Amy Fox

Writer. Editor. Bad at blogging.


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Hannibal, My Mad Fat Diary, and mental health on television

We need more relatable and fair representations of mental health problems on TV, just as we’ve had with sexuality and race.

Hugh Dancy plays Will Graham in Hannibal - a protagonist with mental health problems. Photo: Tabercil/Flickr

Hugh Dancy plays Will Graham in Hannibal – a protagonist with mental health problems. Photo: Tabercil/Flickr

I love the TV show Hannibal. I love that the cannibalism is shot like food porn, that every line of dialogue can be interpreted in a thousand different ways, and that it’s one of the few shows left that’s gruesome enough to have me squeaking and covering my eyes like a terrified toddler.

I wouldn’t recommend binge watching it though – especially not alone. There’s something in the darkly surreal, theatrical spectacle of the show that, after a few episodes, you’re craving sunshine and candyfloss.

It’s not just the horror but the constant foregrounding and analysis of mental illness. We’ve been delighting in horrible murders on television for years, but when was the last time we saw a careful, thorough representation of a troubled mind, without its owner being portrayed as a monster or a helpless victim?

Will Graham, the show’s protagonist, has an “empathy disorder” which allows him to think and feel exactly like other people – a dangerous talent for someone who hunts serial killers for a living. Unbeknown to him, Will also has a physical disorder called encephalitis which causes him to hallucinate and lose time. Will also has Hannibal for a therapist – the combination of all three makes for intense and troubling viewing.

Representing mental illness on television is a step in the right direction. Last week, Jonathan Freedland argued that just as 24’s David Palmer “prepared” America for an African-American president, Modern Family’s gay parents Mitch and Cam prepared it for same-sex marriage. In essence, the world that we see on our TV screens is not just a reflection of society, but a mould for it. The feminist adage that “You can’t be what you can’t see” springs to mind.

I’m by no means saying that well-off psychiatric professionals are going to start eating their patients at elaborate dinner parties after an ill-timed season two marathon. Nor am I arguing that Hannibal’s presentation of mental health is unproblematic. But the show’s candid discussion of these issues might help prepare its viewers for later, real world discussions. As a society we’re long overdue an open dialogue about mental health and the stigmas surrounding it, but hopefully, Hannibal will serve as a conversational aperitif.

It’s an eloquent show, and one that’s constantly discussing how it feels when your mental health is slipping. In the very first episode, Hannibal gives a perfect explanation of an anxiety disorder:

“Our brain is designed to experience anxiety in short bursts, not the prolonged duress your neuroses seem to enjoy. It’s why you feel as though a lion were on the verge of devouring you… You have to convince yourself the lion is not in the room.”

This is a valuable description of the kind of feeling that millions of us face every day, in slightly less dramatic – but no less terrifying – circumstances. It doesn’t matter where your anxiety comes from. If you feel like there is a lion in the room, the symptoms are the same. And the more the world gets to see that in relatable characters, the more it might be understood when it happens in real life.

Hannibal has its flaws. Not so much monster-of-the-week as it is “psychosis-of-the-week”, the show presents a veritable conveyor belt of mentally ill patients-turned-serial-killers – not exactly poster kids for recovery – and the show’s indulgence in fantastical melodrama makes it hard to argue that it’s giving a realistic portrayal of these issues.

That’s why we need protagonists who we can really relate to – who could be us, our sister, or our best friend. Thankfully – finally – we are getting them.

Rae Earl, the main character in Channel 4’s My Mad Fat Diary, is a funny, sharp, and relatable teenage girl. While Rae’s struggle with depression and anxiety is the show’s main plotline, time is devoted to her problems with friends, her mum, and her weight, schoolwork and love life.

At last: a real character whose illness does not define her intelligence, confidence, or relationships, but neither does the show shy away from discussing it.

As a diary format, there are constant doodles super-imposed on the action, so even when Rae’s face remains a pillar of cool disdain, we can see what she’s really thinking. In the midst of a panic attack, the marker pen effect begins drawing circles around the edge of the frame, which get faster and closer, encroaching on her terrified face until half the screen is obscured by angry black lines.

I can’t think of a more accurate representation of that feeling – the feeling that the entire world is pressing in, that you could stop it if you were just strong enough, that you can’t see anything outside of your own head. The show also gives hope that you can learn to control those feelings and they don’t have to determine the way you live your life.

