I am aware that this love-hate dichotomy is not unique to Essex; it’s just what happens when you live somewhere. You see good stuff, you see bad stuff. I’ve been in Nottingham on a Saturday night and it was horrifyingly ‘Essex’. Newcastle – more ‘Essex’ than I have ever got close to seeing in actual ‘Essex’. The wrongly patented ‘low culture’ of Essex can be found anywhere. Its localisation is a fallacy.
It isn’t helped by people continuing to stoke the stereotypes. There are comedians and public personas who do little to challenge the tired old Essex schtick and I’m always disappointed they don’t find more original thoughts; write newer jokes. Of course they will say that they’re just commenting on what’s around them, but I would counter that with: move in better circles then. Be more interesting.
But there are no worse ambassadors for the county right now than the effluence that gets polished up, put in tiny clothes and thrust on TOWIE. Why did they have to put Essex in the title? Couldn’t they have called it The Only Way You Won’t Want To Commit Homicide Is If You Switch Off Now?
It’s not a style thing. I don’t have a problem with the way they make themselves look. (Though the girls on TOWIE would probably rather douse themselves in Jagermeister and set themselves alight than go out looking like me, and that is fine; feel free, girls.)
No, what I oppose isn’t so much the clothes, the outlook, the lifestyle, the materialism, the shallow pursuits, the gauche pantomime of human relationships, the nurtured inanity, or the verbal excreta that is encouraged to spew forth untrammelled from the glossy collagen-puckered sphincter-holes they still call mouths in the name of entertainment. We, the world, have an illustrious cultural history of laughing at morons after all. From the court jester, to Shakespearean fools, to be-wigged Restoration buffoons, to Charlie Chaplin, to Norman Wisdom, to Morecambe and Wise, through to the beautiful slapstick of Miranda Hart. We will always love to chuckle at idiots. (It is worth noting though that those people are merely acting stupid.)
This column isn’t even about the damage the TOWIE lot (and by lot I do mean mostly the production team behind it, not its more arresting cast) are doing to impressionable viewers who think that the bilge they’re watching – the contrived lives of malleable models of social and intellectual ineptitude – is to be revered and emulated. Not even that today, folks.
THIS COLUMN IS ABOUT HOW NARKED I GOT WHEN I HEARD THAT THESE VAJAZZLED OAFS APPLIED TO MAKE AN APPEARANCE AT THIS WEEKEND’S LEIGH FOLK FESTIVAL. W T actual F?
Leigh Folk Festival is the country’s biggest free folk festival. It is a superbly planned, programmed, and orchestrated event in my home town – a beautiful fishing town near the mouth of the river Thames, under an hour away from the bustle of London – and there is so much wonderful stuff on offer. The artists that travel from around the world to perform there are masters of their craft and the reputation of the Festival is impeccable.
So when I heard that the dimwitted clothes-horses off TOWIE planned to stage a day trip, a diarrhoeic diaspora to film with the Folkies, I got a bit riled. BOG OFF, YOU BOTOX-CLOGGED NUMBSKULLS. We don’t turn up at the Sugar Hut with our tambourines and faded plaid shirts, so don’t come clacking to our folk festival because you think you’ll get some hilarious juxtapositional edits from your cackling vacuity rubbing up alongside a nice man named Brian playing his accordion, who’s worked his fingers bloody to get good at something. Don’t bring your cleavage beaming with the iridescent glaze of dried spunk as you totter along saying you didn’t even know music existed before they invented electricity. And don’t you dare even try to raise a botoxed eyebrow at the nice man who wears a top hat covered in flowers. He’s been being quietly quirky since long before your parents had their ill-fated fuck in a Clacton caravan.
I can hear the producer: “Hey, guys. Guys. Quickly, put the bronzer down and listen up. And you, girls. Right. There’s this thing, like, in Leigh? In the old bit, that smells of fish? I know. Grimsville. Anyway. It’s got guys playing guitars that aren’t plugged in and people singing nursery rhymes and stuff? I was thinking we could all go down there in white DJs and slutty LBDs and get some footage of you gyrating a xylophone? It’s a thing you bash with a stick? Anyway. I think it would be pretty reem and totes hilair. LET’S GET TOTALLY FOLKED AND RUIN EVERYONE’S FUN THEN TAKE SELFIES OF US LAUGHING ABOUT IT IN THE LIMOS ON THE WAY HOME! OMG, LOL, ROFL, LMAO, YOLO. Yeah?”
That’s what I can’t stand. Their intentions. Their intention was not to go down to a nice fishing town that appears in the Domesday book, that sent men in their little boats to Dunkirk who never returned, to muse on the sea or the silent swollen history of the Thames. Their intention was not to have their minds opened by nice music they’ve not heard before nor to spend time in the presence of people different to themselves. They weren’t even going to contrive a nauseating segment where an ailing on-off cast ‘relationship’ is rekindled by the moving strains of a ukelele orchestra; their souls temporarily transformed by some arcane melody of a sea shanty as old as the sea itself; they weren’t going to finish the episode with a thought-provoking epilogue where Dickhead #1 muses to Dickhead #2 that they’ve had a really nice day not being in a club or salon, and that life really is richer the more hues are woven into its tapestry, before trying to play Ring-a-Ring-a-Roses on some recorders that appear magically from an unseen runner’s hand.
Their intention was to get cheap laughs for their relentlessly turgidly awful programme. Their intention was to steal focus from people who had turned up to perform in a modest beautiful honest way, and to distract people who had come to watch something artful and accomplished that didn’t involve gemstones being glue-gunned to a bald pubis.
I know I sound a bit harsh. I’m sure they’re not all completely deplorable deep down. Some of them are probably even a bit alright. I hear ‘Joey Essex’ in particular is quite cute and a bit heartbreaking. But by god’s great balls I would wrestle him to the death in a vat of cold beans to wrest my county’s name from his moniker for the greater good.
After spending time they didn’t really have deliberating over TOWIE’s request to film there, the Leigh Folk Festival committee politely declined.
And the saying no is important. No to the wrong kind of exposure. No to the telly company’s dirty dollar. No to the faff it would have involved accommodating their gauche arrival, no to the distraction from operations that the organisers have spent all year working hard towards, no to the diversion from what the festival is actually all about.
The no is important. Essex gets maligned and misrepresented enough. Essex gets taken over by lots of forces we can’t control, quite often by the wearying potency of television, and it’s important to defend and exercise what power we have when we can.
We are not the tired old tripe, the blinkered lazy stereotype. We are not the shit on the box. We are not that Essex. No.