Made in Chelsea? Already lies. Many scenes are definitely NOT filmed in Chelsea. Set designers are getting increasingly good with cardboard and pritstick these days.
Are they all the same? Pretty much. In 1992, there was ‘The Real World‘, described as a group of teens in a house who ‘stopped being polite, and started getting real’. One must raise the question how many times they must insist on repeating the word ‘real’ for consumers to buy into it. In 2002, we were introduced to The Salon (remember that?) Cos, like, that programme TOTALLY reflected what it would be like to work 9 til 5 in a salon. Then, in 2003, we had ‘Young, Posh and Loaded‘. Barbara Ellen wrote a piece in the Guardian with the heading reading: ‘Being born rich may have its advantages, but it’s no compensation for being stupid’ (ring any bells?) Private school kids were coming out of our ears in Living on the Edge, however it was then proven wrong that only posh equals dosh, by cordially inviting some Essex lads and ladettes to the party with The Only Way in Essex. Scary how similar these two ends of the spectrum are when they are thrown a bucket-load of cash and given nightclubs as play areas. There is no formula; people also enjoyed twaching The Family, a program involving some hidden cameras in a disorderly household, capturing the true nature of a mental, normal family, which provided copious amounts of fiery entertainment. So, why do we watch this rubbish in all it’s different forms? Easy – people love to watch other people.
We were then joyously invited to see how the American’s could trump us in these ridiculous episodic dramas, introducing the likes of Laguna Beach, which claimed to be the REAL Orange County, don’t you know, hoping to capitalise on the already crazily popular hit series The O.C. Then followed the REAL Housewives of Orange County, who, by the looks of their teeth and tits, were far from real. Then followed The Hills, and the City, introducing characters who would later return the favour of our loyal viewership by pummelling us with freaky publicity stunts (ahem, Speidi) in order to desperately brand themselves as celebrities. Later, we could then thank MTV again for gifting us with Jersey Shore, another hit series inflicting strange vocabulary and lexicon to young viewers who’s parents prayed this was not undoing all traces of previous education.
However, the truth is: I (hatefully) love all these programmes. My theory for this takes me back to the work of a certain Samuel Taylor Coleridge who coined the phrase ‘the suspension of disbelief’. The suggestion that an author could fill a “human interest and a semblance of truth” and turn it into an epic tale, as “the reader would suspend judgement concerning the implausibility of the narrative”. This is pretty much what people do all the time. Every time you watch/read any fiction you are, at some point, investing your belief in it. I choose to ignore all warning signs that such TV is completely and utterly false (“nah she hasn’t had Botox, she just magically looks like that”) so that this does not interfere with the entertainment value. Temporarily pretending this shit is real is surely half the fun.
As we become reeled in to the glamourously presented lives of others, we must remember that the dudes with the pens are getting increasingly good at script-writing, and the ones holding the cameras are pretty nifty with the editing. But, for the duration of the episode in which these ‘real people’ make their theatrical debuts, I’m going to pretend these plastic knock-offs are 100% leather.