UNCLE TOM’S CABIN FEVER

LutherTaking some therapeutic advice from a friend, I’ve recently made the effort to paint my fingers green, though the absence of garden, greenhouse and allotment has been a severe impediment to observing the life cycle from seed onwards. Get to a certain point and individual re-potting is required, something that space restricts and somewhat scuppers; therefore, limiting myself to interior window-box, I purchased compost and shrubs to play daddy to some antirrhinum, which looked exceedingly pretty on the picture that accompanied the tray the baby plants came in. Anyway, the window-box now sits between the previously-mentioned Triffids masquerading as rubber plants on my sun-drenched windowsill, occupying the prime solar spot in the whole flat and having no excuse not to flower into blooms worthy of being picked by Monty Don and Percy Thrower on a day trip to Pepperland.

And then the thought occurred to me that indulging in this pastime might be misconstrued as a racist gesture. After all, what is an urban orchard but an approximation of a rural idyll by the inherently metropolitan? And as we all know, the countryside is racist, meaning those of us not engaged in sexual relations with our siblings or cattle should stay in our lanes. Farms are racist, fields are racist, trees are racist, grass is racist, cows are racist, sheep are racist, sheepdogs are racist, pigs are racist, chickens are racist, flora is racist, fauna is racist, incest is racist, tractors are racist, harvest festivals are racist, digging for victory is racist, growing your own is racist – bloody hell, it must be all that toxic white supremacy flowing through my veins like incurable Original Sin that turned me into a gardening Nazi and I hereby apologise, to take the knee till Kingdom Come and beg for the forgiveness that will never come my bigoted way. Just as well I never pandered to racial stereotypes by voicing an Indian shopkeeper on ‘The Simpsons’ for the best part of 30 years, else then I would be really buggered.

Mind you, could be worse – I could be a prominent British black actor, a trailblazer for mainstream ‘diversity’ who accepted a leading role in a police drama from the nation’s premier TV channel on the basis that here was a character whose skin colour was immaterial to his persona and wasn’t there to be a token negro. Yes, I could be Idris Elba, fresh from playing a glorified drug dealer on US television and coming home to step into shoes previously filled by the likes of Barlow, Regan and Hunt. A cop who just happened to be black, yet wasn’t participating in all the approved ‘black pursuits’ those nice Woke folk running our MSM have decided are authentic traits for People of Colour as we pat them on the head for fulfilling their limited expectations. Yes, shock horror! – Elba played a part that didn’t involve him dealing drugs or fathering children he abandoned or stealing cars or knifing rival gang members or even displaying some of that Caribbean rhythm by treating viewers to the occasional dance to a bit of reggae with a spliff welded to his lip. Maybe Elba’s African heritage had something to do with that, but let’s not let geography get in the way of anti-racist progressive groupthink, eh? He’s clearly an Uncle Tom.

In case you haven’t been paying attention, Idris Elba has played ‘Luther’ on BBC1 screens intermittently from 2010 onwards. I remember I watched the first series, largely attracted by the presence of Ruth Wilson, an actress I have a soft spot for; I thought it was OK, if a bit routine, but wasn’t sufficiently hooked to keep watching thereafter. I’m trying to work out if not keeping watching was racist or if watching in the first place was racist. By sticking with the opening half-dozen episodes, was I guilty of cultural appropriation, intruding upon something not intended for me and displaying an inbuilt strain of white supremacy, being no better than the middle-aged multitudes that tuned in to ‘The Black & White Minstrels’ back in the 60s and 70s? Or by abandoning the series after the first six instalments was I displaying an inbuilt strain of white supremacy by rejecting the time-honoured television role of the maverick police detective if not played by a white actor? Oh, it’s such a bloody conundrum innit; but that’s what you deserve when you fail to see skin colour, sexuality and gender as the sole characteristics that define us.

And now it appears the BBC itself is similarly confused. Despite ‘Luther’ being regarded, up until now, as a feather in its inclusivity cap, the Beeb is suddenly not so sure. Miranda Wayland, the Corporation’s ‘Head of Creative Diversity’ (nice work if you can get it) has aired Biden-like concerns that Luther as a character ain’t black enough. ‘He doesn’t have any black friends,’ she said whilst conscientiously spreading some reggae sauce on her jerk chicken (probably). ‘He doesn’t eat any Caribbean food – this doesn’t feel authentic.’ I never considered Idris Elba might be a self-loathing black man by not adhering to cultural clichés; perhaps he should have insisted ‘Camptown Races’ was the theme tune for ‘Luther’ and perhaps he could have waved his hands about a bit every time he nicked a villain. Heaven forbid his character might have demonstrated skin colour was no impediment to rising up police ranks in the same way Patel and Sunak have shown there’s no colour bar in politics if you refuse to make a career out of playing the oppressed victim because it upholds the ‘institutional racism’ narrative. What a terrible message that must have been to send out to any non-white viewer watching. What unconscious racists we all were in 2010.

