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Why it's okay to watch The Only Way is Essex

7th April 2011

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The Only Way is Essex, now trying to get itself known by the catchier ‘TOWIE’, is the most talked about reality show to hit the UK since Big Brother became a freak show, and the kids of Living on the Edge grew up. The kids of Alderley Edge and those who reside in Essex seem to have more than meets the eye in common, Alderley Edge boasting more millionaires per square mile than anywhere else in the country – now cut to Kirk BMW shopping with daddy; more money than sense really does make for great reality TV.

Whilst TOWIE receives a lot of stick from the general public its second series premiered with 990,000 viewers, nearly a third more than the 661,000 who waved goodbye to series one. If we all hate them so much, why do we continue to watch the progress of the Mark – Lauren – Lucy – Sam love mess? The truth is that we love to hate it, and I for one was tuned in to welcome Nanny Pat and her sausage plait back with open arms.

Stuart Heritage recently criticised that the show lacked any storyline, but really the only storyline needed is, well, Essex. Despite Amy Child’s claim that ‘Essex’ is synonymous to ‘glamorous’, we all associate an ‘Essex Girl’ with the Free Dictionary’s definition, which claims it is derogatory, dubbing girls unintelligent, materialistic, devoid of taste, and sexually promiscuous – stereotypes that our favourite girls do not fail to deliver week-in, week-out. From Amy and Harry’s ambiguous discussion over the capital of India, to trying to work out who went home with Mark this week, the girls consistently entertain us by being exactly what we all expect them to be.

The way I see it is that there isn’t anything else to know…what you see is what you get. The awkward conversation is only what we loved about The Hills, and their lives are no more unrealistic that those of our favourite American teens. The abundance of fake tan, fake eyelashes and fake nails provide mere entertainment to viewers, rather than a scathing view on taste in Essex as a whole. Perhaps we are all so gripped as we wish we could get away with 4 inch stilettos for a lunch date, without being judged for it. Though I’ll admit, the Vajazzle is a step too far!

The characters have become tabloid staples, but did can we criticise them when it appears they never aspired to be much more than that? They have a cult following, and lets be honest, I’ve watched the music video more than once. I’m not a trash lover, but somehow TOWIE gets me going. We can judge these people like we can’t those in real life, and we can laugh with and at them as we deem fit. Rather than a dumbing-down of the nation, I see it more as a light relief. Were we friends with Lauren, Lucy or Sam we would no doubt have to listen to their whining without seeing the funny side to it all, and we wouldn’t be able to appreciate Mark’s beautiful smile while we were busy hating him.

Pleasure is derived not from aspiring to be like, or even wishing well for all of the characters. I hope as much as the next girl that Mark gets his comeuppance, whilst secretly having a soft spot for cheeky chappy Kirk, regardless of his poor treatment to a string of girlfriends. Whilst Lauren is probably not going to reap the rewards of sticking by Mark for nine long years, we can all enjoy him squirm as his new engagement develops. The point is, unrealistic, and often chauvinistic, the characters in TOWIE are ultimately just that - characters. The program needs its stock characters, and we must accept them for what they are, as we have with other reality TV characters. As evil as Olivia Palermo is in The City, I still think she is a goddess and that her accessorising is second to none…

The way I see it, TOWIE gives us the best of both worlds. We can indulge their stupidity and enjoy them trying to place Essex on the map, without actually having to listen to their drawling accents in person. As far as knocking their vocab goes, I’ve heard far more annoying things on campus than the abbreviation ‘jell’. I personally think it lodges nicely between the abundance of ‘lol’s and ‘awk’s that I’m met with on a daily basis. ‘Pasty’ would be the understatement of the year if I were in a room with these girls anyway.

So let us try not to judge the Essex Girl so harshly, after all – ‘who writes the dictionary anyway, the government?’ – yes, Amy, another issue with this shoddy coalition is it’s clear overlooking of what it truly is to be ‘Essex’.

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