Contemporary Reality Television and its Staggering Weirdness


I spent a week of Summer 2011 in Ayia Napa, notable for being a popular ‘LADHoliday’, or whatever the correct LAD portmanteau would be in this case. Whenever I’ve told this to people at the university, they laugh, they tell me, they say, “but Rory, you get weirdly obsessive about folk singers and have womanly arms, surely you wouldn’t enjoy such a thing?” But let me tell you, I did not enjoy such a thing.

It was so awful it bordered on the surreal. Everything was a crass exaggeration of whatever it was pretending to be. I found an “Authentic Irish Bar” with an “Authentic folk band from Ireland” on the main road that had a bunch of aggressively topless guys pushing each other and shouting at the Irish band to “play something by dubstep.” I got a brief chance to talk to the Irish folk band (I was drunk and the idea interested me) and they had British accents and didn’t know who Ronnie Drew was. You probably don’t know who Ronnie Drew is, but this doesn’t matter, because you are not an Authentic Irish Folk Band; this would be like, say, if you claimed an interest in politics and didn’t know who the prime minister is, which brings us to…

Joey “Joey Essex” Essex of the Essex-set show ‘The Only Way is Essex’. I don’t really tend to watch reality television, and, of course, do not have anything against people that do; we all have our vices, I sincerely enjoy Call of Duty games. However I did get to see this:

Blandly attractive woman: “Do you have any interests, things you like doing?”
Joey “Joey Essex” Essex of the Essex-set show ‘The Only Way is Essex’: “What am I into? I’m into politics.”
Blandly attractive woman: “Politics?
Joey “Joey Essex” Essex of the Essex-set show ‘The Only Way is Essex’: “Yeah”
Blandly attractive woman: “Who’s the Prime Minister at the moment then?” (what sort of question is that?)
Joey “Joey Essex” Essex of the Essex-set show ‘The Only Way is Essex’: “What, of Essex?” (Oh Joey! Surely you can’t be serious, this is some hilarious hyperbolic exaggeration,)
Blandly attractive woman: “Of Essex?! Of England! Of…”
Joey “Joey Essex” Essex of the Essex-set show ‘The Only Way is Essex’, now laughing in a charmingly “Joey Essex” way: “I don’t know.”

But look into Joey’s face. Look into the way he just stares, it almost achieves perfect buddhist thoughtlessness. Look, I found the bit on youtube, 

Look into those vacantly blue eyes. I don’t know about you, but I’m convinced that Joey “Joey Essex” Essex of the Essex-set show ‘The Only Way is Essex’ doesn’t actually know who the prime minister is. Which is probably a key part of why he was booked to DJ in Ayia Napa the week I was there, his presence being heavily promoted by posters and people going “Oh my God, Joey Essex is coming to Ayia Napa!” “I heard he got kicked out of his 5 star hotel for starting a fight with fire extinguishers!” “I love him!”
Hahaha, I thought, these people, enticed by the promise of a reality tv star. Which is why, when I was walking down the main Ayia Napa road with all the clubs and whatnot and saw him, I said “Oh my god! Joey Essex! Ah, he’s awesome” (What?) “I’ve got to see his DJ set” (What? No you don’t, what are you talking about?) and I chatted with someone next to me who loved him. I have absolutely no idea why. I do not want to try and dissect why. Hemingway said “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed”, but I don’t want to bleed that much. But despite this minor fall I’ll try to struggle on with my point.

So, reality TV was given a revival in strong part in the last decade and a half due to the increasing ability of editing software, which helps to take large amounts of arbitrary footage and edit it into some sort of cohesive narrative. The reality TV settings were designed to give some sort of propelling force to this narrative – look, they are all here inside this small island, surviving something or another. Look, they are all inside this disgusting looking house, surviving something or another. But then shows like ‘Jersey Shore’ expanded this: look! They are no longer inside the small constructed place! Instead, they are free in their natural habitat of New Jersey, a place which produced The Sopranos, Bruce Springsteen, Philip Roth, and now this. And the British, who are generally all a bit “ha ha ha, we are superior to these sort of American things” lapped it up‘The Only Way is Essex’. ‘Made in Chelsea’. ‘Geordie Shore’. Constant rumors from friends with passable verification that crews have been thinking about starting another one in their town.  And just as the resort of Ayia Napa gets turned into something fake, these communities are presented as these extensions of the personalities within in a way that transforms them – this place you see in the show is not the Essex you can visit, but an extension of the personalities of the show. The stars no longer just sit about in one fake constructed location as reality tv stars did in the early years of last decade, but now move – look! Here they are in the nightclub! Look! Now they are in a gym! and extend their vacuousness onto each place, having mundane conversations that seem to blur into “oh hey I broke up with Spencer” “Oh, really? Well I’m opening a nail salon” “Oh really, you should go talk to Mark, who I really fancy”, or where when people try to bare their hearts it comes across as something like “Y’no I blame cartoons where like, there’s princesses and they’re happy but we’re not princesses, they’ve ruined us?” to someone who goes “yeaah” with the camera skipping off to some other little event without ever letting the bits that might actually open into something profound and emotional and meaningful get anywhere.

