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Tuesday, January 06, 2015 

It was alright in the 2010s.

Tempting as it is to just deride Mark Pritchard's call for the law on anonymity concerning sexual assault to be reviewed, to be falsely accused of anything is, as he says, an awful thing.

Pritchard wasn't really put through what you'd call the wringer, though, let's be clear: he was never charged so he didn't face trial, and  we only learned of his arrest due to the quirk of the arrest of MPs being required to be reported on that day's order papers.  The naming of those arrested but not charged is rare, usually happening only when there is wider media interest, or when someone provides a tip-off.  No, it isn't pleasant to face the uncertainty of not knowing if you'll be charged with something you haven't done, but there are extremely good reasons why those charged should be named, for which see the events of the past couple of years, while the complainant should never be, for which, err, see the events of the past couple of years.

Which brings us, extremely tenuously, to Christmas TV.  It's in part a perennial whinge and a sign I'm getting older, but the fare on offer apart from the terrestrial TV film premieres seemed more dismal than ever.  When the most watched show features a man dressed as a woman falling over and swearing, and the second featured a woman falling over and not swearing while breaking the fourth wall, it's a sign there was some fairly weak sauce being served up.  And indeed, if you didn't get enough of the woman falling over, you could see her falling over also in Call the Midwife, the utterly bizarre drama that sort of does and sort of doesn't sentimentalise the grinding poverty of the East End in the post-war period, and is sort of sick-making and sort of isn't in the same way.

I don't watch a lot of TV, and it's something I credit for my sanity almost remaining in tact. Certainly, if I had nothing better to do than watch dreck like Channel 4's It Was Alright in the 1970s, which I had the misfortune to see a repeat of while flipping through channels one night, and which is, dear reader, the extremely tenuously link to the above, I'd probably be chewing the carpet more than I do already.  Once, we had Days Like These (a UK remake of the US hit That 70s Show), which Lee and Herring were pointing out back in 1999 was comedy at its laziest and most banal, laughing at how things were different in the past, because lol, people styled their hair differently and wore different clothes and did different things.  Then we had I Love the 70s and so on, with celebrity talking heads telling us how great it was to be a kid back then, just as for most people it's great to be a kid regardless, except for those for whom it isn't.

Clearly the format was due a reboot, only with new faces responding with sometimes real and sometimes faked shock and anger
to cherry-picked examples of sexism, racism, dirty old men being perverts, and barely above the age of consent young women, if that, portrayed as gagging for it.  To be fair to the programme makers for a second, it would be foolish to deny there are examples of 70s television retrograde even for the time, or which were obviously misjudged.  Curry and Chips for instance, regardless of Spike Milligan and Johnny Speight's intentions, or the skin crawling example shown of Casanova starring Leslie Phillips, with his fictional niece begging the lothario relative to teach her in the ways of love.

This was then presented though as being part of the explanation for why only now we're discovering the dark side of the period, complete with plentiful backslapping for how much more enlightened we are these days.  Except this line of thought doesn't follow: yes, perhaps TV suggested predatory behaviour was normal, but if that was the case wouldn't there have been a response far sooner?  After all, the rise of alternative comedy at the turn of the decade was as much a response to the overt racism and attitudes of the era's stand-ups as it was politics in general.

Moreover, the slightest evidence of alleged perversion was seized upon, including a conversation lifted from the Likely Lads of the characters discussing being attracted to schoolgirls in uniform, with talk of gymslips and all the rest.  You don't have to be Pamela Stephenson to realise this fetish, if you can even call it that, springs just as much as from young people becoming sexually aware while wearing those same clothes as it does from still being attracted to post-pubescent but underage girls once an adult.  An awful lot of men, and yes women too, are attracted to sexually mature but on the cusp of adulthood young people, it's just something we'd rather not talk about, only acting surprised and outraged when teachers of both sexes are exposed as having had relationships with their pupils.

In general that seemed to be the message the programme was pushing.  It's better not to approach difficult subjects at all than it is to see them broached in comedy; also deemed outrageous was an elderly man complimenting his granddaughter on her looks and talking about sex in general, as old people can't be sexual beings once they reach a certain age.  Old men making comments about or becoming aroused when washed by their young carers or nurses is an everyday occurrence, but that's too icky and embarrassing to so much as think about.  Also picked on was Windy Miller of all things, as in one episode of Camberwick Green he gets drunk on his strong cider; you can object on the grounds he just falls asleep rather than gets in a terrible mess due to his drinking, but really, can kids before a certain age not comprehend or deal with characters in programmes specifically for them imbibing?  Did it result in the children of the time heading straight for the corner shop for a bottle of White Ace, any more than the current generation does?

Besides, are things all that much better today?  Another section of the programme looked at the game shows of the time draping women over the prizes, because that doesn't happen now does it, and we don't have beer advertised by bros playing beach volleyball with sexy ladies in bikinis, or deodorant shown as being so irresistible to the opposite sex that even angels will come down from heaven to bang the bloke on the moped who uses it.  Nor do we have alleged comedians making gags about violently threatening women into showing their breasts mistakenly being given their own TV series.  Yes, TV's so much better now we don't make fun of people on their basis of their skin colour or creed, especially when you can film both the underclass and the stupidly rich to serve the same purpose and describe the former as telling "the stories of the most distressed parts of society", decrying criticism as being an attempt to censor.  As for sexual abuse, that's all in the past too.

Perhaps I took it too seriously, and it was all meant to be a bit of fun to see how TV used to be.  I don't suppose the intention was to treat the viewer as a complete moron, to patronise them, to ram home quite how superior we are now that we're all far more sensitive and considered in our dealings with each other.  That's why Matt Lucas was the narrator.  You know, the comedian who satirised the national character so effectively in Little Britain.  And who blacked up, but in an ironic way.  Forgive me, but I get the impression a commissioner in Horseferry Road is laughing even now.

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That review of CFFM is interesting - he exonerates Lucas & co of racism on the grounds that they didn't (a) assert racial superiority or (b) discriminate against ethnic groups. But on that basis, the Black and White Minstrels weren't racist. Yes, we're so much more enlightened these days...

The programme in that series where they 'did' racism was dreadful, unsurprisingly - reaction shot after reaction shot of 20-somethings gasping "you can't say that!" The nadir was Derek Griffiths - a mixed-race performer who made it as a children's entertainer in the 1970s, no mean feat - getting liberally doused in shit for the sin of doing the 'eye thing' while singing the word 'chinkie'... in the song Melting Pot, which is about ending racism through interracial sex, beginning now. Talk about motes and beams.

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