Through the worldwide reach of MTV, Geordie Shore, a reality television show set in Newcastle, has become a global phenomenon. But much has been lost in translation along the way.
As the demand for programmes and films in original language is very low in Italy, nearly everything you see is dubbed into Italian. This tradition of Doppiaggio began in the early years of cinema for several reasons. In 1931, 21% of the country’s population were illiterate, and an even higher number could not speak the country’s national language. Reading subtitles would have been here an added strain on people who were already struggling to understand Italian. Accompanying this, the Mussolini regime pursued “linguistic autarky” which endeavoured to save the national language – the Florentine dialect – from undue foreign influence. Foreign words were banned from the language and the speaking of regional dialects was forbidden.
The Italian film industry developed along these lines. Dialogue was recorded in post-production and a great tradition of dubbing everything was inaugurated. This reliance on post-production sound, however, did allow Italian filmmakers and dubbers some flexibility. Actors could be cast solely for their appearances, dialogue could be re-edited and changed in post-production, and in the Mussolini years, a form of “occult censorship” was executed to remove references to distasteful information. Italy’s specialisation in post-production sound also allowed the country’s film industry to involve itself in enormous international co-productions, where often many of the actors involved could not understand each other.
All this history has filtered into the present age. The emphasis on post-production sound and dubbing has even allowed some Italian dubbers to become celebrated for the unique power of their voice. Ferruccio Amendola, the voice of Sylvester Stallone, Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro, is by far the most notable celebrity dubber, and Italians often find exposure to the real voices of these acting titans to be disappointing. This insistence on dubbing everything, however, can result in problems, not least the loss of nuance, social origin, cadence and inflection. It was in this manner that I found myself watching the Italian Geordie Shore. Watching the show in another language is a strange experience, one which is divorced from the associations we make in the UK about Newcastle and Geordie culture.
In the Italian Geordie Shore, all the actors speak in Standard Italian. Each character on the show has their own personal dubber, some of whom have also dubbed American stars Mila Kunis, Paul Dano and Joseph Gordon Levitt. Sam Gowland’s dubber is a star in his own right. He is voiced by the Italian rapper Shade. And so, we have the first great break with what really gives the show its specificity: the Geordie accent and dialect. The only Geordie in the show, is an Italianicised “why aye!” in the opening titles; common phrases such as “Howay man!” are replaced by their Italian equivalents (“Forza, dai!”) and references to the region’s culinary tradition are replaced with Italian dishes which the Geordies are definitely not eating.
Many of my friends over here in Italy have also failed to the make the connection with Geordie and Newcastle. When I tell them that I am a Geordie, they look at me with disbelief. There is an assumption that Geordie refers to a certain class of people who indulge in riotous drinking, wax their chests and are at war with their lips and breasts which are ostensibly never big enough. Fake tan, sculpted physiques and quiffs, and having an unhealthy relationship with the mirror define what it means to be a Geordie.
In some regards this is to be expected in Italy as regional nicknames are tied inextricably to their cities. Citizens of Bologna are Bolognesi, Florence, Fiorentini, Venice, Veneziani, and so on. If the show was called Novocastrian Shore perhaps there would be more people putting two and two together. That many people outside the UK have not yet made the connection between Newcastle and Geordie may please those of us who wish to escape the show. I haven’t been asked whether I know them and if they continue to behave in the same way off-camera for some time now.
It is not that Newcastle has been edited out of the show. There are still the fleeting inserts of the Sage, Baltic and Millennium Bridge (a strange development since the Geordie Shorers are probably not interested in classical music, modern art and architecture), and the ever-present Tyne Bridge and Angel of the North which decorate rooms, pillows and duvets. It is just that the baggage that the show carries about Newcastle and who Geordies are is not really present.
Italians are attracted to Geordie Shore to glimpse a world that could not be further from their Mediterranean shores. Anyone who behaves like the characters on Geordie Shore is an aberration in Italy, where half a pint is preferred to several and there is no word for hangover in the national language. When Italians behave badly it is usually done in secret, whereas we Brits have no qualms about advertising our drunkenness and misbehaviour openly. Geordie Shore really functions as a corrective to the romantic notions of England Italians have digested through royal pageants, trips to London and wretched films such as Love Actually. Ultimately, the geographically-ambiguous Geordie Shore may prove to Italians that there is much more to England than red telephone boxes, buses and the royal family.
Correction: This article incorrectly states that there is no word for hangover in the Italian language. There is in fact the phrase ‘post-sbornia’ but you do also hear Italians using the English word ‘hangover’ to describe the few times in their lives that this unfortunate state occurs.