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“YOU DON’T WANNA MISS THIS WEEK’S FEATURE CREATURE”: BUFFY’S TOP TEN STAND ALONE EPISODES

It is 20 years since the debut of the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. As a show that has generated much academic and fan-generated writing, I thought I would post this piece that I wrote for All Slay zine back in 2003. So Scooby Gang fans, enjoy!

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There has been much analysis and debate over the story arcs of Buffy. As the show developed, the series arcs became longer and longer, so much so that pretty much all of season 6 and 7 progressed the story arcs. On the other hand, some of my favourite episodes are the stand alone episodes. These episodes don’t further the story arc much, or even at all, but still provide come of the best Buffy moments. So I digress into the world of the Top Ten Stand Alone Episodes…

BEWITCHED, BOTHERED AND BEWILDERED (Season 2, Episode 16)

Synopsis: After being dumped by Cordelia on Valentine’s Day, Xander blackmails Amy into performing a love spell. The spell backfires when Xander becomes every woman in Sunnydale’s ‘cuddle monkey’, except for Cordelia. This results in an obsessive mob chasing Xander and Cordelia into Buffy’s basement. The episode resolves with Cordelia rejecting the sheep mentality of the ‘Cordettes’ and choosing to date Xander, ‘no matter how lame he is’.

Why It Works: Like many of the humorous stand alone episodes, Xander stands as the main character of the episode and it is the second time he’s been rejected by a girl in two seasons. The episode starts off slowly and there is suspicion that it might revolve around Angel’s dangerous new obsession with Buffy, but when Buffy and Amy both start flirting with Xander, the fun begins. The soundtrack of ‘Dr. Love’ works a treat and the interaction of the infuriated Giles, the love-stricken Jenny and poor, hopeless Xander is hilarious. Around the ‘Cordettes’, Cordelia’s acid tongue is at its sharpest, but the episode’s conclusion keeps the show’s continuity and provides the basis for almost a season’s worth of laughs.

Quotablest Quote:
Xander: “Do you know what’s a good day to break up with somebody? Any day besides Valentine’s Day! I mean, what, were you running low on dramatic irony?”

GO FISH (Season 2, Episode 20)

Synopsis: The Sunnydale High swim team is winning competitions, but also seem to be losing their skin. The Scooby Gang investigate and find the swim team are taking steroids that have the unfortunate side effect of turning them into sea monsters. Xander’s undercover work lands him in danger, resulting in blood transfusion and the excitement of Willow and Cordelia.

Why It Works: An episode full of red herrings, but also full of one-liners. This was David Fury’s first episode for Buffy and is an indication of the humour present in his later episodes. Xander and Cordelia comes through with the funnies again, both taking a side on the issue of the swim team and its various privileges. Of course, Cordelia’s pro and Xander’s con – until he joins the team. A very light episode in between ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’ and the season end ‘Becoming’, but very enjoyable.

Quotablest Quote:
Xander: And what about that nutty ‘all men are created equal’ thing?
Cordelia: Propaganda spouted out by the ugly and less deserving.
Xander: I think that was Lincoln.
Cordelia: Disgusting mole and stupid hat.
Willow: Actually, it was Jefferson.
Cordelia: Kept slaves. Remember?

BAND CANDY (Season 3, Episode 6)

Synopsis: The Mayor and Mr Trick hire bad guy Ethan Rayne to distract the population of Sunnydale while they prepare a sacrifice for a demon named Lagos. Rayne uses cursed candy bars, sold by the Sunnydale High students to raise money for the band, which turn the adults into teenagers. Giles and Joyce are both affected and although this pleases Buffy at first, it ultimately results in her disapproval.

Why It Works: This episode works principally because the characters’ nuances, well known by this time, change drastically. Although Joyce comes off partially as annoying and whiny, Giles’ reversion to a rebellious cockney and Principal Snyder’s nerdish tendencies make this episode very entertaining. The Scooby Gang play most of this episode straight, even Xander, but the comical performances by the adults are fantastic, especially where Giles and Joyce argue with the ‘mature’ Buffy.

Quotablest Quote:
Willow: ‘Kiss rocks’? Why would anyone want to kiss… Oh, wait. I get it.

THE ZEPPO (Season 3, Episode 13)

Synopsis: It’s the end of the world again and the Scooby Gang must assemble for the fight – except Xander. Sidelined for the showdown, Xander borrows his uncle’s car and after a riling from Cordelia, befriends a group of zombie teenagers. While they plan to ‘bake a cake’, Xander is seduced by Faith, before saving the school from exploding.

