Wednesday, September 08, 2021
Tuesday, September 07, 2021
It is funny how the mind works.
Tuesday, August 31, 2021
John Abbot must be in his seventies by now. In his youth he reportedly played Snoopy on the Edinburgh Fringe. But for four weeks in 1977 we knew him as the Nice One On The Lighthouse.The Lighthouse is called Fang Rock. It is populated entirely by stock characters who are wiped out by a giant luminous brussel sprout at the rate of 1.75 per episode. There is an Old Set In His Ways Lighthouse Keeper and a Middle Aged and More Up To Date Lighthouse Keeper. The latter doesn't last ten minutes into Episode One.
In Episode Two Central Casting supplies a fresh boatload of victims: otherwise the story would have been very short. There is a Greedy Financier, a Corrupt MP and a Posh Lady Who Keeps Fainting. In Episode Three, Palmerdale, the nasty rich guy, tries to bribe Vince to send a message about a shady stock deal to the mainland on the lighthouse's morse code transmitter. "A hundred pound!" exclaims Vince. "That be a fortune!" Palmerdale becomes the Monster's fourth victim almost immediately and Vince burns the money because he is afraid he'll be accused of murdering him. In Episode Four, the monster offs Vince as well.
Abbot spends the rest of his career playing rolls like Estate Agent, Lawyer, Mouth Organist and Verger. Probably getting regular bit parts on TV is a good gig for an actor; very likely he doesn't think of Vince as anything other than a job of work he did a very long time ago. But Doctor Who and its fans go on and on forever. Someday we will hear that the guy who played the nice one on the lighthouse has died, and a few thousand of us will think of that day as one thinks of a day on which we did something slightly unusual. Fifty years from now someone who thinks of the Twenty Ninth Doctor as their Doctor will decide to watch the one where the one with the scarf goes to the lighthouse and will feel ever so slightly sad when the giant Brussels sprout kills Vince Hawkins.
Acting is an odd job: fandom is an odd hobby.
Season 14 of Doctor Who came to an end in April, 1977. Season 15 began the following September. On May 25, a new space fantasy movie was released in the U.S.A. It would not arrive in the UK until the day after Boxing Day, but the comics, novels, picture cards and breakfast cereals were already much in evidence. Doctor Who knew that it couldn't compete.
Deadly Assassin and Talons of Weng Chiang wanted to be exceptional: interrogating and deconstructing the show itself; embracing the idea of Time Travel and melodrama like they had never been embraced before. Horror of Fang Rock wants to be just good enough.
Fans are always dividing things into Eras. Talons of Weng-Chiang brought the Hinchcliffe Era to an end and Horror of Fang Rock inaugurated the Williams Era. And it is entirely true that between Season 14 and Season 15 Phillip Hinchcliffe stepped down as producer, and Graham Williams took over. But Producers didn't have as much power and influence as Show Runners do today; and script editor Robert Holmes would hang on for three more stories.
Season 14 ended with a Victorian costume drama; Season 15 opens with an Edwardian costume drama. Season 14 was full of pastiche horror; Season 15 opens with a spooky gothic spine chiller. The lighthouse is as emphatically shrouded in fog as the streets of London were. No-one ever suggested giving Col. Skinsale his own series, but you could imagine him in the club with Dr Litefoot, swapping tales of China and India and being patronising about the natives. Horror of Fang Rock didn't feel like a new era: it felt like business as usual.
Although it is full of stock characters and stereotypes, Fang Rock is not doing conscious literary pastiche in the way that Weng Chiang was. There is no particular "Edwardian Lighthouse Keeper" genre to draw on. If anything, it falls back on the venerable Who format of "aliens besieging a base". Everyone dies by the end of Episode Four: this is in fact the only story in which the Doctor fails to save anyone at all. No-one seems very bothered. The Doctor makes a quick joke about Louise Jameson's contact lenses, quotes an obscure poem that no-one is likely to have read, and hops into the TARDIS for next week's romp.
