Muppets Head home to Washington DC

I stole that headline from CNN.com, whose story can be found here. Apparently, all of the Muppets were conceived and first introduced around and about the Potomac. I can't resist the initial question which must spring to every mind as addled as mine by American politics, which is, 'given the way the political-media class is over there, how will they tell the muppets are amongst them?'

My answer would be that the muppets would be the ones with the spark of humanity in their eyes and a personality. Apparently, Miss Piggy-- a diva who reminds me of just about every woman I have loved, and therefore love, since one never stops--is made of stuff too sensitive to transport. She has therefore avoided being made to share a display, let alone one belonging to someone else, let alone in a museum.

I've had quite a bit of time over the past few days to enjoy myself, in a somewhat forced way. My mother and her partner are on Cyprus, and, because it was my brother's and sister's birthday--and also because of a very bad flu--I've been housesitting in the countryside here. I had a terrible time a few nights ago--what Sherlock Holmes would no doubt call a 'three quilt' fever--but since Wednesday, I've been ploughing through whatever I can find on the shelves.

That makes seven classic Doctor Who stories-- The Silurians, The Sea Devils, The Time Warrior, The Invasion, Shada, The Time Meddler and The War Machines, to date--two episodes of Inspector Frost, The Perfect Storm, The Third Man, We Were Soldiers, Taxi Driver, Dirty Harry and Battlestar Galactica: Razor. I have Unforgiven, The Man From UNCLE, and Ice Cold in Alex lined up for this afternoon and night. I am happy as Larry, specially since I managed to knock up a tasty lasagna for my brother and sister when they came over yesterday.

What strikes me very much about the TV shows on the list is how powerfully the old ones took very serious ideas and made them popular. It's often said of old science fiction, and particularly Doctor Who, that it relied on really bad special effects. However, until the show was temporarily ruined in the 1980s, it also relied on very strong scripts.

Consider the point; here was what was nominally a children's show, but massively popular with adults because of its Saturday evening time slot just after the football results were read out. These were important because lotteries were illegal and licensed betting at shops were small scale, but big prizes could be won by individuals or groups who 'did the pools' and who correctly guessed the sequence of points various soccer teams would accumulate over the season.

The pools, and the lack of more than two alternative channels, therefore tended to guarantee a big Saturday evening audience, which was even bigger in the hour and a half or so before it became respectable to head back down to the pub. I speak as though I know; my mum and dad ran a pub, of course, and they were often ones that needed cleaned up into respectability, between 1979 and 1985 or so.

For all this, Doctor Who managed to hold the attention of people for a long time. I remember a series of nightshifts I did in a bonded warehouse in the early nineties, on the electric order-picking trucks. Many of the men would get off their faces on dope or stolen drink at around 4am. However, diligent prig that I was, I tended to have a bacon sandwich and a tea in the canteen at breaktime--and not play chicken with the electric trucks, or at least not much. It was suprising how two or three of the older men, in a way that has happened elsewhere, brought their favourite Doctor Who stories up whilst rolling their tobacco.

The eponymous Doctor himself was a shape-shifting, eccentric renegade with a taste for attractive young female assistants who talked back, occasionally a bit of a nut and a lush, who never used a weapon and was on the run from just about everyone. He could never properly control his odd travel machine.

He had in fact stolen his TARDIS, or at least took it without the owner's consent (presumably before the arc of 'Twoccing's' life and displacement as a criminal charge), in some mysterious scandal. Like Oxford Colleges and Inns of Court, and I am told by several former students, like Downing Street, it was very Establishment in that it was bigger on the inside than it appeared on the outside. I often wonder where my taste for British establishment style comes from.

Though usually successful, the Doctor at the end of a story in which he could have been a prize pain, occasionally ended up hating everyone around him. Not too different from a success in a trial, I would have thought. As my sister identified when in her pithy way she called him so "camp he's a Butlins", he was also a noticeably non-American style of hero, but one did get the sense that sex was basically as unimportant a thing as it should be in the relationships by which people define themselves.

