This post has taken me a few days to write, as it has required extensive research, seeing as I am about to break a well-established rule and write about something about which I know next to nothing: specifically, TV reality shows; more specifically, Made in Chelsea.
First, a tangent. There was part of me that was secretly looking forward to getting seriously reacquainted with the gogglebox during my six months “off” on maternity leave; imagine therefore my devastation to discover that, 99% of the time, notwithstanding the mystifying abundance of available channels, there is nothing, nothing on (or at least nothing that I could watch for more than five minutes without reaching for the gin). Of course, there are some exceptions: a) Game of Thrones; b) er…that’s it.
I feel particularly bereft by TV’s current comedy offerings. I was brought up on Monty Python, Vic and Bob, Fry & Laurie, the Mary Whitehouse Experience, Adam & Joe etc., etc., and I lapped it all up, memorising sketches, songs and one-liners like the irritating adolescent I was and probably still am, and there is nothing, nothing on TV that now compares. (Or is it just age? Please don’t say it’s age. Oh god, it’s age, isn’t it).
Having said that, despite apparently sliding into a mirthless maturity, there are still things on TV that make me laugh: Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It; Adam Buxton generally; Dr Foggerty in Hunderby; Family Guy in a puerile way; and I am made up that they are doing a fourth series of Arrested Development. There are also bits of the current series of Watson & Oliver that I find very funny. I didn’t watch their first series, and probably wouldn’t have watched the second had I not been highly amused by a stare-off encounter between Paul Hollywood and Lorna Watson on a Comic Relief Bake-off spin-off (see here from around 9:04 onwards). I am glad I did, as it meant I got to see the sketch Made in Chelsea General Hospital, a skit of the popular reality TV show itself. I thought the sketch was genius, even though I’d never watched an episode of MIC or, for that matter, of any of its less affluent siblings such as TOWIE, The Valleys and Geordie Shores, in my life. W&O’s sketch was however brilliant because you only needed the most minimal understanding of the concept behind MIC to find it entertaining.
So, when the following Saturday afternoon some idle channel hopping whilst feeding the Nipper turned up the repeat of the latest episode of MIC on E4, I was suddenly possessed by an acute and urgent desire to watch it and find out what all the hype was about (which had absolutely nothing to do with the volume of urgent housework to be done before my parents came for tea).
I gather that MIC is currently in its fifth series – finger on the pulse as ever – and is, as I understand it, a “structured reality” show following the lives of a number of young, opulent, Sloaney socialites. It has never appealed to me for the simple reason that I expected it to be crap. This was a grave error on my part, as I had completely underestimated the skill and talent of the program’s producers. How they are able to generate 45 minutes worth of television, let alone five series, from such vapid human interaction beggars belief. I watched it with the sound on. I watched it with the sound off. I was not mistaken: nothing happens. It was enthralling. I was, like, literally mesmerised, yah?: by the blow-dried hair; the airbrushed complexions; the arrogance; the drinking; the names (Binky? really?); the way they all look and sound so similar; and above all the curious long, awkward pauses in the many, many conversations of which the episode was constituted. I didn’t get it. It was ace.
Anyway, like all good television, it got me thinking, sort of:
- Are these people really this country’s “social elite”? By whose standards? Look, I did the BBC Class calculator, right, and it said I was elite and trust me, I am neither rich nor classy nor even that socially well-adjusted (I speak as one who has been stuck indoors wearing the same pair of Primark trackie bottoms and Wonder Woman T-shirt for the past 3 days and is currently drinking a pint of milk from a Guinness glass). Are these ghastly, dull, congenital idiots supposed to be better than the rest of us? Is this why we watch it? Oh god, we’re screwed.
- Is this, as claimed by some, the worst thing on TV? I don’t know if it’s the worst thing on TV. Nobody was murdered, hurt or oppressed, and it was at least no more offensive than the vacuous journalism frequently to be found on breakfast television. It is alienating, yes, in that most of us will never move in these people’s circles; but then would most of us want to spend time with these people or indeed with any star of any reality TV show? Essentially these shows, replete with resplendent characters living out unconvincing storylines, beget the same compulsive viewing and curiosity as a poorly written and badly acted soap opera, and have to be judged in this context, i.e. as harmless, mindless escapism (this reminds me of a theory that was circulated when I was younger that one’s brain activity output was lower whilst watching Neighbours than when asleep).
- Are these people archetypically southern? Or do Londoners find the stereotyping as offensive as we might a depiction of northerners with flat caps and whippets? On this point, I did in fact gear myself up for a rant about why all these programmes are set in the South when I remembered a) Geordie Shores and b) they did fact attempt this in Harpurhey in the BBC “observational documentary” People Like Us which, if I recall correctly, sparked a reasonable degree of kicking off about “laugh at the chavs” programming, and resulted in various protestors threatening to march on the BBC in Salford until they took it off air, which they didn’t (you see? We northerners complain when the BBC don’t make programs about us and complain when they do).
Amongst the many, many articles on MIC etc. that I have read in the name of research, one comment in particular struck me: why can’t we have shows about smart, intelligent, compassionate and successful people instead? Well, make of that what you will, but apparently the next reality TV show to come our way will, in fact, be set in Wigan and will be entitled Grim up North. Wigan was apparently selected for its diversity (really?) and will showcase the North “for what it really is” which, according to the same article, is a mix of TOWIE, Shameless and Phoenix Nights. No stereotyping there, then.
Well, we shall see. In the meantime, purely in the interests of sociological research, I had better keep watching MIC. Oh hang on, it’s on Monday nights at 10pm. Clashes with Game of Thrones. Forget it.