Why It Works: Like ‘Band Candy’, the humour from this episode lies in its self-referential parodies. Instead of the overly dramatic apocalypse scenario, Xander’s adventure for acceptance and identity is the main storyline. He goes from scene to scene, trying to fit in, but ultimately finds that instead of trying to be someone else, such as ‘Car Guy’, he’s better off being himself. His seduction by Faith is classic comedy and satire of the usual Buffy structure is a great reprieve from the show’s moments of heavy drama, while allowing Xander to find his own place within the Scooby Gang.

Quotablest Quote:
Xander: Yeah, great knife. Although I think it may technically be a sword.
Jack O’Toole: She’s called Katie.
Xander: You gave it a girl’s name. How very serial killer of you.

FEAR ITSELF (Season 4, Episode 4)

Synopsis: Halloween once again provides the Scooby Gang with a predicament. The Frat Party’s haunted house has turned into a real house of horrors, due to Oz’s blood being spilt on an ancient rune. A fear demon is trying to emerge, leading to Buffy being dragged into a basement of zombies, Xander turning invisible, Willow’s magic going awry and Oz changing into his werewolf state. Eventually Anya and Giles rescue the gang, before Buffy stomps the miniscule fear demon.

Why It Works: Although the episode is surprisingly similar to Season One’s ‘Nightmares’ with hints of Season Two’s ‘Halloween’, ‘Fear Itself’ is very good episode. Much of the laughs come from the incidents outside of the haunted house, such as Giles’ ridiculous sombrero and dancing skeleton or Xander and Anya’s interaction. Finally, the appearance of the miniature fear demon and Xander’s taunting conclude an enjoyable Halloween romp. Also notable for the first mention of Anya’s fear of bunnies.

Quotablest Quote:
Anya: What?
Xander: That’s your scary costume?
Anya: Bunnies frighten me.

SUPERSTAR (Season 4, Episode 17)

Synopsis: Jonathan is a world-class superhero, worshipped by all, with Buffy as his sidekick. When a demon arrives that Jonathan is reluctant to fight, Buffy realises something is amiss. With the help of Anya, Buffy discovers that Jonathan has created an alternate reality, which spawned the monster. By Buffy eventually killing the monster, the alternate world Jonathan created disappears, but the advice he gives Buffy and Riley about the Faith incident remains.

Why It Works: ‘Superstar’ removes Buffy as the central character of the show and gives her a secondary role alongside the diminutive Jonathan. As well as Buffy’s venture from the ‘normal’ to resuming her role as the Gang’s leader, the episode’s humour comes from the over-the-top hero worship of Jonathan. Giles’ Jonathan swimsuit calendar and his apprehension in admitting to owning it is perhaps one of the best Giles’ moments ever. Also very enjoyable is the altered opening sequence with Jonathan being very James Bond.

Quotablest Quote:
Buffy: Anya, tell them about the alternate universes.
Anya: Oh, okay. Um… say you really like shrimp a lot. Or we could say you don’t like shrimp at all. “Blah, I wish there weren’t any shrimp,” you’d say to yourself…
Buffy: Stop! You’re saying it wrong.

THE REPLACEMENT (Season 5, Episode 3)

Synopsis: A sophisticated demon named Toth aims to separate Buffy into two different bodies, but happens to separate Xander instead. One Xander is smooth and confident, the other is clumsy and self-loathing, but both believe the other is a demon, or an evil robot. Giles ascertains that both are the ‘real’ Xander and they need each other to survive. Before the two Xanders kill each other, the Gang intervenes and Willow reunites them, despite Anya’s interest in kinky sex games.

Why It Works: By the end of Season Five, all three members of the Scooby Gang have had a doppelganger, but the fact that there’s two Xanders makes this episode exceptionally funny. Xander at his most downtrodden and self-loathing is always going to be hilarious and he is. Smooth Xander is also quite funny, especially when he confronts the Lame Xander. Riley has a rare comedic line, as well ass some classic lines from Buffy and Giles. The scene where Lame Xander tries to convince Willow that he’s the ‘real’ Xander is damn well amusing, and you have to love the Snoopy dance. Additionally, some think that Anya’s nightgown is overtly comical.

Quotablest Quote:
Lame Xander: It’s a robot. It’s an evil robot constructed from evil parts that look like me designed to do evil.

