by Catriona Mills

Articles in “Television”

It's Been A While Since I Ranted About A Lynx Ad

Posted 9 March 2009 in by Catriona

We’ve just seen the new Lynx advertisement, with the little claymation cave dwellers, one of whom finds an aerosol can of the new Lynx fragrance hidden inside a rock, or something along those lines.

(Of course, they may not have dwelt in caves. They may have been any other kind of early human, but mentioning cave dwellers allows me to fondly remember the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode of Cave Dwellers, otherwise known as Ator L’Invincible 2, which was not only hilarious—“It was the most unrealistic puppet he’d ever fought”—but also starred the genuinely charming Miles O’Keeffe. “How much O’Keeffe? Miles O’Keeffe!” But that’s beside the point.)

The ad. led to this conversation (and, yes, Nick is often this bombastic in the flesh):

NICK: Do my eyes deceive me?
ME: Sorry?
NICK: Was that actually a relatively inoffensive Lynx ad.?
ME: Well, sort of. It’s still kind of . . .
NICK: Yeah . . .
ME: But when they’re little claymation people, it’s less date-rapey.

So maybe that’s a lesson you can take on board, Lynx? Even someone who despises your advertisements as much as I do somehow finds them less offensive when the female protagonists look like animated Bratz dolls from the brief and ill-fated “Don’t We All Secretly Want A Caveman?” range.

I don’t know whether that’s an indictment of me or of you, actually.

Today's Random Quote from Monkey

Posted 24 February 2009 in by Catriona

Otherwise known as “Why We Sometimes Use Concrete Words As Well As Abstract Words” (from the episode “Pigsy, King and God”):

MONKEY: Well, you know I’m good at magicking things into other things, but not the other way around.

Well, okay then.

Today's Fun Quotes, Courtesy Of The Goodies

Posted 4 February 2009 in by Catriona

We’ve been watching the episode of The Goodies where they take over Pinewood Studios and promptly fire all of the recognised directors working for them (resulting in Tim, obviously, playing Lady Macbeth and turning up to the premiere in a fabulous black sequined dress).

But before that, Bill explains why he likes the old silent films, and actors such as Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton . . .

BILL: And Lavatory Meadows.
GRAHAM: Lavatory Meadows?
TIM: He means W. C. Fields.

And later, when they’re viewing the work of their original directors:

BILL: Whose is this one, then?
GRAHAM: Er… Russell.
TIM: Jane, Ken, or Bertrand?
BILL: Let’s hope it’s the one with the big knockers, eh?
TIM: Yeah. Bertrand.
GRAHAM: This is Ken Russell’s “Life Of Pablo Casals”.
BILL: Load of rubbish.
GRAHAM: Give it a chance.
BILL: Nope.

And that’s not even including the point at which Bill turns up at the premiere in the character of Richard Harris.

Not all the episodes have aged well, but I seriously love The Goodies when they’re on form.

See, This Is Why The West Wing Annoys Me

Posted 8 January 2009 in by Catriona

I mentioned in the last post on The West Wing and in the related comment thread that I have an antagonistic relationship with this programme.

That relationship came to a head last night, when we were watching the fifth episode of season two, “Initiation.”

This one, if it’s been a while since you’ve seen it, deals with two concurrent storylines: the first full day of work for Ainsley Hayes, the Republican hired to the White House Counsel’s Office, and the President’s clumsy self-sabotage of the first opportunity he’s had to have sex with his wife since he was shot.

Now, both storylines are nominally dealing with questions of female empowerment. In the case of the former, White House staffers are assuming that Ainsley—whom characters rapidly come to call “the Republican sex kitten,” just to make my argument nice and easy—was hired because she’s pretty. And in the case of the latter, the President ignores the First Lady’s cogent arguments about the fact that pioneering women are memorialised in far fewer numbers than pioneering men, which is, naturally enough, not a form of foreplay that suits Abby.

It’s just that they’re both dealt with in such daft ways.

