Monday, April 30, 2007

Life on Mars

Having foolishly watched the first and last episodes of Life on Mars when it was broadcast, I am now filling in the chasm through DVDs. Everybody is right, it's superb, a television event as distinctive and strange as The Prisoner. But why, apart from internal plot reasons, does Sam go back to the seventies? Because, I think, it is the most recent period that seems exotically remote, like Mars. The eighties and nineties are not that different from now and even the sixties are recognisable as the present's precursor. But the seventies are an anomaly; everything about that decade seems more brutal and raw than anything we now know. Coincidentally, in the midst of my Mars-fest, this column by Niall Ferguson appeared. He wonders, for political and economic reasons, if the seventies are making a comeback. All of the portents and possibilities are familiar - inflation, a sliding dollar, stockmarket meltdowns, oil shocks. In Britain, we just need a phase of overbearing trade union power and we might as well start buying Mark III Cortinas and striped shirts with huge collars. As Mars makes clear, the seventies were harsh years. But - spoiler approaching - in the end Sam Tyler chooses 1973 for all its brutality rather than the bland, bureaucratised world of the present. Out on the streets with that magnificent monster Gene Hunt, he can at least feel something. He should, perhaps, have stuck around; if Ferguson is right, we are about to start feeling again. It won't be pretty, but, if you have any Tylerish tendencies, it will be exhilarating.

21 comments:

  1. I graduated High School in '73 now where did I put those bell bottom jeans and my "keep on truckin" boots.
    Not that they would fit as I seem to have adopted my Dad's waist as well as his sayings!

    Gotta go a John Denver special is coming on...

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  2. Yes! Keep on Truckin' on American Beauty, The Grateful Dead released in ....1970! I had a pair of boots like that though I am not entiurely sure I lived up to them.

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  3. But the seventies are an anomaly; everything about that decade seems more brutal and raw than anything we now know. I'm not so sure about this statement. The anomaly, about the seventies, yes. But the raw and brutal, had I to pick a recent decade. That would be the eighties, North and west of a line between Bristol and Kings Lynn. While the anomaly, I think, has to do more with the decades either side, with the seventies a sort of middle ground between hope and hell.

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  4. Michael SweeneyApril 30, 2007 8:42 am

    Surely it is more straightforward than that. Part of the fun of Life on Mars (apart from Gene Hunt's one-liners) was nostalgia for a lost time of Ford Cortinas, Malcolm Allison and Camberwick Green. No-one in their right minds would swap 1973 for 2007 - with its three-day weeks, trades union skullduggery, limits on foreign travel and sunday closing. Verily a different world. No internet and blogs there either. How would we manage?

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  5. Malcolm Allison! You speak to my very soul, Michael. I think viewing the past from the perspective of the present produces questions like: how would I manage without my mobile? But, if you never had a mobile and nobody else did either, you can't miss it. Sam decides he can do without because he wants the feelings.

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  6. in the end Sam Tyler chooses 1973 for all its brutality rather than the bland, bureaucratised world of the present. Out on the streets with that magnificent monster Gene Hunt, he can at least feel something

    By which reasoning, he'll soon get bored of the petty troubles of 1973 and want to try out the Blitz, or perhaps dabble with the plague-ridden London of 1665.

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  7. I remain surprised that no-one's attempted to get all political over it, particularly the less than sensitive and distinctly non-PC policing methods.

    Did Simon Heffer ever do a "If only it was '73" piece? If so I missed it...

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  8. as distinctive and strange as the prisoner?

    you're having a laugh, mate!

    no, I agree with whoever it was said it was the only way they thought they could remake the Sweeney without actually remaking the Sweeney. As a result there was too much Sweeney and not enough Sweeney. It was Sweeney-lite.

    The Prisoner is wasn't.

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  9. Too much Sweeney and not enough Sweeney? You can never have enough Sweeney.

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  10. What about Softly, Softly? Does anybody remember that?

