Fresh Meat vs White Heat
As fresher’s week begins, Jess Baggaley dissects two of the best shows made about students: White Heat and Fresh Meat and asks: how have students changed?
Students drink, we party and every so often we study. That’s just the way it is. When you wake up the morning after the night before with a hazy memory and a headache so bad only another drink will shift it, there’s obviously only one reason: you’ve become a full-time student.
Channel 4’s Fresh Meat is a tequila slammer of a series in which six students starting at a ‘fictional’ Manchester university miss out on places in halls and get thrown together in an unlikely house-share. There are the usual suspects: geek, emo, posh boy, valley girl… and of course there are fall-outs and make-ups and making-out and breaking up. It is ludicrously funny. Think Lord of the Flies with vodka punch.
It is also a perfect depiction of the torrent of first week fresher madness. In the ‘abhorrent disaster’ sense of the word.
Emotion number one: the awkwardness of first meeting your housemates. As the tumbleweed rolls the group attempt to find something in common, a trepid search that leads to lies, exaggeration and quite a bit of lost dignity. It is excruciatingly cringe-worthy. Actually, when conversation runs dry you can now discuss this article. Your welcome.
In fact the best way to introduce yourself is to hand them a shot of tequila and make them down it in one. In the student handbook it will tell you in the language section that a drink translates to ‘Hello, how are you?’ Also: ‘Shall we pool our paracetamol together for the morning’ and ‘don’t let me go home with anyone that looks like Keith Lemon’.
White Heat on the other hand is the BBC’s sophisticated take on student life in the 60s- a revolutionary time of dodgy retro fashions (available at all good American Apparel stores), Maggie Thatcher and smoking indoors. If Fresh Meat is a tequila slammer, White Heat is a frothy pint pulled from the taps of a smoky city pub.
Not only is White Heat a fascinating mirror of the student era told decade by decade in successive episodes- but is a charming portrait of university friends 50 years later- time enough for marriage, kids, divorce and death all to become eerily possible. Drag your eyes away from this exceptional piece of prose for a second and look up. See someone? You could be married in ten years time.
White Heat and Fresh Meat are two completely opposing representations of student life. Yet the fifty year gap between the programmes’ setting does not leave the hip and groovy flare-wearing teenagers floating into the land of irrelevant; if anything, their world slowly begins to merge into our own.
White Heat represents the revolution of student life; Fresh Meat the modern depths of sex, drugs and dirty clothes 21st Century students have become accustomed to. By comparing the two we can appreciate what we’ve come from and what we’re moving towards.
Fresher’s Week is notoriously strange: you’re faced with a heady, blinding and euphoric new world of sleepless nights and all-day binges. It’s not like anything else you will ever experience- after a three-year hangover you probably won’t want to either.
It doesn’t matter how you do it, or who you are. Put these on and perhaps decide who you do not want to be. White Heat is riots, raves and contraceptive pills; Fresh Meat is Peking duck dried with hair dryers and sleeping with your tutor. Both are essential student viewing- educational and entertaining. And that’s definitely something you can write home about.