Ainsley, for example, can’t actually fight her own battles. Sam Seaborn has to come along and beat up the two staffers who subject her to entirely unjustified harassment—well, metaphorically beat them up, by firing them. And, yes, he fires them because he’s their boss not because he’s a man, but then how is Ainsley ever going to work effectively when someone more powerful than her (in a power structure where boss equals man: less blonde, less pretty, and therefore less threatening when exercising power) always has to step in to, essentially, do what she has been asked to do?

Then, in the same storyline, there’s this constant reiteration that Ainsley, because she is attractive, must be stupid and ambitious. No, they really use the word “ambitious”—frequently—as though it’s a bad thing. Certainly, strong ambition without commensurate talent can lead to manipulative behaviour, I suppose—but to simply use the word “ambition” as though its connotations are immediately and inevitably negative is poor writing, and if it’s only used in a negative sense in association with women, it’s something else.

Then there’s the Jed and Abby subplot, which is rather adorable in parts: I am fond of Martin Sheen in this role, when he’s not being too folksy (folksy in the President of the United States often comes across as patronising, in this show).

But this subplot annoyed me, too. Yes, women are memorialised less frequently than men. No argument there, and no surprise either. But using the Statue of Liberty as a riposte, as the President does, is absurd: not only is the Statue of Liberty a French gift to the U.S., and therefore not representative of statues to pioneering American women, but it’s also not a statue of a real historical figure: it’s a representation of an abstract concept that happens to have been feminised in this one instance. And representing abstract concepts such as liberty or justice as women does not go far towards undercutting any real inequality between men and women.

But that’s fine. That’s not what really annoyed me, thought you wouldn’t know it from this post.

No, what really annoyed me was this exchange between Sam Seaborn and the White House Counsel Lionel Tribby, on the subject of Gilbert and Sullivan lyrics, which was a running gag through the entire episode:

SAM: I hate to stick my head in the lion’s mouth, but I gotta ask you, were you the recording secretary for the Princeton Gilbert and Sullivan Society for two years?
LIONEL: No, but then again, I’m not a woman.

Do you see why you annoy me, now, West Wing? What’s the point of ostensibly devoting an entire episode to subplots about the historical and contemporary mistreatment of professional women entirely on the basis of their gender when you can slip such absurd sexisms into dialogue and play them as jokes? Especially since it was Tribby who brought the Gilbert and Sullivan line up in the first place, so why is it now a feminised interest?

Quality of writing and subplotting is one thing, but this casual sexism says something else entirely, and it gets right up my nose.

Well, There's A Turn-Up For The Books, And No Mistake: Updated

Posted 3 January 2009 in by Catriona

The new Doctor has been announced.

And it’s not, as we thought it might be, Paterson Joseph. I’m a little disappointed about that, actually.

Instead, it’s . . . well, you can read for yourself right here at Outpost Gallifrey.

It’s not that it’s a spoiler, not now it’s been officially announced; I just think people might like to learn the news for themselves.

For much the same reason, I’m putting my response to this in the comments thread, rather than right here.

UPDATE: Courtesy of the BBC, here is an extended interview with Matt Smith, which the Beeb kindly posted on YouTube.

Seriously, he looks about twelve.

Advertising: My Nemesis

Posted 3 January 2009 in by Catriona

I’m sure it’s no surprise to anyone who has ever read this blog before that I find advertising always confusing and frequently grotesquely offensive.

But I’m seeing more and more ads at the moment, due to thoroughly enjoying watching Australia lose the cricket to South Africa: I normally mute or ignore ads where I can, but it’s never seemed worth it for a one-advertisement break between overs.

So I’ve been watching the smug prat in the Mitsubishi 4WD splattering inoffensive people going about their everyday business with water, mud, and dust, and then grinning about it.

And I’ve been watching the Johnny Walker ads, which always astonish me, because it seems as though their tagline is “It’s amazing what you’ll find yourself doing when you’re ratted.” (My favourite was the one they did a few years ago with Christopher Walken—I think it was Walken, anyway—where the subtext was, essentially, “I always need to get totally off my nut before I can bring myself to step on stage.”)

But the ones that are really driving me nuts at the moment are the Solo ads.

I know that Solo ads are dependent on a particular form of machismo: a selling position that relies on recognisable codes of homosociality and male physical strength, also seen in flavoured-milk and beer ads.

