PA­TRICK FREYNE

Be­fore the Doc­tor, we had to rely on the Golden Girls and Jessica Fletcher for fe­male role mod­els

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FRONT PAGE -

So the new Time Lord is Jodie Whit­taker. The colum­nist pre­tends to splut­ter tea. What? A Time Lady! A Doc­tress! A Whoman! I mean, can women even be doc­tors? Well, I never . . . etc. To be fair, most people, even the eas­ily riled man-tots of the Whoni­verse seem happy with this choice and, more im­por­tantly, gen­er­a­tions of fe­male scifi fans are made up about it. There were limited fe­male hero­ines to choose from in the olden days but here are some of my favourites

Won­der Woman

The prod­uct of an era when the theme tune for a TV show was usu­ally a funk riff over which the show’s ti­tle was catchily sung (they should do this more to­day: ‘Doo, doo, doo doo doo GAME OF THRONES! Doo doo doo doo doo doo GAME OF THRONES!”), Won­der Woman fought aliens and Nazis while dressed in a pa­tri­otic leo­tard. The original char­ac­ter was de­vel­oped in the 1930s by psy­chol­o­gist Wil­liam Moul­ton Marston who was both a pi­o­neer­ing fem­i­nist and a pi­o­neer­ing S&M perv. No­body’s per­fect. Still, the sight of a woman beat­ing up bad­dies had a lot of power. Diana Prince be­came Won­der Woman by spin­ning around in a cir­cle re­ally fast and kids in my neigh­bour­hood did so to the point of nau­sea. Mis­giv­ings: It was pos­si­bly a pa­tri­ar­chal plot to make young fem­i­nists too dizzy to take power.

Lynda Day from Press Gang

Lynda Day (Ju­lia Sawalha) was the no-non­sense editor of a re­mark­ably well-re­sourced school news­pa­per called the Ju­nior Gazette that pro­duced the kind of in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ism that, quite frankly, we at The Ir­ish Times can only dream about.

She had a flir­ta­tious re­la­tion­ship with a prob­lem­at­i­cally-ac­cented Amer­i­can named “Spike” (Dex­ter Fletcher), had fre­quent run-ins with the pa­tri­archy in the shape of deputy head­mas­ter Bill Sul­li­van, and wore un­fea­si­bly large jumpers. Re­ally huge jumpers. Se­ri­ously, they were mas­sive.

Press Gang was funny and dark (the jumpers alone) and better than most adult dra­mas. The writer Steven Mof­fat went on to pro­duce Doc­tor Who and Lynda Day be­came an icon for a gen­er­a­tion of jour­nal­ists too young to ap­pre­ci­ate Water­gate and con­se­quently ob­sessed with break­ing sto­ries about school lunches. Mis­giv­ings: Day didn’t give a damn about work/life bal­ance or child labour laws. In ret­ro­spect she was a bit of a Thatcherite.

Buffy the Vam­pire Slayer

A small girl is un­der­es­ti­mated and beats ev­ery­one up. I won­der why this pro­gramme was pop­u­lar among hero­ine-starved women? Buffy is also a metaphor for the show it­self, a (then) over­looked teen-drama that ended up re­mak­ing tele­vi­sion.

Mis­giv­ings: Pop-cul­tural ref­er­ences and epic story-arcs have taken over tele­vi­sion dra­mas that aren’t half as witty or clever.

The Golden Girls

Ev­ery­one loved the Golden Girls. So much so that its core char­ac­ters – a ru­ral sim­ple­ton, a con­niv­ing sex ma­niac and a neu­rotic with mother is­sues – be­came both my guide for flat­mate se­lec­tion and the tem­plate for Fianna Fáil front benches for years af­ter.

Well, be­fore the sup­pos­edly bound­ary-break­ing free spir­its of Sex and the City, this quar­tet of le­gends – Dorothy, Rose, Blanche and Sophia – showed us how to live. And it was awe­some. Be­tween The Golden

Girls and Mur­der She Wrote there was a sur­pris­ing num­ber of hit shows cen­tred around plucky older dames in the 1980s (well, two shows). This was a legacy of Roo­sevelt’s New Deal. Most Amer­i­cans don’t live past 30 these days. Mis­giv­ings: Bea Arthur aka Dorothy also ap­peared in a dis­turb­ing Brecht-in­spired song se­quence in the Star Wars Hol­i­day Spe­cial. This still haunts my dreams.