Of course, there could well have been a token element to the creation of ‘Luther’ to begin with, but the series seemed to be suggesting something positive amidst the hackneyed diversity factor that was possibly behind its inception. But that’s not enough in 2021, a time when an esteemed television scribe like Russell T Davies puts forward the theory that only gay actors should play gay characters – and does that also mean gay actors can only play gay characters? If so, there’s going to be a hell of a lot of competition for the few gay roles on offer. Surely straight characters shouldn’t be played by gay actors, then, if we are to preserve this line of thinking. But if actors, along with all other creative types, have to stay in their designated lanes, how does that explain the casting of a dark-skinned black woman in the part of Anne Boleyn, which has recently been announced in the case of British actress Jodie Turner-Smith? Are we supposed to view this as progress and spurn historical accuracy because history is racist? I dunno, but I look forward to Mackenzie Crook playing Malcolm X in response, which is surely the logical outcome of a make-believe, myopic cinematic world in which colour is both blind and crystal clear.

I suspect we are rapidly careering towards what Rod Liddle has labelled ‘peak wank’ when it comes to Identity Politics – whether it’s the racism thing or the trans thing. A world in which some genuinely believe Idris Elba is not black enough and that men can menstruate is not a world in which one should expect either common sense or consistency. In its own small, insignificant way, I don’t doubt that – other than lockdown fatigue – one of the main factors as to why satirical videos I posted on YouTube from 2010 to 2018 have received such a dramatic upsurge of enthusiastic views over the past couple of months is that people are sick to the back teeth of all this shit and are relieved to laugh without having to check their thinking beforehand. I didn’t expect this to happen, but perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised. To quote a comment I received on a video yesterday, ‘You are rapidly becoming the best channel anywhere, exactly what is needed in these questionable times’ – and that was in response to a video I uploaded in 2017. Anyway, I’ve got to go and watch some antirrhinum grow. It’s better for me than watching Rome burn.

© The Editor

4 thoughts on “UNCLE TOM’S CABIN FEVER

  1. I always thought acting was about getting paid for pretending to be something you’re not. Idris Elba is not a 21st century policeman, so he acts as if he is one and, if he’s a good actor, his pretence succeeds. His skin-colour shouldn’t be a feature in that process, neither should it influence his demonstration of deceit.

    The proposal that only gay folk should play gay characters is nonsensical, does that lunacy mean that Doctor Who monsters can only be played by real alien monsters or that dead bodies can only be played by dead people? It’s all about pretence and, arguably, the greater the volume of pretence needed for a role, the more challenging for the actor and, by extension, the more praiseworthy when carried off successfully.

    But the skin-colour issue can thwart even the best actor or actress – in truth, Anne Boleyn was white-skinned and it seems to be a denial of that clear fact to expect a black actress to fulfil that role 500 years later, just because it’s now trendy. Similarly William Shakespeare was white, so was Brunel and it would be as inappropriate to cast other skin-toned actors in those roles as it would be to expect a pale-faced thespian to portray Nelson Mandela or Mohammad Ali. A bloke in a wheelchair, no matter how good an actor he is, can’t successfully pretend to be Sebastian Coe winning gold medals.

    I just hope your blooming collection of plant-life reflects the melting-pot shades of your local community – or maybe they’ll just pretend to be different colours, changing daily, to blend in as woke fashion dictates.

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    1. I remember the ‘Withnail and I’ director Bruce Robinson once recalling a youthful acting experience working on a movie with one of the esteemed European auteurs. A sex scene was being simulated and the auteur demanded the young actor make the active body part ready for action, to which Robinson retorted that if he did indeed achieve an erection he would want to have sex for real with the actress alongside him. As they weren’t making a pornographic film, he didn’t think it was necessary. He had a good point about acting there, one that seems to be getting lost in the wonderful world of Identity Politics.

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  2. It’s one of those things that seem reasonable at first – if you need a black (or Indian) character why not choose a black person rather than getting a white actor to black-up. Problem is if you take it to its logical conclusion it becomes farcical. Shakespeare’s Othello is now routinely played by a black man, but traditionally it was a white man blacked up – its all about how good a performance either man can put the role not about the make-up (or lack of).
    In the West Indies it is a tradition to “white-up” and mock white people, but apparently that is punching up rather than down.

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