Fine: well and good. I have no problem with that, though it won’t make me buy low-fizz, lemon-flavoured soft drink.

But this new two-part one with the man making the $1000 bet with his mates? I can’t figure this one out. I simply can’t comprehend how it seems ideal to construct an ad around Andrew Symonds—who, let’s face it, is not the most advertising-friendly figure in Australian cricket at the moment—viciously body-checking a complete stranger and then smirking at him.

Add the fact that the complete stranger is cross-dressing, and you add a new, highly unpleasant subtext to the ad.

It seems to me at best thoroughly mean spirited and at worst open to accusations of something far more invidious and dangerous. It strikes me as doubly odd, since Solo ads used to be banal, rather than out-and-out awful.

Perhaps it’s the consequence of adding a cricketer to the mix? We can call it the Max Walker blood-diamond syndrome.

Television: A Clear And Present Danger

Posted 13 December 2008 in by Catriona

Warning: Do not combine soft drinks and DVDs of Bill Bailey’s stand-up routines.

I know—it sounds like the ideal way to spend a horrifically muggy Saturday night.

But be warned: you may well find yourself aspirating Schweppes Traditional Lime while listening to a description of football players as “vain, illiterate, millionaire would-be rapists whose job it is to shepherd a piece of leather into an outdoor cupboard.”

This has, of course, never happened to me.


So, Without Official Confirmation, It Looks As Though The Next Doctor . . .

Posted 23 November 2008 in by Catriona

May well be Paterson Joseph.

There’s no official notification and the blogosphere is divided on the apparent accidental reveal of Joseph as a frontrunner in this very short snippet of an interview (via IO9) with his Survivors co-star Phillip Rhys.

Me, I’m not quite certain that the interview is as revelatory as some people are thinking. It could be an accidental slip of the tongue or it could simply be a verbal shift away from a potentially damaging statement.

As to whether I’d like to see Paterson Joseph as the Doctor? Well, I think I would.

I’ve seen Joseph in a number of things, most recently as the punctuation-challenged Dr Rossi in the first episode of The Gil Mayo Mysteries: the one who had “No special relationship’s” written on his wall and to whom Gil said, “You’re really just making yourself look stupid.”

Before that, he was Lyndon, the world’s sexiest IT consultant, in Green Wing, which was a superb show and a charming role.

He was in Steven Moffat’s Jekyll, which is probably where the rumours started in the first place: anyone who has ever worked with Moffat is currently being linked to the role of the Doctor for 2010.

He’s been in Doctor Who itself, of course, as Rodrick in season one’s weepy two-parter “Bad Wolf” and “The Parting of the Ways.”

And before all of those, the role I genuinely adored and the reason why I’m not too worried about these rumours—he was the fabulous Marquis de Carabas in the BBC version of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere.

(And if you’ve neither read that book nor seen the television version, I can strongly recommend both of them—but if you’re thinking of catching up on what Joseph is capable of before this rumour is confirmed or denied, definitely track down the television serial.)

Gaiman has, apparently, said that he wrote the Marquis de Carabas’s character as William Hartnell’s Doctor, so the role is both unique and, simultaneously, a nice primer for perhaps playing the Doctor.

I don’t know if this rumour is true or not, but I’m not going to fret if it is.

The Marquis de Carabas knows everything. Knows everyone. Can go anywhere. Can do anything.

Just like the Doctor.

[An aside: Today might well, as Nick has just reminded me, be an auspicious day for an announcement of some kind. Today, forty-five years ago, Doctor Who premiered.]

Why I'm Shouting At The Television During The West Wing

Posted 12 November 2008 in by Catriona

The West Wing was always more Nick’s more cup of tea than mine—I have enjoyed it, but I rarely sought it out of my own volition.

But once we bought it on DVD—well, the first season, anyway—I both enjoyed it more and became intensely frustrated.

Oh, the frustration works on many levels. The writing is clever; the episode-level plotting is often brilliant. But there’s a strong sentimental streak, at times, and sentimentalism frequently frustrates me.

(Take the episode where C. J. falls in love with a Secret Service agent. Yes, he was charming. Yes, we all cried. But what kind of Secret Service agent doesn’t entirely clear a room when he’s aware of at least one person with a gun in the vicinity? But that’s beside the point.)

