Charlie Brooker’s ‘Noble Savages’
Charlie Brooker this week has dragged himself away from his computer games and his natural habitat – the liberal corner of twitter, to turn his lofty attentions to reality TV. And specifically Geordie Shore. His piece is entitled: ‘The cast of Geordie Shore are the noblest people in Britain today’.
You will not be surprised to hear that Brooker, dazzling intellect and highbrow critic that he is, doesn’t like Geordie Shore. And he really doesn’t like the people in it. Not only that he assumes that everyone else watching doesn’t like them either. He writes:
‘There’s a reason the show isn’t called Cleverclogs Corner. You’d have more chance of decent conversation if you sewed a larynx into a lamb shank and asked if it’d seen any good films lately. They communicate using facial expressions and farts, with the occasional howl of rage thrown in for good measure. ‘
Presenting reality TV contestants as stupid seems a bit cruel to me, and very Guardian. ‘Cleverclogs Corner’ is actually possibly what the Guardian staff call their place of work in private. This is yet another example of the Graun’s snobbery towards popular culture and ‘trashy’ genres such as reality TV and celebrity gossip magazines. But in true Guardian style, they can’t just leave alone what they don’t like. They have to fill column inches with the same salacious material they claim to be above. They just do so in a detached, ‘ironic’ way.
But apart from the sniffy, faux-ironic tone of his article, the thing that disturbs me about it is the way he uncritically employs the concept of The Noble Savage. Literature and art are full of images of simple, lower class (traditionally ‘indigenous’) folk, being scrutinised, ruled over, and objectified by white middle class people. Brooker, as other purveyors of the genre have done, even compares the cast of Geordie Shore to animals:
‘There are a lot of shuddering duvets: sex is depicted beneath-the-covers, in a locked-off wide shot, night vision style, just like a wildlife programme about rutting bison, but less romantic.’
But, as with imperialist discourses of the ‘noble savage’, Brooker is not simply asking the nice well-educated Guardian readers to hate and laugh at Jay, James, Sophie, Holly and the others. He wants readers to patronise them, and use them as a way of diverting their general malaise onto willing ‘victims’. And, apparently he thinks we should ‘respect’ that Fall Guy role they play in our culture:
‘People no longer simply aspire to be famous. They aspire to be hated. “Authorised media hate figure” is now a valid career. Which brings me to the curious sensation I mentioned at the start. I realized that maybe we need these people. Maybe we’re all so angry and disappointed and bewildered, we need a free bunch of people to look down on and despise: they’re a handy vessel. This is a noble public duty they’re carrying out. They’re our stress balls. Our punchbags. Our ballbags. If it wasn’t for the cast of Geordie Shore, and countless others like them, you’d be killing your neighbours with your bare hands.’
In fact, Brooker’s ‘clever clogs’ diatribe is a good example of what I have termed concern porn. The Guardian often takes whole groups of society and prostates them before the liberal ‘twitterati’ classes, to simultaneously despise and feel sorry for them. And, ultimately to feel superior to them. I guess ‘concern porn’ is just the logical, 21st century, mediated conclusion to the ‘noble savage’.
And yet, although I hate this article as much as Charlie wants us all to hate Geordie Shore, there are a few accidentally pertinent points in it. In taking the piss out of the bronzed, plucked, groomed cast of the show, he does describe metrosexual masculinity in quite an evocative way:
‘one or two of the men look … well they don’t look real, put it that way. They’ve got sculpted physiques, sculpted hairdos, sculpted eyebrows, and as far as I can tell, no skin pores. They’re like characters from the Japanese fighting game Tekken – which, if you’re not familiar with it, is not noted for a documentary-style slavish adherence to realism. The most unsettling of the Geordies is a man called James, who looks precisely like a terrifying vinyl sex doll version of Ricky Gervais. Or possibly a CGI Manga impersonation of a young Ed Balls. I’ve been to Newcastle. There’s no way James is from Newcastle. He’s from space. Deep space. My guess would be he’s actually some form of sentient synthetic meat that crudely disguises itself as other life forms, but only to an accuracy of about 23%. ‘
It is true. Metrosexuality, in our mediated, reality tv world is indeed ‘hyperreal’. The transexy bodies and characters we see on telly and down the shops and in the mirror, are larger than life, constructed, commodified.
But it is that mirror that is giving Charlie Brooker a problem. Just as his colleague Stuart Jeffries did in the past, Brooker insists on talking about contemporary masculinity in a way that suggests he is immune from the trend. He is better than that. He has more class.
And that, again, is part of the ‘noble savage’ schtick. If we need to hate the characters of Geordie Shore and we need to do so by turning them into specimens at the zoo, brought to us for our entertainment, is it not because we actually don’t want to admit that we are just the same as them really?
Tits, tans, moisturiser and all?