There aren’t many that would argue that the City of Liverpool has fared well in the manner in which it, and its people, have been depicted by television companies eager to caricature Scousers.
But despite the often negative stereotype of Liverpudlians – does regional racism exist? To begin with, the terminology might be a little clumsy – after all racism is prejudice by one race against another – but it is evidentially an “ism” of one sort or another, when people that have never visited the City have predetermined ideas about its inhabitants based on a portrayal of their character through the prism of TV – or worse – tabloid lies.
Perhaps this phenomenon is uniquely Scouse-ism – although Brummies, Geordies, Mancunians, Glaswegians and Yorkshire folk may also argue that there is often bias leveled against their peoples and places. But in my home city there is a proof beyond doubt that a single issue stereotype exists which has influenced people’s perceptions right across the length and breadth of the country. It would be a fair bet that if a survey were to be carried out asking - 'in which city would people expect to be the victim of car crime' - that Liverpool would be at the top of that unenviable league table. And yet, the facts contradict this mis-perception as Liverpool doesn’t even rate in the top 20 metropolitan areas for theft from cars.
Despite this flawed supposition, it is difficult to get people to change their minds once they are made up, but there is a reason why some believe fiction over fact.
For many years negative stereotypes have been perpetuated by comedians desperate for an easily recognisable caricature. In pubs and clubs throughout the land many comics specifically target groups by exaggerating their characteristics. A type of comedic inverted snobbery forms the basis of humour the World over. The French and Belgium’s skit at each other, the Americans make disparaging comments about Canadians and for many years, British comedians told inappropriate stories about “thick” Irishmen.
At a micro level, villages have been playing one-upmanship with their neighbouring communities by apocryphal tales of the village idiot. Even in the Simpsons cartoon, Springfield residents poke fun at their ‘carbon-copy’ neighborhood of Shelbyville. But it is almost universally accepted (if not acceptable) that jokes about cars being robbed are typically prefixed by the location of this crime being identified as Liverpool.
One of the oldest gags that still does the rounds is where the comic mentions that he/she had recently visited Liverpool and concludes by trotting out the old cliché that they were only there to "visit their hubcaps"!
Despite the tried and tested comedy formulae of a ‘set-up’ and ‘punchline’ – the joke itself portrays how old and tired the content is. It is many decades since cars actually had hub-caps – and so, upon further examination it would appear that the origins of this gag may be some 40 – 50 years old. And yet, is it still funny? Certainly it is still being used and getting laughs – so it must be humorous at one level.
Liverpudlians are renowned for their sense of humour – and yet when hackneyed stereotypes are challenged, we are described as being overly defensive and sensitive. Some are more forthright in their criticism of our communal consciousness and believe it highlights a 'chip on our shoulder”' attitude. Boris Johnson (now there is a stereotype!) famously insulted the City by describing its people of “wallowing in self-pity” and of having a victim mentality.
Conveniently for Boris this placed us in a very invidious position. If we challenged his hypothesis – it could be argued that this was displaying the very trait he identified in our psyche, but if we said nothing, his critique would self evidently be right as it hadn’t been challenged. There is no doubt that the people of Liverpool do stand up for themselves when faced with criticism of our City, but is this a demonstration of our ‘chippy-ness’, or of our undoubted affection for the place of our birth?
For scousers this is a proverbial catch-22 situation – a self-fulfilling prophecy if ever there was one. But Scousers did defend themselves and Johnson was forced to make a very public apology. It is therefore important for us to ensure that any defense of our City’s reputation is well considered as it might simply reinforce his postulation. So despite the fact that car crime is below the national average, and that cars haven’t had hub-caps for decades, are perceptions of Liverpool evidence that regional prejudice exists?
The only people that can accurately judge our actual state of mind are the millions of visitors to our City each year. On occasion, like in every developed country in the World, cars will be broken into, or stolen. The situation then is – does the victim believe they were the unfortunate victim of car crime that could happen anywhere, or that the incident simply reinforces the perception of some - that there is an inevitability of such incidents occurring, due to our undeserved reputation as the car crime capital of the UK?