But you know what really drives me nuts about this programme? (Apart from the fact that this blog post is almost a decade too late?)

The gender politics.

It’s the gender politics that result in my shouting at the television during season one of The West Wing.

You know, I don’t need the President of the United States to be a woman to feel that our fifty percent of the world’s population is legitimately represented. I don’t. (On the same note, I have no stake in the debate as to whether the next actor to play the Doctor in Doctor Who should be a woman.)

No, my concern is largely with how the female characters on the show are presented.

(And I am excluding, except in the very broadest terms, Mrs Landingham—just because I love her.)

We were watching the second episode of season one, tonight—the one where the President’s doctor flies off to Jordan two weeks after his first child is born, and I think we all knew from the start where that was going: see my note about about sentimentality.

But halfway through the episode, I said to Nick, “This is the original Star Trek. It’s the original Star Trek, but in the White House.”

It’s not that the women aren’t President—that’s not what annoys me.

It’s that the women in the show are all—all of them, without exception that I can see—are in caretaker roles. They’re secretaries, by and large. Occasionally doctors, which I admit is a step up from nurses, as far as the gender politics of television are concerned.

I think this does shift, over the episodes. I seem to vaguely recall female generals—or someone in military uniform, anyway—in later debriefings.

But in the episodes I’ve been watching over the last few days, the women are all in caretaker roles.

And it’s not simply that.

Each one of these secretaries—to use that as a summary term—is also subject to the most egregious gender stereotypes.

They’re poor drivers. But then we all know that women don’t drive well.

They don’t understand sports. Women never understand sports. (And yet try getting Nick to wake up at 4 a.m. to watch Liverpool play A. C. Milan.)

They threaten to hit people with their shoes. Because women love shoes. And are incapable of rational debate. (Admittedly, my Aunt Dolly once hit her son-in-law with her high-heeled shoe. On the head. At his wedding. But there were mitigating circumstances. Allegedly.)

They’re easily distracted in the midst of work by photographs of babies.

Oh, is there any point continuing this list?

Yes, each of these points holds true for some woman at some point. I would imagine that they also hold true for a large number of men, as well.

But when the men are complex, distinct characters and the women are all semi-hysterical, easily distracted caregivers, then the distinction does rather jump out at you.

I don’t know if this pattern holds true in Aaron Sorkin’s other work—I don’t think I’ve ever consciously watched anything else he’s written (since his work is generally not in genres in which I am particularly interested).

But it is ensuring that there’s much shouting at the television in this house while we’re watching The West Wing.

My Solipsistic Take on the Doctor Who News

Posted 30 October 2008 in by Catriona

I’ve been marking for a week, and am still marking frantically before my next pile of assessment comes in next week, and cruising on the blog a little (thanks to unusually strange conversations and some pretty spring flowers), and I thought, “Do I really want to delve into the fact that David Tennant is leaving Doctor Who after next season?

Then I remembered who I actually am and how much of this blog is actually devoted to Doctor Who and I thought, “Yes. Yes, I do.”

I don’t, though. Not really.

Because this is a potentially divisive issue and I don’t want to tread on any fan toes.

Now, I’m a Doctor Who fan from way back; I’ve said that before, and I’m saying it again, because I’ve seen many Doctors come and go over the years.

And I liked all of them. Yes, even Colin Baker: I didn’t entirely appreciate the way in which the show shifted in that era, I really despised Peri and Mel, and I wasn’t terribly fond of the “Trial of a Time Lord” extended storyline. But I could appreciate how difficult it must have been to play the Doctor at a time when the BBC was uncertain about the show, including an eighteen-month hiatus from production.

I eventually liked Peter Davison, though it took repeats to make me appreciate him: in 1981, I was too devastated by the regeneration of the fourth Doctor to really enjoy the fifth incarnation. But by the time the ABC started showing repeats, I was hooked: I loved, particularly, the way in which this Doctor was analogous to the cool older brother with a driver’s license and the way in which the series showed, for the first time since William Hartnell, the interior life of the TARDIS.