Jem and the Holo­grams

Noble phi­lan­thropist Jer­rica Ben­ton is also, thanks to a su­per­com­puter cre­ated by her ge­nius fa­ther, a holo­graphic pop star called “Jem”. There are a lot of ques­tions here about her fa­ther’s so­ci­o­log­i­cal pri­or­i­ties but Jem has more press­ing is­sues, namely a beef with the Mis­fits, whose theme song in­clude such stel­lar trash talk as, “We are the Mis­fits, our songs are better.”

Jem on the other hand has a theme song that at­tests to the fact that she is “truly, truly out­ra­geous”, ar­guably pre­dict­ing the age of out­rage in which we now live and in which in­cred­i­bly so­phis­ti­cated tech­nol­ogy is also used to do per­plex­ingly inane things.

Mis­giv­ings: I like the Mis­fits, their songs are better. They also, coin­ci­den­tally, have the same names as my neph­ews, Piz­zazz, Roxy and Stormer.

Jessica Fletcher on Mur­der She Wrote

With her trench coat, twinkly smile and hair like a fluffy golden cloud, crime nov­el­ist and ama­teur sleuth Jessica Fletcher (An­gela Lans­bury) was an ex­cel­lent role model for mur­der-lov­ing chil­dren of all gen­ders. Here’s a syn­op­sis of an Ir­ish-set episode (there were sev­eral) I watched on ITV3 at the week­end.

Jessica is in Cork or a Cork­like place in which people are se­cretly from North­ern Ireland or Stage Ireland or I-can’t-be­lieve-it’s-not-Ireland (Scot­land). Be­fore long, be­cause Jessica is vis­it­ing, a man is blud­geoned to death with a stone.

“We’ve a mur­der ev­ery time you’re in Kil­keer, Mrs Fletcher,” says an ob­ser­vant garda.

“Maybe it’s the luck of the Ir­ish,” says Jessica brightly and slightly racistly. It shows what a trooper Jessica is that she says this in­stead of star­ing blankly off into the dis­tance and say­ing, “Oh of­fi­cer, I have seen so much death.”

Why has this tragedy oc­curred? Well there are a few the­o­ries. A gig­gling wait­ress sug­gests the mur­derer could be “the wee people”, which is code, I think, for “protes­tants”. There’s also a ne­far­i­ous Amer­i­can in town, who’s en­cour­ag­ing the Ir­ish to dig up the hill­side in search of gold in­stead of fol­low­ing the old ways (teach­ing yanks to fish while talk­ing shite to them). This has cre­ated a rift in the com­mu­nity.

“We’re an ur­ban people now, in­dus­try is the fu­ture of Ireland, the en­gine that’ll run the Ir­ish econ­omy,” cries one Fine Gaeler (his party loy­alty isn’t stated, but I worked it out). “They got through to you with a bill of goods,” cries one of Jessica’s chums, who wear flat caps and are pos­si­bly proto-Healy-Raes mi­grated east like swal­lows.

The sus­pects in­clude: the blue-shirt, the Amer­i­can, the most badly poured pint of Guin­ness I have ever seen (there’s a pub scene), Jessica’s lo­cal chums (they have form, they’ve al­ready mur­dered the Cork ac­cent), and a drunk English cou­ple. They do not in­clude Jessica Fletcher, for she is above re­proach al­though steeped in death. So who done it? Spolier alert: it was the Brits (the reviewer in­stinc­tively clenches his fist and mut­ters “The Brits”). Mis­giv­ings: I have no mis­giv­ings.

Ms Pac­man

Ms Pac­man can do everything Pac­man could do while wear­ing a bow and be­ing ha­rassed by dig­i­tal ghosts (a pre­scient metaphor for be­ing a woman on the in­ter­net). Un­like the re­ac­tionary Ser­ena-Joy-like Mrs Po­tato Head, Ms Pac­man is not mar­ried to Pac­man and will def­i­nitely not change her name if she does get mar­ried. The “Ms” is clearly a ref­er­ence to the Glo­ria Steinem-founded mag­a­zine of the same name.

Mis­giv­ings (or Ms­giv­ings): she is lightly sex­u­alised in the original pro­mo­tional lit­er­a­ture. Well, sex­u­alised if pout­ing leggy spheres are your thing. Each to their own. You’ll get no judg­ment here.

Jessica Fletcher was an ex­cel­lent role model for mur­der-lov­ing chil­dren. She is above re­proach al­though steeped in death

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