Doctor Who is now Tom Baker's show, and he knows it. This is his fourth season, and he has already clocked up more screen time than Matt Smith or Peter Capaldi would. He is slowly morphing from the Shakespearean One to the Alien One; the Callous One; and indeed the Insufferable One. Terrance Dicks's script does not give him very much; but he does a great deal with what he's given. He turns an innocent line like "I don't know what the truth is yet" back on itself by adding a little snarl around the word "yet". He makes much use of his trademark device of delivering lines in a convincingly inappropriate tone of voice. He exclaims "We haven't been introduced!" as if it were a life and death crisis; but announces "The lighthouse is under attack and by morning we might all be dead" with a silly grin on his face. When old Reuben ("'t'aint natural!") says that this new-fangled wireless won't bring middle-aged Ben back to life the Doctor responds "No!" just a shade too emphatically; raising his eyebrows and widening his eyes. When Reuben, insinuating that it was the Doctor who murdered Ben, says "I knows what I knows and I thinks what I thinks" the Doctor responds with the single word "Incontrovertible!" as if Reuben has just had a clever scientific insight.
It is this Doctor, smug but likeable, who won our devotion, who turned Doctor Who from a TV show into a religion. We felt sure that he would confide in us, as he does with Leela; not patronise us and ignore us, as he does with Reuben. We wished we could be as witty and supercilious to all the bullies and P.E. teachers in the world as the Doctor is to superstitious old duffers who prefer oil lamps to electricity.
Enjoy it while you can: soon it will be buried beneath a stream of weak jokes and jelly babies.
From Ian and Barbara to Harry and Sarah-Jane, the Doctor's companions had always been our near-contemporaries, wrenched from their proper contexts, but acting as our anchor-points and avatars. Doctor Who was about normal people taken to unusual times and places. Horror of Fang Rock lacks any contemporary viewpoint. Seven Edwardian stereotypes go through their paces, while two alien outsiders stand apart. The Doctor and Leela feel increasingly like Sapphire and Steel: visitors from a different world, not quite engaged with what is going on. Although he calls her "savage", Leela is treated almost as the Doctor's equal. The Doctor has knowledge that she doesn't have, but she has instinct which the Doctor respects. When Leela threatens to cut Palmerdale's heart out, we almost believe that she would -- and that the Doctor would let her. Leela is still a character -- recognisably the same young woman we met in Face of Evil and followed through Robots of Death and Talons of Weng Chiang. She has not yet been reduced to a pretty assistant with a dagger instead of a personality.
When Screamy Adelaide mentions that she consults astrologers, Leela says that she too used to believe in magic. "But the Doctor has taught me about Science. It is better to believe in Science." Leela's faith in the Doctor is almost superstitious: she thinks that they have nothing to fear from the alien murderer, because the Doctor is a Time Lord and the monster is not. She believes in him more than he believes in himself. But she can also stand up to him and puncture his pomposity as Sarah-Jane used to. "That's what I thought" she says "But of course I am only a savage!"
The Doctor's pomposity needs to be punctured from time to time: we can really only enjoy someone behaving awfully if there is someone to point out his awfulness. (We are licensed to enjoy Basil Fawlty's rage because we know he will end up with egg on his face.) That's why the Doctor needs to be paired with some sassy mortal: with a Sarah or a Leela or even a Jo. Much of the rest of the Baker era will descend into bickering between two insufferably arrogant ubermenschen -- and and even more insufferably arrogant robot dog.
The murderous Brussels sprout is eventually revealed to be a Rutan. Rutans have, in fact, been mentioned before: almost the only thing we know about the Sontarans is that they are engaged in a perpetual war against them. This is something of a watershed moment. When Dicks requires a rationale for the lighthouse monster, he doesn't go into folklore or literature, but to the series' own marginalia. Vanishingly few viewers in 1977 would have remembered the small print in the Time Warrior or the Sontaran Experiment, and nothing follows from it. But there is now a feeling, outside of fan fictions in mimeographed zines, that the show has a mythos -- or at least a body of old texts -- which are worth gesturing towards.