I even liked Paul McGann, despite the fact that I disliked, with a fierce intensity that has lessened not a jot over the years, the liberties the telemovie took with a beloved programme: Eric Roberts as the Master? The suggestion that the Doctor was half human? The seventh Doctor dying from a gunshot wound? The Doctor snogging his companion? (Sigh. It was a more innocent time, was 1996). Oh, the pain will never lessen.

(Admittedly, even some of the Doctors I loved I also disliked at times. The seventh Doctor’s appalling enunciation and tendency to gurn in moments of high stress still irritate me. But balanced against the sheer delightfulness of the “Professor” and the glory of some of those episodes, they seem small problems.)

Bear with me: I do have a point here.

I like David Tennant. I always have. True, I don’t always like the way in which this incarnation has been presented: the implacability in some cruel situations and the occasional near-hysterical joy in chaos have made me wonder where this Doctor is going, whether he’s cruising for a fall or, like Hamlet, pretending to be mad in order to hide the fact that he is, in fact, completely insane.

But I like him. And I will be sorry to see him go.

But this is Doctor Who.

The longevity of this show comes down, in the end, to the idea of regeneration: once you induce audiences to acknowledge that the same character can be played by vastly different actors, then a show can run for as long as the acting and script-writing remain engaging.

(That conclusion requires that we all forget about “Time Lash,” for the time being.)

We all accepted the idea of regeneration in the original series. Sure, some regenerations were harder to accept than others, but even then it was a matter of shouting at the television, “Stop going wavery! You can survive a forty-foot drop from a radio telescope, you wimp! Dammit, what do you mean, ‘It’s the end’? Just stop regenerating!”

It wasn’t a disbelief in the essential fact of regeneration.

But I’m not convinced that the new audiences that this version of Doctor Who has attracted are entirely happy with the idea of regeneration. As I was saying in a discussion with Wendy over at The Spiralling Shape, I’m seeing many comments online along the lines of “Well, the show’s jumped the shark. I’ll never watch it again.”

But if the Doctor doesn’t regenerate, the entire show is at risk.

Russell T. Davies made a bold decision in bringing Christopher Eccleston in as the ninth Doctor, knowing that he would only remain a year. Even then, I recall much discussion suggesting that Eccleston had misrepresented his willingness to remain with the show, because no showrunner would have hired an actor for a single series of a long-awaited return.

But it was a good decision: a fragile, manic, appealing Doctor who regenerates almost immediately? I can’t think of a better way to foreground the nature of the programme.

This, though, is the real test. Tennant is dearly beloved as the tenth Doctor, and anyone filling his shoes has a difficult task ahead of them. There’ll be no shortage of willing aspirants, but the real concern here is with the fans.

The fans have to accept regeneration.

I don’t mean to sound dogmatic on the subject, and I know a lot of the cyber-distress at this point is shock and dismay at losing a favourite Doctor. I sympathise with that; I’m shocked, too. But I’m sticking with that main point.

We have to accept regeneration.

If we ignore the Doctor’s unique lifespan and the ways in which his physiognomy works to extend his life, then we’re inevitably shortening the lifespan of the programme as a whole.

Why I'm Loving True Blood: Part Two

Posted 29 October 2008 in by Catriona

From tonight’s episode of True Blood, the neatest encapsulation of one reason why I love this show, in a conversation between a young boy from Louisiana and Vampire Bill about why the latter can’t eat ice cream.

BILL: You could say I’m . . . lactose intolerant.
SMALL BOY: Just like my Aunt Fern, ‘cept she can’t tolerate Mexicans.

In context, that’s both as offensive as it sounds . . . and not.

Really, you have to watch the show.

Why I'm Loving True Blood

Posted 22 October 2008 in by Catriona

I’ve never read any of Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse Mysteries (though I might now, if I can ever find a bookshop that stocks the first volume, rather than just, say, volumes three and seven), but I am loving the Alan Ball adaptation currently screening on HBO.

Loving it.

I made something of a parade in the early days of the blog of my general distaste for vampire-themed fiction—and then promptly had to eat my words when I looked at my copies of Hellsing (not Van Hellsing, but the different and vastly superior Japanese anime), Blade, Buffy and Angel, and . . . well, that’s sufficient, I think (and that’s only the DVDs).

