Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Stephen Fry on Doctor Who: A Measured Response

Stephen Fry commented on BBC Dramas like Merlin and Doctor Who at the Baftas yesterday, describing them as - in places - suffering from "infantilism".

The doctorwho Livejournal community is predictably going spare and I've not even approached Gallifrey Base, the leading DW forum online...mainly because it's the leading DW forum online and therefore a lightning rod for the insanity of the web coupled with the extremes of fandom DW inspires. I know, because Who makes me a little irrational myself.

The DW community here I watch with a kind of amused acceptance; I can't argue with the enthusiasm, passion, alarming obsession maybe, that these bloggers have for the show. They're predictably railing against Fry's comments - you can see the specific entry here - but I'm finding it so hard to take their furious denials seriously when it's couched amongst fresh-faced American tweens dressing up in the 500-odd Top Shop outfits Amy has worn so far and squeeing over their disturbing fanfic/slash between various characters and declaring their dreamy-eyed adolescent love for the New Series and its dreamboat lead stars...

That said, I am not so condescending as to ignore reality; DW is in reality a family show, and has been - more or less - since the beginning. The maturity has pitched up and down, often wildly crossing the path of Acceptable Taste (Mary Whitehouse's crusade, anyone?) but its main focus has been entertaining children, teenagers and young adults. I would argue that it still does that, remarkably effectively.
What has happened is the BBC and whoever is really pulling the strings, probably higher than Moffat, has begun to intentionally pitch the show in terms of writing and characterisation at a particular audience segment. Unfortunately, this is the segment of our population that still enjoys happy-slapping pensioners and has spent the past few years being criticised by business leaders for coming out of secondary education with precious few skills.
Conversely, I would argue that the popularity and influence of such characters as...Stephen Fry are leading a massive renaissance in overall intelligence and awareness of the young professional and older demographic. Turnout was up to 65% in the last election indicating a widespread resurgance of interest in the running of our country, and the debates people were having over the key issues were heartening.

So, there is a wide perception gap between the older and younger members of society; and for all the enthusiasm of mature collectors the real spending money on merchandising and the real viewing figures on RAJAR (the BBC's viewer-rating body) that make the target-chasing bureacratic Corporation so happy are coming from the youth. So the BBC will lean on Moffat, and he will lean on his script editors, who will slice and dice the fundamentally good scripts for Who into bitesize unchallening morsels for the thirteen-year-old viewer with the thirty-minute attention span and the disposable income that keeps the whole cycle turning.

Like one of the Doctor's plans, everyone has come out right. Stephen Fry is right, and Who scripts are shallower than they have been for decades. New Who diehards are right and it's an enjoyable family show beloved by millions. The BBC are right and their puppetmaster creative directions are paying bountiful dividends. Even I'm right, by thinking an old, hackeneyed, surreal British serial has been modernised to such an extent that I no longer recognise or like it. I just wish I could be wrong.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Barefoot in the Park 2010

It's almost a stereotype of summer. I'm sat in a tent under a grey, raining sky, surrounded by threadbare students. But it's not a music festival in some muddy field this time. I'm at Barefoot in the Park Poetry Festival 2010. Co-ordinated and indeed founded by Victoria Ellis, a student of Masters in English at Leeds University, the event has been Vicky's wish to “pull together all the different types of poetry I've seen in Leeds” and has run successfully since 2007. She told me she finds the stigma of poetry annoying, this boring, mundane, GCSE-style requirement of English that comes across as “too highbrow.”

Running from 12pm to 9pm, this marathon creative event has unfortunately missed the heatwave by a single day. Vicky's optimism is steadfast, and she gestures to the imposingly large marquee behind us, saying “The weather's not been as bad as it could have been. We put the provision in place, and we needed it.” Indeed, the broad tent is more than half full, all colourful dresses and drainpipe jeans, sprawled on rugs and cushions.

Shoes are indeed off, but sat on the edge of proceedings, I am still safely booted. The organisers have a broad menu of entertainment on offer. The braver warrior poets can join the open mic sessions. Established creative types have booked slots to play music with bands, and lone wolves will recite monologues. There is a small tent boasting a wide range of artwork, from sketches to powerful watercolours. Tea, coffee and buns are available from a nearby pavilion staffed by earnest young volunteers.

Back in the marquee, the focus of attention is a wave-fringed nervous young man enunciating into the PA. His sometimes amusing, sometimes saddening work comes across as Viz on opium, all toilet humour and introspection on deceased Eastern European poets.

Next up, local band The Lovebirds are phenomenally young, but rousing and popular with sixties-inspired tunes under 21st-century dry, adolescent humour.

Adam Strickson and Avtar Lota supplied poetry and Indian music, either soloing or melding both forms. The sound of the dilruba and tabla is uniquely foreign, and is a beautiful counterpoint to the pop-rock of The Lovebirds. Adam writes biting social commentary and recalls foreign myths in a challenging mix.

We stayed to watch Carole Bromley, who reads out searing work, and her vivid creations held the crowd spellbound. A dignified and mature lady, she writes of youthful passion that borders on the uncomfortable in its burning honesty and innocence. This is I suspect what Vicky Ellis is aiming for when she tells me she wants to showcase poetry as “ beautiful and lively and glorious”, and she adds “glorious is my buzzword for everything.”

Glorious doesn't have to mean the weather, it can describe running the whole range of human experience and feeling. These creators and writers and artists and performers tell their audience of every facet of experience in a glorious procession of spectacles. What plans then, for the future of Barefoot? “Maybe Barefoot in Berlin?” she says with a chuckle, as she aspires to move to the German capital. She hopes other students will rise to take charge of the popular festival after she graduates, and considering the attendance in spite of the weather, there will be no doubt about next year's instalment. Make sure you are part of it as well!