But My Mad Fat Diary ended in March, and tonight so will Hannibal (at least for a while). It’s great that two shows in such disparate genres are dealing with these issues in their own way. Like minority races, sexualities, and genderqueer people, people with mental health problems should be found across all of our media, not just gritty issue dramas. If parents are more understanding of their children’s differences because of a character on TV, then TV is doing something right. Let’s have more of that, please.

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Will One Direction survive in a socialist utopia?

How will the world’s biggest boyband fair when the revolution comes? Amy Adams looks at what socialism might hold for Harry, Niall, Louis, Liam and Zayn.

Liam looks concerned but music won't necessarily die out after the revolution. Photo: Eva Rinaldi / Flickr

Liam looks concerned but music won’t necessarily die out after the revolution. Photo: Eva Rinaldi / Flickr

There are two things I truly believe. Firstly, that capitalism is an unsustainable and grossly unfair system in which the world’s 100 richest billionaires earned enough money to end extreme poverty four times over in one year.

Secondly, that One Direction, capitalism’s non-threatening poster boys, bring more pure joy to my life than any other musical artist (except Beyoncé).

And that got me thinking – when the revolution happens, and we live in a socialist utopia free from poverty and inequality, what happens to 1D?

To answer this extremely pressing question, we first must examine what a socialist society would look like, and it turns out this is actually quite difficult. After all, who can predict how or when the revolution will happen? Will it be led by workers’ unions, the Occupy movement, or Russell Brand’s skinny jeans? Only time will tell.

We can, however, apply the basic aims of socialism to our current society, and make some broad predictions.

Let’s start, like all good students of this subject, with Marx: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” Everyone works together to produce an abundance of goods and services, which are free for consumption.

The most common argument against this is that humans are too greedy to share resources, and are doomed to constantly screw each other over for personal gain. However, as Harry Ring points out in Socialism and Individual Freedom, humans have already proved that this is not the case. Think about availability of water in developed countries: it’s abundant, easy to access, and essentially free. No one thinks twice about giving a glass to someone in need, and no one is hording it by the bucketload in their garages. What would be the point?

If anything, this is good news for Directioners. Everything recorded so far will be free! No need to spend money on the songs, or risk downloading them illegally. And no more irritating DRM issues when you purchase digital content from companies like Apple! Perfect.

And while we’re talking about overly controlling corporations – you can kiss those goodbye too. As Hannah Sell argued in 21st Century Socialism in 2006: “a socialist economy would have to be a planned economy. This would involve bringing all of the big corporations, which control around 80% of the British economy, into democratic public ownership, under working-class control.”

No longer would moguls like Rupert Murdoch control politicians and newspapers simultaneously. And Simon Cowell’s label, Syco Music, will be in the hands of the people. So as long as we decide we still want music from the boys, future albums might not be ruled out either – overthrowing record companies doesn’t mean burning their equipment, after all.

Now, I know that a lot of people are sceptical about socialism. One of the most common arguments is that Russia already tried it, and it failed. That is why a sustainable socialist future must be one based on democracy.

Sell explains: “Nationally, regionally and locally – at every level – elected representatives would be accountable and subject to instant recall. Therefore, if the people who had elected them did not like what their representative did, they could make them stand for immediate re-election and, if they wished, replace them with someone else.”

Once again, things are looking pretty good for the loveable lads. After all, they lost the X-Factor final in 2010 – they’re no strangers to the power of the people. So far, I’m feeling good about the prospects of having the cherry on top of my revolutionist cake.

The difficulty, of course, comes when we stop examining socialist utopias, and start questioning One Direction. This is, after all, a band that rose to popularity by exploiting young girls’ insecurities. Although What Makes You Beautiful sounds like a call to arms against the evils of a sexist beauty industry telling women they’re nothing without their products, sadly it just replaces one form of sexism with another. It’s the approval of men that gives your life meaning, argues the song – not make up or self-belief.

There’ll be no place for sexism after the revolution, or any other oppression of minorities. As The Socialist Organizer puts it: “With the end of the patriarchal family and capitalist scapegoating will vanish the basis for discrimination against gay, bisexual, lesbian, and transgender folks.” The same goes for oppressive systems of racism, ableism, and ageism.

