Radical political analysis, commentary and discussion in Wales
Dadansoddiad a thrafodaeth radicalaidd o wleidyddiaeth yng Nghymru
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MTV's cultural misappropriation of the Valleys

With less than three weeks until the premier of MTV’s new ‘reality’ series The Valleys, a new portrayal of Welsh social and cultural life is due to hit television screens throughout the country. Were the show to follow a similar trajectory to other MTV reality series, such as Geordie Shore, its rating will routinely number in the millions and it will almost certainly be exported to MTV’s satellite channels across the globe. Against our best wishes, the show will certainly influence widespread popular perceptions of Wales and the Valleys, possibly, for years to come and is, therefore, worthy of our attention and concern. As with Geordie Shore, The Valleys promises to be a lucrative investment for both MTV and its producers, the Leeds based, True North Productions. The contestants, meanwhile, will no doubt fulfil their dreams of achieving C-list celebratory status. As for the residents of the Valleys themselves, they will receive no reward or recompense for MTV’s shameful defamation of their communities.

Historically, the people of the South Wales Valleys have not been strangers to exploitative practices; the horrifying conditions endured throughout the course of the industrial revolution by workers in the iron and coal industries in South Wales have been well documented. However, past exploitations traditionally took an economic guise along traditional Marxist lines, that is to say, the exploitation of Labour by Capital. Whilst the worst excesses of such economic exploitation have long since been curbed, we must now face the new challenges posed by the corporate exploitation of our communities. Indeed, it is the cultural, rather than the economic, exploitation of the South Wales Valleys that appears imminent as MTV seeks to misappropriate and misrepresent the region for their own financial reward.

Although the first episode of The Valleys has yet to air, any promises that the show
"will not cast Wales in a bad light”
appear to be hollow. Recent television advertisements abound with such well worn clichés as leeks and sheep whilst the show’s characters are shown to be in a near constant state of inebriated promiscuity. Not surprisingly, little mention is given to the Valley’s rich sporting, musical, literary and industrial heritage. Perhaps more alarmingly, MTV has shown a consistent and blatant disregard for the factual circumstances of the Valleys themselves. For instance, the show’spress release describes the contestants as being,
“plucked from the tranquillity of Valley life... [and] given the opportunity to leave their hamlet towns and change their lives in the city of Cardiff”.
This seems more than a little patronising when considering most of the contestants originate from such well known tranquil “hamlet towns” as Swansea, Bridgend, Tredegar and Pontypool.

Based on the evidence available, it would appear the purported reality of The Valleys is a largely fictive construct. Rather than documenting valleys life as experienced by those that live in them, The Valleys constitutes an alternative sphere transposed on a real place and a fictional narrative transposed on real people. The fact remains, however, that this purported version of reality will gain a wide audience and may even gain credence amongst some of them. The Valleys marketing team have already been quick to appropriate the emotive rhetoric of Welsh national pride through social networking sites, such as Twitter, in an attempt to lend some emotional authority to their warped depiction of Welsh culture. Like many Welshmen, I despise the way in which MTV is seeking to appropriate, debase and distort my national identity and culture for its own ends and refuse to relinquish my national heritage to corporate control and manipulation. It is therefore important that we make a stand for our communities, our region and our country if we are to assert ourselves as the sole determinants and custodians of its history, identity and future; for although reality television may appear purely cynical, it is often sinister.

If you wish to take part in challenging MTV's misrepresentation and crass stereotyping of the South Wales Valleys further information is available via the excellent 'The Valleys Are Here' campaign site