We're dumbing down

WELL, yes, I'm quite pleased for Susan Boyle.

Aidan Semmens

WELL, yes, I'm quite pleased for Susan Boyle. She does have a super singing voice and it's nice to hear it coming from someone who looks, and apparently is, so ordinary.

But more than 100 million hits on YouTube? That's more than five times what Barack Obama clocked up for his inauguration speech. (And yes, as I've just given away, I was one of the 100m - as indeed I was one of Obama's 18.5m.)

I suppose her staggering success is evidence that individual TV moments can still reach the greater population despite the fragmenting of channels.

Her dream, it seems, has come true - and there is something satisfying in seeing that overnight success can still strike even at nearly my age.

I only hope, for her sake, that the dream doesn't become a nightmare. I fear fame is not quite the great thing it's cracked up to be - especially when it comes with the degree of prurient attention it seems to guarantee these days.

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Frankly, I'd rather her than me. The sheer volume of attention - the mass hysteria of it - is a little frightening.

And that's at least partly because it catches so perfectly the spirit of the age. At once hysterical and trivial.

To use a fashionable but apt term: dumbed down.

Superficially, we have more TV choice than ever - but it's the choice between dumb and dumber.

And the really depressing thing about the Damian McBride affair is not shock at the revelation of his smutty e-mails. It's not shock at the scuppered plan to build a website telling lies about the government's political opponents and their families.

It's not even the fact that the uncovering of such seedy tactics doesn't come as such a shock as it should.

It's the sheer, pathetic, idiotic, squalid dumbness of it all.

The fact that right at the heart of government, where people should be dealing seriously with serious issues, they are instead playing such juvenile games.

Wasting their time and our money on the kind of sniggering mud-slinging most of us grew out of about the time we graduated from the Beano.

No wonder Alice Mahon, the upright and excellent former MP for Halifax, has finally quit the Labour Party in disgust.

Her saddened departure was, as one commentator put it, “decent Labour versus New Labour”. There aren't many of the decent kind left, not in the parliamentary ranks anyway.

The Milibands, David and Ed, maybe. It may not be insignificant that David Miliband - probably the best real hope for the party's future - appears to have been a target for McBride smears.

I don't hold out much hope, though, that the Tories will be any better when they inevitably get in, this year or next.

How dreary all political prospects seem to be. Perhaps it's no wonder people turn to the trivia of TV talent shows for relief. Tedious and mindless relief though it may be.

YOU may know I don't generally have much time for statistics or opinion polls. But here are a few figures that really ought to frighten you.

According to a Mori poll, 39 per cent of people in Britain believe in ghosts - a huge increase since 1950, when the figure was 10pc. Maybe even more staggering, 22pc apparently “believe” in astrology - up from 7pc.

See what I mean about society dumbing down?

Meanwhile, another poll - this time of experts - says that 86pc don't believe political efforts to restrict global warming to 2C will work.

Nearly half predict a rise of 3 or 4C. And that, they say, would turn the Amazon rainforest to desert, destroy coral reefs, and bring drought and famine to Europe.

In such a climate you might think political advisers had better things to do than make up dirty stories about people.

But maybe it accounts for the apparent fact that more than half the people in Britain believe in life after death. Wishful thinking.