Regularly watching reality tv, particularly on MTV, used to be a vice of mine. Geordie Shore for example, was a classic guilty pleasure- a show that was fun to watch from a position of intelligence as you marvelled at the unabashed behaviour and fickle priorities of a group of young adults and then feel better about yourself by default. Reality tv is chewing gum for the brain, it’s something that doesn’t require any kind of effort from you to watch. It’s all fun until the guilt of whiling away hours becomes too much, and you know it makes sense for you to stop devoting your precious attention to it. I had watched a few series’ of Ex On The Beach before, but cut it out with the others when I had the much needed ‘hey I’d better stop wasting away hours watching crap and start working on worthwhile projects instead’ epiphany.
While waiting to eat dinner in my boyfriend’s parents’ house last week, we’d ended up watching a repeat episode of the most recent series. This time, however, I didn’t find it as mindlessly entertaining as I had in the past -I was just troubled. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the concept of Ex On The Beach, it goes like this; a group of conventionally attractive male and female twenty-somethings congregate in an opulent villa in some exotic location, all looking for “love”. The catch is that some of the cast are intermittently called to a nearby beach to sit on deckchairs and await the arrival of one unfortunate contestant’s ex flame. (The term ‘ex’ is loose on this show, it’s not so much ex-relationship as it is just people they have casually hooked up with in the past.) The disgruntled ex that washes ashore (literally walks out of the sea) usually has some personal vendetta against their former lover, or hopes to rekindle their past romance. This inevitably causes drama between the two depending on whether the cast member has been hooking up with someone in the house before their arrival, or wishes to hook up with someone else but now has their ex to impede on their plans.
It is worth stating that the majority of the people who participate in this show have huge jealousy, trust and self esteem issues. There are un-natural reactions to finding out an ex has hooked up with someone else, or frequent violent outbursts between cast members. This particular series seemed to take it to a new extreme though, and made for some of the most misogynistic, backward and harmful viewing I’ve ever witnessed.
Cast member Zahida’s ex-boyfriend Joe arrives on the beach. ‘Has she done anything since I’ve been away?’ he asks the other two cast members, one of whom has slept with Zahida the previous night. Upon finding that out his ex-girlfriend has indeed slept with someone in the house, Joe turns to Zahida and declares: “You’re a little slag, I KNEW IT, YOU ARE. On the first night you’ve shagged someone!”
There are many things wrong with this picture. Firstly, an ex-boyfriend does not have any authority over who you choose to be intimate with post-relationship. Secondly, Zahida is blatantly slut shamed by her ex-boyfriend for sleeping with someone, as if any girl who decides to have sex of her own accord is “a little slag”, and thirdly, apparently it’s perfectly okay for a guy to call a girl a slag and to judge her for having sex, while men can have multiple sexual partners and be deemed a hero. Past cast members of Ex On The Beach have included Geordie Shore cast member Gaz Beadle, aka ‘Britian’s top shagger’- someone who is praised for his past sexual conquests, meanwhile in the same tv series, Holly Hagan, a fellow Geordie Shore cast member, was constantly berated for having slept with a few of the male cast members in the house; always shamed for her “history” and apparent “damaged goods” promiscuity. These double standards, so blatantly evident and flawed, are ones that MTV seems perfectly happy to propagate, leaving the all too impressionable teen demographic with entirely the wrong message.
To the guys on the show, the girls are literal fuckdolls, glamorous bodies there to be used and abused and dropped when a more attractive fuckdoll washes ashore. “She’s just a bang to me”, “I just want to bend her over”, “As soon as I get to fuck her I’ll move on to someone else” – these are all intentions commonly verbalised by the men to camera, speaking of a girl in the house who has clearly taken a romantic interest in them, and who will inevitably be cast aside as soon as they “put out”. It’s a constant alpha-male off, the guys will frequently square up to one another -desperately hoping to assert themselves as the finest purveyor of toxic masculinity while brandishing the muscle mass they’ve had to spend so long in the gym to gain.