But if 1D gain most of their fans by reinforcing heteronormative narratives in which women are no more than mysterious, beautiful enigmas for men to win, won’t the magic be gone? Half the fun is that when they make broad, generalising descriptions about what makes “you” special, they really could mean you.

It’s true: One Direction would no longer be writing songs which depend on a patriarchal system. However, as the writer and activist John Molyneux points out, art will not die under socialism. In fact, it will find itself flourishing once free from corporate direction and the need to appeal to mass markets. Creativity will grow, and 1D – if they decide to go on making music now that it won’t make them richer than other people – will be free to record the same upbeat tunes and catchy hooks they always have. It’s just that, as my good friend Bethan put it, they will “sound like Feminist Ryan Gosling set to music” instead.

Viva la révolution!


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Why personality tests can’t give you an identity

Now that you’ve graduated, you might be longing for someone to tell you who you are. But personality tests can only result in binaries, and living the results may turn you into someone you’re not.

A busy street “The world isn’t made of binaries”. Photo: niallkennedy/Flickr

There was a brief period during my degree, somewhere between chunder charts and FitFinder, when personality tests became the in thing.  More specifically, people got really into the Jung-influenced Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) which categorises personality into 16 “types” and then gives vague but encouraging advice on how to best apply yourself.

I wasn’t that bothered at the time – someone telling me at a party that they knew me better than I knew myself, based on a few multiple choice questions, did nothing but make me walk in the opposite direction and down another glass of Blossom Hill.

But graduating changes your perspective. Once the structures I used to depend on disappeared, I became desperate for someone to tell me who I was and where I was going. Lost in a sea of post-graduate self-doubt and desperation, I finally took the test.

MBTI divides personality into four binaries: introvert/extrovert, intuition/sensing, thinking/feeling, perceiving/judging. You can be any combination of these four binaries, leading to 16 grandiose-sounding ‘types’, which each come with their own in-depth profile.

At first, it worked pretty well. I was given the ‘mastermind’ type INTJ (introvert, intuition, thinking, judging) and cautiously read all about this interpretation of myself. The single-minded and obsessive approach to work that the profile described reminded of my time as editor of a student newspaper. The failure that comes of trying to solve relationships like you solve your next career move was harder to swallow – but, ultimately, still familiar. For all of about five minutes, the test did exactly what it was supposed to; I felt like I had gained an insight into myself, my strengths, and how to improve them.

Then things got weird.

After being told that I put logic over emotion, I found myself thinking in more and more clinical ways about the situations around me. Other people’s pain began to look frivolous. My own pain made me angry and frustrated. “I’m not supposed to have feelings,” I thought. “I can’t even do my own personality right!”

Believing in personality categorisation means believing that people don’t change. That you are, incurably, who you will always be.

But people do change. They become more introverted or extroverted as they get older; they have emotional days and logical days. Like gender identity, sexuality and political affiliation, people exist across spectrums, not binaries.

Although one of the most popular personality tests in the world, it has been proved unscientific by many psychologists. I’m also distrustful of any multi-million dollar institution that stands to lose an awful lot if its founding principle falls into disrepute.

Not being a psychologist myself, I decided to ask what my brother, Harry, thought of the test. Having graduated from the University of Warwick with a first in psychology, and currently working in a mental health unit while training to become a counsellor, he’s the most qualified person I know for this kind of thing.

So – why do people use personality tests like Myers-Briggs?

“People are attracted to personality tests because they simplify things, and people like to understand things. Personality tests are particularly attractive because they help us to understand ourselves and other people (people being the most complex entities we encounter).

“My concerns with Myers-Briggs are with its artsy outlook. The categories it gives are suitably vague and interchangeable, and mostly remind me of that special brand of broad applicability seen in horoscopes and fortune tellings.

“As an item of curiosity, the Myers-Briggs is interesting. It can be useful to writers creating characters, for example. My only worry is if people take these categories too seriously, when personality questionnaires are used for profiling or research. If we start to take these narrow, reductionist categories and hold them up as a view of a whole person then we are diminishing and misrepresenting them.

The thing is, I have friends who really do find the guidance that Myers-Briggs gives useful. Who am I to judge, just because I hate being labelled? Clearly, people can have characteristics which they display on a regular basis. There are things about all of our friends that make us smile and say “That’s so typical of Flopsy.” But Flopsy is not the same person as Mopsy, even if they get the same score on the MBTI test.

