Thursday, May 8, 2008

Confessions of a Reality Show Fan

Okay, I'm not proud of this statement, but I LOVE reality shows. Not all of them mind you – just some. There are shows like Survivor and Amazing Race that I have no compunction to embrace loudly and proudly. But there are some like the British show Ladette to Lady that I kinda blush about simply because I should know better. For the uninitiated amongst you, LtL is a kind of Pygmalion/My Fair Lady style of show where eight guttersnipes a hundred times worse than Eliza Doolittle ever could be, are supposedly given the tools and training to turn themselves into ladies. When they first arrive at Eggleston Hall, the stately English finishing school where they will stay for five weeks, these girls are binge-drinkers, foul-mouthed, and exceedingly promiscuous to put it mildy. By the end – in theory – they should have elevated themselves to the status of lady, but many of them fall by the wayside and either quit or are either expelled. In the end only three are left standing and the winner is announced at some kind of social gathering like a ball or a fashion show in the midst of all the invited gentry.
During their 'journey' (which seems to be the most overused word by both hosts and contestants on reality shows), the ladettes wear 50's style uniforms which change from one television season to the next; stuff geese with pheasants, the pheasants with ducks, the ducks with chickens, the chickens with quail for dinners at the manor; practice deportment with the classic (as Maxwell Smart would say it) book on the head routine; are taught to round their vowels; coif their hair; clean toilets; make hideously old fashion floral arrangements; and hob nob with "eligible young bachelors" from the social set. The teaching staff at Eggleston Hall are in many ways worse than the girls themselves – they are both prejudiced and pretentious – and exude a kind of snobbery that I thought the English had grown out of long ago. The exception to the rule is Deputy Head Rosemary Shrager, a tough bird with a soft heart who teaches cooking.

Despite all this nonsense and despite the fact that both the teaching staff and the producers obviously set the girls up to fail dismally by sending them down to the pub by themselves or leaving them in a room with a carton of wine, I am riveted to the show. In truth, I partly watch it with a kind of maternal worry that perhaps parents feel towards their daughters. Entertaining as the show is, I am saddened at the girl's lack of self worth and their self-sabotage. These girls actually need a good dose of therapy and to take stock of their strengths and weaknesses in sympathy with their aspirations. I think there are better ways than doing that than LtL, but possibly not as compelling. Or is this just me showing my true character or lack of it ...

Check it out for yourself on YouTube

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