The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Caroline Frost Headshot

Memo To Wales - What Did You Expect From MTV's 'The Valleys' on Reality TV?

Posted: Updated:

Wales is officially furious.

Representatives of its South Valleys, including Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood are up in arms about how their community has been brought to small screen life in MTV's The Valleys, the latest series to point the camera at a specific region of the UK and bring some of its most singular characters to the viewing masses, for education, enlightenment, oh, and entertainment purposes.

While Wales may be famous for its choirs, its hills, its sheep, its beacons, its rugby teams, the powers that MTV be have strangely chosen to concentrate instead on glamour model Lateysha - "this body is wasted in the Valleys" - bricklayer Chidgey - "you can't shag a personality" - and Nicole - "I always come up with stupid words, I'd do anything to be brainy." The reps are complaining that this isn't representative.

Meanwhile, Binky Felstead of Made in Chelsea complains that she is a victim of stereotyping, as someone who spends her time washing her hair and flitting from wine bar to party, stopping off only for another pair of LK Bennetts on Sloane Street. Not fair, she says, adding that she does indeed work - yes, for a hedge funder, but still - and has to get out of bed in the morning.

"We're just people" she points out, whether we're from Chelsea or Essex.

Well, yes and no. Because people just being people don't make for very good telly - unless you've got 56 years to kill and a bucket load of production money. If I tell you that I catch the E9 of a morning, grab a Central line tube and then wander up Tottenham Court Road, any cameras poised to grab those editorial highlights would probably self-destruct of tedium after a few mornings of that, even if I did sing in a choir.

Compare this with the car crash in motion of the TOWIE bunch, Mark Wright and Co - the betrayals, the boobs, the fights and fake tans, and it's a no-brainer. I know what I'd rather watch, if only to escape the monotony of my own tube ride, and laugh at the misfortunes of others.

And people being just people don't get handed a script and a list of instructions about how to get from A to B in as a dramatic, often silly, way as possible - one that invites conflict (Lateysha), envy (Caggie), humour (Mark Wright) and sometimes all three ("time to get out of these wet clothes and into a dry martini" says Chelsea's resident rowing Adonis, Fredrick - WITH A STRAIGHT FACE).

Putting a bosomy, publicity-friendly girl in front of the cameras is the oldest trick in the book. The French did it with Bridget Bardot at Cannes. The Americans did it with Marilyn Monroe. Why is it any less classy for the MTV bunch to do it with a girl from the Valleys? But, because it's not a photograph but a whole series, something interesting has to happen. And it can, especially if producers make it happen. And quickly, before the commercial break.

From the participants who take part, to the people from those areas, nobody can expect a 56 Up quality of insight, analysis or empathy in the time or budget allowed. That takes years to ferment, to build up the characters so we have an investment in them. Instead, we get this bubble-gum offering, quickly manufactured and wrapped.

This is what 'reality' TV producers do. This isn't fly-on-the-wall documentary making, it's entertainment - cheaply made, widely flogged, to be rated accordingly. It would be fairer to judge it alongside other cartoons, against pencil-drawn characters equally blunted, exaggerated, over-coloured to make for easy viewing by all the family.

The TOWIE lot don't complain when they get into Essex hot spot Sugar Hut for free because of their high profile, shops being featured in Chelsea don't complain when their banner appears on primetime telly. Binkie doesn't complain when her blog on beauty gets an airing. Mark Wright's off to Hollywood, and his ex Lauren has got her Buckhurst Hill salon. And reality TV producers sit, smile and count their pennies. So everyone's a winner.

Except the Welsh, apparently.

Here's the trailer for The Valleys - and caution, look away now if you're of a sensitive disposition, it's got content 'not appropriate for some users' - some could argue the TV-watching population, but anyway, here it is...