Imagined Reality

The psychology behind “hate to love” culture


I’ve been aware of the existence of Made in Chelsea for some time. I’ve seen the adverts, I know what it involves. People who I consider friends actually watch it. I’ve long wondered why this is, as at a glance it seems to chronicle the mind-numbingly inane lives of a group of incredibly privileged and thoroughly insufferable people, and I’m intrigued to know why anyone would voluntarily expose themselves to that. With this in mind, I decided to begin investigating.

Made in Chelsea cast

The responses I got from professed fans were initially confusing. Nobody really seemed to like any of the characters – one or two of them were considered amiable enough, but the vast majority of them were objects of spite, ridicule or indifference.


Clearly, my impression of the show wasn’t clouded by my more general misanthropy – these people were fucking terrible, and everyone who watched the show knew it. But that seemed to be the whole point. I try to avoid awful people as far as possible, so I hadn’t really considered that Made in Chelsea’s main selling point would be its cast’s intrinsic dreadfulness.


It all boils down to the show’s genre: “Imagined Reality” – a bizarre, doublethink term that requires the viewer to accept that what is taking place is simultaneously real yet unreal, truth yet fiction. An offshoot of the vanilla reality TV that defined the noughties, Imagined Reality does away with its parent genre’s trope of thrusting strangers who behave like cartoon characters into situations that in no way resemble real life. Instead, it simply asks you to watch a bunch of acquaintances doing uninteresting, everyday things in their natural habitat, with the proviso that “some events have been arranged for your entertainment”. It’s like a nature documentary if they orchestrated all of the hunting sequences to be a bit more theatrical. That, and you wanted to slap the cheetahs.


Imagined Reality is an extreme distillation of what people loved about reality TV: judging people. The rise of reality TV demonstrated that the sadistic side of human nature is better satisfied when the figures paraded for judgment are – at least purportedly – real-life people rather than fictional creations. The already-fun act of character assassination is improved immeasurably when the characters in the firing line believe that they’re projecting a pleasant or even enviable image of themselves, and are far too lacking in self-awareness to realise that the opposite is true. It’s this sweet spot that Imagined Reality aims for.


The cast of Made in Chelsea are rather well-off, and that’s putting it lightly. I’d use touchstone terms like ‘Rah’ or ‘Sloane ranger’ but frankly they’re a cut above; they’re the kind of people who appreciate Jack Wills for keeping the riff-raff out of Aubin and Wills. Their parents would never have told them to lower their life expectations, and with their financial means they wouldn’t have to. This aversion to criticism and fallibility is evident in their choice of company – they hang out exclusively with people who are virtually identical to them in terms of affluence and personality. This perpetuates the cycle, as they’re constantly reaffirming their collective belief in their own excellence.


In short, they’re difficult to sympathise with and they have no idea why anyone wouldn’t like them. This makes them perfect for this kind of show.


All Imagined Reality wants to do is make its viewers feel better about their lives. Not a malevolent goal, you might think, but it goes about it through rather nefarious means. It doesn’t focus on the importance of love or employment or friendship, because its audience might be single or jobless or that creepy guy who you see once a year at your uni friend’s birthday who buttonholes you for 20 minutes, insisting that you go for a pint sometime. You know, the one who still lets his mum pick his t-shirts. He has pretty much everyone on Facebook, but no one in real life. He watches this show, and he wants to feel better about not having friends.


And the way Made in Chelsea does this is by showing its viewers people who have much more than them – more money, more friends, more clothes, more cars, an ostensibly higher social status – but still manage to be horrendous. The audience isn’t supposed to covet these lifestyles – they’re supposed to look at how utterly insufferable the cast are and feel better about themselves as people for not being like that. It doesn’t matter that Millie’s flat is the size of a small African country or that Spencer drives a car which could only be purchased using the deficit of said small African country. Being a member of the island-owning classes wouldn’t make up for actually having to hang out with these people.



“Constantly reaffirming their collective belief in their own excellence”


Most of us have to worry about how we’re going to pay rent, find a job that we don’t hate, or support our crippling meth habit. The GlitterRahTi are apparently unencumbered with such financial problems, and so find other things to worry about – trivial things. They are obsessed with how others perceive them, what their peers are saying about them, who is romantically interested in whom or how society defines a “date”. These concerns invariably unfold with Shakespearean levels of dramatic irony as the show’s writers – if they merit that name – weave plot threads with jarringly obvious outcomes that nevertheless always manage to surprise the clueless cast.


Of course, we’re never truly meant to believe that these machinations are the unscripted truth. We know that these drama-bombs are entirely separate to the real lives of the cast, but the fact is that they’re happy for this ridiculous charade to be considered an accurate portrayal of their existence. They don’t mind that we don’t know where their in-show characters end and their real ones begin. Maybe they can’t tell anymore either.


“Lives that have everything, but mean nothing”


If the cast are OK with their lives morphing into a cross between the Truman Show and an atrociously-scripted soap opera, it begs the question of why the writers should be involved at all. The dialogue sounds nothing like the way human beings actually speak – it’s written by people who can’t write and spoken by people who can’t act. The whole farcical spectacle would be far more compelling if it did away with the pretence towards scripting and just followed the cast around as they are – weirdly, I can’t imagine that this would be any more inane than the show’s current format.


But – just as with the sheer awfulness of the cast – the elements that make the least sense are actually the key to its appeal. The pointlessness of Made in Chelsea is a major part of what makes the viewers feel better about themselves. Seeing incredibly privileged people leading trifling, futile existences actually makes your commute and graft of a job feel a bit more worth it every day. Your life has grit and consequence; compared to you, they’re like the pre-revolution French aristocracy.


Just as the appalling dialogue is perfectly complimented by the cast’s complete inability to deliver it convincingly, so too does the redundancy of the show’s plotlines reflect the futility of its cast’s existence. If the storylines were actually true, we’d find ourselves caring about their misadventures instead of relishing their misfortunes. We want to see lives that have everything, but mean nothing. Ironic as it may be, pointlessness is ultimately Made in Chelsea’s raison d’être.

Words: James Barton

Featured Image: ssoosay


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