But my essential point remains valid: I am not a vampire groupie. Vampires are prevalent enough in popular culture that it would be a miracle if absolutely everything written about them was rubbish, but much of it, frankly, is.

But not True Blood. And my thorough enjoyment of it can only be efficiently expressed in list form.

1. It’s an HBO programme. The vast majority of really superb American television drama in the last decade has been developed for premium cable: Dexter on Showtime, The Sopranos, Deadwood, and Six Feet Under for HBO.

I was never a fan of Six Feet Under, though I’m tempted to catch up on DVD, now I see what Alan Ball can do with vampires. But I adored Deadwood—I bought it for my brother for Christmas, figuring the violence and swearing was his cup of tea. He bullied me into watching it with him, I fell desperately in love with it, and then did my best to force everyone I knew to watch it, though some really didn’t take to it.

It never eases to amaze me how much money these companies are willing to spend on quality script writing, when so many films labour under the well-meaning but disconnected efforts of half-a-dozen different writers. Really, why spend so many millions on actors and then baulk at the idea of a decent writer? Makes no sense to me.

(Of course, this point leads to the one problem I have with True Blood: HBO-style sex. If you’ve seen any HBO programme, you know what I mean by that. Seriously, HBO, some of us are both squeamish and a little bit prudish, you know? And when the HBO-style sex largely involves someone who was in Home and Away for years? Well, I never watched Home and Away, but I’ve read enough TV Week magazines at my mother-in-law’s to find that extra squicky.)

2. It exploits the Louisiana setting in extraordinary ways. There’s an interesting history of Southern Gothic, which was, I suppose, re-vamped (ha! I’m hilarious) by Anne Rice in the 1970s, as was the vampire genre in general.

But it goes back to the nineteenth century, though apparently the two writers I want to mention—Charles Brockden Brown and Edgar Allan Poe—were born respectively in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.


Please excuse my ignorance of formative American literature.

But Louisiana is the ideal setting for this kind of work: the heat and humidity, the swampiness and decay, the massive cemeteries with their marble mausoleums—it all leads plausibly into questions of what death actually means and how it might be subverted.

Especially when you factor in voodoo.

(On that note, apparently there’s a specific branch of Louisiana voodoo that is “often confused with – but is not completely separable from – Haitian Vodou and southeastern U.S. hoodoo,” but places a greater emphasis on folk magic than Haitian vodou does. I had no idea.)

3. But the Louisiana setting is not just about death, decay, and rich, lush life. There’s also the question of race relations, and True Blood doesn’t shy away from that.

It’s not just the gatherings of people who trace their descent back to the Civil War and call themselves Descendants of the Glorious Dead, or the churches festooned with the confederate flag.

It’s also the vampires.

Vampires in this universe—and this is a mild spoiler, but made clear early in the first episode—have recently “come out of the coffin”—and, oh, the gender politics are an entirely different and equally complex issue in this programme. All of a sudden, creatures who have lived for a hundred years or more are walking around admitting to the fact.

Including those who, in life, were antebellum, slave-owning, plantation owners.

The Television Without Pity recapper mentioned, in terms of this issue, that the vampires are time travellers. But they aren’t. Time travellers are taken out of time: they leap forwards or backwards from their own time, but there’s no continuity.

The vampires here are living, breathing (well, they don’t breathe. But metaphorically . . .) slave owners, walking back into states such as Louisiana to reclaim ancestral properties in light of the coming Vampire Rights Amendment.

And that just opens up a whole new set of problems, activating existing racial inequality—who do you react, as an African American, when you’re confronted with someone who personally owned slaves?—and starting new ones. After all, vampires aren’t like us, are they? As one character says, when her son points out how pale a vampire is, “No, honey: we’re white. He’s dead.”

Oh, yes: I want to see where this is going.

4. Stephen Moyer.

Stephen Moyer was vampire Jack Beresford—the jerk who kicked everything off in Joe Ahearne’s Ultraviolet, back in 1998—and here he is as Vampire Bill. But he’s great fun, shifting easily between a little creepy and downright charming—and if his eyes have always been that colour, I don’t know why I haven’t noticed before.

