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No.8 of #52Stories: Why I want you to watch Holby City

13 August 2017
Posted in: 52 stories, Scratchpad, Social issues, TV | 2 Comments

**Note: Here be spoilers.**

52 Stories 2017

#1 Because representation matters

The older I get the less patience I have for stories about men, for men. It doesn’t help that this covers most of TV. This started me on a quest to seek out series featuring women or series that have stories about women (not the same thing). These women had to be well-developed characters, with stories of their own rather than furthering the storylines of their male counterparts. But it was more than that, and the search slowly started changing into a more specific one for better representation. It took me through (in no particular order) Grey’s Anatomy, The Good Wife, Orphan Black, Bad Girls, Scott & Bailey, The Fall, Orange is the New Black, Rizolli and Isles, The Good Fight, Vera, Last Tango in Halifax, Call the Midwife, Mom, The Fosters, Switched at Birth, Grace and Frankie, One Mississipi, Gilmore Girls and many more. Some of them were ordinary, some great and some disappointing (I’m looking at you, Last Tango in Halifax). And then came Holby City where I was compelled to stop awhile. Of course, it is not the end of my quest, but it has been wholly satisfying for a variety of reasons, not least of which was the fact that they seemed to have learnt from the mistakes of their predecessors.

#2 Because it was a good story

Serena Campbell and Bernie WolfeWhat was it with the Serena Campbell and Bernie Wolfe storyline that was so satisfying? Was it the story itself? Brilliant casting? The fact that it was just a romance and not coming-out angst? Maybe because it wasn’t tailored for a male gaze? Or maybe the great acting and fantastic onscreen chemistry between Catherine Russell and Jemma Redgrave did it? Or perhaps just…Jemma Redgrave? Jokes apart, for a drama series, #Berena was a surprisingly nuanced tale. There are many things in Holby City that are ridiculous (such as the fact that nobody ever seems to give notice or that entire departments can shut down in the course of half a day or that patients can look completely recovered about five minutes after life-changing surgery), but somehow with Serena/Bernie they managed to come up with a storyline befitting two middle-aged women with pasts and the inevitable baggage that entails. Serena Campbell, deputy CEO of Holby City Hospital and head of the Acute Admissions Unit, was a long-standing favourite in the Holby universe. Major Berenice Wolfe, acclaimed frontline trauma surgeon, British Army, was brought in as a romantic interest for her. She came in as a patient and later became a co-worker. Then dramatic things happened, including a romance that was “not exactly Mills and Boon”, a personal tragedy and finally a professional one. All part and parcel of being in a drama series.

#3 Because two 51-year-old women kissed in a family-time TV show

It was Holby City that made me fully realize that I had lost patience with simplistic storylines, token diversity and hetero-washing. Hard to say for sure, but it might have been because of the sheer ordinariness of the way Serena Campbell and Bernie Wolfe’s sapphic angst fest was portrayed and how off-the-scale it still was. Though this seems contradictory, the story was both direct as well as subtle. That is to say, they did not shy away from its portrayal, but this was no codified hearts-and-flowers type of romance, nor were there elaborate declarations of love. Yet there was never any doubt what was happening. And instead of going for the stale love-conquers-all route, it went for a more realistic one, where love wasn’t enough, but there was enough of it to let each other go, and yet letting go didn’t mean the end.

In fact, the series got it right right from the beginning. Here were two women in their 50s—and they weren’t “nice women” at all—who decided to support each other rather than be rivals. They became friends and then went on to fall in love. It was a complex and layered relationship that developed on screen via a slow burn now famously on record as having been scripted more by the two actors who played the roles than by the screentwriters. Despite the slow build-up and the understatedness, Holby City‘s exploration of sexuality in this pairing was refreshing. Serena did not stray into the borderline-homophobic “but I’m straight!” path. And equally important, Bernie never apologized for her fluidity, and in her failing marriage her husband was not cast as a homophobe. What upset him was not who his wife of 25 years had had an affair with—”I don’t care—woman, man, enemy of the state”—he was upset she hadn’t told him. Finally, neither Bernie nor Serena were ever looking for a happily-ever-after.

#4 Because nobody died

Queer women are all too used to seeing themselves killed off on television. For decades, gay and bisexual characters have met a series of unfortunate ends, usually in service of moving the plot forward, crushing the spirits of the partners they leave behind, or just making a straight person feel bad.
(From Vox.com/2016/3/25/11302564/lesbian-deaths-television-trope)

A significant proportion of queer women characters only ever get one type of ending—the sort you can’t come back from. This is a subset of a trope called “bury your gays”, and one sees it across media, not just on TV. It’s easy to miss it—we are all conditioned to seeing women and LGBTQ+ characters as more dispensible than straight (white) men—though once it’s pointed out, you can never unsee it. The dead lesbian/LGBTQ+ trope is more common than we think, and the showrunner being female or queer does not make a series immune to it. Examples off the top of my head: Sally Wainwright for Last Tango in Halifax and Russell T. Davies for Torchwood. Of course, this raises the argument that, for the sake of realism, queer women (or men or anyone else) must die too, and surely, in absolute numbers, more straight people die. Well, they do, but the representation is disproportionate in the first place, thus making a disproportionate number of queer characters dying. In the case of Holby City, not only did the creators of #Berena not take the lazy way out by playing the dead lesbian card, they even cocked a snook at it. This is especially significant in light of both actors being scheduled to leave Holby City during the course of their storyline.

