Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Let's face it, the TOWIE cast are a real picture

The Turner Prize is usually a shining example of savvy headline-grabbing.

Despite the ostensibly obscure nature of many of its entrants' exhibits, the organisers of Britain's best known art award always find a way to make their contest a big talker, whether it's by booking big name ceremony hosts like Madonna and this year's Jude Law, or by picking winners who can be summed up in tabloid-friendly terms like 'sheep-slicer' (Damien Hirst), 'gay weirdos' (Gilbert -amp; George) or 'sh*t-stirrer' (Chris Ofili).

This year should have caused a few ripples. The standard, it was said by the Knowers, was unusually high, making it all the more notable that the winner, Elizabeth Price ('blonde bombshell'), is a Johnny Come Lately to the scene, and a relative unknown except to those who were fans of her 80s indie pop band Talulah Gosh.

Sadly, it wasn't to be. For those seeking evidence of truly progressive convention-breaking, of a merging of man and art in which, like mating sea-lions, the two converge into a single, spectacular entity which marks a step forward in the evolution not just of popular culture but of humanity itself, The Turner Prize paled into insignificance against a piece broadcast on the same night on ITV2. Anyone who saw The Only Way is Essex - Live will know exactly what I'm talking about. Those Turner chaps could surely only stand and stare, their own offerings suddenly made humdrum in comparison.

Followers of modern philosophy, especially those of a post-structuralist bent (and hey, after a vodka, who isn't?), have long struggled to find a single cultural entity to exemplify their notions about the ultimate elusiveness of meaning in a symbolically driven universe. I know what you're thinking - though its use regarding Baudrillard's ideas about simulated reality and its inverse effect on a society aiming towards coherence and stability is obvious, doesn't The Only Way Is Essex - Live posit as many questions as it does provide answers? Well, yes - but that just proves Baudrillard's theory about the impossibility of fundamental knowledge, doesn't it? Silly!

In a daring attempt at pure postmodernism, the programme took the form of a live stage show in which regular TOWIE cast members performed extremely low quality cabaret to a guest audience including forgotten relics of a past TV age like DJ/presenter Pat Sharp. The theatre was punctuated with live backstage scenes in which the same protagonists performed rehearsed 'replays' of conversations which supposedly happened 'for real' in the recent past.

Under the pressure of remembering their lines - and their lives, if you will - the cast often found it difficult to speak, and replaced language with animalistic growls and whines.

Others chose to simply repeat a single sentence over and over again. The content - mainly regarding who'd got off with who, where outfits had been purchased and one man's indecision over whether he should propose (his girlfriend advised no) - was pure zeitgeist; one could see immediately why these people have been heralded as vibrant examples of Britain's youth. The Jordan-esque delivery - wooden, emotionless, empty - contributed to a neat illustration of that social stratum whose inner lives have been mostly inspired by Big Brother and The X Factor.

Most fascinating of all though were the cast's faces. Reality had been stripped away, replaced by grotesque artificialities which inhibited human communication; eye-obscuring three-inch lashes, expression-freezing immovable foreheads, speech-impeding inflated lips. Fake, yes. But, in a live version of a constructed reality show, entirely appropriate. And brilliantly symbolic of a growing element of modern western culture. Turner Prizes all round.

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