Rantings for Politically minded queers, women and lefties
who find fault with everything
No-one Told Me TV Could Actually Be Good!
I am by no means a television addict. Besides watching the occasional episode of Coronation Street or Eastenders, during which I seem to do nothing but criticize, I tend to steer well clear. That was until a few months back, when I stumbled across the first episode of the new series of Bad Girls.
I had seen the occasional episode of the ITV drama a few years back when the third series was running, but never was quite able to get to grips with it due to always having to leave half-way through to get to work (damn you, Mutz Nutz nightclub - you have a lot to answer for. A hell of a lot actually…but then that's another article.). My impression of the series at that time was that it was extremely entertaining, but a little far fetched in a Prisoner: Cell Block H sort of way. This was no put off for me personally, as I must confess to being a fan of Prisoner both when it was shown on ITV in the late eighties/early nineties and to this day! I am aware however of how far fetched the storylines were, how bad the acting could be at times, and how downright ludicrous the wobbly set was. Nevertheless, there is something strangely compelling about watching a drama set in a women's prison and the topics that can be raised. Prisoner, for instance, was brave enough to tackle lesbian storylines in 1979, years before that Jordache one from Brookside went for the “controversial” kiss with the red-headed yuppie nanny. However, despite the original idea of a drama set in a women's prison, the set, shoddy acting (only at times I remind you!) and far-fetched storylines were always going to leave it open to ridicule, which was a shame because the issues raised, in general, were new, exciting, and more importantly dealt with women as main characters as opposed to the clichéd parts that women were given to play, and often still are (i.e. wives or promiscuous lovers to men and men only, with no real personalities of their own). Enter 1999 and the first series of Bad Girls.
People who have only seen the recent series of Bad Girls could arguably criticize it for far-fetched storylines, which I certainly wouldn't disagree with…despite the compelling viewing that it can be, it seems that the writers are ever-so-slightly running out of storylines to be set a women's prison. However, anyone who saw the first series of the show, or indeed owns it (anyone with taste, that is), can testify that it is one of the most entertaining, shocking, well written, original examples of drama ever to have hit television. The characters range from the middle class, middle aged and religious (Barbara Hunt - convicted for euthanasia), to the near-evil (see Shell Dockley played by Debra Stevenson, convicted for torture, or “Mad” Tessa Spall). Storylines cover rape, manipulation, drug addiction, suicide, murder and mental illness to name but a few, but are all covered with compassion whilst remaining realistic and not shying away from just how horrific life inside, or indeed outside, can be (listen to me, you'd think I used to be in Strangeways or something). Characters are not portrayed as black and white, “good or bad” people, a pitfall many dramas seem to fall down (see The Bill for more details…actually forget that, under no circumstances should anybody watch such rubbish), and a character that you utterly despise and want lynched in one episode can have you nearly in tears with genuine sympathy for them in another. In the case of nasty officer Sylvia (played by Helen Fraser), it's one of the few times I've witnessed near-evil behaviour blended with such incredible humour on TV. Very few people are all bad. The writers of Bad Girls seem to have grasped this basic concept and, what's more, pulled it off brilliantly.
Another point that the writers of Bad Girls should be praised for is being the first ever TV drama not particularly aimed at a gay audience to portray lesbians as HUMAN BEINGS and not to either use gay characters a token gesture to make a drama appear PC, or to use them solely to gain a gay audience. Most dramas that have a gay character (there's usually only one at a time, mind ), seem to forget that it's all fair and well to have someone gay in the script, but you need to actually GIVE THEM A PERSONALITY if people are going to be interested! Just being gay isn't enough (although to be fair, Zoe Tate in Emmerdale has a personality, it's just a shame it's such a boring one.). Watching an episode of Bad Girls is refreshing, not only because you forget who's gay and who isn't (and not just because practically everyone is gay!), but because for once the storylines rely on the relationships themselves, regardless of whether it's two women or a man and a woman involved. When homophobia does come into a storyline it makes a huge impact because you get to know the characters involved first, and are so used to the appearance of gay characters that you see homophobia for how irrational and cruel it is. The writers of Bad Girls have put the emphasis on personality, and as a result have probably made lesbian issues way more accepted than any soap ever has - the ironic thing being that I bet the writers didn't even try. When was the last time a drama populated by so many gay characters attracted such a big straight audience? The answer to that question simply is “never”, as the fans of Bad Girls genuinely seem to love the programme for what it is…the straight fans are certainly not men looking to have a wank over Shell Dockley and Denny Blood having a snog.
Take my advice- go to your local video tape/DVD supplier and buy a series of Bad Girls. It'll be expensive but I promise it's worth it.
Ah, it's been so long since I've written anything positive for this column that I feel liberated from my own miserable nature. It's a nice feeling knowing that a few episodes of a fictional drama can bring such joy…the way my prospects are looking at the moment it's the only bloody thing that can!
