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Sexism about fiction in the media; who'da thunk it? 
23rd-Mar-2009 01:51 pm
Of all things, it was my Gmail Webclips that inadvertently led me to this article. Just goes to show that I can find things to blog about anywhere when I'm not lost in a fog of meh.

The Netherlands are making their own version of Yes, Minister. As a native of that country whose TV exports are constantly being remade and/or reinvented by foreign TV stations, I'm naturally a bit wary about this; but then, I'm here. I'm never ever going to go out of my way to see the America Spaced, but I hear the American Office  and Queer as Folk have been qualified successes,  - although I wonder about the title of that latter not being as witty in a culture that doesn't have that saying. So I could be up in arms about how the Dutch will no doubt ruin a beloved British great and not do it justice through fundamentally not getting it, but hey, I'm not Dutch and I don't want to watch it. We'll have the fees to help fund the BBC, thank you.

Yes, Minister, for my readers who are neither British Comedy fans nor gramarye1971, was a BBC sitcom that ran in the early eighties, set in the offices of cabinet minister (and later the Prime Minister) Jim Hacker, and also featuring the department's Permanent Secretary (and later Cabinet Secretary) Sir Humphrey Appleby and the minister's Principal Private Secretary Bernard Wooley. The show was primarily about the complications and petty machinations in Government, and while it particularly had a lot to say about Goverment in the UK in the early eighties, it's lasting popularity speaks of a wider relevant to other countries and other times. There's no reason at all the format couldn't be adapted skillfully and successfully to a Dutch audience of the twenty-first century.

So why am I talking about it, with the subject line I used? Well, because the Times Online have picked up on just one of the changes the Dutch team are making:
Now Yes Minister is to be remade by Dutch television — with Sir Humphrey's permanent secretary role going to a woman, called Helen van Zuylen in the series.

Fans of the original series may wonder why the programme makers have changed one of the great characters of television comedy — the very essence of Establishment values, with his pinstriped suits, club membership and first-class classics degree from Oxford. Could a woman get away with being as condescending as Sir Humphrey?

As the late Paul Eddington's character, Jim Hacker, used to say when confronted with a tricky one: “I'm glad you asked me that question.”

What Sir Humphrey, played by the late Sir Nigel Hawthorne, would no doubt call “a very courageous decision” is thought to be motivated by a desire to bring the comedy up to date. After all, even in Whitehall, women permanent secretaries are no longer a rarity.
Obviously no woman could be as condescending as Times writer Valentine Low. Apparently redressing a gender imbalance in a twenty five year old show to reflect today's politics would be changing the fabric of a show so fundamentally the Times has to  wring its hands and wonder if a woman would be up to the job. (It also mentions a new character  - an assistant private secretary of Moroccan descent.)

Look, the new show is not going to be the old show: that's OK. The modern Netherlands are not 80s Britain, and I'm sure they're glad of that fact. I would have thought casting a woman in one of the roles would be minor in the list of changes the new writers are going to have to make, right?

Apparently not. Because no one's ever going to get tired of fretting about whether the world is ready for a black POTUS female fictional Permanent Secretary.

Get over it.
23rd-Mar-2009 01:52 pm (UTC)
Oh, The Times. You keep on being classy, there.

(I clicked the link, and particularly liked the talking point at the top right of the page: "I find almost all racist jokes hilarious", says Rod Liddle.)
23rd-Mar-2009 02:14 pm (UTC)
Many, many thanks for this post -- I'll link this to yes_minister, if you don't mind.

Two thoughts from me:

(1) although I wonder about the title of that latter not being as witty in a culture that doesn't have that saying

Technically, the TV show created/popularised the saying. ^^;; It had its origins in a particularly snarky comment made by Richard Crossman in his diaries from the 1970s, but the series really made it a catchphrase. The article doesn't mention how the title will translate into Dutch -- I'll have to do more research on it.

(2) There's actually an episode of YM which deals specifically with sexism in the upper echelons of the Civil Service. It's called 'Equal Opportunities', and was the first episode of the third season -- the Wikipedia article on the episode is worth reading. Rather typical that none of the articles I've seen so far have even mentioned this episode, or its implications for the remake.
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23rd-Mar-2009 02:24 pm (UTC)
*facepalms repeatedly* Ah, I completely read that statement the wrong way. For some reason, I read it as innerbrat saying that 'Yes, Minister' wouldn't translate across languages/cultures, for some reason. Brain, you clearly fail on this Monday morning. Mea culpa for the confusion.

Edited at 2009-03-23 14:24 (UTC)
23rd-Mar-2009 02:32 pm (UTC)
It's outside of my remit, but I'll email it to tips?
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23rd-Mar-2009 02:37 pm (UTC)
I like how you suggest doing that after sending the email.
23rd-Mar-2009 02:22 pm (UTC)
1) I was referring to Queer as Folk, the name of which refers to the phrase there's nowt as queer as folk, meaning that 'Gosh, aren't people strange sometimes?' and therefore punning on the two meanings of the word 'Queer'

And do link me, sure.
23rd-Mar-2009 02:25 pm (UTC)
Thanks again -- that'll teach me to post without thinking. (Clearly, I get so excited by any YM-related posts that my thought processes run away with me!) ^^;;

EDIT: And linked!

Edited at 2009-03-23 14:42 (UTC)
23rd-Mar-2009 02:20 pm (UTC)
My only guess is that the writer's internal stereotyper bits automatically translate "Establishment Bureaucrat" as "man" but they couldn't put their finger on why it being a woman doesn't work (for them) and so went with something that's completely ludicrous.

Also, re: "Queer as Folk," I always thought it was either some reference within the show or a phrase I'd never heard. (Having never watched the show, I never cared that much.)
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23rd-Mar-2009 07:17 pm (UTC)
I'd be quite interested in seeing the Indian version from the 90s actually, because their civil service is almost identical to ours- apparently they didn't change the scripts much at all. Many of the jokes just got translated.

I do wonder if changing the genders of the characters will mean changing their relationship, and therefore much of the comedy of the show. But that should be secondary to giving a reasonably accurate representation of the Dutch Civil Service.
24th-Mar-2009 02:03 am (UTC)
omg, YM is hilarious. It's been ages since I've seen it (the PBS stations stopped running it, and I haven't had BBC America before now), and now I'm thinking I should try Netflixing it.

It was just so gloriously cynical. And, oh, those one or two times when Hacker actually manages to get something past Sir Humphrey. =)

But, nooooo. PBS can't possibly show YM. They've only been running the same eps of Are You Being Served? and Keeping Up Appearances for fifteen years or more. Plenty of life left in those corpses. =/
24th-Mar-2009 09:29 am (UTC)
Listen to Yes Minister on Radio 7, and spot the character of Mrs Hacker, Jim's wife.

She's a lot sharper than Jim. On several occasions, she spots Sir Humphrey's plots a mile off and tells Jim how to get his way.

Jim's university-age daughter's also smarter than the minister - her campaign to save the badgers, including a nude vigil threat, has Jim running in circles (though Sir Humphrey does save the day in the end, with a bit of blatant deception to allow the developers to have their way).

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