5. The show acknowledges that vampires are, basically, a bit naff. There’s more than one example of this, but my favourite is still the fact that the vampire club in Shreveport is called Fangtasia. Bill, in charming mode, tries to justify this on the grounds that many vampires are extremely old and that puns used to be the highest form of humour—but we all know that vampires are just a bit naff.

6. The show plays with the notion of addiction: with the idea that vampirism is an addiction, and with human addiction to every substance under the sun, including vampires.

Do you know? At this point it occurs to me that if I go much further, I’ll be giving away spoilers.

And I don’t want to do that—I want people to enjoy this programme in their own right.

(Oh, dear lord. They’re playing Will and Grace on weeknights? Fantastic. Yet another reason to watch True Blood: a gay character who isn’t celibate or a eunuch. Well, another character—there’s always Captain Jack Harkness.)

But, really—you may not trust me on this. But I wish you would. You won’t regret it.

Thank You For The Nightmares, Cadbury

Posted 6 October 2008 in by Catriona

I’ve just seen the new advertisement for Cadbury Brunch Bars (fruity muesli bars with a chocolate coating).

In this ad., two cannons face one another.

An angel is shot from the cannon on the left.

A clown is shot from the cannon on the right.

I said to Nick, “Oh, this is going to end badly.”

Sure enough, the two collide in mid-air, explode into a cloud of white dust, and magically transform into a Cadbury Brunch Bar.

Then the tagline flashes up on the screen: “Goodness mixed with happiness.”

And I shouted at the television, “CLOWNS DON’T MEAN HAPPINESS!”

(Oh, yes: I shouted in capitals.)

I know for a fact that I’m not the only person in the world who suffers from fear of clowns, which the Internet tells me is called “coulrophobia” (although my browser dictionary doesn’t recognise that word, and Wikipedia tells me that coulrophobia is an exaggerated or abnormal fear of clowns).

I need to make this point: no fear of clowns is exaggerated or abnormal. Clowns are freaky.

I can trace this in my own experience to three distinct factors.

I watched It at a sleepover, and have never entirely recovered from the experience. I’m not a big fan of Stephen King at the best of times, and not because he’s a bad writer: frankly, he’s too good a horror writer, and scares the pants off me. And Tim Curry as Pennywise the Clown scared me even more.

I was in Year 12 when John Wayne Gacy was executed, and what really freaked me out about Gacy was his tendency to dress up as a clown during block parties. Yes, his crimes were what horrified me, but what’s stuck with me, as a disinterested party, was the Pogo the Clown persona.

And, finally, I blame my coulrophobia on Doctor Who‘s “Greatest Show in the Galaxy,” and those psychotic robot clowns. Those were terrifying.

So, thank you, Cadbury, for the nightmares.

Clowns are bad enough.

Clowns combining with angels in mid-air and then becoming edible?

Oh, that’s not right.

I Left You Alone For A While, Lynx

Posted 1 October 2008 in by Catriona

But you just haven’t learnt anything from your past mistakes, have you, Lynx?

No, that was a rhetorical question.

Because, you see, I’ve just seen the advertisement for your new “Dark Temptation” deodorant.

You know the one: the one where the man uses Lynx Dark Temptation and then turns into a man-sized block of chocolate.

You know, I wasn’t even aware that it was a Lynx ad., at first. I wasn’t watching to begin with, and I didn’t realise what was going on.

But I saw the giant man-shaped chocolate monstrosity walking down the street.

I saw him rip his own nose off and sprinkle it across the ice-cream cones of two complete strangers.

I saw him stick his fingers through the bottom of a beribboned box and offer it to a hospital-bound woman as a treat.

I saw a woman bite a chunk out of his backside on a bus.

I saw two women licking his face in a cinema.

I saw him walk past a gym, only to have every woman in there abandon their exercise routines to press themselves longingly against the window.

I saw a woman driving past rip his arm off at the shoulder, and then presumably eat it.

And then I saw the Lynx slogan flash up on the bottom of the screen.

And I thought, “Of course. Chocolate as a vehicle for misogyny disguised as the accurate revelation of every single woman’s core desires? Of course it’s a Lynx ad.”

