Originally written for publication in The Boar, Warwick University’s student newspaper.
Last weekend, having followed a news agenda with about as much Christmas cheer as a BNP party political broadcast, I was desperate for some sort of televisual escapism. I’d been told the future of trash-TV wasn’t Big Brother or I’m A Celeb, but rather a new wave of ‘structured reality’ shows in the vein of Jersey Shore. Friends recommended MTV’s latest cultural travesty, The Valleys.
The premise (if you can call it that) of The Valleys is a simple one. Nine outlandish young people have been plucked from various parts of Wales, taken to Cardiff, given lots of money and filmed. They get drunk, strip-off and sleep with eachother for the cameras. That is literally it. Make no mistake, the programme is abysmally produced. Although much of it seems to be either be set-up or scripted, there’s no recognizable narrative. The cast lurch from fashion shoots to club nights with wild abandon. They’re all on the show to ‘make it’, but it’s never really explained how they’re supposed to do so.
The show is a car crash on steroids with an appeal that no doubt derives from it’s shock-value. You can’t quite believe these people are willing to say and do such things on television. The women objectify themselves with commitment that would make Britney Spears blush. The men display an egoism a little too much for most Premier League footballers. Sadly, the cast really do seem convinced that their breasts and/or bravado are all they have to offer to the world.
You’re supposed to condescend these people. Laugh at them. How could they be so stupid? So shameless? So desperate? You’re supposed to really hate these individuals. But watching The Valleys, I found it was the producers that I really wanted to get my hands on.
There’s no doubt that the programme makers are guilty of exploiting those they put on screen. They don’t pick on those with genuinely high self-esteem. The cast predictably come from poor, broken homes. They lack the education and aspiration that so many of their comparatively well-off, middle-class viewers take for granted. The Valleys and Geordie Shore (which I subsequently also had the joy of viewing) are modern-day freak shows. It’s no longer ringmasters putting the deformed in stocks. It’s middle-class TV execs putting the most desperate on camera. Throwing money rather than fruit. Telling them to fuck instead of dance. It’s got to stop.
These programmes are becoming more numerous and more popular. It seems we love to hate. But isn’t it all just a bit depressing? If we need to watch someone sacrifice their dignity to boost our own self-esteem, what exactly does that say about us? Bleak as the real world is, laughing at those who have it tougher (or are all-out deluded) simply isn’t the answer. It’s time to tell hate figure TV to pack it’s bags – we’ve got better things to do with our time.