Being Modern: Structured reality

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The Independent Culture

"Reality," said one Mr Albert Einstein "is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one." And though we are yet to run Mr E=MC2's thesis past everyone's favourite braying demimonde, the denizens of TV's Made in Chelsea, they would no doubt wholeheartedly agree. After all, through three series – with a fourth starting last week – they have persistently opened the rusty gates of our perception with their staged club nights, semi-scripted relationships and fake SW1 addresses.

Confused? Well, such is the existential head-screw of "structured reality", the era-defining TV genre and métier of choice for any self-respecting fame-seeker these days.

To wit, lest you avert your high brows from ITV2 and E4, it's a kind of quasi reality TV in which a group of regionally defined twentysomethings peacock in front of the cameras ostensibly being themselves while enacting scenarios suggested by producers that then impact back on their off-screen life. Reassuringly, amid all the puzzlements of the concept, these scenarios invariably involve A flirting with B while C scowls jealously in the background. And St Tropez tans. And brunches. And ignorance.

Another reassuring element of these shows is that they consistently cleave to crude regional stereotypes. Thus, in Made in Chelsea, "characters" speak with the morphinated drawl of people so entitled that they are entitled not to be understood, while in The Only Way is Essex, they deploy "babe" like commas. And suffice to say, there is no room for Sunday afternoon strolls to the Baltic gallery in Gateshead in Geordie Shore.

So you could justifiably write these shows off as crass, offensive and brain-mulching. But at least they're more honest in their fakery than traditional reality TV, as the casts invariably give up the charade by proving spectacularly unconvincing at acting as themselves. You might call it an example of Brechtian alienation – though, as structured reality grande-dame Amy Childs might say, Shu'up!