By Ben Pensant.
Like most progressives I have a rocky relationship with the BBC. On the one hand I despise the way they flaunt their anti-Corbyn bias by giving hours of airtime to his gang of obsequious cheerleaders. I’m also appalled at how they display their blatant pro-Brexit agenda by stuffing every news show with more die-hard Remainers than a Holland & Barrett’s Trolley dash.
But at the same time, it’s hard to fault their efforts to promote diversity, advance identity politics, and normalise the wonkiest left-wing ideas since Lilly Madigan convinced the Dullwich College School Choir to take part in a sponsored circle-jerk to raise money to get her knackers cut off.
Sure, we all felt like razing the Beeb to the ground when they photoshopped Jezza’s beret to make it look more Russian, an act of digital trickery so subtle it was only noticed by myself, Aaron Bastardi, and every single antisemite on Twitter. But lest we forget this is the corporation that preaches inclusivity, discriminates against white people, and hand-picks Islamic extremists to grill evil Tories on prime time telly. Surely it can’t be all bad.
And let’s not ignore the leaps the BBC has made in terms of drama, with every cliched cop show or 19th century lesbo-crime romp coming gift-wrapped in the kind of wokey-woke values designed to appeal to everyone from Liberal Democrats to New Statesmxn subscribers. One only has to look at the Beeb’s bold re-casting of the lead in their flagship Saturday sci-fi show Dr Who? to see the channel’s commitment to disavowing its misogynist past.
Indeed, as an ’80s child I would never have guessed that 30 years later I’d be masturbating over both the new Doctor and Higgins out of Magnum PD. As the time-travelling menstruater put it herself “…when people need help, I never refuse”, a pledge I intend to bring up when I eventually meet the divine Josie Whittaker and ask if she’d be kind enough to give me a hand sucking my own cock. That forward-thinking BBC brainiacs have created a world where I’m able to say that is a thing of beauty. (Though they’re still nailed on to be strangled in their sleep when Labour finally seize power.)
Which brings me to Years and Years and Years, the terrifying futuristic miniseries created by former Who? showrunner Russel T.Hobbs, which came to it’s explosive climax last week and left me so emotionally devastated it’s taken seven days to process just what the hell happened. The answer to that one remains elusive but one thing’s for certain: you won’t see a better drama all year.
YaY(aY) followed the Lions family as they struggled with an assortment of trials and tribulations familiar to middle-class Mancunians with barely a Mancunian accent between them. In a controversial move, the fact that the Lions were predominantly white was for once presented as a positive. And quite right too. Because the last thing we need in 2019 is pale-skinned scriptwriters thinking they’re allowed to create characters who don’t look like them. Fortunately Russell is also gay, his sexuality gifting him an intersectional pass to throw a handful of minorities in to the mix before he’s accused of erasing them. (See? You can have it both ways.)
The Lions were pretty much a Guardian reader’s dream family: a gay, a disabled, a refugee, a bisexual eco warrior, her tough girlfriend, a non-Brexity pensioner, a strong black woman and her two mixed race daughters, one of whom is half-robot. (The white half, obviously. Even in fictional dystopias, some privileges never die.)
Russell also kindly shoehorned a Chinese trans-child into the family, demonstrating his commitment to Asian and non-binary representation by giving her neither a line of dialogue nor anything remotely interesting to do. Instead, this brave girl-boy hovered around in an ill-fitting dress before inexplicably turning into a beautiful young woman in the final episode. Thankfully, she was still endearingly mute and utterly devoid of personality. Which is quite right, as last I heard Russell T.Hobbs is neither Oriental nor wears his hair in pigtails.
This woke sensitivity extended to the straight white male characters, all of whom were either dead, silent, or pieces of shit. The exception was the love interest of feisty wheelchair-bound Jodie, though his swarthy complexion and the fact that he was played by an actor with the surname ‘Bukhari’ would indicate he’s not quite as white as he seems. Either way, whatever colour he is I’m sure we can all agree he more than earnt his oppression cred by selflessly shacking up with a cripple.
The same couldn’t be said for Roy Kinnear, the Lions family’s solitary straight white male, and the character with the most privilege and least morals. Thankfully, despite my unease about his patriarchal presence in the otherwise perfect unit, it quickly became apparent that he was both a bellend and an adulterer. Phew! Not much was known about his nephew – the only other straight white male Lion – as he barely said a word throughout the whole series. (Mutism is clearly a common affliction in the post-Brexit north-west) This was of course the correct choice: one straight white male clapping, butting into conversations, and mansplaining all over the shop is more than enough micro-aggression for modern audiences to deal with.
But back to Roy, who very nearly earnt himself a free pass by having a black wife and biracial children. Sadly he showed his true colours by leaving them for a white whore, forcing them to live with his dotty but defiantly tolerant granny, the type of quintessential northern OAP who adopts refugees, loves the gay-gays, and only exists in the minds of BBC scriptwriters.