The world isn’t made of binaries. Happy/sad, right/wrong, masculine/feminine – everything falls somewhere in between, and limiting yourself to them is just that: limiting.


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Why is no one talking about depression after university?

Every year, thousands of students’ lives change dramatically, often leaving them isolated, anxious, and even depressed. It’s time we started talking about it.

“Anxiety about Monday would start on Saturday night.” Post-university depression is not only real, but also rarely talked about. Photo: Flickr/pigeonpie

“Anxiety about Monday would start on Saturday night.” Post-university depression is not only real, but also rarely talked about. Photo: Flickr/pigeonpie

“Imagine sitting on a limb for a long time and, when you try to stand on it, you buckle under. You can’t get up. Everyone around you is standing up and telling you to do the same, but you just can’t. You dare not.”

Robyn Hall* graduated from university last summer. Despite being one of the lucky few to quickly find a job in her chosen field, she still struggled with the transition into her new life.

She described the difficulty of coming to terms with her feelings of depression.

“‘But you’re a graduate!’ my brain yelled at me. ‘Grow up!’ But the self-loathing continued. You leave a place you’ve been in for three or four years, where you developed so much, leaving behind the closest friends you’ve possibly ever had. Even if you do get a job, nobody tells you that once you ‘hit the jackpot’, you’ll struggle to make new friends; that 9-5 will leave you exhausted. You’re scared of not being good enough, that you won’t live up to expectations. It’s the ultimate disparity between representation and reality.”

Robyn is not the only one to struggle with depression after leaving university. When I graduated, I went from feeling the happiest I’ve been in my adult life, to the worst. By October I was jumping at sudden noises and afraid to leave my bedroom. When a year-long relationship suddenly ended, I didn’t know how to see past the black clouds pressing in on me.

I sought help from my GP, who referred me to a local mental health outreach programme. But in the end, it was time, a relocation, and support from friends that began to stabilise the feelings of anxiety and depression.

I can count graduates with similar stories on two hands – and those are just the ones close enough to confide in me. Every year, thousands of people’s lives are turned upside down when they jubilantly throw a hat into the air, then watch it come crashing down into reality. So why does no one talk about the feelings of hopelessness that so many are left with?

After all, with over 900,000 young people currently unemployed and benefits for under-25s constantly under threat, is it any wonder that mental health issues in young people are rising across the board?

I spoke to Matt Tidby, who stayed in his university town of Norwich following graduation, supporting himself with temp jobs. “The majority of the work itself was doable, if monotonous – but things like the telephone, where I was expected to advise on mortgages after about half-a-day’s training, left me hugely anxious and very unhappy. I suffered on a personal level, and lost a lot of confidence in my ability to do both that job, and any of the jobs I actually craved.

“Quite ridiculously, I lived in fear of being ‘put on the phones’ – I built that minor stress into a mountain of worry that blotted out everything. After about a month, the job applications stopped. I got into quite a destructive system of trying to make it to each weekend without things getting too shit to handle. Anxiety about Monday would start on Saturday night.”

Matt eventually left the job, recognising the damage it was doing, and said that things were beginning to get better. “It’s a daily, rapidly changing situation, really – a positive email or a phone call can reverse many days of feeling low. It’s a strange inversion of my time temping; whereas once I lived in terror of the phone ringing, now I urge it to. I’m more hopeful that it will.”

While researching this piece, I found very little information targeted specifically at graduates suffering from mental health problems, despite an article in the Independent last year that found that of 40 students and recent graduates surveyed, “95% believed that post-university depression was very much a real thing”.

With so little information available, I contacted the mental health charity Mind directly. Head of information, Beth Murphy, had this to say:

“Moving on from university is often the biggest change a person has experienced up to that point in their lifetime. Added to this, today’s graduates are facing the double-whammy of the debt associated with paying for university and a tough job market that can seem impenetrable.

“Financial stress and uncertainty around employment are major contributors to mental health problems like anxiety and depression. Mind has seen a surge in calls to our Infoline from people struggling with financial difficulties, many of them post-graduates. Our In the Red report actually found that 85% of respondents said their financial difficulties had made their mental health problems worse.”