Well I suppose I sort of do have something against Reality TV. People shouldn’t go on LAD Holidays to constructed exaggerations of Britain where they get drunk on incredibly diluted albeit cheap vodka and nothing really happens. They should try go somewhere with a bit of history and some friends. Likewise I don’t enjoy watching people moving about in little circles where nothing really happens and everyone’s sort of a bit of an idiot. But then again I enjoy Call of Duty, where you run about shooting at each other and nothing really happens and everyone’s sort of a bit of an idiot, so I’m not going to make some grand statement of Hey Everybody Do This And Stop Doing This, there’s an element of Each To Their Own when it comes to distracting entertainment. And Joey “Joey Essex” Essex of the Essex-set show ‘The Only Way is Essex’ is a hilariously dumb guy.

1. I went to Ayia Napa because everyone else in my year was going and I didn’t want to miss out and I’m evidently a bit of a vacuous sheep.

2. Semantic satiation is when a word is repeated so much it loses meaning, which may have been what happened to you and the word ‘Essex’. Essex. Essex. Essex.


Discussion13 Comments

  1. avatar

    As somebody who’s been on a LADholiday under very similar circumstances, this had me in stitches. Very well put Rory. Also – I’ve never actually seen any of ‘TOWIE’ but after watching that clip I’m not sure I want to live on this planet anymore…

  2. avatar

    Do people have to know David Cameron’s name to be interested in politics?…

    If you’re living in an area of social and economic deprivation where public services are being taken away, and you don’t care much for Eton-On-Tour i.e. high politics, are you then not interested in politics?

    Just wondering because when we say that people have to know who’s in the cabinet to be interested in politics, it further disenfranchises a large number of people who feel alienated from the political process, but have opinions about what is happening nonetheless.

    I’d like to believe Joey is interested in politics and we should encourage that interest rather than laugh at him for professing it.

    Rory Mc

    If you live in Britain and say you are interested in politics but don’tt know who the Prime Minister is, you are being somewhat ridiculous.

    Just Wondering

    If you live in Britain, are lucky enough to go to University, think you know what counts as having a proper interest in politics, but have never had a conversation with someone on an Essex council estate about political issues that directly matter to them, you are also being somewhat ridiculous.

    Rory Mc

    C’mon man. He doesn’t know who the Prime Minister is. Do you think Joey saying he was interested in politics came from a deeply held passion for social reform? Sure, you COULD be concerned about the state of affairs relating to politics without knowing who David Cameron is but, honestly, everyone knows who the Prime Minister is.

    Just Wondering

    Joey was probably trying to get laid, but I still think it’s sinister to suggest ‘stupidity’ disqualifies someone from politics. It smacks a bit of bourgeois morality.

    “Who do those commoners think they are, coming over here, thinking they occupy a space in our… erm… *democracy* when they’re so dumb!!!”

    Politics isn’t seen as particularly cool or interesting amongst the people who are least represented in the process, some of whom probably watch TOWIE, so Joey saying he’s interested in politics is important.

    Joey is definitely not the only person who doesn’t know who David Cameron is. There are loads of disenfranchised people, and to mock their division from politics, rather than to encourage their interest, is a bit sad IMO.

    By the way, for what my opinion’s worth, you have really impressive powers of description. The whole politics gripe just got in the way of me saying anything nice or complimentary 😛

    Rory Mc

    Shall just insert here that I vote Labour/read the Guardian. I’m entirely interesting in getting people engaged with politics, and disenfranchisement does hugely piss me off. I’d disagree with you on the seriousness of Joey seemingly not knowing who the Prime Minister is, but fair enough there. And thanks!

    Rory Mc

    (shall just add on that I’m aware how much of a wanker I seem by saying I read the Guardian/vote Labour, but y’no, gets the point across: I’m not the class-hating sorta guy)

    Yours, Cantankerously Avoiding His Dissertation

    Oh please Joey Essex is not some sort of hero of the proletariat. Go back to your copy of ‘My First Marx’ and come back when you’ve learnt to throw around terms like ‘bourgeois’ and stick your sarcasm marks around ‘democracy’ with the mandatory six pounds of irony that should necessarily accompany them since Thatcher taught us all that any revolution is meaningless unless we make available cheap Mr Whippy ice-cream for all.

    The alienation of most from the world of modern British politics is hardly a new story, in fact it’s been a pretty stable requirement of it since its inception. Any serious change to such a system isn’t going to be brought about by applauding every scrap of odious tripe on television that name-drops the P word.

    If you’re so severely lacking in inspiration that you’re making do with TOWIE as your go-to depiction of class struggle there are literally thousands of red books in the library that at the very least won’t kill off a sizeable chunk of your grey matter while you pile through them. If you find the glorious revolution buried in there somewhere do let me know, I’m sure there’s a lot of people who’d be pretty happy to know it’s finally been found again.

    Just Wondering

    Your put down is enjoyable, perhaps only for the reason that I actually got a clear first in a political theory paper in which I answered a question on Marx.

    Maybe you should take a look at My First Marx yourself.

    Alexander James Green

    I think if you are interested in politics, even at a local level or in a way as to care about social issues, you would still be aware of the Prime Minister’s name.

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