"What are you doing in this part of the galaxy?" asks the Doctor, as if intergalactic travel is about as remarkable as hitching a ride on a stage coach. Up to this point we've been watching a kind of low key nautical gothic -- Agatha Christie meets William Hope Hodgson. But this dialogue pulls us back into the realm of space opera; the realm, indeed, of Star Wars. Weng Chiang and Sutekh remained godlike even when they were revealed to "really" be time travelling war criminals and exiled aliens. The Beast of Fang Rock ceases to be beast-like and becomes merely an alien soldier. The Doctor spends the first three episodes convincing us that he is genuinely scared and genuinely worried: but as soon as he comes face to face with his adversary, he sets about relentlessly trivialising it. "I don't like your face"; "Reuben the Rutan"; "Oyster face". We are meant to think that he is being brave, or that he is carefully goading the creature into making an error: but in fact it has the effect of making the audience think that this baddie is really nothing to be too concerned about. We don't need to take the threat seriously if the Doctor doesn't.
The Doctor will rarely take anything seriously again.
Terrance Dicks knows how to construct a story. There is set-up and pay-off: characters do exposition without it being too obvious that exposition is what they are doing. ("So long as it isn't a hazard to navigation we don't have to bother with it" says Reuben, in case we were in any doubt as to what lighthouses are there for.) Everybody remembers the cliffhanger at the end of Episode Three: "I thought I'd locked the enemy out; instead, I've locked him in". But I preferred the end of Episode Two, however much it may reek of cheese. Palmerdale asserts that "absolutely nothing is going on" just as the set is plunged into darkness and someone off stage screams.
The characters are one dimensional, and it is impossible to care about the Palmerdale / Skinsale intrigue. But they are well enough drawn that it is possible to remember which is which, and to vaguely care as they queue up to fall into the Rutan's metaphorical jaws.
After three episodes build-up and a 100% casualty rate, the Doctor makes a plan and the plan works. The monster is scared of heat, and light; the Doctor can use diamonds to turn the lighthouse into a kind of laser. It would have helped if the fact that Palmerdale carries diamonds as "insurance" had been foreshadowed. Skinsale spends an inordinate amount of time rifling through his trousers to find them.
"The Doctor jerry rigs a doohickey and saves the day" feels like a cop-out, but in a sense the Doctor's whole rasion d'etre is to be a deus ex machina. The 21st century Doctor would have made the monster go away by thinking beautiful happy thoughts at it.
There was never any point in Doctor Who trying to be bigger of flashier than Star Wars, just as there is no point in the Doctor Who of today trying to be bigger and flashier than the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Horror of Fang Rock is small and cheap and just good enough. One senses that Terrence Dicks delivered the script with a resounding "will this do?". It tries to get by on charm; specifically, on Tom Baker's and Louise Jameson's charm. It very nearly succeeds.
Sunday, August 22, 2021
I wish I could say that in the context of a series of articles about Cancellation and Stuff You Can’t Say I deliberately wrote something a bit provocative, so that I could turn round an say “A-ha, you see, there you are, there really ARE things you can’t say.”
Or, more interestingly: “Actually, there is nothing you can’t say. I put some real hot-button stuff in my last essay and no-one batted an eye-lid”.
But I didn’t do it deliberately.
I mean, calling Richard Dawkins a cunt and generally swearing more than I usually do: yes, absolutely. I was using all the bad words I knew because I was writing about Stuff You Can’t Say. But the awful terrible no good bad footnote wasn’t like that. Not consciously, anyway. I have read enough Freud to know what a parapraxis is.