So if post-university depression is “a real thing”, why does no one talk about it? Is this the same stigma surrounding mental health that affects all sufferers, or is there something else going on? Robyn believes that there is a pressure on graduates to feel grateful for their position.

“Once you get a 9-5 job, coping with depression can be worse. People are all over to congratulate you, help you in any way they can; you’re so afraid of disappointing everyone that you just let the guilt fester away. I think even in the media it’s not represented enough that you can do your ‘dream job’ and not feel right.”

So what can be done? Beth recommends communication above all else. “If you are worried about your mental health, confide in a friend or family member or speak to your GP. There are also lots of small things you can do to make yourself feel better – exercise can be hugely beneficial, releasing chemicals which help increase wellbeing and mood. Keeping in touch with friends is also important, as withdrawing from social contact can make things worse.”

Whether you attended university or not, being young and uncertain about your future is the perfect opportunity for feelings of anxiety to take hold. I’m constantly struggling with my own mental health, but I’m one of the lucky ones; I have a job to focus me, friends to listen when things get dark, and access to medical help. But the same can’t be said for everyone, and with mental health trusts asked to shave almost 20% from their budgets next year, that last, vital support system is more at risk than ever.

It’s time to stop suffering in silence and acknowledge depression after graduation as a real risk to young adults. And it’s time to stop cutting the very services that may well save their lives.

• For information, support and advice please visit mind.org.uk or call Mind’s confidential mental health information service on 0300 123 3393.

• To find out more about starting conversations and tackling mental health stigma, visit time-to-change.org.uk

*Names have been changed.


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#twittersilence: it’s not for everyone. Here’s what it is for me.

I – like many, many others – have spent the last week thinking a lot about feminism and online abuse. And as I’ve been trying to decide whether or not to participate in #trolliday, a few things have started to occur to me.

Of the women on twitter whom I have been following, the argument has been split between two main camps. The problem is, I kind of agree with both.

Someone like Caitlin Moran will be missed today. If I still had it in me to care about Doctor Who, I would be sad not to have her running commentary of the weird talk-show-slash-possible-fight-to-the-death that will reveal the twelfth Doctor tonight. The argument that twitter would be a much worse place without outspoken women will be felt by her simple 24-hour absence. More importantly, the act of leaving twitter for a day will fuel a wider conversation about abuse. Helen Lewis explains that position pretty well.

But many, many other women are continuing to tweet their anger about sexism, because silence concerning abuse has not, historically, gone well for the abused.

Each approach works for the people who chose it. So what should my response be?

The thing is, my silence on twitter wouldn’t necessarily be missed anyway. I don’t tweet an awful lot as it is, and I very rarely tweet about feminism. For one thing, I am usually talking about something else. For another, there are many people I know who talk about it far more eloquently than myself. But there is a part of me – and it’s not a part I’m particularly proud of – that sees the abuse other women get, and thinks “I don’t know if that’s something I want to open myself up to”.

So in a way, I’ve already been silenced for far too long. As someone who is perfectly happy to identify myself as a feminist, and talk about feminism in my life away from the internet, that doesn’t really make any sense.

So instead of being silent today, I’m going to speak out instead.

And the message is simple – it is completely ridiculous that women are so often met with death threats and rape threats just for saying that they want to be treated equally to men. How twitter should respond to a fault of society is a different argument completely. However, the way that people treat each other in public spaces is everybody’s business, and they should never treat each other like that. Ignoring the problem is not a helpful response for those on the receiving end of daily insults and threats. If it came from someone they knew personally, no one would be telling them that to respond would only make things worse, so that should just sit down and take it.

I am a feminist, and I object to a world that treats men and women differently. I am adding my voice to the critical mass of objections.

Sexism does still exist. Women and girls are killed and abused all around the world simply for being women and girls. It cannot be denied that they are held to a different standard than men – to see that, you only need to turn on your TV and compare the number of visible mature men to the number of visible mature women.

Of course, both women and men are also abused for their race, sexuality, class, religion, nationality, mental health, weight, disability, appearance, clothes … gender is just one of the many targets of discrimination, but that doesn’t make it – or them – any less important.