Or perhaps I'm just pushing it now, given the state and youth of the lovely half-clothed assistants most of the time. The Time Lords from whom the Doctor was on the lam--called Cardinals, to make the point--generally ignored his pets if they didn't actively disapprove.

The political values which children might have learned from Doctor Who were, on the basis of the past few days reviving memories, really quite complex ones. Genocide is a theme, often, but sometimes because the Doctor refuses to commit it, sometimes because craven politicians force the military to obey orders, and sometimes because groups on both sides encourage it. Sometimes, the Doctor actually feels forced to do it, a hangover of imperial British angst and a very western embrace of a final option of utter destruction. War was always to be avoided and denigrated. Most values were relative, apart from life, and often people who did things or who were passionate on a point were the cause of problems. Generally, what most elites agreed was wrong.

The scriptwriters were excellent --Douglas Adams's Shada script, which was in the box with the reconstructed story I watched, was funny, silly and miles better than the rehash he forced into one of his Dirk Gently books (even though that was good). The strange thing about it was that, in the classic period of Doctor who, it was not that exceptional.

I guess I thought this as a contrast to the films from the start of the post-1960s wave of Republican disillusionment that typified Hollywood, Dirty Harry and Taxi Driver. People forget how attractive to base instincts fascism was. Mark Mazower a few years ago wrote of it as one of Europe's dark continental choices, but emphatically as a workable political choice, along with communism and liberalism, for the post-1914 continent.

By that he meant that a populist ethnic or civic nationalism based on violence and a culture of contempt for those not in the circle of belonging was, unfortunately, a human model of doing things long before democracy and god help us it may be after. His book, Dark Continent, is fascinating and I recommend it to you.

Romanitas in the west--the quality of Romanness--, at various stages of the Empire was built on that, I have always thought. I saw in the pre-world war two memorial Washington DC when I was there something of the straining that the ruins in Rome have forgotten. They chilled me a bit, since I loved and do love the American republic. I didn't want the demons neoconservatives were the latest to dance the war tango with to take it away from its ideal and associations in my mind.

Well, Dirty Harry, as far as I can see, is basically a sort of fascist film, a little like pornography always will be too. All about fear and loss, dominance and submission of the sort that Yeats used to go on about in his mad frustrated moments before he had those monkey gland grafts. I wondered, as I watched it, if it was produced or productive; possibly both. Taxi Driver, though similarly angry, made me think of the other side of the coin.

I also thought, to be vulgar, that the cure for fascism and porno must be similar, and would involve having enough sex to get that nonsense out of the system and see it for the foolishness it is.

Taxi Driver made me think of the self-absorption and relativism of a left which found authenticity in the baser moods rather than better hopes of an alienated and pointless white (and male, or at least male in its values) working class that the post-68 bourgeoisie wanted to leave behind. Travis Bickell is an understandable man, a godless, despairing, and therefore debased dark version of Rocky Balboa.

All thoughts that I had when I was off my face on lemsip, flu the odd carbohydrate, and hot whiskey and Baileys toddies. I also found a great, great site called political betting. I have linked to it permanently at the side of this blog ; the articles by an individual denominated as 'Morus' in a nod to the Man for All Seasons particularly appealed.

Finally, I have found, thanks to Neil Clark, a deeply moving piece about a heroine of this blog--the lovely Lynda Carter. It was concerned with her recovery from stress-induced alcoholism and her marriage. Today's Daily Express seems to have lifted it from somewhere. A salute to that fine woman, though I will not use it as an excuse to put her stunning picture up again. My regular reader will know where it is on the blog. Sometimes in life, really beautiful people are awful human beings. She seems a walking refutation of that idea.

Isn't blogging great? Ordinarily, I could have toddled down to a pub or the top deck of a bus and cleared a space by thinking out aloud like this, and yet here are you, if it is you and you know who you are, reading right to the end. Go and congratulate yourself. Normal service will be resumed soon.

Comments