The new issue of Esquire which hit the shelves last week with a brand new look masterminded by new editor and former GQ writer Alex Bilmes ran a short article named ‘Esquire Manifesto’. In a short summary, Kevin Braddock (writer of the piece) bemoans the generalised view of the modern man – as a lazy, oafish, useless being born from lad mag culture and general self depreciation. Whilst there are plentiful anecdotal justifications for the argument against – James Bowthorpe, a man who cycled no less than 18,000 miles around the world in 175 days for example. There are many extraordinary individuals that put the modern man, or any man for that fact to shame. But I agree with Braddock’s annoyance here, that the modern man (let’s assume this label applies to man in the present day, as we are in apparent modernity after all?) is lazy, or even worse, useless.
Man therefore is capable, and moreover useful. However, programmes like The Only Way is Essex, Jersey Shore and this evenings Made in Chelsea dont do this justification any favours at all. These recent shows are the starlets of a reality TV revival, actually more of a rejigging. This isn’t reality telly in the vain of Big Brother, the majority of the scenarios & events are scripted or planned, but these are real people apparently reflecting 21st century culture in Britain (Essex & London) and USA (New Jersey). More importantly, these people are young, and nearly always beautiful – rolemodels of sorts for impressionable young people of this country.
Now before I go om any further with my diatribe, I’m sat here watching Made In Chelsea as we speak. I watched both series of The Only Way Is Essex, only missing a couple of episodes and have downloaded (yes downbloodyloaded) three seasons of Jersey Shore. I am an ultimate consumer therefore and would seemingly not have a leg to stand on when attacking the merits behind any of these shows. As my housemate Clarkey put it, ‘don’t slag it off in your blog because you love it’. ‘It’ being this type of show. He has a point, it’s hard to draw myself from this new Chelsea programme, even though I’m aware of how much of my life I’ve given to the aforementioned shows, it draws you in.
But I’m not the point really. I’m not trending on twitter as we speak, nor am I on telly. My main problem with all of these programs is, whilst they are utterly engaging and captivating, the premise from which they stem says nothing about the modern man (or woman for that matter). In the last episode of The Only Way is Essex, Arg and Mark spend a good 5 minutes or so talking about Lydia (his only recent ex) and a number of other birds, and feelings, and birds again etc etc. I’m not trying to pretend we’re all so high and mighty that we are above these banal conversations about relationships and who fancies who, who’s cheating on who and so forth. Lads talk about birds for a large portion of time spent together, and I’d imagine that girls sit and chat about boys just as much if not more – BUT if i go ahead and say that the only thing girls ever talk about is men then I’d be vilified for derogatory, patronising sexism.
95 percent of the time, you’ll have 2 or 3 characters from this larger weaving plot, in a room, talking about another character, which they then conveniently pan to. Then 2 characters talking about another character talking about another character bla bla bla. Something will be brimming throughout an episode and will all come to a head in a club at the end of the show. Basic but nothing new, it has a shade of Les Liasons Dangerouses about it. Yet talking about relationships really isn’t the point, you can dress it up or dumb it down as much as you like. Analysing social interaction is good. People discuss Facebook for example in dissertations nowadays -my girlfriend for one in her discussion of how stalking is treated by the Police in comparison to NGO’s. It’s important to show modern life, how life nowadays is different to that of even 5 or 6 years ago perhaps. But surely we can react to the 21st century intelligently like my girlfriend with her dissertation for example? We’re not a generation of Facebook pervs and table hoppers surely?
It’s the broader contexts in which these airheads mingle. The moneyed set which doesn’t show an adequate portrayal of life for the 20 something growing up in London or any other part of the country. I’ve no problem with people having money, working for money, or even not working for it whether it be through inheritance or general family wealth or whatever. But you get a sense from these programmes that nobody ever works and everyone’s loaded. Maybe this plot, this interweaving story about the ups and downs in the interactions of the Essex lot or Sloaney set is work. They’re day job is to do this, and act to a certain extent, so I should probably shut up as I’m missing the point.
But I’d like to think we’re not a culture reduced to this sort of banality, however watchable (and dare I say influential?) it may be.