There are many kinds of sexism. Almost every woman I know has faced some form of street harassment. Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head for speaking out for a woman’s right to an education in Pakistan. Marte Deborah Dalelv was arrested for having sex outside of marriage after reporting a rape – the fact that she was pardoned after international outcry does not make it okay. Within the last couple of months, a medical student I know was told by a surgeon at her hospital that she wouldn’t get ahead in orthopaedics because one day she will want to have a baby; another told her that she will find it easy because she can simply use her boobs. Neither mentioned her medical ability.

Sexism still exists. Some people’s silence today will speak louder than their presence. Some people will continue to shout about it today, and tomorrow, and the next day.

I am protesting in my own way. I am saying, as thousands of other women are saying, that sexism has to stop. The world will be a far, far better place without it.

In a debate on Channel 4 news the other day, Jon Snow asked whether the issue was bigger than twitter, and was in fact a social problem.

“Yes it is, Jon,” writer and activist Laurie Penny replied.

“Then why aren’t we dealing with that?”

Exactly, Jon Snow. Exactly.


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LGBTQ and the media: why Hollyoaks is the best show on television

A couple of weeks ago, same-sex marriage became legal in the UK. You may have heard about it. Of course, the law is not without it’s faults – let’s not forget that trans people are being significantly discriminated against, that heterosexual couples still can’t enter into civil unions, and that there is a quadruple lock on opposed religious groups performing such marriages, so that LGBTQ members of the Church of England couldn’t be married in their faith, even if they wanted to.

I am not forgetting those things. However, it has to be acknowledged that the change in law is still a huge step forward for human rights in this country, and emblematic of positively shifting attitudes.

However, just as in the law surrounding it, society’s attitude towards LGBTQ people still has its issues. They are still bullied, mocked and degraded for being themselves, and as long as this site still exists, you’re never a google search away from a nice little reminder of how far left society has to come.

Today, however, I am going to talk about one specific problem, because it’s one that’s been bugging me lately – and that is the way in which we understand LGBTQ characters on TV. It was a topic often discussed in my Queer Theory class at UEA last year, and one which continually comes up in the TV I watch now.

The thing is, the growing number of LGBTQ characters is something of a red herring. Of course more representation is a good thing, and the fact that openly gay characters are appearing is a step forward in itself. But why are they so often presented as minor side characters, there to throw out a good one liner, but never actually take on any strong storylines themselves? Why do they still play up to stereotypes which don’t actually help anyone? And why do the lesbiansalwaysALWAYSdie? [warning: violence, illness, spoilers]

It’s a commonly recurring theme that tvtropes.org refers to as “bury your gays link”.

Of course there are always exceptions. But no matter how great it is to have LGBTQ characters on TV, there are still only two messages being sent about queer relationships. Either they must fit perfectly into the roles society has dictated for them in order to be legitimate (one flamboyantly camp man and his long-suffering partner/two hot babes), or they must ultimately end up doomed and their partners left grieving forever.

 

A Case Study

Let’s compare Channel 4’s Dates. It was well-promoted, billed as an edgy contemporary drama/comedy, and the link with Skins creator Bryan Elsley was continually pushed.

Overall, the series was pretty good; the “straight” episodes portrayed interesting, layered characters who were struggling with various emotional issues as they attempted to navigate the awkward seas of dating in a complex contemporary world.

But then we got to the “lesbian” episode – and presumably even having lesbians was presumed to be edgy enough without actually bothering to push any more boundaries. Instead, when one admits to having previously been with men, we get the line “I’m so sick of women who go this way and that on a whim; it’s not complicated, it’s annoying and not honest … Maybe you’re just straight and bored?” In response: “you seem like an angry lesbian with a dick complex.”

Neither of these stereotypes is anything the viewers haven’t heard before, and repeating them isn’t edgy; it’s lazy. To top it all off, the two women later do sexy dancing and sleep together anyway, despite the fact that neither seems to particularly like the other, making it a lesbians-on-TV hattrick.

Gay stories can’t just rely on their own gayness to keep them interesting. They need as many twists, turns and surprises as straight stories. How else will they ever seem like legitimate stories to tell?

And that is just the gay, bisexual and lesbian characters who are, finally, beginning to exist on our screens; for those who are trans, genderqueer, pansexual, asexual, or one of the many other non-heteronormative identities, there is still the battle to get their stories represented on television at all.

