By Ben Pensant
Despite appearances to the contrary, television drama is the last place you’d look to find turbo-wokeness. Sure, the BBC tries, but even their best efforts are hamstrung by the same deference to the alt-right that sours their news coverage, with its refusal to report that the Leave campaign still aren’t being investigated by the police, and its habit of airbrushing photos of Jeremy Corbyn in cargo shorts to make it look like he’s got a tiny tiddler. (Nice try Maitlis, but I assure you, it’s like a fat toddler’s leg.)
Take recent newspaper series The Press, which on the surface hit all the right buttons: female lead, multicultural cast, and a clear message that the left-wing broadsheet depicted in the show represented everything good about the media while the right-wing tabloid was run by cunts. Indeed, from the bike-riding gay reporter in twat-specs to the Asian female editor and her deaf assistant who talks funny, the fictional liberal publication couldn’t have been more progressive if it came with a free tutorial on how to speak street-jive to brown folk.
Sadly, the Beeb couldn’t resist placating their Westminster paymasters by slowly revealing the paper to be a well-intentioned but chaotic melting pot of empty virtue, struggling to reconcile its decency with the fact that no-one was buying it and its stories were rubbish. As if cruelly firing a brave Pilger-esque foreign correspondent for fabricating stories wasn’t shameful enough, they then had the nerve to suggest that free speech is a principle the liberal left should passionately uphold rather than throw under a big red bus along with due process, democracy, and basic biology.
Meanwhile the loathsome editor of the Tory rag was gradually depicted as a flawed human being rather than an evil hate peddler. They even tried to convince us that a black bloke would ever work for a right-wing red-top. Please. Anyone with half a brain knows Peoples Of Colours aren’t even allowed to clean the toilets at publications like The Scum, never mind sit in on editorial meetings with boss whitey or share the same coffee cups as his milky-skinned lackies.
Needless to say, come the climax the writers blew it big time, neglecting to send a warning to the gutter press that their golden age of racist fearmongering will soon come to a Jezza-inflicted end, instead creating a dated but enjoyable potboiler in which story and character were ultimately placed above scoring bland ideological points against the evil empire.
Which sums up everything wrong with modern TV. The BBC can curry favour with decent liberals by forcing ‘straight allies’ to wear badges all they like but any idiot can see this tokenistic sloganeering doesn’t go far enough. You can raise concerns about gay men being ‘the most visible members of the LGBTQandNotU community at the company’ all you like but it’s meaningless until you’re willing to go the extra mile and address heteronormativityness by sacking all the benders. Apart from the ones who wear frocks, obvs.
Which brings us to ITV, who amazingly appear to have a better grasp on the really important issues than their supposedly progressive rival. Yes, that’s right, the channel famous for making ’80s pop stars in red cagoules drink hippo’s fanny batter is now officially more clued up on intersectionality than a corporation whose recruitment policy actively discriminates against whites. Strange times.
But here we are, and it gives me no pleasure to report that the once-great Beeb is floundering, struggling to make sense of its own insignificance. Because with one game-changing drama the channel which makes its money conning brain-dead Brexiters into voting for which Karaoke singer they’d most like to help boost Simon Cowley’s bank balance has left its failing rival for dead.
Yes, I’m talking about Butterflies, the superb transgender-themed mini-series which launched last week and proved that it’s not just Auntie who has the monopoly on bare-faced propaganda. I won’t spoil the surprise for anyone yet to view this heartwarming masterpiece, though frankly if you still haven’t seen it you should turn yourself into your local constabulary immediately and insist they charge you with every hate crime under the sun before you go full-TERF and kill a drag queen.
What I will say is that, unlike the BBC’s piss-weak attempts at ideologically-driven drama, it gets everything right. And by that I mean it stubbornly refuses to entertain ‘nuance’ (urgh), that pernicious value that has infected telly ever since some coke-addled yank decided it was acceptable to make a series about an Italian stereotype in a dressing gown killing other Italian stereotypes without constantly reminding viewers that he was a bad man just in case they didn’t realised robbing people, fucking strippers behind your wife’s back and calling black people ‘moulin rouges’ were shitty things to do.
No, what Butterflies did was eschew any attempt to offer a balanced view of children with gender identity issues, helped in no small part by the involvement of compassionate support network Little Mermaids. It did this by wisely ignoring the fact that the majority of boys who show signs of dysphoria either grow out of it, turn out to be gay, or end up being normal lads who aren’t keen on cars and football. Instead, it issued a clear, concise and hysterical warning that if your young son likes wearing dresses and you refuse to feed him hormone blockers or arrange to have his cock cut off there’s a very good chance he’ll slash his wrists.
