Being stupid isn’t clever – the rise of reality TV stars

We’re all used to TV and film stars playing up the old ‘I’m a bit dim, me’ persona. There’s a rich comic lineage of characters who’ve played on being the least sharp tool in the comedy box: George Formby, Norman Wisdom, Michael Crawford’s Frank Spencer, Harry Enfield’s Tim Nice-but-dim. But these were characters adopted by comedians and comic performers. In 2013 we’re faced with something a little scarier – reality TV stars who seem to actually be as daft as their public personas.

Reality TV has invaded our screens over the last few years. Shows like The Only Way Is Essex, Geordie Shore and Made In Chelsea have introduced us to the slightly chilling idea of ‘structured reality’, a format that tries to present you with a version of reality which ever-so-conveniently fits the needs of a television format.

And the stars of these shows – and I use the word star in it’s very loosest sense – have become major tabloid, social media and gossip column fodder for the press and public. These non-acting, non-talented characters seem to be everywhere and even seem to be popping up on panel shows and chat shows, alongside people who you could reasonably argue have worked hard to achieve an acting/music/comedy/presenter career. Contrast this with most reality stars and you’ll find that all most of them have done is go to the Sugarhut nightclub and disdainfully say ‘Shut uuuuup!’ at anyone who bats their oversized false eyelashes at them. Not exactly inspirational, is it?

One of the most overly publicised of these reality stars is Joey Essex – a preening collection of perfect hair, fake tan and Essex bravado that seems to have half the population of the UK hanging on his every word. He’s currently starring in the latest worm-chomping fest that is I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here, where he has been dropping such nuggets of pure idiocy that you wonder if he has his PR person hidden in one of the jungle latrines feeding him idiotic things to say.

In the past week he’s announced to the viewing millions that:

1. He can’t tell the time on an analogue watch.

2. He doesn’t know how to blow his nose, as he’s never been taught how to.

3. He doesn’t know where the country Wales is situated – he thought it might be near London, or maybe Russia.

Now I like ditzy. Getting things wrong occasionally can be funny. We all do it. But this is just premeditated stupidity: being an idiot on purpose. And, most importantly, being proud of being dumb. Wearing dimness like a badge of honour to be applauded and revered.

And that’s where I have a problem with it. Joey Essex and his ilk are, like it or not, role models for a younger generation. They set the aspirations and goals of their fans every time they open their mouth. And being proud of being stupid – and being paid large amounts of money to do so – just creates exactly the wrong impression for a generation who are less likely than ever to find a job and have a career for life. You could argue that it’s ‘just TV’ and shouldn’t be taken seriously. But this ‘Culture of Dim’ is insidious – as a society we seem to be rewarding those who crave stardom as a thing in itself over those who actually have a talent, an ability or a creative edge. Looking through the early episodes of X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent is enough to tell you that. There’s a large chunk of the public who equate being in front of a camera with being talented – and that’s a massively slippy slope down which we could slide.

So, let’s stop pretending that stupidity is cool, shall we. Let’s laugh at these vacuous reality stars and their antics, but don’t, for heaven’s sake, put them up on a pedestal. And let’s applaud the performers, actors, scientists, musicians, teachers, writers, nurses, engineers and other myriad vocations that will really make a difference in the world.

Being intentionally dumb: it ain’t big and it certainly ain’t clever.

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