Many of my readers are American, and most, if not all, of those American readers are Democrat-voting liberals. In my Facebook feed too I get a fair number of anti-Trump, anti-Republican memes popping up. Fair enough. However, I recently read a piece in The Guardian* in which a reporter went to East Bangor PA to speak to Trump supporters. He found support still strong, and an irritation about the media focus on the Russia connection. Their attitude seemed to be to the effect: “Who cares if there was some cheating – it made sure that a bigger criminal didn’t get into the White House.” A direct quote from the article says that the Trump supporters feel this this:
Congress and the justice department are wasting millions of dollars on a politically motivated witch hunt to destroy the president, they feel, after the same establishment gave a pass to the alleged crimes of Clinton and Obama.
Now, what I want to know from my American liberal friends is this. What are the “alleged crimes” of Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama? And please, don’t say “None – it’s all fake news made up by the other side!” The phrase “fake news” has now been totally devalued by its constant use by both sides in the USA. What I would like you to do, if you can spare me the effort, is firstly to look at reputable news sources in the US (and maybe outside it to, if you know any good ones) and tell me honestly (i.e. no matter whether you believe the allegations or not) what these allegations are. Secondly is there, in any of these questions, the possibility that there is a case to answer. I don’t want to know whether you believe the allegations, or consider them spurious or vexatious, I want to know if a case could be made, even if refuting the case would be fairly simple.
I know it would be difficult for you to feel that you were, in any way, tarnishing the name of Hilary Clinton or, especially, Barack Obama who was, after all, one of the best front guys the US has ever had for ‘world opinion’. What I wish is to be able to form a cogent and fair picture.
Donald Trump may be making all the headlines over on Planet America**, but back here on earth the really important issue is that the 13th Doctor Who (actually the number itself is controversial, given the way the Whoniverse*** has been depicted over the years) will be female. Actor Jodie Whittaker will be the next regeneration of BBC Television’s most enduring sci-fi hero. The first twelve (does any Whovian*** remember that the Doctor was only supposed to have twelve regenerations?) were all played by men. Some of these men have given us Doctor Who as a larger-than-life character – Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker. Some of them have been plain damned charismatic – David Tennant, Peter Capaldi. Paul McGann even contrived to make him rather sexy.
The selection of a female actor to play the character has been hailed as a brave move, a step forward, a welcome break with the phallocentric patriarchy, etc. etc. etc. It didn’t take long for my Twitter feed to fill up with tweets under #DoctorWho13 saying “I can’t wait to bathe in misogynistic tears…” and the like – the irony being that they seemed to outnumber complaints by about 40 to 1, and at least half the complaints were from women. So basically you could have only filled an eyebath with the ‘misogynistic tears’. I would like to make a couple of observations, to get this into proportion.
Firstly, there is no shortage of female protagonists in televison sci-fi, mainly in American imports. The trend began in 1995 with the casting of Kate Mulgrew as Captain Kathryn Janeway in Star Trek: Voyager. More recently we have seen series such as Orphan Black and Dark Matter, where there is a female protagonist. Meanwhile, in the UK, although we have not produced much in the way of female-led sci-fi – or sci-fi at all, for that matter – our police drama has featured female leads with increasing regularity. Doctor Who does not exist in a broadcast vacuum, therefore, and hailing the first female protagonist in this particular show strikes me (for all my feminist credentials) as being hyperbole.
Secondly, what is actually brave about the decision is that it ditches a successful formula. Over the years we have seen the male Doctor’s companion develop from the original doctor’s teenage-angst-ridden granddaughter, Susan Foreman, through a handful of young women who did a good line in going “Eek!” whenever an ugly alien appeared, through a knife-wielding primitive (Leela), through an investigative journalist (Sarah Jane Smith) who ended up with her own spin-off series, through a Doc-Marten-wearing teenager who liked to blow things up (Ace), to a whole series of companions whose roles were dynamic and often served as a kind of bolt-on human conscience to the alien Doctor. With the introduction of a female doctor, the whole formula has to be re-thought. As a matter of fact, I am looking forward to seeing the result, to seeing whether a new formula can be found that isn’t simply a flipping of the male/female template. Doctor Who has worked very well when the format has been disrupted, as in the episode Blink, in which the Doctor and his companion hardly featured, and the bulk of the drama was left in the hands of two characters who only appeared in that single episode.