Predictably, a whole host of right-wing hatemongers and NHS lickspittles lined up to accuse the show of ‘inflating’ the threat of 11-year-old transgirls committing suicide. Yawn. Watch the show and you’ll see the only thing that’s been inflated is Beth Friel’s lips. Indeed, the casting of Friel provides neat symmetry, as she knows all about struggling with sexuality from her days as a teenage lesbian on Emmerdale. Thankfully, we live in more enlightened times now: she may have overcome her own adolescent trauma and grew up to be a well-balanced same-sexer but imagine how much easier things might have been if she’d had fat Sinbad whispering in her ear and telling her to mutilate her own vagina?
In the meantime let’s hope Butterflies maintains its awesomeness and continues to explore the realities of the trans activist experience. I look forward to the scene in which young Maxine blossoms into a fully-fledged transwoman by going TERF-hunting on Hyde Park, sending death threats to Pam Greer and having a wank in Dorothy Perkins.
And let’s also hope the impact on the public is as positive as it has been on me. Because watching episode one has inspired me to get with the programme and re-evaluate my own gender identity. So thanks to the show I’ve decided to spend the next week identifying as a woman. And as a caring, selfless liberal I intend to share the experience with as many people as possible. So in the spirit of collectivism, if any bi-curious girls aged between 18-19 are reading, I’m more than happy to help you out with your first lesbian experience. And don’t be put off by the fact that I lack the neccessary lady parts as luckily for you my arsehole identifies as a fanny. So jump on in, girls. I’m here all week.
But that’s the future. And while thanks to this brave programme that looks a lot brighter, when it comes to TV it’s the past that really needs working on. Because as we’ve seen with noble stateside attempts to airbrush history by toppling statues and vandilising Huck Flynn, there’s nothing the modern left love more than castigating the olden days for not being woke as fuck.
As the recent shaming of Bert & Bernie creator Frank Foz demonstrated, it’s kids’ TV which is the most fertile ground when it comes to warping impressionable minds by redefining the past to appease a handful of lunatics on Twitter.
Foz displayed the kind of white male privilege you’d expect from the director of Dirty Rotten Bastards when he took to the internet to insist that his two most famous Pigeon Street creations were simply ‘roommates’ rather than a gay couple. Yep, Frank’s sense of entitlement is so great he arrogantly believes that because he created, voiced and animated these characters he has the right to decide whether they’re hot for each other or not.
Cue a thoroughly justified avalanche of abuse, which Foz made ten times worse by politely engaging with the outraged psychopaths who spent all day accusing him of being ‘repulsed’ by homosexuality because he wouldn’t pretend every time two felt puppets were put back in the sock drawer they immediately started rimming each other. Still, we should be thankful as his bigotry granted us the glorious sight of a Hollywood legend responsible for some of the most iconic and beloved characters in film and TV history being lectured on his own creations by the biggest no-marks on earth.
Fingers crossed this starts a trend. While the world may have wept at the passing of Rainbow legend Jeffrey Outofrainbow last month, we leftists were lamenting the fact that he never confirmed the gender status of George and Zeppo, the clearly non-binary fuck-buddies designed to teach children it’s perfectly fine to be a girl, it’s sometimes fine to be a boy, and it’s positively beautimous to demand your parents assemble a team of plastic surgeons and Icelandic haberdashers to transform you into a talking brown cushion or a weird hippo-thing in eyeliner that speaks like a 100-year-old nonce.
And there are countless more intersectional thrills to reconfigure in the history of puppet-based kids’ shows. Take the obviously polyannanamorous relationship depicted in Sooty, Soo, and Sweep Too: a glorious sex-positive union between man, dog, bear and wand, which is so downright progressive it almost makes up for the fact that the lead character’s name is massively racist.
Then there’s loveable budgie Orville, whose owner Steve Harris’s death meant his green companion’s religion remained a mystery. At least, it did to idiots. To the rest of us it was blatantly obvious Orville was a practicing Muslim. Can you think of another reason why he wore a nappy like Ghandhi and spent most of his career fantasising about flying like a horse? I’ll wait.
And speaking of our feathered friends, if anyone still hasn’t cottoned on to the fact that hyper-violent ostrich Emu was a die-hard Remainer then god help you: he’s called EmU for fuck’s sake. EMU. (Shall I draw you a picture?). Those of a certain vintage will also recall that Emu’s trainer Rod Huddersfield died while fixing his TV aerial during the 1998 UEFA Cup final. Can you think of anything more pro-European? And even more beautifully, he plunged to his death at half-time while Man City were losing meaning he died without knowing a ghastly English team had won the trophy. Lucky sod.
Who knows how far back we can go in the name of progress but I personally won’t rest until every last copy of Cinderella has been re-written and updated. In this day and age there’s simply no excuse for making the two most unlikeable characters in a kids’ book women with penises then shaming them for having big feet. It has to stop.
Much like transphobia in general. Which is why we should applaud ITV from the heavens for making the world that little bit safer for girly boys, girly men, and blokes in suspenders who’ve had enough of cisgender hags thinking they know everything about womanhood just because they bleed once a month and shit out the odd rugrat.
Take note, BBC. We’re coming for you.