It was if anything more like that piece I wrote on Life of Brian in the middle of Mark’s Gospel. Midway through an essay about an essay about a nasty person saying nasty things about a particular subject that I have always avoided talking about, I thought “Oh, it is daft that I have always avoided saying what I honestly think about this particular subject” and wrote down very very quickly what I honestly thought.
Felt. What I honestly felt.
I suppose if anything I was making a joke against myself. "I’m very naive and out of the loop", I was saying. "I am old enough to not get this stuff but still young enough to think I ought to get it."
Who was it who said that as long as you think young people’s music is rubbish, you are still young: you only become old when you start to pretend not to understand it?
I used to be vaguely aware which teams were playing in the F.A Cup Final and the title of England’s song in Eurovision, even though I care less than nothing about either subject. Both events now pass by without my knowing that they are happening. I don’t even pretend that I know.
I hate what Chibnall has done with Doctor Who, but I know what he is doing and care enough to hate it. I dread the day when I will say “Oh, has there been a new series of Doctor Who? I used to watch that.” I sometimes wake up in a cold sweat realising that there are Tom Baker audios that I have not listened to.
And I am not even joking.
Or perhaps I am.
It is also literally true that in my head I always pronounce “Titans” to rhyme with “Mittens” and think that if a book is boring, it contains long “ers”. There is no point in writing and telling me that this is not right. I know this is not right. That’s why it is interesting and amusing.
I only know how to write in two modes: textual criticism and autobiography. I have never worked out how to write about things which never happened to people who never existed. I believe in Neil Gaiman and the power of stories and I remember when I used to believe in Joseph Campbell and the one story which is every story and I designed a quite good card game about stories (“with others”) and wasted a very large amount of my life using funny dice and little models to make up stories about dragons with my friends. Perhaps I spaffed my lifetime’s allocation of stories playing Pendragon at college. Perhaps I should have embraced it more deeply. Perhaps I should have become a pagan like Greg Stafford or a magician like Alan Moore.
One thing makes me think of something else. It’s the only way of writing I know.
“Do you like scones, Andrew?”
“I remember my Aunty Molly called them splits and served them with clotted cream instead of butter. She had a caravan at the end of her drive. We used to go there once a year. It was Cornwall, where King Arthur was born. My Mum wasn’t one for baking, but she bought tiny little current scones from the co-op sometimes. There is a strain of Sweet Pea named after my Aunty Molly.”
I used to search for happiness, I used to follow pleasure: but I found a door behind my mind and that’s the greatest treasure.
I sometimes have a notion of trying to write Harvey Pekar style autobiographical comic strips. I cannot draw but the internet makes montage and paste up and photostrips relatively easy. The one time I tried autobiographical fiction everyone was intensely embarrassed by it: but that was 30 years ago in Coventry, and besides, the cat is dead.
I will probably write more about children’s TV. I write about Doctor Who, of course: last year I found things to be said about Deadly Assassin and Talons of Weng Chiang which had never been said before. I don’t think anyone noticed. I would like to analyse Tom Baker’s fourth and fifth seasons, of course. But the world and his mother in law is already writing about Doctor Who and my remarks about Horror of Fang Rock would hardly be heard above the cacophony. There is a heck of a lot of other children’s TV on BritBox: Grange Hill and Supercar and Mr Benn. Catweazle is awfully good. It’s hardly the kind of thing which would sustain the sort of extreme textual analysis I subject Spider-Man and the Bible to; but I could see a way of writing an autobiographical critical psychodrama.
The Tomorrow People: Season 2, Episode 4:
The one in which our heroes are dressed up in baby-clothes and forced to fight in an arena by an insane Robot disguised as Caligula. I was nine when it first came out, and in Miss Griffiths; class. I remember what Miss Griffiths told us about Caligula....