4th - 7th September - Zion Arts Centre - Hulme, Manchester
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Anyone stumbling across this article who has a friend or family member with a learning disability will know the frustration of society's patronizing approach to anyone with a LD (learning disability). The days when people with LD’s were considered strange or weird may be fading (although not fast enough), but is society's older, more fearful approach towards people with LD’s being replaced by an attitude of acceptance and equality?
Let me explain myself. Nine months ago I decided to get a full time job. Well, when I say “decided”, what I really mean is, “I was forced by a power-hungry fascist at the Jobcentre to get a job or I’d starve”, but either way I began working for a somewhat greedy company who pride themselves on providing support to people with LD’s. Disillusioned with previous full-time employment where I worked as a barman or cleaner of dog crap (don't ask), I concluded that helping people for a living would be rewarding, and how wrong I was.
Now, I'm wondering how to word this article without coming across like a cold-hearted b**tard (although many would argue that that's a very apt description). Put simply, I believe in treating grown adults as exactly that. Adults.
It became apparent to me over the course of a few months that not only do the general public and indeed many of the support workers who work with the ‘clients’ patronize and molly-coddle people with LD’s as if they are children, but that some company policies dictate that workers do just that. For example, one particular ‘client’ can behave in a way that most people would describe as selfish, aggressive, loud-mouthed and nasty. This is a woman who wants everything her own way and NOW, otherwise you're a “f**king b**tard”. And before you (yes you, you ignorant reader!) assumes that because this person has no social skills as a result of her (very, very mild) disability, then quite frankly that is rubbish. This woman is a fully grown adult who only needs support with a bit of budgeting and not much else, yet when she shouts and screams and more or less threatens staff because her £150 benefit per week is “not enough!”, we are to “talk down”, be “calm” and “understanding” and basically treat her as if she is a child who is lost in the supermarket. The result is that this vile attitude continues day in, day out and that she basically sees no reason as to why she should stop.
Most people assume that if someone has an LD then they can hardly speak, can't read or write and has no concept of what is going on around them. This is nothing but prejudiced nonsense. The fact is that if someone is diagnosed as having a mild LD, they need very little or in some cases no support, maybe needing a hand with a bit of budgeting or advice on small matters, e.g. how long to cook something in the oven. Most of us probably meet someone with an LD every week and don't even notice. Even those with severe LD’s to the degree of no speech can only learn how to interact with other people if other people refrain from condescending, patronizing behaviour when dealing with them and treat them as they would anyone else, making allowances obviously for a lack of understanding and maybe having to explain things in more detail or differently. Acknowledging a disability can sometimes be a respectful thing to do. Using a persons disability as an excuse to patronize to make yourself feel better about your own life is a disgrace. The amount of times I've heard someone say “She/he can't help it, they have a disability” when a ‘client’ is posing a very real threat to workers is unbelievable, and it's particularly disturbing when such an attitude comes from head support workers. A disability is a condition that can hinder learning development and understanding of certain aspects of life, not a condition that dictates someone will be aggressive, ungrateful, violent, spoilt and obnoxious - that simply is a personality thing. Some clients I work with have been treated with this disrespect and prejudice for most of their lives that they come to the conclusion that they may as well make that very same prejudice work for them. When you come to think of it, who can really blame them?
The difference between most people with LD’s who live in a supported environment such as the place I work (I'm gagging to “name and shame” the b**tards, but for once I’ll try to be professional), and those who live with family, friends or partners is immense. For example, lets say my brother was to call me a handbag-snatching faggot (sorry Chris, I know you wouldn't but I have to use someone as an example!). Would I sit him down and ask him if he had any problems or issues that needed dealing with? Of course not! I’d tell him to go f**k himself and then ignore him for weeks! This is exactly what happens in normal life, and ultimately how we learn that aggressive behaviour can breed hostility and can then alienate and hurt people. Now let me give you the support worker version, as this exact scenario happened to me recently. Unprovoked, and as a “joke”, I was called a “hand-bag snatching faggot“. I tried to explain the inappropriateness of this (cop that, I was being professional when I wanted to punch the little shit), and that such behaviour was wrong. Did it work? What do you think? The ‘client’ continued, becoming in fact even more insulting, so I left the his flat. When the report I completed was given back to me, I was criticized by management for leaving the property. Get the picture?
In these so-called days of equality, maybe it's time to begin practising what we preach. People with LD’s deserve all the support they can get to help them in a world which assumes we can all get through everyday life without any problems. They also deserve to be given the chance to know what human emotions are all about and how to get by in life without having to manipulate and insult what they see as the patronizing oppressor, and who (sadly) often is. It makes life even more difficult for all concerned when grown adults are treated like children, and ultimately breeds a culture where grown adults will act like children. This isn't real life.
And me? Well, it's back to the drawing board again. The Jobcentre.
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