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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later.Support Elizabeth on Patreon.

47 Comments

  1. John Callaghan
    February 1, 2013 @ 12:22 am

    I suspect you're being provocative, but I'll bite:

    "It’s terribly privileged and middle class, but anything coming out of British television is going to be."

    Something of a sweeping statement; after all, only the Sith deal in absolutes.

    Reply

  2. Jack Graham
    February 1, 2013 @ 12:41 am

    It's not sweeping enough. It's too casual. The issue is far too lightly and easily dismissed.

    Reply

  3. ferret
    February 1, 2013 @ 1:56 am

    "the Kemble of an eventually larger river" – lets hope the Varga plants don't wash downstream.

    Reply

  4. aralias
    February 1, 2013 @ 4:52 am

    I'd also like to ask basically… what this means in this context. The obvious one… that QaF shows a privaledged lifestyle with no thought for those who aren't… seems bizarre, given that we're shown Vince's mother being unemployed (he buys her food and stuff and he himself lives in a tiny shit flat, while Stuart, admittedly, lives in paradise, but always as a contrast).

    Also QaF has this lovely little bit of deflating self-knowingness:

    Nathan: Donna, you don't know her! You don't know anything! Cos you're straight! Right? You're part of the system! Right? You're part of the fascist heterosexual orthodoxy!
    Donna: I'm black. And I'm a girl. Try that for a week.

    I know you did RTD as interested in council estates as part of the NAs, but I think there's more of that here. Along with the joy, as you say, and the important and difficult relationships with people you love – which I think is really the main thing that RTD brings from QaF to Who 🙂

    Reply

  5. Jesse
    February 1, 2013 @ 5:12 am

    if I start talking about what the culture of 1999 gave way to it means I have to declare a defining cultural milieu for the present day. Which, you know, how to be completely irrelevant in one easy step, that one.

    Speaking of historical perspective: When you get to 2011, you should do a Pop Between Realities entry on your own blog.

    Reply

  6. jane
    February 1, 2013 @ 5:28 am

    Let's hope they don't get lost.

    Reply

  7. jane
    February 1, 2013 @ 5:32 am

    "That’s Queer as Folk’s moral, if it can be called that. Watching Doctor Who can be just like having anal sex with a fifteen-year-old while drugged out of your mind on dog worming tablets. I understand people who can’t get behind that about as well as I understand people who don’t like children’s panto J.G. Ballard."

    "Dog-worming tablets" is too vague.

    Reply

  8. Elizabeth Sandifer
    February 1, 2013 @ 5:39 am

    It's all we get, I fear – Stuart wakes up the next day and curses out the woman who sold them to him, saying something to the effect of "that wasn't E. I bet that bitch sold me dog-worming tablets again."

    Reply

  9. Elizabeth Sandifer
    February 1, 2013 @ 5:40 am

    Certainly – Davies goes a long way towards blunting and acknowledging his privilege, and he does a very good job of it. But it's still very much implicit in his entire project. It's not a major failing, I don't think, but surely one worth acknowledging.

    Reply

  10. Ununnilium
    February 1, 2013 @ 5:49 am

    "You don’t need ironic detachment. You can have it if it makes you happy, but you don’t need it."

    Yes. <3

    Reply

  11. Ununnilium
    February 1, 2013 @ 5:53 am

    That said, two problems with this entry.

    First, I don't really see the comparisons to Grant Morrison here. I mean, counterculture and everything, but it feels like QaF and Morrison are running along parallel tracks that don't really need to intersect.

    Second, I'd say that hedonism isn't quite "it's okay to be happy" – the problem with hedonism is that it conflates happiness with pleasure. The two are distinct – pleasure is one way to happiness, but not the only way, and you can most definitely have pleasure without happiness. (Speaking of Morrison, if there's any point to the whole de Sade arc in Invisibles, it's pointing out how Salo makes that point explicit.)

    Reply

  12. Ununnilium
    February 1, 2013 @ 5:54 am

    I don't mind lightly dismissing the problems of privilege if the creator in question is doing their damnedest to look past them. When we've got so many who don't, I'm not eager to come down hard on those who do.

