X-Factor is back. Yes, that means the obscenely deep announcement voice, auditions from teenagers who should probably be at school instead of getting five minutes of fame, and the judges using three phrases again and again.

 But the other thing that is back and more prominent than ever, are the sob stories. You know what I mean. The *insert family member who has recently died* type of thing that is told through tears in the little video before they sing. Yes, death is bad and grief is hard and I am not saying we should not talk about sad situations, but they should not be needed as a side dish to talent.

It is true we root for the underdog. It is true this is through compassion or believing that we ourselves can do something that we are the underdog at. But the X-Factor creates the idea that you have to be an underdog to prosper.

I saw an ‘inspirational’ quote poster once that said that art is painting with your soul. This implicitly contributes to the idea of the troubled artist. The idea that the best art and art that is profound is made only by those suffering. It is the same idea that causes the sob stories on X-Factor, the repetition of the story of Van Gogh’s ear and the reason so many people don’t feel good enough.

There is a short story I read years ago and can’t remember the writer. It is about two teenagers, obnoxious and emotional who kill themselves to prove themselves as troubled artists. They are constrained by the idea. They feel as though they are not allowed to create without trouble. That everything they do will be grounded in a sense of naïvety unless they suffer.

When I am watching X-Factor, it is these people I think of. The ones with good voices that don’t get shown because there is nothing that gives them ‘depth’. I also think of the episode of Black Mirror when the contestant with a nice voice gets relegated to the porn industry whereas the contestant who gives them emotion and a heartbreaking story gets somewhere significant.

I am not saying that we should not praise those who overcome adversity. It comes back to Yeon-mi Park’s quote in her memoir, In Order to Live when talking about her crossing of the Gobi desert to get to freedom. She writes that we all have our deserts. We all have things to cross.

Still, what people create should not be defined by what they have been through. We need to make sure that the acts who don’t tell their stories still perform and still get judged the same. Because although telling your story and showcasing the adversity you have overcome is liberating, art is universal. We need to break down the troubled artist idea so everyone can create. 

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