There are times in life where guilty pleasures and feminist values clash. For me, one of these sticking points is my love of reality show Made in Chelsea. I missed the TOWIE boat so, when MiC came along, I decided to check out what all this ‘structured reality’ malarkey was about. Before long, Monday nights became ‘girls’ nights’, sitting around the TV in my flat with large glasses of white wine and toast slathered with Boursin in an attempt to mirror the cast’s completely-not-fake-glam lifestyle. We were hooked.
Quickly, we all started taking sides. During the Hugo-Millie-Rosie saga of the second season, we were strictly #teammillie. Jamie won our hearts throughout the Spencer-Louise-Jamie love triangle episode while for Kimberly vs Cheska, the jury was out; the former is perhaps the blandest yet most insincere character to make an appearance on the show (which is some accolade) while the latter is a chronic judgey girl-basher.
The show obviously encourages this kind of engagement; you keep watching for the outcome that you want. Setting up camps and pitching characters against one another is a failsafe tactic, the veritable nicotine of television addiction. As is often noted, this engagement is taken to a whole new level in our age of Twitter and Facebook. Add to this that the cast are purportedly playing themselves and things get personal; the vitriol spouted towards cast members hits far closer to home for it being directed towards ‘real’ people.
Obviously the producers work with this; they can manipulate flavours of the month easily enough. Jamie was everyone’s sweetheart when his feelings were apparently being trampled on by Louise in Season 3, yet in Season 4 he turned into the surgically attached devil on Spencer’s shoulder. It was with this kind of preemptive design that new girl Lucy swanned onto our screens in the middle of Season 4; her appearance was an obvious ploy to set a cat amongst the well-groomed Chelsea pigeons. A femme fatale with that slurry SW accent, Lucy appeared to be cold-hearted and insensitive. She took Jamie down a few notches, styled herself as a player and then dated Andy for a brief stint before unceremoniously dumping him in such a steely manner that she could have easily announced herself as the unacknowledged spawn of the late Iron Lady and been universally believed.
Lucy was fed to viewers on a platter as the new villain in town, filling the evil-slut-seductress hole left open after Kimberly’s departure from the show. For once, though, I could not be swayed by MiC’s attempt to brainwashing me into thinking she was totes a betch. Being a fan of 19th century Russian literature, I feel like I can spot an anti-hero when I see one, and Lucy may just be MiC’s answer to Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov. And so, with my Literature student skills firmly in hand, I propose a close reading of Lucy’s behaviour and reception as a character in this prestigious reality TV series.
First off, she was vilified for calling herself a player. While I was just like, LOL, the Chelsea lot decided this was A Big Deal. It was laughed up first by Ollie and Cheska, then by Millie and Rosie, who deemed it to be ‘Essex’ behaviour (a thinly veiled dig at rival show TOWIE, if ever there were one) and then Louise who scoffed that, ‘No girl is a player’. Well, Louise, I sincerely beg to differ. I and many of my friends joke about being players after brief stints of promiscuity (recently a friend ended up accidentally sleeping with a string of guys at work in quick succession, which we laughed up like the drunken slip-ups they were rather than racking our brains as to how and when her morals had so wildly loosened up and what the wider implications might be on her future life in marriage as a ‘spoiled woman’). We could invite Lucy out for a drink with us and we would sit around sharing obscenely detailed stories while giving each other high fives for our evident sexual prowess. In my books, Lucy gets a huge tick for her open and unashamed sexuality.
I suspect that the problem with Lucy’s ‘player’ label was more the fact that she actually proclaimed it, rather than the fact that she likes sex. The MiC cast are, after all, adults and we are quite often treated to them lounging around in skimpy underwear (the Ashley & Ollie naked-towel-time scene was not quite as cringe as Louise and Spencer’s steamy shower sex). The problem, then, is Lucy’s likeability. Here we have to come back to the classic argument – if Lucy behaved the same way but happened to be Lucius (a name which is likely, given we’re talking about Chelsea here), she’d probably be acknowledged as The Perennial Lad while drinking shots with other such so-called alpha males at the bar. More importantly, the viewing public wouldn’t be giving her such a hard time for playing the field. Tale as old as time, indeed.
Which brings me to my next point. Not only was Lucy rejected by the Chelsea girls for not prescribing to Chelsea girl stereotypes, she was also quickly eschewed by the boys when they realised she was playing them at their own game. Unlike other girls on the show, she is not afraid to brashly stand up for herself, rather than, say, crying and ‘setting the girls’ on the person who made her cry. At Rosie’s dinner party, where she voiced her infamous ‘Why is everyone getting up in my grill?’ comment, Lucy objected to the boys fighting over her, as they were, like a piece of meat. When Jamie felt he had to talk to her about coming to Rosie’s dinner with Andy (who was labelled a ‘rogue’ for his conduct, apparently intended as a smear, but I’m considering adopting it as my middle name), she shot back, ‘I didn’t realise I had to tell you’ and, ‘I just didn’t bow down to you’. Later when Jamie and Spencer started a slur campaign on her name and Andy questioned her about it, she unashamedly riposted, ‘I’ve hooked up with a lot of people who weren’t my boyfriend’ – and demanded to know what the problem was with that. Defending a girl’s right to sleep with/get with who she wants, whenever she wants, when she’s not exclusive with anyone? Gold star for fighting lazy gender stereotypes.
What it all boils down to is that Lucy stands up for herself. She’s not afraid of going up to someone at a party and saying ‘Who the fuck do you think you are?’ for saying she gets around – which is hard, especially within circles with such strict unwritten behavioural policies. It’s a trait we don’t often see with women, and much less likely in this context; we’re supposed to apologise for upsetting people, act humbled at success, never ask for what we want. But if you can sit down and tell someone so unswervingly, ‘Let’s hold off on ordering food’ before cutting a relationship off you not only have some massive ovaries, but you also know what you want in life and aren’t afraid to get it. It might be rarely lauded, but it’s a hella important characteristic. Yes, it’s just a show, but somewhere along the lines it’s rooted in reality. That Lucy can be so unapologetic for her behaviour is admirable.
There may be light at the end of this Sloane-encrusted tunnel. In the first episode of the new series we saw Lucy striking up a friendship with the ditzy but loveable Binky, and in the trailer for next week Binky even goes as far to declare, ‘I think you’re so misunderstood – you actually are human’. I can only hope that throughout this season, in a pseudo Victorian fallen-woman-reformed narrative, the producers don’t tame Lucy into a perpetually-shopping, spa-incarcerated South-West-London-bot, because the show certainly has enough of those already. There’s room for a different kind of human in Made in Chelsea.