The concept of the public sphere, as developed by Jürgen Habermas, is the space in which citizen’s discuss public concerns separate from the state. Alan McKee expands on this idea, stating that the public sphere is a metaphor for the virtual space where people can interact, and that it is a concept that has been hugely theorised in relation to the media. He addresses five common criticisms against the mediated public sphere; that the media is too trivialised, too commercialised, too fragmented, that it relies too much on spectacle and that it caused citizens to become too apathetic about important public issues.
These criticisms are highlighted in popular British reality TV show, The Only Way is Essex (TOWIE). It shows “real people in modified situations, saying unscripted lines but in a structured way.” Having recently returned from England, I experienced the full effect of this. Every Thursday night there was a new ‘star’ from TOWIE gracing the streets of Windsor. Girls smashed on the fake tan, slipped on their best pair of Nike’s and layered on the make-up, in the hope of stealing a kiss from Joey Essex or Mario Falcone.
Although the show may seem controversial in some aspects, it brings to light some serious societal issues that need to be addressed in the public sphere. Issues of gender, sexual identity, sexual behaviour and equality are all prevalent.
Phil Redmond, creator of Brookside and Grange Hill disagrees, stating that, “There’s no counter-balance of the actual problems facing actual people, there’s nothing. It’s like they simply don’t exist.” Drinking over-priced champagne in lavish clubs, they seem to ignore the issues the country currently face. There is no mention of the ‘broken society’ riddled with unemployment, welfare dependency and educational failure.
This raises the question, do reality TV shows such as TOWIE, Made in Chelsea and Geordie Shore contribute to the ‘mediated public sphere’, or do they simply brush societal issues under the rug?