But that sort of thing involves free writing; turning off the internal censor and saying what is in my head. Let go of your conscious self and act on instinct. Once I start to talk about the 1970s all sorts of other things are going to come tumbling out: Harold Wilson and Jimmy Savile and Our Vicar and Miss Beale and the Miner’s Strike and when I first realised Daddy was sick and what it is like to be systematically bullied for six years and Enoch Powell and the generation gap and football hooliganism and Punk and the Jubilee and C.N.D and South Africa and Mr Burnham's sex-ed lesson...and if I switch off my targeting computer and act on instinct I may find myself saying what I really think.
Feel. What I really feel.
“If people would only be frank and say what they really think!
“What they think they ought to think is bad enough, Lord knows; but what they really think would break up the whole show. Do you suppose it would be really agreeable if I were to come out now with what I really think?”
“Is it so very cynical?”
“Cynical! Who the dickens said it was cynical? I mean it wouldn’t be decent”.
"Oh come on. You positively enjoy standing on the metaphorical stage and metaphorically taking your metaphorical clothes off. That’s where this all started from."
I wonder if I will get letters telling me that this is the biggest load of self indulgent garbage they have ever read, or ones saying that this personal prose-poetry is my forte and I should expand it into a novel.
"Oh look, Andrew is having one of his bi-annual blog crises: he’ll be back to writing about continuity errors in 1970s Marvel before you know it."
I mean for goodness sake one person said they found one footnote slightly hurtful...
There is a scene in Grant Morrison’s Animal Man where
I am not going to write possibly touchy stuff on possibly touchy subjects any more but I am damn well going to tap out two thousand words writing about how I'm not writing about it.
A long time ago I was mugged by some Asian kids outside my house: I wrote about it on my blog precursor, mentioning that for a few weeks after the attack I looked at every Asian I met and wondered if they were the ones who had attacked me. I thought it was evident that I knew that this was a very silly thing to be thinking: that was the whole point of saying it. But sure enough I got a letter from an outraged person telling me firmly that I ought not to feel that way and explaining patiently that just because one individual Muslim was a petty thief that was no reason to think that all Muslims are petty thieves and my dark skinned neighbours were no more or less likely to attack me than the light skinned ones.
The Right talk about Virtue Signalling: people express liberal views, not because they believe in them, but because they want other people to think that they believe in them.
But there is another kind of signal: the endless searching of tea leaves and the endless casting of runes and the endless study of telegrams and tweets in the hope that you will find a word of secret significance that will reveal what is really going on.
We don’t have arguments: we have treasure hunts. Eventually, X marks the spot.
I honestly had not realised that the feelings which came out of my head when I wrote the Footnote were almost precisely word for word the credo of certain deeply unpleasant individuals that I absolutely don’t want to associate myself with.
I suppose if I periodically blurt out things which make me sound like a baddie I ought to entertain the possibility that I really am a baddie.
Becoming a militant Dawkinsian would be a bit obvious, but I could surprise everyone by becoming a Jain or a Christedelphian. Do elderly evangelicals ever embrace Islam?
I’m not going to do any of these things. I think that Bristol should get rid of Colston, American cops should stop killing black people, climate change is real, and we should have gender neutral loos. I am bad at remembering the right pronouns, but I try really really hard. I am not going to stop writing about politics for ever, but I have got some other projects I want to get stuck into for the foreseeable.
Or I might change my mind.
Stranger things have happened.
Monday, August 16, 2021
Saturday, August 14, 2021
Note: This essay contains several occurrence of a very strong racial slur.
Once upon a time, the three bold Gollywogs, Golly, Woggie, and Nigger decided to go for a walk on Bumblebee common. Golly wasn’t quite ready, so Woggie and Nigger said they would start off without him, and Golly would catch up with them as soon as he could. So off went Woggie and Nigger arm in arm, singing merrily their favourite song, which as you may have guessed was Ten Little Nigger Boys.”
There are people in this world who are so holy, so sanctified, so iconic that they are effectively beyond criticism.
To think a word against them is to abuse all their followers; their fan base; their compatriots.
Jesus Christ; the Prophet Mohammed; the Queen; Edward Colston.
And Enid Blyton.