So bring it on.
Oh, by the way, mixed in with all those tweets was a fair proportion saying “Now for 007”. No. Please. Let’s just close the whole James Bond franchise. Some people say that Doctor Who is worn out. By comparison, the Bond franchise is totally threadbare. Enough!
Meanwhile I’ve been having a retrospective binge with a box-set of The Sopranos.
I know it’s a bit old hat now, as the series finished in the early 2000s, but if you haven’t caught this series, then I beg you to indulge yourselves. It is magnificent television.
It has, of course, attracted a fair share of criticism. It is very violent, beatings and murder being routine. It is predicated on a male-dominated culture – paradoxically that gives a chance for the female characters to shine, and whilst none of them break the male stranglehold, nor do they try to, the strength of the roles is such that the dynamism and tension never lets up. The characters in general are based very firmly on Italian-American stereotypes. All the gestures are there, Neapolitan oaths and expressions are thrown into modern American-English conversations, the sharp suits and the criminality of course are there.
However, the stereotypes in The Sopranos work as a dramatic device. The settings and the family relationships (ah, family! – yet another Italian-American stereotype) are exactly the same as those that make soap operas and domestic sitcoms work. And indeed the presence of such notable elements of soap and sitcom make the series compulsive watching. Unattractive though the characters are – deceitful, dishonest, mendacious, sybaritic, promiscuous, gluttonous, violent to the point of psychopathy – the viewer is made to care about them. Christopher, Tony Soprano’s inept but ambitious ‘nephew’, battles with heroin addiction, and we actually want him to pull through.
Some of the characters are engaging, if only for their awfulness. The psychopathic Paulie brings the show to life whenever he walks on. Tony’s self-pitying, ageing mother, to whom absolutely everything that happens or is said is a direct attack on her; Bobby, the quiet, almost gentle ‘minder’ for Uncle Junior; Doctor Jennifer Melfi, the show’s law-abiding liberal conscience; Anthony Jr. – where did they find an actor who could develop from a child to a young man without shifting his sullen, deadpan expression?
Not only does the show borrow tropes from the sitcom, it is actually funny from time to time. Sometimes the comedy is decidedly black. In rehab, Christopher finds a ‘buddy’ and they help each other through to sobriety. Back out in the world, the relationship continues, but when the buddy becomes addicted to gambling, joins a ‘family’ poker game, and ends up owing thousands of dollars to them, Christopher has him beaten up, and takes his sports car as part compensation – it’s just the way things are done in mob culture – but that doesn’t stop him driving the buddy to meet his sponsor, in the acquired sports car, and dropping him off with comradely words and hopes for his recovery. The funniest episode is where Christopher and Paulie get lost in a snow-filled wood for a long, cold night. To give you some idea of how funny, you could have written the same scene for Del Boy and Rodney from Only Fools and Horses.
The stereotypes are used in a self-referential way. The characters, whilst playing them up, complain about the public attitude to Italian-Americans. there is a scene where Tony Soprano, whilst on a golf course with a group of WASPs, gets frustrated at the constant questioning about how true to life The Godfather or Goodfellas were.
If you didn’t catch The Sopranos while it was being shown, make a point of seeing it now. Tony Soprano is the key to the whole show, and James Gandolfini played him with constant brilliance. The late actor is greatly missed. And he has a tenuous link to Doctor Who. Check out this encounter between ‘Malcolm Tucker’ and ‘General Flintstone’ in In The Loop.
*The Guardian is a liberal, centre-left newspaper in the UK with a reputation for reporting news fairly. My right-of-centre friends may say that statement is an oxymoron, but I would say that although the paper’s opinion columns may have a liberal bias, they have a reputation for fairness in their factual news items. I am not in a position, however, to comment on the editorial selection of news items – what is given priority, what is included, what is dropped or ignored. All news, from whatever source no matter what its supposed or real political or cultural bias, is narrated rather than reported.
** His latest coup de théatre being to suggest he could pardon himself if impeached. No. He should read Article 2, Section 2, Clause 1 of the Constitution of the United States, and that would set him straight.
*** Whoniverse and Whovian. Do I really have to explain?