TRIANGLE (Season 5, Episode 11)

Synopsis: While Giles flies to England to gather more information on Glory, Anya (and Willow) is left in charge of the Magic Box. When Anya disapproves of Willow and Tara’s experimentation with spells, they both turn to Xander, who decides to escape their bickering. Left alone to sort things out, Willow and Anya release Olaf the Troll from a bottle that had imprisoned him. Olaf then goes on a destruction spree, ending up at the Bronze where the gang find out that Olaf is indeed Anya’s ex-boyfriend and she had turned him into the troll. Xander fights Olaf and is rewarded with the ‘insane troll logic’ of having to decide between Anya or Willow’s life being spared. However, a distraught Buffy beats Olaf before Willow sends him to another dimension.

Why It Works: Olaf as a mediaeval troll is one of the best characters that the show has created and his altercation with Xander and Spike over ‘plump succulent babies’ and ‘much hearty grog’ is such cheesy dialogue that is also hilarious. However, ‘Triangle’ is all about Anya and her humorous speech. In the previous episode ‘Into The Woods’, Willow took Anya to task about her speech and now the two are at each other throats, but the results are damn funny. Despite the hilarity of Willow and Anya, it is also pleasing to see the two resolve their differences by the episode’s conclusion. Also, this is the first episode for over a season without Riley. Much rejoicing was had.

Quotablest Quote:
Willow (imitating Anya): I like money better than people. People can so rarely be exchanged for goods and/or services!
Anya: Xander, she’s pretending to be me!

TABULA RASA (Season 6, Episode 8)

Synopsis: Xander, Anya, Willow and Tara have learnt that Buffy was in heaven and Willow proposes magic to make Buffy forget. Tara gives Willow an ultimatum to stop using magic. Meanwhile Giles tells Buffy that he is leaving for London. All of the Gang, plus Spike gather at the Magic Box, but succumb to a mind control spell by Willow that goes horribly wrong. The Gang lose their memories and try to figure out who they are and what they are doing. However they are interrupted by a literal ‘loan shark’ and his vampire hoods. The Gang eventually regain their memories and Tara breaks up with Willow.

Why It Works: Again, the humour of this episode arises from the characters’ performing in a totally different way than their usual self. The piecing together of the puzzle and their incorrect assumptions make for amusing viewing. Spike’s realisation that he is a vampire and his parody of the ‘Angel’ spiel is particularly good, but once again the prize goes to Anya and Giles for their routine as a married couple – although one does wonder why Anya remembers her fear of bunnies.

Quotablest Quote:
Buffy: I’ll name me, Joan.
Dawn: Ugh!
Buffy: Did you just ‘ugh’ my name?

HIM (Season 7, Episode 8)

Synopsis: Dawn is head over heels for RJ, the handsome quarterback of Sunnydale High. She starts to obsess about him, even trying out for the cheerleading squad. Only she isn’t the only one after RJ. Soon, every girl who comes into contact with RJ falls under his charm. Buffy, Dawn, Willow and Anya all attempt to show their love for RJ. Xander and Spike realise that the girls are under a love spell, triggered by RJ’s jacket. Before destroying the jacket, they save Buffy from firing a rocket launcher the Principal Wood, Willow from performing a spell and Dawn from being run over by a train. However, Anya’s crime spree goes unprevented, yet unnoticed.

Why It Works: As we saw in ‘Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered’, love spells make for humorous watching. Dawn’s cheerleader try out is very amusing, yet totally cringe worthy. There are loads of nerd-ish references to past episodes, which make fan boys (and girls) smile with glee. Just before the very serious story arc on Season Seven, ‘Him’ is totally light hearted and fun. The scene from Principal wood’s window where Spike and Xander take out Buffy before she fires the rocket launcher is priceless.

Quoteablest Quote:
Buffy: “Willow, you’re a gay woman! And he… isn’t.”
Willow: “This isn’t about his physical presence! It’s about his heart.”
Anya: “His physical presence has a penis!”

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Policing Acid House Parties in 1989: What the new Thatcher Government papers reveal

The latest round of papers from the Prime Minister’s Office have been released, relating to the final years of Margaret Thatcher’s government in 1989-90. While files on several topics have been opened, this post will look at the file dedicated the policing of ‘acid house parties’ (also known as raves) in 1989.