The author of Noddy and the Magic Faraway Tree has been cancelled. And by cancelled, I mean “A small memorial has been erected near her place of birth.”
"Enid Blyton, Children’s Writer, Lived Here", it says.
Pretty shocking stuff.
I don’t know if America has an equivalent to the English system of Blue Plaques. They are small signs, attached to old buildings, that tell you that so-and-so, the inventor of such-and-such, lived here from such a date to such a date. Anyone can put a name plate on a property, and lots of people do, but the official Blue Plaques are surprisingly prestigious because English Heritage only puts up a limited number each year.
I have very mixed feelings about Blyton. I never read her stuff myself. I do have a vivid memory of being traumatised at nursery school when someone read us the one in which black people steal Noddy’s clothes and he has to crawl home in the nude. (Please tell me I didn’t dream that?) But I work in a library and I have noticed that a small number of her books—the Fives and the Sevens and the Jolly Hockey Sticks ones—are the kinds of books that children positively want to read. That counts for something.
Sometimes a reader—often an older lady—will take out a great pile of books, often crime stories and romances, and say “Oh, I know its all rubbish really”. I always reply “It is certainly not rubbish if you like reading it.” I am happy to say the same thing about lemonade and treasure maps. If kids like it, it must be the sort of thing that kids like, and being able to come up with the kind of things that kids like, and that kids carry on liking forty years after you died, is worth something. A great deal. You certainly deserve a plaque on the side of your house.
Unfortunately, English Heritage also has one of those newfangled websites, and on the website it gives a little more biographical information about the seven hundred celebrities whose houses have got little blue signs on them. Of Mrs Blyton it says:
“Blyton’s work has been criticised during her lifetime and after for its racism, xenophobia and lack of literary merit.”
And this is enough to make white people who liked the Secret Seven when they were nippers go into overdrive.
Lack of literary merit?
As well say that Jesus was gay or that one of the Prophet’s wives was a prostitute. If the Blytonians could declare a fatwa we can be sure they would.
The BBC recently launched a streaming service called Britbox.
It has all of Doctor Who; all of Blake’s Seven; very nearly all of Gerry Anderson; all of Sapphire and Steel, a decent chunk of the Avengers—and that’s without scratching the surface of dear, dear Sir Larry doing Shylock and dear, dear Sir Alec doing Malvolio and Our Friends In The North Revisited. There is no particular reason for me ever to leave the house again.
But this sort of thing comes with a cost. Do I, in fact, want to re-watch Grange Hill? Do I want to find out that the Tomorrow People consisted primarily of wooden acting (as in “they wouldn’t act”), cardboard sets, exposition to camera, plots which would make the worst Doctor Who writer cringe (along with a very trippy set of opening credits and a stonking theme tune, admittedly.)
I have always been the sort of person who would rather have the text than the memory of the text: I think that I am richer, not poorer, because my memories of Daddy reading Winnie-the-Pooh have largely been overwritten by dozens and dozens of re-readings of A.A Milne’s actual stories. But on the other paw, the reason I watch Star-Wars-Episode-Four-A-New-Hope a hundred times, and the Bad Batch at all, is because I want to drill through the text and get back to the thing I experienced on or about my twelfth birthday. I want to watch the film over and over but I want it to feel like it did when I had only seen it once.
This is, of course, impossible.
This is, I think, what people mean when they say that someone has “spoiled” Richard II by introducing tanks and army uniforms and black people. They say that they don’t like theatres “mucking about” with Shakespeare; they say they want his pure virgin words unsullied by some producer’s ideas. But what they really want is their memory of that one evening when they were young and in love and saw dear, dear, Sir Donald doing “this royal throne of kings” at Stratford. This is also true of people who think that Jodie Whittaker has spoiled Doctor Who and the European Union has spoiled bananas. I have spent 20 years making fun of the Star Wars fan who said that George Lucas had raped his childhood, but I completely understand what he meant.