    Reply

  13. spoilersbelow
    February 1, 2013 @ 6:02 am

    If it's animal drugs, could he mean Ketamine, perhaps? It's both a popular veterinary anesthetic and club drug, or at least it was back in 1999. Not used for curing hook or ringworm, though…

    Also, I find myself comparing your remarks here to something David Foster Wallace said back in his 1993 essay "E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction" :

    "The next real literary “rebels” in this country might well emerge as some weird bunch of anti-rebels, born oglers who dare somehow to back away from ironic watching, who have the childish gall actually to endorse and instantiate single-entendre principles. Who treat of plain old untrendy human troubles and emotions in U.S. life with reverence and conviction. Who eschew self-consciousness and hip fatigue. These anti-rebels would be outdated, of course, before they even started. Dead on the page. Too sincere. Clearly repressed. Backward, quaint, naive, anachronistic. Maybe that’ll be the point. Maybe that’s why they’ll be the next real rebels. Real rebels, as far as I can see, risk disapproval. The old postmodern insurgents risked the gasp and squeal: shock, disgust, outrage, censorship, accusations of socialism, anarchism, nihilism. Today’s risks are different. The new rebels might be artists willing to risk the yawn, the rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs, the parody of gifted ironists, the “Oh how banal.” To risk accusations of sentimentality, melodrama. Of overcredulity. Of softness. Of willingness to be suckered by a world of lurkers and starers who fear gaze and ridicule above imprisonment without law. Who knows." http://jsomers.net/DFW_TV.pdf

    "You don’t need ironic detachment. You can have it if it makes you happy, but you don’t need it."

    This, x &#8734

    Reply

  14. spoilersbelow
    February 1, 2013 @ 6:03 am

    x (infinity symbol), rather. Stupid html…

    Reply

  15. Dr. Happypants
    February 1, 2013 @ 6:04 am

    "Watching Doctor Who can be just like having anal sex with a fifteen-year-old while drugged out of your mind on dog worming tablets."

    Philip, you have one of the best blogs on all the Internets.

    Reply

  16. Jesse
    February 1, 2013 @ 6:12 am

    It might not fit people's memories of the era, but irony-bashing was huge in the '90s. Indeed, you can see the recognizable form of the modern anti-ironist essay emerging by the '80s, often among people who don't exactly have clean hands. (One of the earliest examples of the genre that I've seen was an attack on David Letterman that ran in, of all places, Spy magazine.)

    Reply

  17. spoilersbelow
    February 1, 2013 @ 6:21 am

    I'm not sure if "Happiness is doing what we find pleasurable and therefore we should do what makes us happy" and "Pleasure causes happiness, so we should always do what is pleasurable" are equivalent statements.

    Phil seems to be aiming at a more Epicurean hedonism, which, despite the term's modern reputation, was initially aimed at a simple life full of small pleasures that can be repeated without consequence. Sure, it might be wonderful to get blitzed and fuck, but you need to deal with the hangover, the possible STDs, the social implications, needing to plan a day of recovery, etc. Whereas, if you like watching Doctor Who, you can watch one episode, then another, then another, then have something to eat, then go to work because it enables you to watch more Doctor Who, go for a run because running feels good even though sometimes it hurts, etc. And if Doctor Who doesn't make you happy anymore (because of a bad TV movie, perhaps), then you can move on to something else. There's no Levine style "There are NO bad Doctor Who episodes" fanaticism.

    Reply

  18. Ununnilium
    February 1, 2013 @ 7:16 am

    spoilersbelow: Damn. Prescient.

    Jesse: Yeah, but bashing irony is difference from sincere enjoyment.

    Reply

  19. Ununnilium
    February 1, 2013 @ 7:18 am

    That's fair – I was basing my objection only off the more modern meaning.

    Reply

  20. jane
    February 1, 2013 @ 7:28 am

    I thought Phil was going deeper still, because in context of QoF, it's not just doing what makes "you" happy, but doing what makes "us" happy that defines a "socially material hedonism." It's explicitly relational — and hence inclusive, as opposed to the individualist rock-star mentality.

    Also like what you say about running. Going after what brings us happiness often entails not actually feeling pleasure much of the time. It's like writing — I get tremendous joy out of writing, but only after it's done; the actual work can be quite painful. What I like most, though, is sharing my stuff with others, and being a part of their writing process in return.

    Reply

  21. jane
    February 1, 2013 @ 7:32 am

    Not having seen QoF, what kind of privilege actually seeps through the work?

    Reply

  22. Jesse
    February 1, 2013 @ 7:44 am

    Jesse: Yeah, but bashing irony is difference from sincere enjoyment.

