By Alex Rigotti
Ah, university. It’s the moment where you escape from home, burdened by actual responsibility, a hauntingly empty room and looming prospects ahead. There’s no show that understands this better than Fresh Meat, the TV series that celebrates and critiques British uni life. The characters attempt to create facades in an effort to reinvent themselves – only for the show to tear them down.
Unfortunately, it did Howard McGregor no justice, a character which had the potential to explore one of the most important uni experiences one could go through: loneliness. From the outset of the series, Howard was typified as the inept nerd who was a little bit awkward and also incredibly strange. His personality didn’t receive any significant development, unlike his housemates. I believe Howard’s predicament on Fresh Meat proves that television doesn’t understand loneliness at university – and the very real effects it can have.
One of the major conflicts between television and reality is the portrayal of friendship. There’s this romanticised ideal of the ‘friendship group’. It’s the group that hang out 24/7, delivers searing burns to each other, but mostly just have a laugh at life together. Stray out of this friendship group, however, and you encounter disaster. Who can forget Jay’s iconic ‘friend’ moment in The Inbetweeners, or James’ miserable attempts to befriend a boy in Derry Girls? These characters must fail because the friendship group is the only social circle one should supposedly have. Howard experiences this, too, as he attempts to befriend Brian – who ends up being a complete psychopath.
The stereotype of the awkward nerd is at this rate, overplayed
Such experiences enforce this unquestionable loyalty to a singular friendship group, a mentality which is dangerous. When you’re a fresher coming into university, you might feel dejected that this ideal isn’t achieved. This is especially true for people whose high school experiences might not have been the fondest and were hoping for a stable friendship group. Fresh Meat uses Howard as its strongest advocate for loyalty to the friendship group, but I argue this is to the viewer’s expense.
Furthermore, Fresh Meat portrays Howard’s constricted social life as a symptom of his nerdiness, but this does a disservice to those who aren’t socially inept, but rather introverted. The stereotype of the awkward nerd is at this rate, overplayed. We need to correct the myopic attention that TV focuses on nerds and loneliness, and instead recognise that it is a multifaceted problem.
For instance, Fresher’s Week exacerbated my introverted tendencies. When you’re overwhelmed by the activities that Fresher’s Week shoves in your face, making friends can be tough. It might make you want to hide in your room the entire week. The current solution is to have ‘chilled events’, yet this is not always the answer for introverts. Recharging requires an absence of people – not a reduction of energy. There’s no obligation to attend every event in Fresher’s Week, but the sheer number of events held can lead to a serious case of FOMO, thus causing even more loneliness.
Even with the cries of TV isn’t an accurate depiction of reality, we as viewers still internalise attitudes that have been propagated over the years. University can be wonderful, but in its earliest stages, it’s common to feel isolated. While Fresh Meat attempts to unravel the characters to their deeply flawed cores, their flat characterisation of Howard prevents them from uncovering just how lonely uni life can get.