Sunday, 20 January 2008

Buffy's Still Better

The BBC is making valiant efforts with Torchwood, and one wishes them well. But still, it is important that I let them have some hints about why it is still not as good as Buffy.

1. Characters and Casting

They all look very similar. Owing probably to restricted budget, but possibly restricted acting range, you never get moments when you are oggling a character's face as it emotes Something Important. For some reason, nothing in Torchwood ever seems very important, although often it does look overplayed. It would matter less if they didn't all look the same - a bunch of people in poor light with similar colouring and height. It is NO GOOD having people who look similar on the telly, because it confuses the viewer. I refer Torchwood - and other programmes - to Buffy. Three leads of either sex, all distinctive. The female leads have DIFFERENT COLOUR HAIR and sometimes even different heights. The male leads have DIFFERENT AGES AND COSTUMES AS WELL AS DIFFERENT COLOURED HAIR. And different accents.

I never understand quite why anybody casts similar looking types in the same programme, but the BBC have done it all my life. I suppose it hardly helps that good looking people tend to have regular features, and therefore a tendency to resemble each other. But I still don't believe they're trying. Having carefully cast identical actors, they continue to dress them like two sets of triplets - except for Capn Jack, who has A Coat. He is currently being challenged in Coat Supremacy by Spike from Buffy, who sports The Coat in the Buffyverse. Spike has A New Coat in Torchwood; it is a rather dashing Redcoat in the Hussar style. When it comes down to the Coat Wars, my money is on Spike. He is daringly wearing colour, apart from anything else. Oh yes, and he has that conviction that the rest of the cast lack. Wait and see.

2. Want of Drama

Why is it nothing matters on British TV? Is it to do with our lack of international clout? American TV is full of High Stakes and all that guff. When Torchwood tells me that Cardiff is about to be exploded by nuclear-warhead-wielding aliens, I just don't believe them. What on earth would aliens be up to in Cardiff? Hoping to blend in better because alien accents sound like Welsh ones? Pull the other one. Either they'd be in the middle of nowhere, or the White House. Not the Millennium Stadium. And why blow it up? It's all a bit ho hum.

3. No Relationships

Do they know each other? Really? Crumbs.

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Their Hearts Were On The Left

... A quick but baffling reflection on the insanity of language revision ...

I learnt last week that the words "blind" and "deaf" are offensive.

The re-designation of these words as offensive puzzles me. I am plainly missing something. I understand perfectly how a word describing race can be pejorative, but then, there are two major factors contibuting to this. One is that the words follow the act - black people have been systematically denied their rights as well as acknowledgement as human in the eyes of a manufactured hierarchy. This has been a cultural excuse made for an economic and social system of privilege. White people benefited from racism. This doesn't make all white people racist, any more than all white people benefited equally, but it is no good denying that the people who gained were exclusively not black. That was the point. Therefore, the words were part of the problem. If culture is developed in order to justify an injustice, the way words emerge to suggest inequality - how their meaning is skewed or manipulated - is part of that injustice.

In the case of those who are blind or deaf, I fail to understand how society has manipulated these conditions to benefit those who are do not have them. I have never, ever heard anybody use either as an insult. Do sighted people need to belittle the sightless in order to gain? Do they do so? Are blind and/or deaf people discriminated against for reasons that have to do solely with their appearance?

And this brings me to my second point; that the user of racist language was spoilt for choice. There were - and sadly, are - a plethora of racially abusive terms, because racism itself was so pervasive that words were constantly perjorated into abusive terms. But there are no alternative words for blind or for deaf. Neither has ever connoted stupidity or dishonesty or any other bad quality, as far as I know. They exist solely with one meaning.

Furthermore, I discovered that it is not just the words themselves, but any phrase containing them, which Somebody has decided is offensive. The phrase "blind spot", for example, is supposedly offensive to those who cannot see. So presumably, when you are driving and thinking about overtaking and swearing as you bob about like a fishing fly on a stormy pond, trying desperately to check what monster BMW is hoving into range at 100mph, it is offensive to YOU. More true than whoever started this knew.

It seems rather absurd to decide that a word for which no synonym exists is offensive and should be avoided. Perhaps when you need to use the word "blind", you are supposed to shut your eyes and start flailing your arms about and walking into things to convey your meaning? Seems to me that would be an awful lot more offensive than the word.

Who has decided that these words are offensive? Have all the people who are without sight or hearing in any degree been consulted and duly voted? This would seem to me to be a key issue here, as would the degree of sight or hearing impairment from which they suffer. If they aren't actually without sight or hearing, then obviously they have no more right to find these terms offensive than anybody else, as they don't apply to them more than to anybody else. These, my friends, are deep waters.

After reading Steven Pinker's "The Language Instinct", I agreed with the theory that language is creolized - ie invented anew for every generation, every group of learners. In a big world, meaning is hard to pin down, when none of us speaks quite the same tongue. I am not sure that that means that it's a good idea to say that only people who have been "re-educated" to say certain words have good hearts. Maybe a little common sense and crediting others with good intentions rather than mean or offensive ones would be a start.