    Oh, certainly. I was reacting to the David Foster Wallace extract, not to Phil's point.

    Reply

  23. Andy
    February 1, 2013 @ 9:04 am

    I worked in Liverpool around the time of QAF and somebody stole a load of piperazine citrate to sell in the clubs. It is a dog wormer but, as far as I know, doesn't have any other effects.

    Reply

  24. David Anderson
    February 1, 2013 @ 9:53 am

    I think you're moving too quickly in equating Doctor Who in general with hedonism. It must be significant that in the scene as you describe it the character is watching Sutekh 'gift of death' and winding back in order to repeat Sutekh. Not so much equating hedonism with Doctor Who as equating it with Sutekh's gift of death. So the claim is that hedonism is a form of the death drive. And indeed, that in winding back and replaying, the death drive is an attempt to arrest and escape from narrative. Not so much an enjoyment of life as a rejection.

    I think something of the same thing explains why, to my mind, Midnight is Davies' best script for Who, the one that carries conviction as opposed to pouring on sentiment in the hope that conviction will follow. (Children of Men carries conviction too.)

    (Also, would I be wrong to think that the section of Who fandom who think Pyramids of Mars is the best ever Who story is largely pro-gun and out of sympathy with Phil's views on children's panto J.G.Ballard?)

    Reply

  25. encyclops
    February 1, 2013 @ 9:58 am

    Isn't "being the creator of a television series" the outcome of a pretty standard kind of privilege to begin with? Surely the number of TV shows that are not in some way the product of what we call privilege are countable on one hand?

    Reply

  26. encyclops
    February 1, 2013 @ 10:08 am

    I don't think Pyramids is the best ever, though it's easily in my top 20. I'm not "pro-gun" in any meaningful sense. I also don't really know exactly what "children's panto J.G. Ballard" is alluding to (a reenactment of Crash using Big Wheels and Pokemon band-aids?).

    So based on this anecdotal data & sample size of one, yes, you're dead wrong. 🙂

    I do think this hedonism thread is promising, especially given the way the new series portrays danger as fun (which it can do because we "know" it's not likely to be fatal for the TARDIS crew) and given the general joy it takes in "oh my god we're BACK and look at all these toys we can play with!" But I agree with you that (based on the description; I've always wanted to see this show but haven't gotten around to it) the particular scene and line of dialogue here was probably intended to be ominous rather than jubilant.

    "Midnight"'s great. I need to watch it again.

    Reply

  27. Archeology of the Future
    February 1, 2013 @ 10:41 am

    There's a strong thread in british drama of making narratives about marginalised groups 'meaningful' or 'politically committed'. It's a good and noble tradition, but it has, in its way, created a set of narrative conventions that reduce characters to morals. They might have a bittersweet story, or a morally vengeful story or a tragic story; but all only work because we know the drama exists to present something that is a moral call. The characters are seldom allowed to be 'alive'.

    What Queer as Folk does, by basically bringing frock and romp together with a hitherto marginalised group who were often entombed in particular narrative shapes (unrequited love, doomed by prejudice, emancipated by monogamy, destroyed by the seedy) is allows a load of gay characters just to be characters. Which is incredible. They aren't all making a socially conscious point, or fighting the long war against oppression. They're just being.

    Which is ultimately more radical than being set up as moral objects with a narrative circumscribed by others polemic ideas.

    The amazing thing it does is not to make gay life 'normal' but to show gay characters who're characters getting on with having dramas that result from who they are and the world they find themselves. Not archetypes, not political symbols or moral warnings. Queer as Folk is not about gay issues, it's about people who are gay.

    There's a hedonism there too, saying that it is ok to watch a popular drama about gay people and enjoy it because its good, not because you are paying lip (eye?) service to 'the cause'.

    (I really hope Phil tries to tackle Shameless, which is structurally a romp and like Queer as Folk subverts accepted political expectation)

    Queer as Folk was a watershed moment and changed a lot of people's lives.

    Reply

  28. jane
    February 1, 2013 @ 10:58 am

    "Children's panto JG Ballard" refers to Paradise Towers.

    Reply

  29. Daibhid C
    February 1, 2013 @ 11:07 am

    I also don't really know exactly what "children's panto J.G. Ballard" is alluding to (a reenactment of Crash using Big Wheels and Pokemon band-aids?)

