Haway with words

5 Jun

Tim Snelson

Guest Blogger

It’s a good time to be regional stereotype. Whether it’s the supernaturally coiffured heir-apparents of Made in Chelsea or the Va-Jazz Age revellers of BAFTA winning The Only Way is Essex, the ‘structured reality’ show (ie: scripted class-based panto) is big business. These have now been joined by Geordie Shore, the distinctly retro-looking ‘reality’ show (think a The Real World / Likely Lads mash-up) that is a spin-off from MTV’s hugely successful Jersey Shore; the US show deals with New Jersey’s ethnically stereotyped ‘guidos’ and ‘guidettes’ (it is not a Bourne Identity style revamp of Bergerac).

Like its American ancestor, Geordie Shore’s ‘outdated stereotypes’ have – according to the Newcastle tourist board – inspired ‘fierce reaction’ from locals and provoked Labour MP for Newcastle Central Chi Onwurah to raise the issue in Parliament. This is perhaps unsurprising. For those who missed the controversial first episode, the narrative trajectory was: boobs, binge drinking, boobs, more binge drinking, boobs, unsurprising vomiting, boobs, unremarkable emotional episode, boobs, fight leading to male bonding. This was all overlaid by an unsettling meta-commentary by the shirtless male housemates regarding which of the female housemates they deemed worthy of having sex with (or in ‘Geordie’ talk ‘smashing’, a particularly troubling example of the show’s ‘ironic’ misogyny).

The debate over whether the show is irresponsible, lurid and ‘totally unrepresentative of Newcastle’, as Onwurah suggested, or a ‘really positive perspective on the north-east’, as MTV asserted in its repost, appears a fitting tribute to the show’s own internal wrangle over the nature of the fake and the authentic. When 19 year old Holly from Middleborough entered the ‘party-house’ she was challenged by the other housemates for not being a real Geordie- a male housemate asserted that ‘if you’re from Middlesbrough you might as well be from fuckin’ Mars.’ Holly countered, however, that being Geordie is about a ‘lifestyle’ not a geographical location. She continued, it’s about ‘getting pissed and not giving a shit about what people say about you.’

Despite their protest, the other housemates have clearly embraced this self conscious and highly performative interpretation of being a ‘Geordie’. Whilst not scripted – though obviously manipulated to perform through the joint provocations of the cameras and Jaeger-bomb stacked fridge – the housemates enact a regional stereotype that is as nuanced and rehearsed as any RSC thesp’s King Lear swansong. It is in this perfect simulation that this much contested struggle over authenticity appears to lie; at this stage, non-Geordie ‘Geordie’ Holly looks front runner as ‘star of the show’. Despite the myth of an increasingly post-national/ post-class/ post-modern cultural landscape (frequently the alibi for this type of post-PC programming), such regional stereotyping asserts a persistent hold on our collective imaginary, serving to shore-up national identity, class boundaries and cultural hierarchies in their wake.

Postscript: As a Norfolk-born resident of Norwich I wish to pitch in with a proposal for a ‘structured reality’ show that might put us on the UK regional stereotypes map. Normal for Norfolk is a The Running Man (1987) inspired reality-show in which 10 Norfolk farmers (only the ruddy faced need apply) have to navigate across an ‘urban metropolis’ – probably Kettering – with the first-past-the-post receiving the keys to Bernard Matthews’ turkey empire in a morbid Willy Wonka-inspired follow-on series. Delia Smith to start race by screaming ‘let’s be having you’ over Tanoy system.

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3 Responses to “Haway with words”

  1. Nick Anstead June 8, 2011 at 12:51 pm #

    Great post Tim – and welcome to the world of blogging! I agree completely with what you argue. The trajectory of reality television in the past 20 years or so is really bizarre. If one thinks of the kind of airline / hotel type offerings of the middle 90s, they seem very innocent and almost sociological in comparison with what we have today (and to think people were worried that shows appeared fake because people performed for the cameras while doing their actual jobs!). Programmes like Geordie Shore though seem the next logical step from the development that took place over the course of shows like Big Brother etc.

    At the beginning of the millennium, early BB and especially things like Castaway lauded their experimental, immersive nature. The hope seemed to be that we would get to see how real people reacted in unusual situations. But as the demand for ratings increased (especially when wedded to a business model that employed phone voting), producers seemed to choose participants with more outlandish characteristics, to deliberately engineer conflict. We essentially moved from a model of reality TV that claimed to show us “people like us” to a form that was more interested in showing us “people who are nothing like us, thank god”.

    This has become the norm now and certainly informs these pseudo-reality shows, but is problematic when “characters” are geographically tied to specific locations and stereotypes.

  2. Tim Snelson June 10, 2011 at 12:57 pm #

    Thanks Nick. You’re nice. And right about strange developments in reality telly over time. Think it’s interesting the crossover with ‘comedy’ genre here too. These types of regional stereotypes have migrated from sit-coms to these psuedo-reality shows, which themselves have become hybrids of the two genres. Is it that these types of characters, in fiction anyway, are seen as less acceptable or just less funny now? Is that they are ‘real’ people a good alibi for offensive dialogue you couldn’t get away with otherwise?

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Tim’s in the house « Dance ricky dance! - June 29, 2011

    […] Tim Snelson, who has written about Geordie Shore and Zane Lowe is now officially a member of Dance Ricky Dance. Exciting […]

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