The behaviour of the female contestants on Ex On The Beach isn’t much better, and just about encourages every negative female stereotype possible. The girls freely fight over the men in the house, there are physical altercations and expletive laced rants. One incident involves a cast member called Nicole coming face to face with the girl her boyfriend, Jacques, has cheated on her with during a lads holiday to Ibiza. Nicole is absolutely seething; “fucking slag, filthy fat slag, big meatball head ugly fucking fat slag, everyone has fucked you!” She screams at the girl, Frankie, who did not know Jacques had a girlfriend at the time. She goes on to physically attack Frankie, dragged away by the now omnipresent burly security guys hiding in the wings, and although Jacques has lied to her face numerous times, Nicole treats him will far less aggression. In the days that follow, Nicole freely bullies Frankie, addressing the rest of the house at the table but “not you, cunt”.
The girls in the house freely comment on one another’s appearance, calling each other ‘rank, ugly, disgusting’- they make no attempt to see their worth in anything but their own physical attractiveness, and are quick to size themselves up to the other females competing for love. They allow the guys to call them ‘sluts and slags’, and call each other those terms, too. They become inconsolable whenever one of these esteemed gentlemen drop them for another girl in the house- often chasing after them again while you watch on, desperately wishing they thought more of themselves. Where are the strong females in all of this? Where are the role models?
I often wonder why the girls who go on these shows seem perfectly happy to undermine the female race, engage in the worst stereotypical behaviour possible and reinforce the most damaging myths about women in the process – is it all just in the pursuit of fame? The fallacy of having to ‘compete’ with other women for a man’s attention, the fallacy that all of your worth is in your appearance, the fallacy that you can’t be friends with other women because they just cause ‘drama’, the fallacy that women are just airheads whose sole purpose in life is to look good and chase after a man- these are all things these female contestants gladly agree to act out on screen- to millions of viewers, and millions of young girls. It worries me that there is a whole generation growing up that will see the behaviours on Ex On The Beach as normal, it worries me that MTV favours ratings over perpetuating harmful stereotypes. MTV’s target demographic is for adults aged 16-34, but with the accelerated rate at which younger generations are ‘growing up’ these days, you cannot deny the probability of 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15 year olds also viewing their programmes.
If you look at the captions of the Geordie Shore video clips on the MTV UK website, you could easily mistake them for those of a porn site:
All of these clips are either exploiting the girls, or are at the girls expense -‘Scott fingerblasts Chloe’. It seems to be of any relevancy as an MTV star you need to be prepared to give away everything to the public- nothing is too extreme, nothing is too distasteful. Is it empowering to be comfortable with your sexuality and have the courage to come out as bisexual as a woman? Yes. Is it empowering to have videos of you kissing or drunkenly fooling around with your female friend packaged as soft porn for teenage boys? No.
Did I watch MTV as an 11 year old? Of course I did. This is not to suggest that there was a incredibly wholesome tv line-up back then, but at least we had programmes like ‘MADE’, centred around helping teenagers with self-confidence issues with the help of a life coach. Sure, we also had heaps of programmes about the rich and famous; Cribs, My Super Sweet Sixteen, The Fabulous Life Of.. etc, but to see these women and men on current day MTV reality shows so readily sell themselves short in the pursuit of notoriety and an instagram following is depressing and bleak. What’s even more depressing is that it’s not just a select group of people, it’s more like an epidemic. Every year there is a new Ex On The Beach cast, a cookie cutter collection of over sexualised, buff, tattooed, silicone, tanned and makeup laden airheads, all willing to demonstrate the worst traits this generation has to offer. There is a conveyor belt of such individuals that moves along eternally, pumping out more and more bad role models, and I just have to wonder why? Why has this become an aspirational position to be in? Are we really that set on regressing as a society? Are these girls really that content to let people keep them in the boxes we’ve struggled to break free from for the past 100 years? Or is our ironic ‘watching from a place of intelligence’ stance still contributing to the ratings, ratings which give MTV licence to produce more of the same tv?
I used to think it was a good idea to reduce your reality tv consumption for productivity reasons, now I feel like it’s vital in the hope that they axe these toxic shows and start creating programming that better represents us all- or at least empowers us to be something other than an alpha male, or the fuckdoll vying for his attention.
– Aisling Abbey