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As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the phenomenon of acid house swept across the UK in the mid-to-late 1980s and while a number of clubs, such as the Hacienda in Manchester and Shoom in London, attracted large crowds for their club nights, raves exploded into open areas that were typical venues – warehouses, fields and other places left vacant by Thatcherism. For a number of reasons, including the noise generated by these parties and the use of drugs, these raves started to draw the ire of the police and of the authorities. One briefing note stated that the ‘main problem with acid house parties is the nuisance caused by the noise’ and curiously, stressed ‘[d]rugs are not the main issue’.[1] In a letter to the Leader of the House of Commons, Sir Geoffrey Howe, the new Home Secretary David Waddington wrote that there was also a concern that ‘criminal elements [were] becoming involved’.[2] This concern, ‘coupled with the need to reassure the public that the existing law can be made effective’, Waddington argued, required a new approach.[3] He also noted that 223 parties had been held in London and the South East in 1989, with 96 stopped by the police and another 95 prevented from going ahead.[4]

And so, after a localised and haphazard response by local councils and the police, in late 1989, the Thatcher government proposed a co-ordinated and nationwide effort to clamp down on these ‘illegal’ parties. The aforementioned briefing note outlined that there were four ways to combat these parties:

  1. Under the licensing law that governs public entertainment;
  2. Under Section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986;
  3. Under the common law powers available to the police to prevent public disturbances;
  4. Under the Control of Pollution Act 1974.[5]

The note stated that all indoor events were subject to licensing laws (particularly the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982), irrespective of venue, and that in some cases, outdoor events were also subject to licensing laws, depending on the local authorities. However the largest problem for regulating raves through this mechanism, operated by the local councils, was that ‘most organisers of acid house parties are flouting the law by not applying for a licence’.[6] A report produced by the Association of District Councils explained the authorities had tried to prosecute party organisers under the 1982 Act in the past, but there were many ‘practical difficulties’ with the legislation.[7] This report suggested that a ‘national code of standard conditions’ be drawn up, similar to the code of practice for music events that had previously been established by the Greater London Council.[8] Interestingly the same document also mentioned that it might be pertinent to take into account the recent report by Lord Justice Taylor into the Hillsborough Disaster.[9]

All involved in this discussion felt that one of the key reasons that the organisers did not seek to obtain licenses for their events was that the penalty was far too low – a £2000 fine and/or up to 3 months in prison. In his letter to Howe, Waddington wrote that the penalties were ‘so relatively light that the organisers of these very profitable acid house parties can afford to ignore the law’.[10] Waddington proposed fines be raised to £20,000 and a possibility of up to 6 months imprisonment, commenting that the Association of Chief Police Officers supported these stricter penalties.[11]

One of the problems facing the authorities was that because these raves could be held in any kind of space, trying to police them was difficult. As mentioned above, indoor events were subject to licensing laws, but outdoor events weren’t always covered. For the police, indoor gatherings were not specifically within their remit, but outside assemblies were, under the Public Order Act 1986. An extension of the Public Order Act to include indoor assemblies was considered ‘contentious’[12] and at this stage, looked like legislative overkill (although similar legislation was eventually passed in 1994 to combat outdoor raves with the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act).

In a letter from Home Office official Peter Storr to Margaret Thatcher’s Personal Secretary Andrew Turnbull, he noted that the police were ‘generally relying on their common law powers to prevent a breach of peace’ and that in the past, the police had ‘been able to persuade organisers to pack up voluntarily’.[13] Furthermore, they had ‘on occasion seized sound equipment on the grounds of preventing a breach of the peace’.[14] The aforementioned briefing note acknowledged:

Strictly speaking the police have no power to intervene to stop a party purely on grounds of noise. But if they receive complaints about the noise, they can intervene using common law powers.[15]

However it was argued that the police were often reluctant to intervene in this way, due to the following two reasons:

  1. mainly to the sheer numbers involved in some of the parties – the risk would be too great;
  2. slight nervousness about relying on common law powers alone – this leaves them open to challenge.[16]

It was believed that what was required were greater police powers ‘to act in flagrant cases’ immediately and at the time of night when these parties were occurring. Turnbull wrote to Carolyn Sinclair in the Home Office saying, ‘It will not be sufficient to give local authorities extra powers if they are not around at 3am to enforce [licensing laws]’.[17] The Association of District Councils also called for the police to be given greater powers ‘to seize and remove and apparatus or equipment’ being used by party organisers.[18]

