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I speak Slag

Last night, while visiting some friends, we channel surfed over to an alarming bit of TV called "Ladettes to Ladies". It is a bizarre reality show from Britain wherein several very coarse working class girls are put through a finishing school to turn them, Pygmalion-like, into young ladies.

The title of this post comes from the fact that I was able to follow and translate the impenetrable cockney of one of the girls a bit better than my companions. "Slag" is, essentially, "Slut" or "Skank".

It was a real horror show, but in a strange, train wreck sort of way, it is an oddly interesting meditation on the British class system.

The premise of this show is that a batch of "ladettes" (think female "lads") are put through a school for young ladies, and at the end of each episode, the horse faced instructors pass judgment and "expel" one of the girls. It wouldn't be a proper reality show if someone weren't voted off the island.

On the one side are the girls, who were selected for their skill at shouting, fighting, getting drunk, cavorting for the camera and taking their clothes off. "My god! I am appalled at her naked behavior! Now rewind the Tivo so that I may once again be appalled."

On the other side are the matronly disapproving instructors, who could be well described by the phrase "toffy-nosed" and who would have been completely at home in the works of Austen, Dickens or Wodehouse.

The show alternates between classes in painting, deportment, walking in heels on lawns and other lady-like attainments; visits to garden parties and arranged encounters with randy upper class boys with hyphenated names; drunken revels down at the pub; and flashbacks that generally involve the girls getting their kit off.

There is an underlying message, that these girls really need to grow up and respect themselves; but it is generally subsumed in the bizarre charade that they are somehow being groomed to enter the society of the British aristocracy. The frequent arranged encounters with "eligible" young men brings to mind the marriage market so familiar to readers of British literature, but it is painfully obvious that while the Honorable Neville Badger-Tosspot wouldn't turn up his nose at a bit of 'ows your father with Fanny Slagbottom, marriage is out of the question.

As a side note, I find it interesting that it seems to fall upon women to behave according to a strict but fairly superficial code, but the men of that class are permitted a lot more latitude in personal behavior. I suppose the requirements and obligations that are laid upon upper class men are a bit too complicated for a reality TV show.

And thus the show goes on, working it's way to its inevitable conclusion of crowning one of our beauties "Miss Least-Slag-Like".

Through it all though, I have to wonder why these girls are putting themselves through this. First, there is the general public humiliation, which for some strange reason seems to be an attraction for the people who sign up for reality television -- but most of all, I wonder why these girls would want to join the British upper class. Are the upper class happy? Are they having fun? Have they got anything worthwhile to say? Is the world a better place for having them in it? If the exemplars of that class in this show are any indication, the answer would have to be no.

Granted, the representatives of both extremes of high and low seem to be selected for their conformation to the stereotypes, but I think we are also seeing Ye Olde British class system on parade, with the upper class's tacit confidence in the rightness of their way of life -- a view which the rest of society might resent and grumble against, but at least for the purposes of this show, not fundamentally challenge.

We have many British friends and they are intelligent, fun people with interests and well informed points of view and none of them seems to live at either of these horrific extremes -- and I understand that most of what we see in this show is not relevant to modern Britain. Watching this show however, makes we want to invite the British back to America, just so we could have an other revolution and throw them out again!