A philosophical defence of “Geordie Shore”
For those that aren’t aware, a television programme entitled Geordie Shore is currently being shown on the MTV channel. As part of the structured reality genre, it is faithful to its American predecessor, Jersey Shore, in that its premise is to place a number of young adults from a distinct culture – who had never met – into residence with each other, and filming the fall out. Consistent with MTV’s general outlook, Geordie Shore was designed to appeal to young adults and teenagers – and, in particular, those familiar with the culture of clubbing, binge drinking and promiscuity. Indeed, the makers of the show openly promoted the cast as “strut[ting] their stuff in mini-skirts shorter than belts and wearing more layers of fake tan than seems humanly possible, whilst the guys pump iron at the gym and drink alcohol as if it’s going out of fashion” while offering a “peak into their glamorous lives and party lifestyles”.
It is in an apt description. Although the show, having reached its third season, focusses to some extent on the personal relationships that have developed between the members of the cast, its modus operandi is still an insight into attractive, vain and exuberant individuals determined to drink, ‘party’ and sleep with the opposite sex. The characters are brash, crude and rude. Their alcohol-fuelled antics are controversial, reckless and shocking. Yet, the show’s popularity has consistently blossomed – to the point that slightly under a million viewers watched the debut episode of Season Three. And, while the critical reaction has been somewhat mixed, there is no doubt that the cast members are well-established names among the Mail Online sub-culture.
On the other hand, the show has received sneering and contemptuous treatment from various sections of the media. I was particularly struck by an article written by Charlie Brooker, published in The Guardian on 01.07.12 (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jul/01/geordie-shore-noblest-people-in-britain). The article is a condescending appraisal of the show, in which the cast members are referred to as “unbelievable idiots” and “walking caricatured receptacles for spite”. His core argument is that the cast members should be hated, and even – “looked down on and despise[d]”. In doing so, they are providing a “noble…public service”. I am prepared to forgive the misanthropic Brooker, for his polemics are usually well-aimed and well-delivered. On this occasion, however, I feel that he misses the point.
Brooker mistakenly amalgamates the programme with other contemporary reality shows, such as Made in Chelsea and The Only Way Is Essex. While these works are highly structured, arguably scripted, shows which revolve around pre-determined storylines, set-pieces and sophisticated production, Geordie Shore is unstructured, unrefined and uninhibited television. It is more resemblant of a documentary than a “structured” reality show – in fact, the camera crew have, on occasion, intervened during high-tempered scenes.
Indeed, the anarchic style of production suits the personalities of the cast members, and, even, reflects the show’s genuine worth. The brilliance of Geordie Shore is not the entertainment of their behaviour per se – although their antics are perversely captivating – but in the refreshing self-determinism of its cast. Their personalities and traits may not appeal to metropolitan elites such as Brooker, but the cast members are thoroughly content with who they are, and the lives they lead. The show is entirely devoid of the type of introspection, awkardness and obsequiousness that characterises its competitors. Instead, the viewer is left with the effervescence and pure confidence of its extroverted cast.
Take the opening credits of the show – Jay proudly proclaims that “[his] biggest fear is getting wrinkles” because his outlook is not contaminated by self-doubt; Holly states “I’m fake. I’m flirty. And, I’ve got double F’s” with clinical bluntness precisely because she is not ashamed of those facts; while Ricci boasts that he possesses “the looks, the charm. It just works”, revealing utter self-assurance. The characters behave with complete honesty – without any abandon or proclivity to embarrassment, they fornicate, vomit and vandalise, all in the knowledge that their actions are being recorded for public consumption. Unlike the intrigue and tension of Made in Chelsea, where flirtation among the cast members simmers throughout the series, the cast of Geordie Shore hurtle into sexual relationships with striking spontaneity. The closest the show gets to a Spencer-Caggie Chelsea-style courtship is the Holly-James dynamic – Holly decides that she wants to “bang” James; drunkenly propositions him over a series of episodes; eventually, an inebriated James relents.
The cast are, indeed, direct descendants, and embodiments, of the philosophy of existentialism. They have, implicitly, subscribed to its principal proposition, which is that the actual life of the individual constitutes their “essence”, rather than any pre-determined notion that defines what it is to be a human. In the same way that Kierkegaard and Satre talked of humans creating their own values and determining their own meaning to their lives, Jay, Gaz and their colleagues are masters of their own identities, and do not seek to conform with the cultural and social zeitgeist. They are enemies of what Bret Easton Ellis has termed the “Empire” in his legendary article on Charlie Sheen (http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2011/03/16/bret-easton-ellis-notes-on-charlie-sheen-and-the-end-of-empire.html), the homogenous, pre-packaged and predictable entertainment status quo. Geordie Shore is emphatically post-Empire, screaming non-conformity to the predictable reality entertainment genre, vomitting on itself unashamedly (metaphorically, and – in the case of Charlotte – literally) and sticking a middle finger up to the faux-intellectual elites that read Brooker’s Guardian column.
Yes, the cast of Geordie Shore are vain and superficial. Most in civilised society would consider that their priorities in life are somewhat distorted. Their behaviour is frequently alarming. But “hate” them? We should admire the self-confidence of this motley gang, and venerate the fact that they are comfortable in their own identities. It was recently announced that a major character, Jay, would be leaving the show; when asked to comment, he maintained that he would “go out with a bang”. You wouldn’t expect any less from this uninhibited bunch.