I’m from Essex. That looks odd all spelled out, I can’t remember the last time I wrote it down. Essex: that word that I learned in junior school, just the forth line of my address. Back then we all thought it was hilarious because it was partly a rude word. I’d write SEX, nudge whoever was nearest, then quickly add an ES at the beginning before the teacher saw. Naturally everyone thought I was way cool and rebellious and not at all weird.
But at secondary school it became clear that being from a Essex meant more than just hysterical laughter every time we had to write addresses. When I say Essex, I don’t mean those adorable villages where residents pretend they’re in Cambridgeshire, either. We were informed when we were 13 years old that our area was deprived, that we had the highest rate of chlamydia and teen pregnancy in the country. That was the expectation set up for us, which I found thrilling at the time because I thought it meant I’d get loads of underage sex. I didn’t, because I was fat and nerdy, but I didn’t get chlamydia either so it’s swings and roundabouts.
Most of the time my accent isn’t that strong. I learned early that people don’t take you seriously otherwise. At times when it does come out, when I’ve been back home or around my family, there’s no shortage of “Essiiix” or “Inniiit” as a response. I don’t really mind, it makes me feel like my working class roots are validated, and anyway, I pretty much thrive on any and all forms of attention. But it does make we wonder what about my voice is so funny.
I think part of it is that, other than TOWIE, you’ve got no people from Essex appearing on the telly, and that lot aren’t really doing that much to counter the stereotype. You’ve certainly not got many of us saying clever or witty things on panel shows as you do with other much-mocked accents like Brummie, Cockney or Welsh.
Actually that’s not true. We’ve got Russell Brand. Sure, he’s got some pretty unhelpful views on voting, but he’s also from Grays in Essex, and most importantly he sounds like it. Because hearing someone with that voice talking about politics, philosophy and literature in mainstream media is actually pretty inspiring.
That is, until you get to what’s happening recently, and that’s the whole “PARKLIFE” thing. To be honest, I found it pretty funny at first: take his verbose and inaccessible writing and reply with PARKLIFE! à la Phil Daniels and Blur. But one glance at Twitter and you can see that people are saying it in reply to everything he says.
There are plenty of intellectuals out there who talk like utter nob ends. You’ve probably encountered a lot of them this week while reading for your essays. And they don’t get this kind of treatment. And while I agree with very little of what Russell Brand actually says, I resent the fact that people can dismiss it so easily by just going ‘heh heh heh. Silly voice.’
Maybe I should try harder not to mask my accent, because we certainly need more people challenging how the country sees us. It’s 2014. How is it still a thing that people judge how important what you have to say is, by what voice it comes out in?