Please Stop Questioning My Fandom

Posted 29 September 2008 in by Catriona

In honour of the controversial ending to season four of Doctor Who, I want to run through, in a diffuse and undirected fashion, something that’s been bothering me for a while.

I want people to stop telling me what criteria I need to meet before I can call myself a Doctor Who fan.

Sure, no one’s actually telling me this in person, but I’m seeing blanket statements more and more often, and they’re frustrating me.

I was surfing around the other day, looking for a version of Tim Bisley’s rant about The Phantom Menace from Spaced so I could quote it in a comment thread, and I came across another version of this statement on a blog I’d never visited before.

I’m not going to link to the blog, because that’s not important: the author is entitled to their opinion (which is, in a nutshell, what this post is about), and it was just one more iteration of the comment that’s been bothering me.

And that comment, paraphrased, is this: You’re not a fan of Doctor Who unless you get all gushy about the Doctor’s relationship with Rose.

Well, I don’t get particularly gushy over the relationship, but I see no reason why my fandom should be constrained or questioned as a result.

Why am I not particularly invested in that relationship? Many reasons.

Partly, it has to do with the fact that I found Rose thoroughly whiny at the end of season four, and lost much of the sympathy I’d previously had for her as a result.

But partly it has to do with the fact that Rose’s relationship with the Doctor opened up the subsequent unrequited-love angle for Martha and the argument, which I still see posted on various sites, that obviously Donna is in love with the Doctor: everyone is in love with the Doctor.

This argument, to me, has shades of another old chestnut that I despise: Men and women can’t ever really be friends, because sex keeps getting in the way.

I can’t count the number of ways in which that statement frustrates me, but here are a few:

  • it’s patronising: not everyone is locked into a mode of thought where a sexual relationship is the only possible relationship.
  • it’s deeply heternormative: what if one member of the pairing is gay? What if both are? And what on earth does this suggest about our friendships with people who aren’t heterosexual?
  • it suggests we should live in a climate of trepidation, suspecting that everyone we meet wants something from us that they’re hiding behind a facade of friendship, and if we ever acknowledge that facade, the whole friendship will crumble.
  • where do married couples or couples in other forms of long-term committed relationships fit in here?

It seems to me that Rose’s relationship with the Doctor has opened Doctor Who up to this type of reading. I can’t fathom how it is possible to read Donna as in love with the Doctor, but no text is translucent, so presumably people are pulling something out of it that I’m not seeing.

But this is only my personal problem with the programme. When I watched it as a child, there was no suggestion of this in my mind. (With the possible exception of Romana.) The Doctor has companions, and they travelled the galaxy together, and we all wished we could travel in the TARDIS one day. If anything else was going on, it was going on behind closed doors, and I, for one, never thought about it.

Looking back, I think that was one reason why I liked the show: it was one of the few shows out there that didn’t subscribe to the “men and women can’t be friends” mentality.

Well, those days are over, as far a large proportion of Doctor Who fandom is concerned.

And that’s not the issue with which I have a problem.

I’m not attempting to assert that my view of the programme is the only true and right one.

Fandom is not monolithic.

There are as many different ways of being a fan as there are different ways to read a text, and there are as many ways of reading a text as there are readers (provided the text is of sufficient complexity. I don’t know how many ways there are to read Spot books—though I did once have students demonstrate a brilliant reading of a Spot pop-up book through the conventions of Gothic literature, so maybe I shouldn’t be so restrictive.)

You experience great joy out of being a Rose-Doctor ‘shipper? Great! ‘Ship away!

But don’t dare tell me that if I don’t subscribe to your view of the text then I’m not a fan.

I’m a fan of Doctor Who.

I’ve been a fan of Doctor Who my entire life: I can’t remember a time when I didn’t watch this programme, growing up in the household of parents who started watching the programme in 1963.

I was an open fan of the programme back when Doctor Who fans were unilaterally perceived as anorak-wearing weirdos (though I ascribe no particular virtue to this on my part: I never have been cool).

I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again: Doctor Who is blood and bone to me, the only television programme that I’ve ever felt exists under my very skin.

So I don’t gush over the Doctor’s relationship with a recent companion.

Why should I feel compelled to abandon a life-long fandom on those grounds?



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