    A reenacment of High Rise using drama school "teenagers" and hilariously cute killer robots, IIRC.

    Reply

  30. Ununnilium
    February 1, 2013 @ 12:00 pm

    Hmmmm, yes, very good point.

    Reply

  31. Dr. Happypants
    February 1, 2013 @ 12:05 pm

    When I saw the Sutekh bit on QaF, I was reminded of the old-timey poetic equation of orgasm with death, that La petite mort, John Donne kind of thing. Of course the death drive and the sex drive are inextricably tied; sex is, biologically, why we die. Eros, Thanatos, and so forth. So, not necessarily anti-hedonic, so much as…fraught.

    Plus, and this is important, it's hilarious. And that's hedonic all in itself. And that's another wonderful thing about QaF: while it certainly shows us the destructive side of that gay scene, it doesn't become polemical about it, and shows us what pleasure people can take from it too. It's a very genuine kind of engagement with a certain kind of experience, done with consummate artistry.

    Much like "danger" in modern Who, which is all great fun until someone gets a mindwipe.

    Death is ultimately the price we pay for everything…in QaF and Doctor Who, I see Davies as trying to take this unassailable fact about existence and make the best of it.

    Midnight is what happens when he fails.

    QaF is really a marvellous piece of work; you cannot believe how excited I was to hear that RTD, of all people, was going to be the one to revive Doctor Who…

    …And for all that I plan to complain bitterly about some aspects of his tenure as showrunner when the time comes, I still think RTD is a fantastic writer whom I admire immensely. When he's on, good lord is he on.

    (I also love Pyramids and hate guns.)

    Reply

  32. jane
    February 1, 2013 @ 2:00 pm

    The other side of equating sex and death is that it paints death as an ecstatic experience. Quite.

    Reply

  33. ferret
    February 1, 2013 @ 4:47 pm

    I think the main thing about the "dog worming" tablets line is it's meant to be funny, which it is.

    That they might have no actual affects other than de-worming you (and I can vouch for this – I have a quite mad inlaw who deworms her kids periodically), it's a funnier line than if it were "dog painkillers".

    Knowing RTDs work I think he'd happily sacrifice accuracy for hilarity any day of the week.

    Reply

  34. jane
    February 2, 2013 @ 4:52 am

    Okay, so there's really no way to get high off of dog-worming tablets, is that what you're telling me?

    😉

    Reply

  35. Arkadin
    February 2, 2013 @ 5:16 am

    To go completely and utterly off topic, I just read "A Big Hand For the Doctor" and I'm curious what people think of it. It's an entertaining enough story, but a very odd take on One–he's far more proactive and heroic than he should be pre-Unearthly Child, he thinks of himself as a pacifist (so much for nearly smashing a caveman's head in!) but act like more of an action hero (he gets into a cane-fight with a pirate). He makes references to past adventures in a way that suggests he's been doing this for a while. Amusingly, Colfer refers to him as having two hearts and remembering his mother–I would love to see the flame wars this would have caused on Gallifrey Base! (from a distance) It's unmistakably a case of reading the new series, with its attendant pacing and storytelling approaches, back into the old, and very much a story about "Doctor Who" rather than "the Doctor" (IE a cultural icon rather than a character with a particular life story and development arc)–it's a shame he wasn't actually called that; "A Big Hand for the Doctor" felt like a slightly smarter version of a TV Comic strip.

    Reply

  36. Anton B
    February 2, 2013 @ 12:37 pm

    I also wouldn't want to hijack a particularly good post and subsequent comments thread but I too have just read Colfer's 'A Big Hand for the Doctor' and thought it was terrible. IMO Possibly the worst Doctor Who story ever written. I instantly deleted it from my kindle after posting a review on Amazon to make sure anyone thinking of giving it a go would take note. I'm concerned now for the quality of the rest of the 50th anniversary offerings if that was an indicator of quality.

    Reply

  37. J Mairs
    February 2, 2013 @ 1:35 pm

    "Put simply, it’s easier to talk about the movement of historical forces when your subject is 1969 or 1979 than it is 1989, and it’s harder still in 1999 or 2009. The game is still being played. If I say that the idealism of the 60s utopians gave way to the bleaker youth culture of punk and its descendants, well, that’s easy. No points on award for that. But if I start talking about what the culture of 1999 gave way to it means I have to declare a defining cultural milieu for the present day."

