IN the third of our entries in an Irish Independent student journalist competition, in association with Campus.ie, Valerie Loftus looks at the rise of an even trashier form of reality TV
Three years ago, a new type of television programme was born. A Frankenstein's monster composed of parts of Big Brother, The Apprentice and Boozed Up Irish Abroad: they called it Jersey Shore.
The premise was fairly simple:
1) Throw a few attention-seeking, lovable-yet-slightly-dim human beings in a house together.
2) Add copious amounts of alcohol.
3) Observe results.
It didn't take long for Italian-American fever to take hold. The show simultaneously shocked and delighted viewers with its blatant glorification of alcohol abuse and the most casual of sex. Within a couple of months Jersey Shore was the most viewed programme on MTV, with its young, Tango-tanned participants becoming instant stars, and dollar signs began to roll in TV execs' eyes. The public want to see young people drinking, fighting, and "smushing" each other, you say? Well, that's exactly what they'll get, and by the bucketload.
Derivatives of Jersey Shore are all over our screens like a rash. Geordie Shore has captured the hearts of students across the UK and Ireland, and while Tallafornia has been less successful (read: completely slated), we still turn on to see just what those crazy kids will do next. It's what keeps us watching. We need to know how much further the participants - or indeed, the producers - are willing to go to keep bums on seats and thus tighten their grip on fame. And that's the secret to these shows: the participants will do anything to keep themselves on TV.
Up until now, it's all been fairly bearable. The cast of Geordie Shore are likeable, their faults endearing, and their zany misadventures seem mostly good-natured and fun. Human beings just love seeing other human beings react to each other, and Geordie Shore was a perfect way to do that without resorting to night-vision goggles and hiding in bushes.
So of course, I tuned in to MTV's new series, The Valleys, for what I thought would be some more enjoyable, guilty pleasure TV. Promising booze, bust-ups and lots of banging, it has the same formula as its precursors, down to the last drop of vodka. What it doesn’t have, however, is the vital ingredient – likeable characters, who actually like each other.
You may say, wait a minute. “ The Situation” is hardly the soundest of chaps, and there was as much in-fighting in the Geordie Shore household as there were hot dinners. Still, at the end of each programme you got the feeling that despite everything, they loved each other, with or without MTV cameras. At the end of The Valleys, you get the feeling that they would easily smother each other in their sleep if they thought it would boost ratings and earn them an extra minute of fame.
In spite of all this, and despite feeling like I need a good wash at the end of each episode, I can’t tear myself away. I have to ask myself the question: when will I turn off? When will I say “That’s enough of that, thanks”? When MTV commission a real-life version of The Hunger Games? Or maybe they already have that planned for the season finale of The Valleys? We’ll just have to keep watching to find out.
* Valerie Loftus is a journalism student at DCU.
* If you’re a student who can write concise, topical stories and is deeply engaged in student life, join the Contributors’ Competition and your stories could be published on Ireland’s most popular news website, Independent.ie, this semester.
See www.campus.ie for more details.