I totally get that Enid Blyton is a totemic writer. I am not impressed with the people who take an instrumental view of fiction. I don’t think that Blyton is good because reading is virtuous and Blyton’s writing was an entry-level drug that got some kids hooked on classics. But I am very impressed with people who go as misty and gooey when they think of Kirrin Island and the Land of Magical Medicines as I do when I think of the Tatooine Cantina and the Hundred Acre Wood. That’s what stories are for.
Once you have thrown up a Colgate ring of confidence around your first reading, then any encounter with the actual text feels like a violation. People who believe that the Bible is the exact word of God have rarely read it. Sci-fi geeks are particularly prone to seeing critiques of venerable movies and comic books as vicious attacks on the core of their being. Normal people do it as well. People have been literally murdered for thinking that United (or Rovers) isn’t a particularly good football team. Maybe watching high budget fan-fic in which it turns out that Threepio was kit-built by Darth Vader really does feel like being sexually assaulted? Or maybe the fan in question only meant that Lucas had robbed and pillaged his childhood.
And so we cast our eyes to the heavens and cry out “I deny this reality!”
The Tomorrow People never did have bad acting and bad special effects. It had very good acting and very good special effects. It is just that your palette is not sufficiently attuned to appreciate them. Only initiates can see the value of the sacred text; if you are not an initiate, you shouldn’t be allowed to read it.
You may also, if you chose, go full Jeffcote on their arse.
“You can’t appreciate the very good special effects and the acting because THEY won’t let you. THEY have BRAINWASHED you into thinking that if it isn’t a late night Channel Four movie sub-titled in Latin then it isn’t proper literature. Even though no-one really likes that stuff. THEY are just jealous of our jet-packs. Or in this case, jaunting belts."
When the Hundred Acre Wood is under siege on moral or political grounds, the impetus to retreat from reality is even greater. If the Famous Five is racist, then it is not a good book. If the Famous Five is not a good book, then my memories of the Famous Five are inauthentic. But my memories are authentic; so it must be a good book; so it cannot be racist. Stop looting and pillaging my childhood.
You can do this in different ways. You can deny the tao. Racism and racist language are bad now but they were not bad in 1944 when the books were written.
*They were written in another time and were not inappropriate in any way, and should not be judged by today’s “standards”.
*Her work is a reflection of the life and times she grew up in. Her work should be left alone.
*You are judging these by today’s standards, they were written in a different era, we had vastly different standards back then.
You can appeal to that strange mental operation called “intention” and say that the text is not racist because the writer did not intend the text to be racist.
These people need to get off their high bloody horses and accept them for the innocent way that they were written. I am quite sure Enid Blyton would never even have thought of anything like that
* You can say that Enid Blyton’s books have some quality called “innocence” or that they came from “simpler times” and that this acts as a sort of literary fainites.
* Do not destroy children’s innocent pleasure in reading by putting a nasty spin on things.
* But let’s not forget, these were written for innocents.
You can launch a counter assault: people who say that this text is racist are puritans, or unemployed, or they are wasting their time on an essentially pointless activity.
*Media controlling these complaint Muppets!
*Get a life people & stop trying to change the past,
*No, people need to get a life.
*Where does this rubbish emanate from - the ‘do gooders’ who have nothing else to do than waste their and other peoples time.
*I wish the bloody do-gooders could find something useful to do instead of criticising dead people.
*Please woke folk, get over yourselves and find something more productive to do
You can claim—a very common one, this—that critics are finding only in the text what they bring to the text; that they, being mean spirited and hateful of literature, are combing the text in order to read things into it which aren’t there.
*You have to wonder about the minds that twist everything toward sexual innuendo—they live in a skewed world
*Everything is looked into under a magnifying glass for errors and negativity rather than just looking at the positives.
*If you have a twisted mind you can read anything you like into a story.
You can even claim that there is a secret agenda in play
* I think there is an agenda to kill imagination and creativity, magical wonder. I think they want us all to conform to one way of thinking.
