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Charlie Brooker’s ‘Noble Savages’

July 3, 2012

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?


13 Comments leave one →
  1. July 3, 2012 11:21 am

    Brooker is a strange character. He certainly has a gift for ludicrous, exaggerated figures of speech, but his whole persona – as it appears on TV and in print – is of putting this whining negative accent on everything (a very Guardianesque trait, I think)

    This is ok in doses of about 5 minutes – and was well suited to his TV series “How TV Ruined Your Life”. But having seen that, I’ve sort of had enough of him, and now just scan what he says for the inventive turns of phrase, rather than any content, of which I don’t think there is much.

    His page on the Guardian* has a mugshot of a much younger Brooker scowling out at you. I remember the first time I saw this I was terrified – and thought the SWP were taking power, rightly or wrongly. It said something to me that the G wanted to display this kind of attitude.

    I think his expression of disgust and sardonic nature should go head-to-head with Jeremy Paxman’s. Perhaps they’ll cancel each other out in some cosmic way.

    The attitude towards the housemates is interesting. The Guardian complain about chavs one minute, then accuse others of “class-hatred” for doing the same. Brooker says they are “stress balls.. punchbags”, and he ridicules their intellect with true leftwing-compassion. But I’m sure part of his problem (and mine too, tbh) with the Geordie Shore bunch is with their aimless lifestyle.


    • July 8, 2012 8:49 pm

      Personally I don’t think the Geordie Shore folk have a particularly ‘aimless’ lifestyle. Sure they are products of a changing economic climate, so they don’t have such chances in traditional careers that are worth grafting for.

      But for many of their generation getting on TV, and on popular TV at that, is a perfectly admirable aim. And one they have achieved!

  2. redpesto permalink
    July 3, 2012 12:26 pm

    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.

    See also female readers of Fifty Shades of Grey? (Despite reading the Guardian, I express my concern for Geordie Shore by not watching it: it’s simpler that way)

  3. L. Ron Weasley permalink
    July 3, 2012 2:05 pm

    I feel the same way about 50 Shades, Geordie Shore and the type of women’s magazines that the Graun recently slammed. I either don’t like ’em or I know I probably won’t like ’em so I choose not to pay attention to them. I have better things to read and watch (in my opinion!) but I daresay the readers of 50 Shades etc might not care about what I like.

    I also think that it’s not totally right, as Henry says, to equate culture snobbery with class snobbery – I know well-paid, well-to-do friends and colleagues who enjoy TOWIE and all the rest. As Mark Steel once said, just because you enjoy carrot and coriander soup for lunch doesn’t make you middle class…

    Brooker’s TV diatribes should always be taken with a heap of salt. As he’s shown on Screenwipe it’s dead easy to frame shots in a certain way so that characters (especially in reality shows) appear to be more stupid and/or lecherous than they perhaps are being. In which case I guess his beef here would be more with the production values of the show rather than the cast.

  4. Mojo permalink
    July 3, 2012 4:34 pm

    Charlie Brooker is tiresome, yes.

    But I realize 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 writers at the Guardian, and countless others like them, you’d be killing your neighbours with your bare hands.

  5. L. Ron Weasley permalink
    July 3, 2012 6:29 pm

    ‘Concern porn’ is a great phrase. I prefer it to ‘grief athlete’.

    • July 3, 2012 7:27 pm

      Is ‘grief athlete’ a bit like ‘ambulance chaser’? 😀

      • L. Ron Weasley permalink
        July 4, 2012 1:46 pm

        Perhaps a less mobile, more enthusiastic ambulance chaser yes 🙂

  6. July 3, 2012 7:06 pm

    I am actually a huge Brooker fan, and have been for years. A few years ago he did a piece on Big Brother, showing how two hours of him and three other people could be cut any way the director wanted to choose in order to show whatever the director wanted to portray – by clever editing he managed to give the impression that he and the same woman were (a) intimately involved or (b) hated each other, depending which out of context segments you choose.

    Personally, I thought the point of the piece was to try and draw attention to the artificiality of the programme, and the implications of the absurdity were simply that instead of producing inconsequential nonsense – as you would expect from a programme like this – there was an unintended beneficial consequence from it that the producers did not intend, and that the producers were actually picking the scenes that made the people involved look loathsome for a good reason, instead of simply to get large audiences.

    The easiest interpretation though – and the one I prefer – is that having waxed lyrical about Clive James, Brooker’s feeling a little jaded. A quick episode of Geordie Shore and he managed 800 words. Hyperbole. Cynicism. Overstatement. The usual suspects. That’ll do – he’s off to the pub.

    • L. Ron Weasley permalink
      July 4, 2012 1:48 pm

      That was the Screenwipe episode I was on about. Great example of anchorage in action (the concept, not the place!)

    • July 8, 2012 8:51 pm

      Yes sometimes I can tell when journos are stuck for something to write and just have a deadline so have to toss something off. But even things they toss off give away certain aspects of their prejudice and attitudes. Sometimes things we say/write in a casual way without too much thought reveal more than carefully crafted pieces.

  7. July 3, 2012 7:27 pm

    Thanks all for your comments. Some astute insights, I will ponder them and respond tomorrow.



  1. I Care – The Guardian’s Line in Concern Porn | Guardian Watch

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