Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Money's Wales

I spent last Saturday night in the company of Welsh radio presenter, Owen Money.

It wasn’t just me – there were probably 100 there for a Saturday night game of bingo, Owen’s stand-up set and him and his band, the Soul Sharks, playing some classics for those that like a little dance to end their evenings.

It was a great night. I have seen Owen Money live before, and his quick-fire wit and interaction with the audience is genuinely funny.

But what is it that makes Money tick?

Nikolas Coupland of Cardiff University has written several articles examining the use of style by Welsh DJ’s such as Frank Hennessy and Chris Needs, specifically noting how they react to, and interact with, their audiences, which are usually English speaking south Walians.

Coupland points to ways in which they create their own agreeable personalities through the imagery and reference points which they use and an accent that changes by topic – from news reports and serious issues when a near PR accent is employed to chit-chat in phone-ins when they use easily recognised south Walian accent variables to sound more like the listener.

What, then, is Owen Money’s Wales, and why does it both attract and repel?

Money’s Wales is a folksy Wales, an imagined nation in which we all recognise the stereotypes that he draws upon.

When he asks ‘so, who’s from the Valleys?’ and follows-up with ‘where’s your tracksuit?’ we know he’s pulling the joke from the folk perception of Valleys dwellers as ‘chavs’.

When a woman says that she’s from Cardiff, the band strike up ‘Butetown Girl’, and we all know he ain’t referring to Cardiff Bay’s brand new high rise flats.

Money’s humour comes directly from our shared experiences or, more often than not, imagined shared experiences.

It’s a very friendly Wales, a family Wales, one where everyone goes to school, to chapel, where everyone knows everyone’s business – one big, imagined Valleys community.

So why does it frustrate me so much?

It could be because I just don’t buy into Money’s Wales. I’m not satisfied with it. Despite the friendliness and warmth, there is an ingrained poverty, both in material terms and in improving oneself.

His Wales is insular – there is nothing outside the world he creates. Where south Wales has infinite variety, there is only one North Walian accent, England is somewhere only to be mentioned in a rugby joke and the ‘Ffrench’ and the ‘Jirmans’, if and when referenced, are utterly alien.

Mam is the absolute authority in Money’s Wales, giving advice or instructions. I’m not sure where fathers are, or where they should be – down the pit, in the pub, watching rugby.

Then there’s the committee, the bastion of Welsh life, a shadowy group of people who are responsible yet not really in charge, a self-satisfied bureaucracy. Everyone in the village knows who they are – they have a blazer.

Money’s Wales is simple and one-dimensional. It is a child’s view of the world. We are invited to join in with a picture postcard of Wales that fails to reflect the nuances of real adult life and the tough choices that are made.

It is a traditional and paternalistic description of Wales in which we are unable to decide for ourselves, in which we never explore the outside world and in which risks shouldn’t be taken.

It is a Wales which I reject because I believe in a Wales which is outward looking; that takes the strengths of those community traditions and marries them with external influences to improve our lives, and a Wales that does not accept what has been given to it, but fights to improve itself.

It’s the difference between looking to London for leadership and showing it yourself.

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