2011 brought us a comedy-drama focusing on a group of people entering their first year of university. But how close does Fresh Meat play to the true student experience?
I had a teacher once that described the Channel 4 comedy, Fresh Meat as an uncanny representation of student life. Set around a group of people entering their first year of university, I took to watching the show a little while ago and seeing if the portrayal of student life is something more than outdated and completely off ideas by people who haven’t got a clue.
I found myself laughing at the scene where the group were sat around, slurping tea to fill the sound of awkward silence, and saying just about anything to find a conversation topic. There’s no denying it, there are going to be awkward moments with the people you live with, especially in the very beginning. Embarrassing things are bound to be said and I think Fresh Meat accurately depicted the early stages of student life.
I also loved the range of characters that were introduced on the show. Privileged students like JP who say ‘bants’ and ‘totes’ do exist, especially in Manchester, where 22.1 percent of students come from independent schools. Eventually though, it becomes less alien to you. People’s housing situations don’t always work out at university and it isn’t uncommon to be a bit regretful of who you live with and by the end of the year to be almost terrified at the thought that you were debating moving out. With strange Howards and Oregons, dorky Kingsleys, annoying JPs, sweet Josies and Scary Vods all over the place, you’ll learn to get on with people who are polar opposites to you.
A range of deep-set issues were covered on the show, some that are quite common. Josie turning to alcohol to deal with the down spiral of her life is not far-fetched at all and while I don’t know anyone who has reached that level of dependency as a coping mechanism, alcohol predictably became a bigger part of mine and many other students’ lives. When doing things where drinks weren’t the end result, I was left a little confused and disorientated. Not surprising really, considering that last year, a Student Beans survey found that the average University of Manchester student consumes an excess of 22 units of alcohol a week. It’s easy to turn to alcohol when something that is less than desirable is happening and it can be hard to see how much of a problem it can be, especially giving the intense drinking culture of student life.
Depression is a serious issue that a lot of students face, but is unfortunately not talked about enough. The Guardian estimated that suicide among students increased by 50 percent between 2007 and 2011. Triggered by many things, it can be a hard thing to deal with and being around people who seem constantly happy can only make it worse. In the show, JP’s dad died which led to his stability falling. Feeling insecure in your new living situation can also ruin a good portion of university if it’s not dealt with so it’s good to familiarise yourself with different types of support.
Also, while drugs are common as a student, they’re not as common as some would think and I respected the shows balance of not normalising drugs but also not making them that edgy and alternative. A report by The Guardian in 2012 said that while a lot of students believe that 90 percent of their peers have tried illegal drugs the actual amount who have is closer to 45 percent. You will most likely know multiple Vods and it’s not surprising that drug use is still very typical among university students.
Unavoidably, course issues were discussed on the show. The University of Manchester reached a drop-out rate of around six percent in 2012, and while that’s not ideal, it definitely could be worse. I feel somewhat blessed, yet a tad disappointed that I haven’t met a teacher like Dan, played by Robert Webb. His creepy desire to be accepted by his students teamed up with his inability to teach would provide an interesting story to tell. Shoddy teaching obviously happens and when you’re paying £9000 a year, complaining is encouraged. You’d be doing yourself and others a huge favour.
People change constantly, especially as a student, and I appreciated the character development on the show fitted with the not always so happy endings. Fights between friends and heartbreaks happen but it’s all about the self-development at university that everyone talks about. As patronising as it sounds, they’re experiences that everyone should go through in life. While Josies reason for being kicked off dentistry was a little more comedic and unusual (drilling a hole in someone’s cheek isn’t common, I swear), it showed c’est la vie moments that every student faces and that while student life is pretty much amazing (depending on what you make of it), there are times where it can seem anything but and it’s useful to remember that hindsight will be your friend.
I have yet to experience every second shown to me by Fresh Meat but I see it as one of the most accurate and relatable shows about student life, nicely capturing the hilarity and problems that everyone faces. It makes a nice change from our sister American college shows.