A couple of weeks ago, I had the misfortune of watching “Germany’s Got Talent”. It wasn’t my choice; I was babysitting and the parents had decreed it. The three children had permission to watch the show provided they ate up their salami baguettes and promised to be in bed by 9.30 pm. As I tossed salami slices onto their French sticks, I prayed for a hunger strike, but it was all in vain: they tore through the bread and the youngest even asked for seconds.
If its British counterpart is objectionable, Germany’s Got Talent is downright offensive. It’s even more slow-moving and features considerably more sexually provocative performances and an unacceptably broad definition of talent.
I asked the children whom they were rooting for. “The piano player” they answered. Oh, how nice!
Turns out he’s a Brazilian-German with a red Mohawk known as “Punker Jorg” who’s been up to no good; for the last few years he’s been living on the streets and getting in trouble with the police. Somewhere along the way, he started playing Yann Tiersen songs on the keyboard and now he wants to turn his life around. We see some teary tributes from his grandmother and an emotional appeal from his family to quit his path to self-destruction.
Before he performs we must watch a Russian lady showing off her uncanny ability to change outfits in seconds while covered by a sheet her husband drapes over her; an unfortunate man who is besotted with the main judge, whom he describes as his idol; and a blind lady whose dog sits beside her panting as she sings.
The kids’ eyes get bigger and bigger with each story of an unfortunate life about to be transformed by a winning performance.
This all came back to me tonight because I stumbled upon a clip of Korea’s Got Talent on youtube. Sung-Bong Choi is 22 and was abandoned as a child. He’s spent his life working on the street selling gum and sometimes the public toilets are the only shelter he can get.
One night he’s in a nightclub selling gum when he hears a vocalist performing with such emotion that he decides he wants to sing too and turn his life around. Korea’s Cheryl Cole gazes at him with adoring pity while the camera pans out to audience members, who are wearing uniform expressions of patronising compassion.
Sung Bo, self-contained and humble starts to sing and the crowd goes wild. Cue millions of youtube hits: the boy goes viral and he’s the next Susan Boyle (with that name, he has to be).
Well-intentioned youtube comments beneath videos of this kind remind us “not to judge people by their looks” and thank the Su Bos of the world for having talent despite adverse life circumstances and lack of physical attractiveness.
They’re called “feel-good” videos and they travel around the world in seconds and bring tears to people’s eyes, which they then tweet about with a link back to the video.
Pity that these superstar moments rely on the gross assumption that talent and good looks and fortune are usually correlated and where this is not the case it’s legitimate to make an enormous deal out of it.
Much to the kids’ disappointment, Punker Jorg doesn’t win. An African panflautist who hasn’t been able to afford to see his family for eight years does. Magically, before his winning performance and after an elongated series of clips conveying his unfortunate life-story his mother appears on stage, having been flown over courtesy of the show to hear her son perform the melodies of his native land.
He begins to play. The pretty judge wipes a tear from her cheek with her perfect nail. He’s crowned winner and embraces his mother.
By this time, the kids’ eyes have glazed over. As I tuck them up, I ask whether next time they’d like to play make-believe “Das Supertalent” instead. They nod in excitement. When I return downstairs, I notice a piece of salami stuffed down the side of the sofa.