I have been struggling with this blog post for quite a while now. And the tragic death of Gary Speed also derailed my thinking. But like a trooper I persevered.
The bulk of this post is dedicated to arguing against what I think is one of the most dangerous and infectious meme’s of common times. It is a phrase over used on talent shows and in competitions seemingly seeping into general boring day-to-day life.
That phrase is the irksome “comfort zone”.
A good example of it in use is during any broadcast of the bizarrely popular “X Factor”,
Judges: Singing that song, you were really out of your comfort zone…
Singer: Yes, I was out of my comfort zone and I thought singing the Rastamouse theme tune in Dutch was very brave of me.
Judges: We all said last week you needed to step out of your comfort zone as you tend to stay firmly in your comfort zone of singing songs sung using words and now you are out of your comfort zone you took it to a totally different… zone. Comfort wise.
But that assault on the language is not just restricted to the talent shows that are conceived to make Simon Cowell money – and then to get a Christmas number one only to go away for ten months “writing” an album of cover songs. Then release them when the next series of the X Factor is on. Almost, as if it was timed to coincide in some grand Machiavellian scheme to steal ten year olds pocket money.
It was also used on the other wise amazing Masterchef: The Professionals when a professional cook said:
“Doing that dish was out of my comfort zone”
How? You are a chef cooking some food! You should at the very least be able to do what you plan to do otherwise why are you planning on cooking it? Now, Masterchef isn’t with out its own clichés as apparently “cooking doesn’t get harder than this” every week. So by now it must be up to, at the very least, a Herculean level of hardness.
My Dad used to have a thermometer that said that the “comfort zone” was somewhere between 12 and 20 degrees. Suffice to say, I hated that thermometer. Still do.
If you are in a singing competition with the desire to be a professional singer singing a song written with you, as a singer, specifically in mind on a stage surrounded by other singers then how in the name of Jebus is that out of your comfort zone? If anything that should be the dictionary definition of your comfort zone. It should be where you feel most comfortable. If you are singing a song in a slightly different style then that is just you singing something else it is not out of your comfort zone! Essentially, you are saying that by being only able to sing in the same genre you suck and that you are limited talent-wise and probably should not go any further in the competition. And then they call it “brave” to sing in such a way. No, no it isn’t.
If you are singing an upbeat pop number about the joys of mutual hand love in the back of a Jeep with your same sex partner in the middle of Tehran – then you are brave. Otherwise you are not.
It is the same on America’s Next Top Model (or ANTM if you are that sad) where they say a model is brave for looking to the left a little bit. No she is not. Not at all and anyone who says they are is wrong. Modelling is the art of wearing clothes and being quiet. It is not brave. Clearing landmines, fighting the injustices in Iran or taking food from Lisa Reilly now that is bravery. Modelling is not.
If you are singing a song in front of a firing line then you can call yourself a brave singer (like Ceausescu) however for cunting up my weekend and filling my Twitter feed you are not.
If you were at work, in an office say and you had a monthly one to one with your line manager. And your manager asks why your stats are down for this month and you responded by saying:
“Well, I was out of my comfort zone doing my basic job this month”
Your manager isn’t going to say that is okay he is going to give you a written warning and then fire you.
The examples are limitless and all show that despite what Simon Cowell wants you to believe and spend on his terrible, terrible music there really is no such thing as a “comfort zone”.
You have what you can do and what you cannot. The difficult bits in-between, the bits where you feel challenged and it is hard work? There is a word for that, and that is life.
Another thing that annoys me in tandem with the phrase comfort zone – and it is not how many times I have had to write the phrase – is how the describe the X Factor as a “journey”. No it isn’t. You start of considering yourself a singer and you end being considering your self a singer. You learn nothing new about yourself other than you like being on television. There is no personal growth on a show like X Factor there is only brief interest, popularity, no bookings and eventual obscurity. If you do not go on the show then you can skip all the other boring bits and end up being obscure. Most people are born obscure and some people should have obscurity thrust upon them.
These talent shows and reality TV shows are cheap and make money by using expensive phone lines in order to vote to keep your “favourite” in. They are not telling us anything about ourselves or anything about the nation in which we reside, other than we are a nation of idiots who vote for the X Factor and I’m a Celebrity…
The Irish version of Masterchef (cannily called Masterchef: Ireland) used comfort zone, (by this stage I really should find a contraction for it CZ?) every contestant used the phrase and it got more frequent as their “journey” progressed. At a push, you can argue that they do learn something in that their cookery skills become more refined and they develop new abilities but surely it is just the culmination of something that they have always wanted to do. But that linguistic hurdle aside they overused the phrase to the point of tedium.