"Art is not a mirror with which to reflect the world; it is a hammer with which to shape it"

Thursday, 26 June 2008


Here’s some general random thoughts I’ve had which I haven’t had a chance to share… if they get too long I’ll do second post, if and when… and then it’ll look as if I’m actually posting more than I actually am… Cunning, heh?

As it has been made abundantly clear antanddec did not know anything about the massive dodginess (which some have suggested could be referred to as fraud- though not I as it hasn’t been to court, nobody has been charged and I don’t want to be sued for libel!) perpetrated on various shows that they presented and executive produced through their own production company and through which millions of pounds were erroneously expropriated of people for competitions they had no chance of winning (because they rang too late and weren’t entered; weren’t pretty enough to appear on television or just weren’t living near enough to London). Antanddec knew nothing about any of it. This, they have made ‘clear as an unmuddied lake’. We have no reason to disbelieve them.

So, the questions I found ran through my head and find hard to answer are…
• Are they fit to run a company?
• Should they have been paying a little more attention?
• Should they actually have executive producer credits? What do they do to earn such?
• Should they hire new company accountants?
• Are they really androids created by some evil genius to make the television audience stupider?

The Ruby In The Smoke
The other night I managed to catch the repeat of the television adaptation of Philip Pullman’s Victorian England set The Ruby In The Smoke (which I haven’t read and probably won’t) because they cancelled the football (and there was much rejoicing across the land- well- from me at any rate) and I was reminded of several things that I thought strange the first time around. I must make clear that it is a likable enough romp though for whom I’m not entirely sure: skewed too young for adults yet too dark, violent and mired in opium for children. However, to the peculiarities…

Firstly Peculiarity I had to scratch my head when on two separate occasions characters were twice described so as to be pointed out… firstly, when the villainous Mrs Holland warns her underling “Didn’t you know there was a stabbing in Kent this morning; only eye-witness is in shock, poor soul; ain’t breathed a word but one nod from me and she’ll swear it was a sharp young feller in a check suit and a bowler hat she saw standing over the body with a knife in his hand.” Peculiarly, Mrs Holland apparently didn’t notice the more salient point in this Victorian setting might have been that the chap was black. Alright, fine, thinks I, this must surely have been an oversight. But lo, not 10 minutes later, Miss Sally Lockhart describes the self-same miscreant (who has just stolen her note-book) as not being Mrs Holland but rather “No, it was a man, a Spiv*.” Again, she neglects to mention that he’s black. This second omission seemed more than mere coincidence. I’m perfectly happy with and supportive of colour-blind casting but there are some problems when this is applied to various period settings. In the UK, presently, the non-white population numbers between 5 and 10% depending on to whom you listen, what definitions they’re using and what point they’re trying to prove. In The Bill they still give the IC code to aid identification. Only recently I heard a historian say that Victorian England only had about 10-20,000 non-white people which in a population of around 20 million (0.05-0.10%)- works out as about 1 in 1-2,000- I realise the percentages were higher in places like London, Liverpool and Bristol but still hardly high enough to become negligible. You’d have thought that some Victorians (even in fictional TV programmes) would have thought that being non-white would have been worth mentioning. It is the unusual that people recall and mention when describing individuals, events, places or items: if I was mugged by a three-armed, cycloptic unidexter my description to police would probably not focus on his blue jeans and tidy hair. It just seems odd, given the number of throat-slashings and the later propounding of the benefits of opium, that there should be such apparent squeamishness about this particular element. Left me intrigued but is only a minor thing- and I sincerely hope doesn't come across as being racist.

Second Peculiarity. Something that actually strikes me as of far greater importance is the treatment of class. Ruby In The Smoke was a story about a trio of arty, attractive, well-scrubbed, well-educated, upper-middle-class dilettantes (Sally, a roving something-or-other of military background; an Oxbridge-educated photographic dabbler and his actress sister**) who struggle against evil, ignorant, ugly***, dirty working class types possessed of nothing more than animal cunning- with the only good working class types portrayed being the sort of typical forelock-tugging ‘noble savages’ so beloved of Victorian melodrama who tend to die nobly so the beautiful people may live. Assuming this is accurate to Pullman’s novel- isn’t it curious that while he thinks religion is evil and divisive he actively promotes an upper-middle-class, (bourgeois) view of class that is no further advanced than that of the world of Brief Encounter?

Third Peculiarity. At the end of the piece the main villain explained their part of the plot and recounted a back-story that would presumably make them seem moderately sympathetic (too little, too late) and then a further previously unseen, only mentioned a couple of times, villain popped up to describe his bit of plot which seemed almost unrelated to the rest of the story. This particular villain was Sino-Dutch… and presumably in the running for the Fu Manchu award for most culturally stereotyped villain!

Fourth (Minor) Peculiarity. The explanatory voice-over, though sparingly used, was just annoying… as people insist on telling me… ‘show, don’t tell’.

However, I’m not sure where the fault for any of this lies. I checked the writer (Adrian Hodges) on imdb and found he has a nigh on impeccable CV (including Heaven On Earth which I thought most excellent and which is criminally unavailable on DVD). Maybe there was some dabbling from others or maybe the novel’s ‘problematic’ to start with but something went slightly skew-whiff at some point. Answers on a postcard. But it enjoyably passed 90 minutes… and that’s what counts…

Now from the deep and meaningful to the shallow and pointless…

The Cherry & Whites
Isn’t it time to rid ourselves of the farrago of the Rugby play-offs? Ridiculous, stupid and patently unfair. Rugby now works like this: after a season of playing the Premiership, the Cherry & Whites come top of the Guinness Premiership and, instead of getting a trophy, they get to do an end-of-season play-off mini-championship tournament in which they loose. This hasn’t happened every year- but it has happened three times in the eight years since its implementation… and it’s getting silly. I’d like to make abundantly clear that I do not actually understand the rules of the game, if indeed there are any, but if it’s on TV I’ll try and catch it. And I’d rather like my team to win- especially when they’ve won.

…and that is the end of today’s miscellaneous ramblings. Take care you groovy-funkers!

*Did Spivs exist at this time- according to the BBC’s own Balderdash & Piffle… no! Didn’t arrive until at least the first decade of the Twentieth Century.
**It was ignored that at this time ‘jobbing actress’ was near-synonymous for ‘prostitute’.
***Don’t you just love the classic conflation of ugly and villainous?


Tom said...

I didn't mind Ruby In The Smoke - it was all pretty harmless. What bemused me was the climax where Sally Lockhart solves the case by inhaling opium. It just seemed, I don't know, like a real cop-out.

I know what you mean about the Premiership playoffs - I'd be more upset if I didn't support Wasps but it has served them quite well so I'm not going to complain too loudly.

Jon Peacey said...

I thought it was 'mostly harmless' but I get fed up with the constant stream of monied middle-class people who parade across my screen particularly given the negative image given to the 'lower orders'. The climax was made far more bemusing because it was entirely unecessary: they'd had the ruby in their possession for half the running time! Just nobody had gotten round to mentioning it- very strange!

Wasps... grrr! ;)