If you're a fan of Desperate Scousewives, The Only Way is Essex or Geordie Shore then MTV have a real treat lined up for you tonight.
Whether it's binge drinking, fighting, cleavage or six-packs you're after, The Valleys promises to serve it up in abundance - and to be fair to MTV, they certainly know when they’re on to a winner. The Valleys is a direct spinoff of their last ‘constructed reality’ show Geordie Shore and it looks set to be just as big a commercial hit.
Much of Geordie Shore's success was based on the fact that it delivered a particularly crass and crude form of reality television. As the Independent TV reviewer said at the time, “Geordie Shore…makes the last days of Big Brother look like Chekhov”.
The problem with this isn’t so much the behaviour of the ‘cast’ - after all you can see most of the ‘action’ you get in Geordie Shore on a Saturday night in clubs across the country. The real concern is the fact that producers so explicitly link these antics to the, often working class, communities where they are filmed and promote this warped vision as ‘reality’.
That is a key part of the reason why Geordie Shore caused such a huge backlash in the North East. Where local MP Chi Onwurah accused MTV of “present[ing] an outdated, misleading and insulting portrait of Newcastle” and 23,000 people joined the ‘RIP Geordie Pride’ Facebook group, which opposed the show.
Yet MTV paid little attention to these protests. Rather than properly engaging with reasonable concerns about trashing the reputation of Newcastle, MTV offered a string of meaningless platitudes. The network’s director of TV said that “we feel that visually we've made Newcastle look really good” and provided “a good opportunity for people to talk about Newcastle”.
It couldn’t be clearer that for MTV money speaks louder than local voices and if the advert sales are good, then nothing else matters.
So when it became clear that the next corner of the UK - with a suitably regional accent – in MTV’s crosshairs was The Valleys, alarm bells started to ring.
From their flurry of social media activity promoting the launch of The Valleys it was clear that the media giants had their stereotypes lined up long before setting off from London. The initial press release said that the show would pluck contestants from the Valleys’ “tranquil hamlet towns” and deliver them to the bright lights of Cardiff; then questioned whether they could make it in the big city.
As a result, a group of us got together to launch ‘The Valleys are Here’ campaign. The initial aim, as reported in a timely article by the Independent on Sunday’s Sarah Morrison, was simple - take on MTV’s stereotypes and present an authentic picture of the Valleys.
In response MTV offered a predictably clichéd response – the show would be “warm, authentic, familiar and genuine”. But as their PR machine got rolling, it became clear that in reality the show would be nothing of the sort.
In one spark of creative genius, MTV decided that they would use a spray painted sheep for the shows logo - I know brilliant isn’t it? Then, in a particularly charming insight into the way the producers see the Valleys, one of the show’s 'Mentors' Jordan said “I was expecting some diamonds in the rough, but I had forgotten how rough the Valleys is”.
Having grown up in the Rhondda, I would be the last person to argue that everything in the Valleys is rosy - very few people would. There are real problems with poverty, unemployment and substance misuse. But at the same time the area is a unique place that hundreds of thousands of people are proud to call home.
We think this is part of the reason why the response to our campaign has been so overwhelming. This community support has allowed us to provide a platform to celebrate people like Christina, who is working at a local credit union, helpings customers stay out of the clutches of loan sharks. Or Huw, who spends countless weekends and evening volunteering with an amazing mountain rescue team in Merthyr.
But obviously these seemingly parochial stories of Valleys pride, important as they are, aren’t going to knock over the MTV machine, or counteract the negative stereotypes they have promoted. So we are also looking to achieve something more concrete with the campaign.
We realised that shows like Geordie Shore helped MTV - and their owners Viacom - make millions in profits last year, but the local areas which they treated with such arrogant disregard saw hardly any of that cash. So we think it’s about time MTV started to show places like Newcastle and the Valleys some respect.
That’s why we’ve launched a petition calling on MTV to donate 5% of the advertising profits generated from The Valleys, to the fantastic charity, Valleys Kids. If MTV are really concerned with providing life changing opportunities for young people in the Valleys, then this charity is where it’s at.
5% of advertising profits from The Valleys will be a drop in the ocean for MTV and Viacom. However, that money could make the world of difference to the lives of young people in the area.
So we want people to back our campaign, as a way of sending a clear message to MTV – it’s about time you showed some respect and coughed up few quid while you’re at it.