, her behaviour getting edgier and more random as her fame grows.

The hugely talented Susan Boyle is obviously struggling with super-stardom paying a huge mental price for her success.

And who's looking after her? She's making a lot of people a lot of money. Where's the duty of care? Most weeks throw up stories of public meltdowns or show cancellations - and that's after her stay in The Priory.

Last year 10-year-old Hollie Steel dissolved into tears, a quaking tiny wreck in the semi-final, after going to pieces during her song. A distressing sight but still we watched, ridiculing her even for “playing” the audience and judges.

Historically, the deformed and grotesque were paraded for entertainment. Now mental fragility is laid out for cheap laughs.

It's uncomfortable, mean and inexcusable.

But still we will carry on chewing them up and spitting them out in search of a few half-talented finalists and “good viewing”, whatever that is. Where is our public conscience to protect those who need protection rather than poke fun?

A day out at Alton Towers last weekend was spent mostly standing in queues.

Hanging about waiting is one of the few things we British are too good at.

All around in the interminable lines were dead-eyed passive bovine-like faces resigned to their fate of queuing motionless for hours on a glorious spring day for 12 seconds on an adrenaline-rush ride. Blink and you miss it.

Madness. But no one questioned the point of it; or why anyone would waste that time just waiting. Everyone meekly accepted his or her fate without question or emotion.

After 10 minutes, I got twitchy. “It's just what you have to do,” someone said.

Why? Why is it something we have to do? Why, when we're told there is an hour's wait and it turns out to be two, do we have to accept it?

It's staggering that we accept so much because it's just how it is. Who says?

Surely queuing for more than an hour is appalling customer service that needs addressing.

But nothing will happen unless people complain and object to being treated like fools. But we just take it.

We get the customer service we deserve and if we can't be bothered to make a fuss than why should anyone be prepared to change?

Happy theme park summer.

Speaking of queues, as rumbles go on about tactical voting or not voting at all - shame on anyone who doesn't turn out on May 6 -

just remember of the queues in Iraq when women allowed the vote or the queues for voters standing for hours for the privilege of taking part in democracy for the first time.

Every vote has been hard fought for. Imagine that vote and the rights that go with it being taken away.

More than 65,000 people applied for 600 apprenticeships as gas fitters.

At last - young people are finally viewing vocational on-the-job training as a viable alternative to getting up to their necks in debt for a ropey third-class degree in Mickey Mouse studies from the University of Noddlyland.

Apprenticeships are so under-rated. There's a gaping skills gap crying out to be addressed with a generation of skilled workers about to retire.

But skills and traditional crafts are sneered at. Every young person wants to go to “uni.'

Qualified apprentices end up sitting pretty on a salary when their graduate mates with a weedy “degree” in something with 'studies' in the title - David Beckham Studies? - are out of work, miserable and broke with letters after their name but no money in their pocket and without a real skill to their name.

And many of them still can't spell or write a letter.

Dave and Gordy have good reason to be uncomfortable and more than a bit brassed off.

The underdog's well-scrubbed fresh-face has suddenly become a national pin-up driving a thick old wedge between the Tories and Labour.

Cleggmania was unleashed after his slick televised debate performance sending the nation into a frenzy and the two other leaders into a pickle. Overnight, everyone wanted a bit of Clegg.

A “third man' has blown the battle wide open and made things exciting for a change.

Like a matinee idol, Nick Clegg has swept in, firing up middle England getting women in particular all a swoon and leaving David Cameron scratching his well-coiffed hair wondering how it all went so wrong.

But then again, we are such a fickle lot easily swayed by a bit of slick choreography and sharp soundbites.

Image and surface is what this election will be won on, more's the pity.

The very thought of being rescued by the Ark Royal and sailing into our home harbour, music playing, after being stranded by volcanic ash is a romantic one.

Who cares about the election when the British are being truly British and calling on three Royal Navy ships to surge through and pluck Britons to safety and deliver them home.

But how much will it cost us to send the Navy out to be heroes? Enough to offset the huge losses to British productivity this week by the freak of nature to make it all worthwhile? I very much doubt it.

Once upon a time Adrian Chiles was a witty, charming, loveable pudgy-faced TV host.

Today, he personifies the phrase “too big for his boots.”

On the BBC2 Apprentice progranme, Chiles was warm, self-effacing and funny.

Then he changed - by sitting next to Christine Bleakly everyday probably.

Blanket exposure has turned him from quietly confident Brummie to media monster.

I'm sure GMTV believes it has pulled off a major coup by getting Chiles on the early morning sofa. He will look like an intellectual giant compared to the pygmies on the sofa at the moment.

So why don't executives there be brave, reverse their decision to axe the fabulously sharp and entertaining Penny Smith and put them together in front of the camera?

A dream team.

Sit back and watch the sparks fly.

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