Thursday, February 22, 2007

Life on Mars

In a meeting in London yesterday listening to the young men argue and thinking, "What do they know?" I was shocked to find that they were over 50. When I was younger I wrote a short poem:

It will rain soon,
The wind has dropped a bit
And it is colder.

Fingering through
Anold notebook I find
That I am older.

It is supposed to say we get so involved in the things going on around us that we don't notice time passing.

The David Bowie song "Life on Mars"

And she's hooked to the silver screen,
But the film is sadd'ning bore
For she's lived it ten times or more.
She could spit in the eyes of fools
As they ask her to focus on
Fighting in the dance hall.
Oh man!Look at those cavemen go.
It's the freakiest show.
Take a look at the lawman
Beating up the wrong guy.
Oh man!Wonder if he'll ever know
He's in the best selling show.
Is there life on Mars?

has given its name to a new TV show that is being remade for the American market.

A 21st Century detective has a car accident and wakes up to find himself back in 1973, complete with flares, crimpeline suits and police brutality. He's called Sam Tyler. The show is made by BBC Wales who have made the latest incarnation of Dr Who, whose young companion is Rose Tyler. Wat Tyler, was of course the leader of the Peasants Revolt against the Poll tax in 1381 in the reign of Richard the Second and was murdered by tthe Lord Mayor of London. Tyler became a symbol of the resurgence of ultra-left-wing political parties in the early 1990s in opposition to Margaret Thatchers's Poll Tax - itself mor properly named Community Charge, and attempt to address the unfairness of Household Rates, a local property tax levied on the size of the house, which were thought to be unfair to elderly pensioners living alone in large family houses without the income to sustain it.

In 1973 Watergate was simmering, the oil crisis was tempting Nixon to invade Iraq, the Tory government was being treatened by a sex scandal, and the miners were about to go on strike, Israel and the Arabs were at war, the Troubles were well under way in Northern ireland. The Left were rampant - old Labor would be elected for the last time in 1974.

Back in 1973 Sam finds himself at odds with policing style. Racism, sexism, no concern for the chain of evidence, institutionalised minor corruption ; confessions were obtained by beating up the suspect. It harks back to John Thaw's precious incarnation as Regan in The Sweeney (Cockney rhyming slang - Sweeney Todd = Flying Squad), even to the use of a Mark III Ford Cortina 2000E (though it falsely badged as a GXL). Rather than London, this crime drama is set in Manchester and even if they get a few things anachronistically wrong, they capture the atmosphere of the seventies. Much is made of the different attitude of then and now. Remember when all women were good for in the work place were to make the tea? When you could pinch a woman's bottom and she took it a compliment? When a black man would respond to a racist remark with a self-effacing joke to show he was one of the lads? When it was normal and expected for a police officer to receive free food and drinks from local businesses and even free sexual favors from prostitutes? Well, none of that was in my own experience, but it makes a nice contrast with the policing of today.

So we have the conflict of policing then and now, cultural attitudes then and now, fashion, then and now, pop music then and now (apart from Bowie it was Wings and the Who). Some viewers have been put off by the SciFi element. Is this time travel? Or is he dreaming while in a coma after his accident? Or is he really in 1973 and mad?

One of the things you do in the past is look up your mum and dad. Tyler's dad disappeared when he was a young boy. One episode concerns his search for his father. Interestingly, the name of Tyler's boss in 1973, the brutal chief inspector who beats up suspects, is Gene Hunt. (Incidentally, boss is right. TV police shows often have subordinates calling their superiors 'guv', but this was a London term. In Manchester in 1973 superiors were called 'boss')

If you haven't seen Life on Mars I recommend it. There will be only 16 episodes. The second and final series has just begun broadcasting. It is on BBC America and an American version of the concept is in pre-production.

Santayana said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Harold Wilson, leader of old Labor, swept to victory in the General Election of 1974, but retired in 1976 at the age of 60. Shortly afterwards he began showing the signs of Alzheimer's disease and withdrew from public life. He was buried in 1995, perhaps appropriately, on the Isles of Scilly. His family motto is Tempus Imperator Rerum (Time Commands All Things).


justme said...

Time travel definitely intrigues me...perhaps that’s why one of my favorite books is "The Doomsday Book" by Connie Willis. It is set in 2054…and 1348. It’s about Kivrin, a female undergraduate history student at Oxford, and what she encounters when she is accidentally sent back to the Middle Ages (to 1348 – the year the Black Plague reaches England). I would classify this book as an adventure/thriller.

Another book Connie Willis wrote is “To Say Nothing of the Dog”…but it’s a combination time travel story, mystery, romance and goofy comedy. It’s been likened to the movie “Bringing Up Baby” meets the classic book “Three Men in a Boat.” This one is a lot of fun to read!

Anonymous said...

I was alive in 1973 and remember it quite well. The oil embargo hit hard (though the US was much less dependent upon foreign oil than it is today).

I can assure you that, in the US at least, if you pinched a woman's bottom you would either get punched in the face by her or fired by your boss.

A black person would do the same to you, or worse. Race relations were vastly changed in the late '50s and the early 60s.

(I still remember in 1959 seeing water fountains in New Orleans marked 'white' and 'colored'.)

The US and Britian must have been much more different then than they are now.

justme said...

In looking through our programs schedule, the only time it shows in the Chicago area is 2:00, 3:00 and 4:00 a.m. In order to watch it, I'll have to finally learn how to program my VCR...Is it worth that???

Terry Hamblin said...

I like it for its contrast betwen then and now and for the slightly surreal plot line.