Thursday, 21 August 2008

Germanist in Gangsta Rappa Shocka

What's the opposite of a Bavarian student of German literature (10th semester)? That's right, a ganster rapper!

Germany's trashiest channelTM, RTL2, has a new reality format - der Bluff. That's German for "the bluff". Unfortunately, it's a bit of a false friend pronounciation-wise, as it kind of rhymes with the French word "boeuf". The show takes someone out of their usual environment and trains them up to pretend to be something else in four weeks - burger-bar cook to Michelin-starred chef, binman to dressman, you get the picture. At the end they have to pass a test and get picked out (or ideally, not get picked out) by a panel of experts. There is a slight possibility that the format might be "borrowed" from the US or the UK.

The first episode ran on Monday night, and literally had me pinned to the sofa. They took Christian, a student of modern German literature in Munich, a fan of Goethe and opera, a wearer of grey flannel ties and a carrier of a shapeless leather satchel, and put him in the capable hands of three hiphoppers. But first we saw him chatting to his professor and his old friend Sister Gertraude (a nun), and singing German folk songs over red wine with his mates.

The transformation itself was slightly tortuous. Christian's morph into CrissGO took a lot of effort - after all, he had to learn the sexist, homophobic lyrics of his rap, practice swearing and posturing, and get his hair cut and proper pimp-style facial hair going. They whisked him around Cologne and Bonn from clubs to brothels to recording studios, before making him move into a scuzzy Kreuzberg flat with two genuine rappers. (The charming official Berlin tourism site says of Kreuzberg: "The coexistence of a variegated palette of cultures is this quarter's distinguishing characteristic.")

Once in Berlin, they really rolled out the telegenic deutsch-rap stars - Samy Deluxe (rather sheepish), Lady Bitch Ray (who had trouble hiding her intelligence), and the head of the local gang, the 36 Boys. CrissGO even got a nice 36 Boys hoodie - my young man warned him from the sofa not to venture into Neukölln with it on. In the end everyone loved and respected him and he even managed to sort of pass the bluff test - the experts picked him out but said he was no worse than most of the other wannabes in the hiphop battle they staged.

As you might expect, this was all hugely entertaining. CrissGO kept a video diary, in which he compared his hiphop tutors to characters in German literature, secretly quaffing red wine and "good whisky" in his scuzzy bedroom. There were quite a few gratuitous Goethe quotes thrown in here and there too. On the other side, the gangsta world was incredibly sanitised; not a single drug in sight, no violence, just a modicum of scuzz. The wannabe hiphoppers I used to know certainly lived in much greater self-imposed squalor than the RTL2 version. We speculated on how much everyone had been paid, but it was clear that all concerned had done much more than scoot round with the hoover before the camera team arrived.

My only concern is the damage the show may do to German Studies. After the recent news that only 610 students signed up for German degrees at UK universities last year, I can't help but think that the subject needs a bit of a boost in the public eye. Christian just didn't make it look sexy - although his professor did appear to cop a feel of Lady Bitch Ray at one point. German literature is now firmly established in the minds of thousands of viewers as the benign antithesis of dark, dangerous ghetto rap. Just take a look at the before and after photos for visual proof. Talk about irresponsible programming - RTL2 has no doubt scared off a whole generation of would-be Germanists. I shall be launching a complaint forthwith - as soon as I've finished reading my annotated Urfaust and indulged in a quick round of fencing and hot mead with the rest of the Burschenschaft.

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