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  11. Ah yes Softly, Softly. You know as I watched Everton emerge onto the field at Goodison on Saturday to the tune of Z-Cars and then saw 40,000 fans clap enthusiastically below a photo Alan Ball in his simple (though elegant) early 1970's kit, I did think for a moment I was in a Tyleresque parallel universe. It was very comforting too.

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  12. Susan B. d'PhillyApril 30, 2007 3:52 pm

    I was a teenager in the 1970s in the American South. The clothes were very bad (remember 'leisure suits'?), the politics were befuddled (the '60s were over but civil rights were finally beginning to take effect -- slowly, slowly, with race riots in my school).

    Music, bad: First concert I saw was "Kiss," with Gene Simmons' disgusting 6-foot tongue.

    Cars were awful: Anybody remember Pintos, Novas, etc? I inherited a huge tank of a car, a Delta Royale by Oldsmobile; all my friends could fit for trips to the beach, but filling it up took a whole McDonald's paycheck.

    TV? "The Waltons." The dream of a happy family that, by the '70s, no one had: All our parents were divorced, our eldest sibs screwed up by Vietnam, or drugs: The relatively benign marijuana of the '60s having been replaced by the weapons-grade cocaine of the '70s.

    Women: Like rights for blacks, rights for women were on the books but not yet a workable reality. Our mothers worked but still DID ALL the HOUSEWORK. They were pissed. We kids were left to fend for ourselves after school -- my brothers raised me, I hardly ever saw my parents (mother/stepfather) and when I did, they were in bad moods.

    All in all, I much preferred the 1980s to the 1970s. Of course, by then I was in NYC and everything seemed better and more stylish (even though everyone wore black, following designer Alexander Julian's motto, 'Color is a luxury'). I remember dancing in Studio 54 to the Sex Pistols and other punk bands; I remember going to great parties in Soho lofts; and seeing incredible plays on and off B'way ("True West," with a young John Malkovich and an unknown Gary Sinise hangs in my mind).

    Everything seemed better by the '80s, yet it was certainly a cynical, capitalist era. However, in my 20s and happy at last, I couldn't see it then.

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  13. River of deceitApril 30, 2007 5:20 pm

    ". No-one in their right minds would swap 1973 for 2007 - with its three-day weeks, trades union skullduggery, limits on foreign travel and sunday closing. Verily a different world. No internet and blogs there either. How would we manage?"

    I think people secretly enjoy disaster. My gran always said the war years were the happiest of her life. When life becomes too predictable people yearn for some disruption.

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  14. What people yearn for is their youth. Your gran recalls the war years as her happiest because she was young during them.

    I expect this is also why Sam chooses to stay in 1973. The makers of Life on Mars were young and happy in 1973.

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  15. River of deceitApril 30, 2007 8:59 pm

    No, she said it brought the community together. People went out dancing more, plus there was an influx of yank soldiers for the women to gock over.
    I remember reading an article a year after 9/11 in the sunday times. It said that many american phychologists noted an improvement in their patients mood in the weeks following 9/11.

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  16. Yes, it's called nostalgia and it is a most amazing piece of human kit.

    I find it hard to imagine that Grans of our Grans being blitzed weren't prattling on about how much better the 1870s were.

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  17. I loved the decadence of the 80s, epitomized for me by Madonna's "Material Girl" & Tina Turner's "Private Dancer" - but now is better.

    "Now" is going to be better for many decades, as the computer, telecommunications, biotech, and nanotech industries mature and flower.

    As the man said, "you ain't seen nothing yet".

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  18. Material World & Privater Dancer cultural highs which would grace any decade.

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  19. Great. Now the second season, which hasn't yet come to BBC America is ruined. Do you comprehend how much information is conveyed in the simple statement that Sam chooses to go back to 1973?

    Teach me to read blogs.

    For what it's worth, my theory was always that the people making the series needed a way to make a violent misanthropic old-style cop show while still being politically correct.

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