Thursday, July 22, 2010

Newport State of Mind

If you haven't seen it yet check out this parody of Jay-Z/Alicia Keys' Empire State of Mind, where the Big Apple magically mutates into downtown Newport, Gwent.

It has been fascinating to witness the response to this video over the last week or so. Not just the viral nature of its popularity and dissemination (well over a million hits, and featured on major TV news networks) but the reaction to it from Newportonians. Many of whom are not at all happy and feel that their city has been misrepresented.

Anyone with local knowledge will instantly recognise that the makers of the video (from London) have got their cultural references arse backwards. Shirley Bassey, Craig Bellamy, and Ryan Giggs belong to Cardiff. Plaid Cymru is less popular in Newport than the BNP. But does it really matter? Well, maybe it does.

Stereotyping Welsh people and landscapes is nothing new, of course. From John Ford's sentimental How Green Was My Valley to the Pot Noodle mining adverts we've had a lot to put up with. Usually Wales is reduced, in a synecdochical way, to a Valleys cliche. Interestingly, in this video the references are dominated by Cardiff. A sign perhaps of the cultural shift in power from the Valleys down to the capital city. For Newportonians - who regard Cardiff as a bit up itself - having their city portrayed as a part of Greater Cardiff must be somewhat galling.

It's worth noting also that this video is not entirely devoid of traditional prejudices. There is a moment, for example, where the girl in the Alicia Keys role makes a jokey reference to a pre-vomit before spouting: "Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch". The Welsh language is equated, therefore, with puking up and is no different from those lame old jokes about having to wipe the phlegm off your face after speaking to a Welshman.

Having said all of that, if you read the song primarily (as I do) as a parody of Jay-Z's overblown hymn to New York, then I think it works. Newport becomes a down-to-earth counterpoint to the grandiosity of the Big Apple, and the song a homage to the ordinary. What do you think?