#5 Because in her final episode Bernie Wolfe got on a Eurostar to the south of France…

…to join Serena Campbell. And we already know that their happy ending includes Serena coming back to Holby, while Bernie goes to serve in a British Army field hospital in Sudan. Even if you discount the fact that a significant proportion of lesbians in fiction die, how many stories featuring older queer women have even had a happy ending? Not only did Holby City give these two a happily-for-now, they redefined what that meant. It didn’t include a conventional domesticity, but in fact let each partner pursue their individual goals. A mature and realistic end (for now) to a well-thought-out story about friendship, falling in love, getting together, growing apart, letting go and then getting a chance at finding happiness without having to break up or die.

It has certainly helped that both Russell and Redgrave are politically engaged individuals who were aware that by playing lovers on a prime-time medical drama they were creating history because, in the first place, rarely have two middle-aged women been given the space to explore their sexuality in a family-friendly show, and second, older lesbians are more or less invisible in the portrayal of normal, everyday-ness on TV. Unlike some actors who chose to distance themselves from the roles they have played, especially when those roles have been even vaguely unconventional, neither Russell nor Redgrave have done so. They have also come out in support of the #Berena fandom and encouraged them on whether or not the #Berena canon is continued on TV. They have acknowledged the responsiblity of “getting it right” and the role the story they protrayed has played in the real lives of young queer women. “It’s amazing the power of that little box in your sitting room,” said Catherine Russell in an interview at the MCM ComicCon in London about Serena’s story with Bernie. Difficult to argue with that.

~PD
(Image copyright: BBC)

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Cakes and candles: The 2017 version

24 January 2017
Posted in: Gaming, Scratchpad, Web design, Writeside, Writing | No Comments

Birthday

Here we go again, time to get excited about turning yet another year older. I’ll be honest: my favourite part about birthdays is cake (chocolate) and presents (many), not necessarily in that order. But because I don’t want to appear shallow, it helps to also make it about reflecting on the year gone by and think about what to expect in the next 365 days.

Here’s what I’d hoped to fill 2016 with:

  1. Implement the new design for Writeside.net. (It got a bit complicated. Long story.)
  2. Finish writing a book. (DONE, DONE and DONE! Yep, got two coming out this year, one an MG novel and the other a collaborative effort with another author. The US edition of Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean is also out this year.)
  3. Stay healthier than I managed in 2015. (Oops, that one might have come undone a bit.)
  4. Travel somewhere fun. (Done. Spent two weeks in the UK)
  5. Work on the workshops.(Done! Devika Rangachari and I started Royal Blue. We did three independent workshops, and have just wrapped up a 15-session creative writing programme in Amity International School, Saket, New Delhi.)
  6. Play more games. (Done! Would have been nice to get a bit more time for gaming, but shouldn’t complain.)

So, all in all, not as bad as it could have been.

But it’s that day again, so time for a brand new list, with new resolutions and aims. Here goes:

  1. Write (and/or finish) a fantasy novel: At the moment I don’t care if it’s one of my unfinished projects or series, or a new standalone novel. I just want to get back into fantasy.
  2. Start running again: Okay, I know realistically there isn’t a chance in hell of this happening if I continue to live in Delhi and if my knees don’t magically regenerate, so let’s downgrade this to “get fit enough so I can theoretically start running again”.
  3. Redo Writeside.net: Not just a new design, but maybe rethink what I’m doing with the site.
  4. Blog regularly: Plan in place.
  5. Keep playing games: My huge gaming backlog is getting huger as I keep buying games but not playing quite so much. But I’m going to do my best.
  6. Try self-publishing: Stay tuned for more on this.
  7. Travel somewhere interesting: As usual.

That’s all folks. Let’s see where we are 365 days from now.

~PD

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Why, hello, 2017! Here already?

5 January 2017
Posted in: Scratchpad, Writeside | No Comments

Over the past few years, I find that we (my contemporaries and I, that is) have been talking more and more about how the years are ticking by faster than ever before. As it turns out, this is an obligatory topic of conversation that becomes increasingly important as one gets older (move over, weather). Scientists have even been studying it and coming up with theories on why this is so.

My favourite theory is that the older you get, the years are proportionately smaller. So, when you’re 10, a year is a 10th of your life; when you’re 40, it’s only a 40th. Add to that my personal ability to spend copious amounts of time doing absolutely nothing, this means that 2017 is likely to race by tamely. Thus, am taking the chance here to declare that 2017 will be a year of blogging. Yes, it will!

Back in 2015 I’d promised myself one short story a month. Please feel free to insert an eyeroll here. Alarmingly enough, I’m not even sure what I’d resolved for 2016, and judging by the almost-criminal neglect of the blog, it’s perhaps a subject one should leave aside.

What what’s the plan for 2017? Well, a weekly blogging plan is on the agenda, the subject will be revealed in a day or so.

Meanwhile, Happy New Year, world.

~PD

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