But the most extreme argument is the most common one. It is a plea to disengage faculties. A faith-position which says that reading takes place in some kind of zen, sub-rational state. There is no sub-text. Three bold rag-dolls named after a racial slur do not imply anything about the writer’s attitude to race because books are not like that. Repeated appearances of dishonest gypsies does not in any way suggest that the writer thought that gypsies were, on the whole, dishonest. Stories are just stories and should be allowed to just be stories. Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream to toy-town.
*Let our children enjoy the stories as we did way back to our grandparents time.
*What nonsense is this?! They are books. Stories. Creative writing. Artistic endeavours are subjective and open to interpretation. We cannot judge past results by today’s standards. Let’s just judge for them for what they are. Which is, tools for escapism and to allow your imagination to free fall into a magical existence.
Interestingly, the Blytonians are very reluctant to make the two defences which would certainly hold water.
They could point out that words do, in fact, change their meanings. I doubt that when Enid Blyton wrote “Noddy and Big Ears were feeling gay...” or introduced two protagonists called (really) Fanny and Dick she was consciously inserting double entendres into a kids book. The words are dirty now, but they genuinely weren’t dirty then. Modern editions very sensibly change “gay” to “merry” and “Dick” to “Ricky”. (The counter-wokes scream about P.C Gonemad, but this is really no different from changing Autumn to Fall in the American edition, or Noddy to Oui-Oui in the French one.) Demonstrate to me that in 1968 the N-word was not current, or not a slur, and I shall concede the argument.
The Blytonians could also defend their scripture in the way I have defended Talons of Weng Chiang, Cerebus the Aardvark, Othello, the Ring Cycle and practically every other book that has ever been written in the history of the human race.
“Yes, these texts contains sinophobia, misogyny, anti-Semitism, and racism, but this does not make then irreducibly sinophobic, misogynistic, anti-semitic and racist texts. We can praise the story telling, but condemn the bad words. We can enjoy the tunes, but deplore the politics. They are good stories, which I loved and love, but which I can now see contain some bad attitudes (and, in fact, bad special effects). There is celebration of the story telling and condemnation of the bad attitudes.”
Why is this so hard?
The truth is, the Anti-Woke-Mob agree with the Woke Mob. If Enid Blyton really did refer to black people by using the n-word; if Talons of Weng Chiang really did contain vicious caricatures of Chinese people; and if Colston really had been a slaver then we really would have to burn their books and rip their statues down. If a modern author published a children’s book about Three Bold Wankers called Cock, Willy and Cuntty (who sang their favourite song, The Good Ship Venus) the Blytonians would immediately form a mob and start screaming “ban this evil filth now”. As Enid Blyton herself did in her lifetime.
Since they want to keep their books and their statues they have to deny reality. This racist thing is not racist. That space ship does not look like a cardboard cut-out. Slavery did not exist. Or if it did Colston was not a slaver. Or if he was, the slaves didn't mind. The least reward they will have is that the memory of Kirrin island and the Lab and Olde England shall remain ever clear and unstained in their heart and neither shall fade nor grow stale.
The Woke Mob and the Anti-Woke-Mob are in agreement. The two sides of every political debate always are. The pigs are always turning into men and the men are always turning into pigs. We are always meeting the enemy and it is always us.
Sunday, August 08, 2021
My loyal Patreon supporters are going to be reading my essays on Tom Baker's fourth season in advance. I have just sent them Horror of Fang Rock, which means there is probably no-way of avoiding watching Invisible Enemy.
If you want to read it right now, then you just have to pledge to pay me $1 (or more) each time I publish something. (Patreons are charge when the essays pop up here but not charged for the previews.)
It really is the best way of telling me that you don't think my writing sucks.
Give me $111 and essay and I'll have a look at some Big Finish Spinoffery
Give me $500 an essay and I'll give up work and pontificate full time. (A man can dream...)