The only reference I found to trans issues in Dates was this passing comment from a man in a later episode, on the number of dates he has had in his life: “two including this one, and the other ‘so-called’ girl turned out to be … never mind”. A face is pulled, the subject changed, and the subject never mentioned again. To make matters worse, this is from a man who claimed to have an academic interest in sexuality, and who even went so far as to explain a rough version of the Kinsey scale. Admittedly, the character is portrayed as racist and sexist throughout. But even in the one area in which their character appears to be somewhat enlightened, trans jokes are still too easy a shot for the writers to take.

So what can we do? What possible direction is left to take?

 

That’s where Hollyoaks comes in

Moving to a new town is hard. You don’t know where things are; you don’t have any friends yet; there are millions of roundabouts everywhere for no discernible reason (although maybe that’s just in Colchester).

Luckily, I am privileged enough to be housesharing with an extremely friendly and generous couple (and their puppy).

Unluckily, their favourite TV show is Hollyoaks.

Now, I’m not judging those who enjoy trashy soaps – not at all. But Hollyoaks though? That’s the worst one!

So what do you do? Do you watch bad TV with wooden acting, farcical storylines, and awkward sets? Or do you hide in your bedroom, carry on learning to knit, and not bond with the people you’re sharing your living spaces with for the foreseeable future?

Honestly, it was a tough call to make. But I’m pretty bad at being on my own, so in the end, against all the odds, Hollyoaks won.

At first, I was just vaguely fascinated by how terrible the plots were, and how hilariously bad the acting was.

Then, I started to notice something odd.

First, two men in a relationship kissed without any particular fuss – the same everyday peck that we see between straight couples on TV all the time. Oh, I thought. How nice! I didn’t even realise they were together until the end of the scene, because they were talking about something completely different!

Then, I began to realise that there was also a love triangle between a third man. Brilliant! These two aren’t just together because they’re the only gay men on the show – the drama of the relationship doesn’t come from their sexuality alone, it comes from jealousy and affairs – just like all the other couples! Best of all, from my limited viewpoint, it didn’t seem like any of the LGBTQ characters were being portrayed with the usual stereotypes.

Later in the week, the same thing happened again – but this time with two teenage girls! As we have established by now: usually if female LGBTQ characters exist at all, they are almost always presented through the lens of a wider male fantasy, and are highly unrealistic as a result. But here they were, at 6.30pm on weeknight, right in front of my eyes! And once again, their storyline included mental health issues, fears for a relationship that is moving too fast, and parents catching them in compromising positions. All slightly hammy versions of the sort of issues teenagers face every day; but the girls’ sexuality itself wasn’t commented upon once!

It may seems like a relatively small complaint in a world where LGBTQ people people face physical threats and violence on a daily basis. But it’s all part of the same problem. The way certain identities are presented in the media is always going to significantly affect how we think about those identities. If we are only ever shown two or three varieties of gay relationships and characters, they will never be truly accepted by everyone. And the same goes for all oppressed minorities – the more variety we are able to see, the less they will be considered minorities at all.

For years I have been complaining that we need LGBTQ characters on our TVs whose sexuality is not their primary characteristic; and for years I’ve been continually disappointed. We are often drawn to anything that is new in the hope that, this time, it will have all the answers. But perhaps we are looking in all the wrong places – and something like Hollyoaks, which is so often dismissed for its low-budget, quotidian nature, has been giving us those answers for years.


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Quick post: weekend in Wales

Well I wasn’t kidding about keeping up the blog, and I had a fantastic response to the last post, so thank you! Thank you especially To Adam Tinworth, who actually wrote a post about me writing a post about him. Blogception.

However, the next one I’m working on is proving slightly more time-consuming and complicated than I expected – and I am also graduating this week, so there my be an unexpected delay.

So here, instead, are some pretty pictures of Southerndown in South Wales, where I spent my weekend. It was pretty beautiful.

Southerndown

Southerndown

 

Sea

Sea

 

Barbecuing at sunset

Barbecuing at sunset

As a Midlands girl, I still get extremely excited about being on a beach, or near the sea at all. There’s something pretty breathtaking about reaching the very edge.

And, best of all, this particular beach is also the set of this heartbreaking scene (and, I am reliably informed, many others):

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go and cry for the days when Doctor Who was still good. Cry like a sad, sad baby.