Thursday, 17 November 2011

Why I can’t stop watching ‘Made in Chelsea’

We have developed a bad habit in our house: watching shit TV programmes that should not be condescended with a look through one of your eyes, let alone both of them. Anyone who has lived with me before will know what a snob I am about these things; I shrink from Big Brother and its shrill shoutiness, am too busy having fun on a Saturday night to be watching manufactured pop crap on X-Factor, and am proud that only one copy of Heat magazine has ever made it into my house (and obviously I didn’t buy it). Predictably for a middle-class left-wing educated girl from Surrey, I think most reality TV et al is a load of vacuous corporate bullshit that only serves to fuel the meaningless cult of celebrity and downgrade the quotient of genuinely edifying culture.

Happily, I also took no enjoyment from any of the above vacuous shit, meaning that I never felt like I was missing out on anything, edifying or not. But now I appear to have succumbed to that now-clich├ęd idea of a guilty pleasure. The quite unbelievably awful ‘Made in Chelsea’.

This Guardian article sums up my reaction to the programme more eloquently than I could: On a basic level, it’s a pretty standard response to really really posh rich 20-somethings swanning around Chelsea being twats, in “structured reality soap” format (read: people who can’t act acting like they are not acting). But what is it about this most exaggerated example of awfulness that makes me keep tuning in?

It’s so bad it’s captivating – you can’t quite believe anyone would be so lacking in self-respect to be part of it (participants and programme-makers – and me??). The worst thing about it is the fact that it is the pure embodiment of the word “stilted”. Whilst I realise that it is not designed to be a documentary, but rather sets out to be a crude rendering of a type of person you love to hate and who can’t possibly exist in the real world, I can’t help myself: I’m sucked into wallowing in the feelings of self-righteous indignation that the programme-makers have deliberately fostered in me by portraying the dickish antics of people with impossibly Etonian names.

Rarely does this wilful submission to being manipulated by a programme-maker jar on me quite so much… I wonder what their ulterior motive is… I know that when I watch True Blood I am a bit turned on and intrigued by the relationships, just as the writers want; but I can’t stand the idea that with this could-it-be-real-really grotesqueness someone is deliberately playing to my own stereotypes and disgust. I don’t like reacting in the way someone expects so predictably. You are supposed to hate the vacuous characters and pity their small-minded, shit-for-brains life – that’s the whole point. So if that’s the point, feeling outraged by them is a meaningless act and is just one-dimensional – you’re just playing into someone’s hands, which is tantamount to being told what to do – or even what to think (horror of horrors).

Also, it’s interesting(?) to see the in-built artifice of it all – the awkwardly long silent stares, contrived pouting and flouncing. It’s almost as if they’re trying to make some awfully clever comment on the form itself – a postmodern trick that forces you to confront the artifice of all forms of entertainment by slapping you in the face with it. This is the only way I can see someone wanting to make such a programme, because they can’t just be stupidly admiring and capturing these people.

So how real are the people? Maybe it’s the blurred line between real and fake that keeps me engrossed. It’s more comfortable to think that what you’re participating in by watching is layer upon layer of self-reflexive irony. But actually, it’s more likely that by watching these affected caricatures, who think they are better than everyone else, ponce about on your screen, you gain a sense of enjoyment and validation from knowing that you are more intelligent and self-aware than they are – better than them.

Cunningly, this turns back on you all the things you purport to hate about them. Neat.

PS Oh Lord, I have just read this quite sincere-sounding article by Made in Chelsea's creator:'re-not-fakes. In the RADIO TIMES. There is no hope for any of us.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Self-righteous arse

Yesterday I stumbled upon this email (at the end), which I sent to all staff in 2008. What has become of this impassioned, outraged, inappropriate individual? I wondered if I would do such a thing these days. I think I thought I was funny and that that would excuse me from being dubbed The Green Nazi. Or I didn't care what people thought about me, because I cared about my cause more.

I know we are supposed to become less radical as we get older, but aren't we also supposed to develop into higher functioning versions of ourselves, ones who might be able to aspire towards living out our values in a healthy, productive kind of way? I feel a bit like I have lost sight of some of mine - have contented myself with being a good person on some fronts, and working hard at those... but then what happens to those beliefs that provoked such strident militancy in the past? Somehow I still think they are vitally important, but in a vague, sign-an-online petition, make-a-monthly-donation-to-charity kind of way.

Another thing that strikes me hugely reading the below is the idea of self-concept. That person's idea of herself had environmental values running as a definitive streak through her middle, like a stick of rock. What's the value that defines me now? As I type this I know what it is: it's people. But in a much less abstract sense than the notion that we need to save the planet for the sake of the people living on it, now and in the future (which I still believe by the way). It's a more concrete sense, of being someone who is warm and generous to all people she comes into contact with.

And in that I feel steadfast. I hear myself say "community" a lot. I adore having people round and cooking for them and being hospitable and lending them stuff and being a shoulder to cry on and the person you call when you've fallen over and need frozen peas from the shop. I love thinking of presents and throwing myself into celebrations and writing long newsy letters and not going home until the bitter end. It's almost like I have become more eager to please others - and that's why I wouldn't send the thing below nowadays. It must have pissed everyone off.

But, but... which one's the person I want to be? How, over the course of my life, can I fuse together the person I was born as and the person I aspire to becoming? For all of those of us in our thirties: this is our time! This is my rallying cry: now is the time to become that person you imagined you would be! The one who looks at an empty field and sees it teeming with life and poetry. Scary stuff but if we don't do it, nobody will do it for us.

And I know that always, my friends and family will be there to share it, scoffing food and laughing in pools of ambient light.

From: Kate Parrinder
Sent: 03 September 2008 16:07
To: _Client Support; _Consultancy Operations; _European Offices; _Finance; _Innovation and Publishing; _Learning Design and Delivery Team; _Legal & Company Secretarial; _Marketing; _IT Dept; _HR; _Learning Operations
Subject: Have you turned off your monitor?!
DID YOU KNOW that almost a third of UK office workers frequently leave their PCs running overnight or over the weekend when they go home, resulting in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions equivalent to the output of 120,000 4x4 cars (source: Energy Saving Trust)?

TURN OFF YOUR MONITOR before you leave – it’s not hard, it won’t give you RSI in your index finger, and quite frankly it GETS ON MY NERVES when I walk round your empty offices and see your screens flashing with their incriminating little orange lights, spewing increments of unnecessary energy into nothing in a chorus of wastefulness. You have to shut down your computer AND turn the screen off separately.

Thank you kindly,

Kate Parrinder
Project Editor