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Like its American ancestor, Geordie Shore’s ‘outdated stereotypes’ have – according to the Newcastle tourist board – inspired ‘fierce reaction’ from locals and provoked Labour MP for Newcastle Central Chi Onwurah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.