Post-industrial voice in Wales

Nikolas Coupland

Cardiff University, UK

TP158: Indexicality in Interaction

The social vacuum left by aggressive deindustrialisation can involve a loss of economic but also cultural capital, a decentring of community identity, and uncertainly around the value of traditional symbols and voices. There are various possible responses other than simple dialect levelling, involving the recontextualisation and reinterpretation of older indexical relationships. I explore these processes in relation to post-industrial South Wales, focusing on the media performances of a highly successful contemporary Radio Wales presenter, Chris Needs. Chris Needs hosts a late-night music and phone-in radio show. Callers are encouraged to become members ("Flowers") of "Chris Needs' Garden", a virtual community of listeners/fans from the South Wales Valleys. The very high level of popular engagement with the show and listeners' obvious affection for Chris Needs himself – especially, it would appear, from isolated and working-class people from what have been thought of as stigmatised and damaged communities - suggests that the show has a significant social support function. "The garden" and its "flowers" are more than a loose metaphor for community. Vocally and discursively Chris self-presents as camp and flirtatious, tasteless and dated, dynamic but vulnerable, indexically 'very Welsh' and 'very Valleys' (through English speech) but very promiscuous with his identity displays. He shifts from serious empathy with self-disclosively lonely callers to ludic fantasies about reckless party lifestyles, and so on. The show's routines, such as "entering the garden", could be treated as empty formulas, but they facilitate valued solidarity too. The analytic challenge here is firstly to try to capture how at least some of these stances are constructed at the interface between sociolinguistic indices of localness/ non-localness (e.g. the deployment of "Valleys", "English posh" and "mock-American" voices) and discursive/ narrative self-positionings (e.g. Chris Needs performing himself as the "cheesy DJ" or "the socially over-awed ordinary person in the presence of dignitaries", or "the inept gay male"). But my wider interest is in the argument that these complex metacultural reinterpretations of what is means to be a Valleys-born middle-aged male, are liberating. ‘Camp’ and ‘cosy’ are in many ways antithetical to the old order of Welsh mining valleys masculinities; ‘trivial’ and ‘hedonistic’, similarly. Chris Needs articulates some of the vulnerability and deprivation of the South Wales Valleys, while simultaneously being caringly subversive of these old meanings. His show constructs new bases for community, more inclusively if more ephemerally than once seemed possible.

Session: Themed Panel (part 2)
Indexicality in Interaction
Thursday, April 3, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 05