The Cult of Humility

Why we like our pop stars “grounded”, “humbled” and, ideally, “living in a bin”.

adele allegra le fanu humility M.I.A. middle finger Ndubz one direction Reality TV Superbowl swearing X Factor

Two high profile women at two high profile events gave the finger recently, to vastly different receptions. One of them was M.I.A., performing alongside Madonna at the Super Bowl; the other was Adele, who at this week’s Brit Awards stuck up the same finger “to the suits” when she was cut off during her acceptance speech.

Despicable display…

The responses were vastly different:  M.I.A.’s one-fingered salute was deemed “negative” and “ungracious”, especially given the privilege she had been afforded performing alongside her majesty Madonna.

Adele’s response, meanwhile, was viewed as  another example of her unaffected pluck, sticking it to the man. In the age of the reality show, it seems we have developed hypocritical obsession with “humility” .

It’s become a fixation on the X Factor, as Louis Walsh bleats for the hundredth time: “What I love about you, (insert warbling, slightly weepy contestant’s name here), is that you don’t know how good you are.”

…whereas with someone like you, no problem.

Yes, there are the token “divas”, but this accolade can too easily be turned against them. If they’re too good, they must have a “rough week” to be humbled, and spend the rest of their time on the show bowing and scraping to express the immense privilege of being allowed to perform weekly karaoke in front of a panel of halfwits.

If not, that’s them out – there’s nothing Tulisa from NDubz likes less than a lack of humility. If they want to stay in the game they must weep about their mums, their nans, their experiences of bullying, the job they just couldn’t bear to go back to now that they’ve tasted The Dream.

The cult of humility has even affected the music, being the punchline of One Direction’s number one hit “What Makes You Beautiful”. What really gets One Direction going is a girl who doesn’t know she’s beautiful (don’t worry about her brain or her personality, and run a mile if she’s got a mere inkling that she’s not utterly repulsive).

M.I.A.’s middle finger isn’t humble; Adele’s is all right because we can patronise her for being “one of us”  ( A real woman! A Cockney!) in other ways. She must constantly affect unaffectedness however big she gets.

Reality show culture has created an unpleasant paradox: we don’t like our pop stars to act like pop stars any more. We’d rather a forelock-tugging fest and see the humbler, though not the best man, win.