    …which has made me wonder, as we get closer to the modern series, what you intend to do for your Pop Between entries. There are some obvious things to look at, such as the Doctor Who-alikes made by ITV and the BBC and 'Lost' – but do you have a rough gist of what programmes or events you're going to cover as we move close to the present day (and are you willing to give us some idea of what they are? 😉 )

    Reply

  38. Dan Abel
    February 2, 2013 @ 2:22 pm

    I'm really hoping for Coupling, as its occasionally timey-winey, and there is a quite wonderful rant about cushions. But I guess that it arriving soon if its arriving at all.

    Reply

  39. Aaron
    February 3, 2013 @ 6:57 am

    I would bet good money that Coupling is covered.

    Reply

  40. jane
    February 3, 2013 @ 8:05 am

    Surely LOST has been an influence on Who in particular, not to mention wide swaths of modern television in general. (And, not coincidentally, LOST was influenced by Doctor Who, too. Particularly Moffat's '96 short story.)

    Reply

  41. Dan Abel
    February 3, 2013 @ 8:11 am

    Lost? I mean I only watched the first episode (in a Wisconsin bar), but, really? Influence of least realistic desert island plane crash ever? grin

    Slightly more seriously, perhaps we see different things in modern Who, can you tell me more?

    Reply

  42. ferret
    February 3, 2013 @ 1:32 pm

    It's definitely time to stop trying 🙂

    Reply

  43. jane
    February 3, 2013 @ 6:46 pm

    What, you want me to go back and watch it again?

    Reply

  44. Ed Jolley
    February 4, 2013 @ 5:24 am

    I think something of the same thing explains why, to my mind, Midnight is Davies' best script for Who, the one that carries conviction as opposed to pouring on sentiment in the hope that conviction will follow. (Children of Men carries conviction too.)

    Children of Men or Children of Earth? Are you talking Torchwood or P.D. James dystopia/the (very) loose film adaptation thereof?

    Reply

  45. BerserkRL
    February 25, 2013 @ 11:12 pm

    Happiness is broader than pleasure, because we (rightly) care about more than what we experience.

    Reply

  46. Steve H
    March 26, 2013 @ 6:28 am

    "Stuart is made to be the character the audience absolutely adores. He’s an absolute amoral ass, but the show simply does not give the audience leave to hate him and his excesses."

    I can see where you're coming from but interestingly the only people I've ever come across who like the character of Stuart are people writing critical analysis of the show and drawing wider philosophical conclusions from it.

    In contrast, I don't know anyone else who liked Stuart. They may laugh at him and like one or two aspects of his character but on the whole they tend to think of him as a bit of a shit who they wuldn't trust an inch. I think it's tempting to shy away from admitting that Vince is the character the audience most adores because it seems too obvious. He so obviously nice that, if we admit it, we worry that we aren't being sufficiently insightful.

    But it's the simple truth. However much anyone may salute in the abstract a hedonistic lifestyle to the detriment of other people, I doubt that they ever really believe it or would like Stuart if they knew him or would want to be like him.

    Because Stuart is arguably as messed up as Vince by his lifestyle. RTD has said that he thinks Stuart is the most admirable character because he's the most honest. But that's not true. The suggestion is that Vince is less honest because he isn't "out" at his workplace and often subordinates the pursuit of hedonism to family commitments and simple lack of confidence. But Vince is "out" to his family. Stuart by contrast is "out" to everyone except his family which is maybe more dishonest. He uses hedonism as an escape from life, not as a way of embracing it.

    Stuart has no real friends except for Vince whereas Vince has friends and family who are loyal to him.

    I too don't quite understand what Phillip means by his "middle class" reference. I can only think it works if he means that a collectivist hedonism is middle class. The characters and settings of QAF are however resolutely working class. Even Stuart with his glitzy lifetsyle is working class made good. Canal Street in QAF is the weekend escape from the dreariness of working class life.

    Reply

  47. encyclops
    April 29, 2015 @ 2:34 pm

    I've finally, after only 15 years, gotten a chance to watch Queer as Folk all the way through, and I shared your bewilderment about the appeal of Stuart for a while, until I realized:

    Stuart is the Doctor. And Vince is his companion.

    More here, on the off chance that anyone ever reads this comment: http://encyclops.com/doctor-stuart/

    Reply

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