Made in Chelsea is totes postmodern

What is the point of it all, it seems to ask. Why was this even made?

There's a certain uneasy, shifting quality at the centre of Made in Chelsea that reminds one of the later work of Samuel Beckett.

Like last season when Hugo cheated on Millie with Rosie, and we totally hated Rosie, and then in the last episode it turned out that it had happened before Hugo and Millie were even properly together, so it wasn’t Rosie’s fault at all. Now we like Rosie again. It’s like, what even is the truth?

And as characters wax and wane, struggling against the imposed narrative, story-arcs change course, pleating and reforming around them like so many unsuitable bikinis in a hot tub. Last season, for example, Spencer was ok; this season, Spencer is a dick.

And throughout, the series plays with themes of silence and repetition - taking a figure of speech, toying with it, manipulating it, interrogating it, and finally, killing it. “Someone I used to have familial relationships with”says Spencer, of the girl he slept with whilst going out with Louise. “He did it to shoot me in the foot” says Spencer, of the friend who ratted him out. The word "offensive", too. You can't really use that any more, not since Spencer used it. And "totes". "Totes" is completely over.

But the postmodern roots go deeper. Often, characters will step from the very frame of the plot to talk to Heat magazine, or do photoshoots for FHM. We are, they seem to insist, truly in a twilight world, where things are never quite what they seem. Who is the mysterious "Professor Green", for example, and why are there so many, many drawing rooms? Posh shoe-shops, too, are an odd but ever present visual motif. Stamped, as it were, into the viewer’s consciousness, forever.

Stalked by meaninglessness and despair, Made in Chelsea’s characters plead for release, picking at the very roots of what it means to be human. "You are so misunderstood" Binky says to Lucy in episode 3 season 4. "I know" she replies "I'm like not a robot?"

But under these themes resound deeper metaphysical questions, always left unanswered. What is the point of it all? Who are these people? Why was this even made?

Francis fairly fit though. Totes would.

Millie Mackintosh, Made in Chelsea star. Photograph: Getty Images

Martha Gill writes the weekly Irrational Animals column. You can follow her on Twitter here: @Martha_Gill.

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The fisher bird that unites levity with strength

We think the planet's fish are rightfully ours. But the brown pelican is known to snatch fish from other birds in mid-air.

If ever there was a time when I was unaccountably happy, it was the day I first saw the Pacific. I had just started working at an office near San Jose and, three days in to my first week, a colleague drove me south and west on a back road that seemed to run for hours through dense stands of Douglas fir and redwood, not stopping till we were just shy of the coast, the firs giving way to wind-sculpted specimens of California cypress and Monterey pine.

Here we parked and walked the rest of the way, coming over a rise and finally gazing out over the water. The Pacific. The idea of it had been part of my mental furniture since childhood, though I didn’t really know why, and what I saw both confirmed and confounded the image I had of that great ocean. But the thing that struck me most, the true source of my unaccountable happiness, was a long flight of brown pelicans drifting along the waterline, just ten yards from the shore, more elegant than I could have imagined from having seen pictures and captive specimens in zoos. This is not surprising, as what makes the brown pelican so elegant is how it moves, whether diving from astonishing heights in pursuit of fish or, as on this first encounter, hastening slowly along a beach in groups of thirty or forty, head back, wings tipped up slightly, with an air of ease that would give the term “laid back” a whole new definition.

The brown pelican: it’s a slightly misleading name, as the predominant colour varies from cocoa-brown to near-grey, while the breast is white and the head is brushed with a pale citrus tone, rather like the gannet, to which it is related. The birds breed on rocky islands off the Central American coast and travel north to hunt. In recent years, concern has been voiced for the species’ long-term safety: first, because of an observable thinning of the eggs, probably caused by pesticides, and second because, as recently as 2014, there was an alarming and inexplicable drop in the birthrate, which some observers attributed to huge fish-kills caused by Fukushima.

On an everyday level, though, pelicans, like cormorants and other coastal dwellers, have to be protected from those among the human population who think that all the fish in the ocean are, by some God-given right, unaccountably ours.

But none of this was in my mind that day, as I stood on that white beach and watched as flight after flight of pelicans sailed by. Out over the water, the sun sparkled yet the sea was almost still, in some places, so the bodies of the passing birds reflected in the water whenever they dipped low in their flight. What did come to mind was a phrase from Marianne Moore’s poem about another member of the Pelecaniformes family – the “frigate pelican”, or frigate bird, which she describes as “uniting levity with strength”. It’s as good a description of grace as I know.

Yet grace takes many forms, from the absolute economy with which an old tango dancer clothes her unquenched passion at a Buenos Aires milonga to Jürgen Schult’s world-record discus throw at Neubrandenburg in 1986, and we have to learn from birds such
as the pelican what we mean by “levity”, and “strength”.

How else to do that, other than by closely observing how the natural world really operates, rather than how we think it does? Later, in her poem about the frigate bird (an accomplished flier and an even more accomplished thief, known to pluck fish from another bird’s grasp in mid-air), Moore extends that notion of levity: “Festina lente. Be gay/civilly? How so?” and adds a quote from the Bhagavadgita that, to my mind, gets to the heart of the matter: “If I do well I am blessed/whether any bless me or not . . .” The lesson we learn from the noble order of Pelecaniformes is exactly this: of the many prizes we may try for, grace transcends all.

Next week: Nina Caplan on drink

This article first appeared in the 16 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times