Roy eventually sunk even lower by finding work with a shady property company owned by his schoolfriend Woodsy, a demonic Manc chancer played by demonic Manc chancer Kieran O’Gruey, and the only other straight white male with the ability to talk. Appalled by the company taking on a secret government contract to build concentration camps for immigrants – and wracked with guilt for sending his dead brother’s lover to one such camp for a laugh – Roy partially redeemed himself by blowing the whistle on the genocidal ambitions of rabble-rousing-populist-turned-fascist-PM Vivien Rock, but it was too little too late, Roy having thoroughly played the white man by destroying the lives of his family, friends, and loads of foreigners. Indeed, the only misstep in the whole series was the decision to send a suicidal Roy to jail rather than let him blow his bald brains out.
But evil Kinnear was a pussycat compared to Rock, played by Emma Thomson and seemingly created purely to massage the egos of left-wing intellectuals. So much so that every time she did or said something that resonated with the savage hellscape of 2019 you could almost feel the seismic surge as all manner of art students, civil servants, and craft beer enthusiasts nudged, winked, and furiously nodded at each other, pleased as organic punch that they picked up on the sledgehammer subtlety.
Indeed, few things have ever made me feel quite as proud as imagining my liberal brothers and zizters watching horrific scenes of Viv being ghastly and turning to their civil partners wearing smug facial expressions not unlike this one by Larry Seinfeld. To wit:
Viv makes a name for herself by ‘telling it like it is’ on daytime TV. “Hmm, that’s just like Katie Hopkins, isn’t it?”
Viv blames immigrants for Britain’s problems. “Hmmm, that’s just like Nigel Farage, isn’t it?”
Viv counters criticism by moaning about ‘fake news’. “Hmmmmm, that’s just like President Pussy-Grab, isn’t it?”
Viv talks about censoring the press and banning stupid people from voting. “Hmmmmmm, that’s just like us, isn’t i…erm…I mean…erm…okay, can we fast-forward this bit, Hugo?”
But amazingly, there was even more to this landmark drama than sharply drawn characters, an utterly realistic depiction of the typical northern family, and a determination to make viewers feel smugly superior by confirming their prejudices about mouthy right-wing ideologues and people who don’t share their erotically-charged obsession with immigrants. Because what really made this the greatest drama, like, ever was its terrifyingly plausible vision of the future. Or rather, the now.
Because it’s only a matter of time before power-cuts become a daily occurrence, concentration camps pop up on school fields, and every down-to-earth family living in a mansion has their very own ornamental Asian trans-child. But perhaps the most disturbing prediction was the depressing sight of a black woman selling out her skin by voting Tory. Urgh. Expect more of this in the coming years (and years), as minorites too oppressed to think for themselves have their heads turned by cynical politicians, exploited into thinking it’s up to them who they vote for, as opposed to educated white progressives whose only contact with black people is giving stingey tips to Baristas or bollocking their Nigerian nanny.
Throughout the series Russell planted clever seeds warning us that this Auntie Tom was a wrong ‘un, the most subtle being her bald head, clearly shaved in a manic fit of internalised racism and anti-afro self-disgust. But what do you expect from a woman who not only married but had children with a Caucasian? All things considered, that her no-good husband went to jail and she ended up penniless was a fairly lenient punishment for rejecting her community to suck face with whitey.
Fortunately, Russell did find some comfort in his depiction of the future, with the bold advancements in technology a joy to behold. As embittered activist Jessica Heinz died of food poisoning, her diarrhea-free consciousness uploaded to a speaker on a coffee table, it offered a beautiful glimpse into a future bursting with possibilities. Imagine the groundbreaking work OJ and Ash could pull off if their entire beings were stored in household ornaments. Or consider how many Tory MPs could be recorded arguing with their girlfriends and exposed in the left-wing press. What better way for the next generation to fight fascism than listening in on right-wingers being harangued by their posh blonde wives for leaving all the lights on or using too much bog-roll? And how grateful will the public be when these life-threatening domestic disputes are leaked to The Canary and laid bare as important incidents of huge public interest? I can’t wait.
Even better, once our devices are permanently transplanted into our brains we’ll never again have to face the horror of putting our phones down and switching off from social media. A future in which we can abuse strangers and send death threats without taking our hands out of our pockets is a future every true progressive can get behind.
So keep it up, Auntie. I’ll happily take the death camps, financial crashes, and fascist Prime Ministers if it means I can log on to Twitter and fight injustice by simply thinking about it. The Manchester of 2035 (left) may be an uninhabitable apocalyptic wasteland, but at least no-one will have to worry about being offline for half an hour because they left their phone on the bus. Because there won’t be any phones. Or buses. But at least we’ll be able to spend all day on the internet telling everyone how it’s all Boris Johnston’s fault that there aren’t any phones or buses. I can’t wait!
I just pray all those self-hating black women manage to control themselves, get back in their lanes, and keep the hell away from white men like me. Because as everyone who watched Russell T.Harty’s barnstorming series knows all too well, this ain’t the noughties anymore, bitchez.