While the primary problem with acid house parties was identified as the public nuisance caused by the excessive noise generated by these parties, the legislation dealing with noise pollution, the Control of Pollution Act 1974 was deemed ‘inadequate to deal with these parties’.[19] It was noted that noise nuisance was a civil offence and the legislation was aimed at factories and other industrial sites, rather than outdoor events. Thus ‘remedy through the courts [was] slow’.[20] The Department of Environment pushed to make noise nuisance a criminal offence,[21] but Turnbull advised the Home Office that Thatcher was ‘doubtful whether greater use of the Control of Pollution Act would be effective as the need was for action at short notice outside working hours.’[22]

Alongside greater penalties under the licensing laws and more explicit powers to allow the police to break ‘illegal’ raves, one of the key proposals made by the Home Office and other agencies was to establish powers to seize profits from party organisers. Powers to seize the proceeds of crime already existed under schedule 4 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (with a minimum of £10,000 to be confiscated after conviction), and Waddington suggested to Howe that this legislation could be easily amended to incorporate the organisation of these parties into the legislation.[23] On this point, the Home Office’s briefing note stated:

What is needed is a way of hitting at the profit made by the organisers. This should discourage the craze.[24]

It was hoped that these increased penalties and powers of confiscation, as well as more pre-emptive action between the police and local councils, would prevent acid house parties from occurring. The Home Office noted:

No amount of statutory power will make it feasible for police forces to take on crowds of thousands on a regular basis. We cannot have another drain on police resources equivalent to policing football matches.[25]

Incidentally, this was the argument made by Tony Wilson in the final days of the Hacienda – that the police were willing to police Manchester United and Manchester City games, but unwilling to do the same at the famous nightclub to ensure people’s safety.

The following year the Thatcher government passed the Entertainments (Increased Penalties) Act, which increased the penalties for organising an ‘illegal’ party to £20,000 and/or 6 months in prison. As the debate in Hansard shows, these measures were supported by both major parties in the House of Commons. The Criminal Justice Act 1988 was also amended to allow the seizure of profits made by party organisers.

However this did not end the phenomenon of the illegal rave and the Major government introduced the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to deal specifically with raves, which included the seizure of equipment used to put on events deemed illegal. This Act was opposed by many and led to a grassroots resistance by partygoers and activists. But this was a far way off in 1989. We will have to wait a few more years for the internal government records relating to this.

[1] ‘Acid House Parties’, 12 October, 1989, p. 1, PREM 19/2724, National Archives (London).

[2] Letter from David Waddington to Geoffrey Howe, 2 November, 1989, PREM 19/2724, NA.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] ‘Acid House Parties’, p. 1.

[6] ‘Acid House Parties’, p. 2.

[7] Association of District Councils, ‘Response to a Request for Information Concerning Acid House Parties’, 9 November, 1989, PREM 19/2724, NA.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Letter from Waddington to Howe.

[11] Ibid.

[12] ‘Acid House Parties’, p. 2.

[13] Letter from Peter Storr to Andrew Turnbull, 4 October, 1989, PREM 19/2724, NA.

[14] Ibid.

[15] ‘Acid House Parties’, p. 3.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Note from Andrew Turnbull to Carolyn Sinclair, 4 October, 1989, PREM 19/2724, NA.

[18] Association of District Councils, ‘Response to a Request for Information Concerning Acid House Parties’, p. 5.

[19] Ibid., p. 1.

[20] ‘Acid House Parties’, p. 4.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Letter from Andrew Turnbull to Peter Storr, 16 October, 1989, PREM 19/2724, NA.

[23] Letter from Waddington to Howe.

[24] ‘Acid House Parties’, p. 4.

[25] ‘Acid House Parties’, p. 5.

Policing club culture in the UK and the neoliberal city

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This week, famous London club Fabric was permanently closed down after its liquor license was taken revoked, allegedly after police raised concerns for the safety of clubgoers following the deaths of two people this year inside the club. Others have suggested that the Islington Council sought the closure of the club because it was too costly for the police to continue their harm minimisation operations within the club.

Fabric is not the only club to go close down in recent years, as costs for running clubs in the inner city become more and more expensive. Despite the GFC of 2007-08 and almost a decade of austerity in Britain, the rents for venues in London and other cities across the UK have continued to rise. No reports that I have seen so far have suggested that Fabric faced this particular problem and while many have alleged that the real reason for the closure was a desire by the Council for the venue to be turned into luxury flats or office space, the Council did not own the property and would not have made a direct financial gain from this conversion. The counter-argument to this is that in the neoliberal city, the nighttime economy that Fabric was part of was not as desired as that brought by increasing gentrification of London’s inner city boroughs.

A number have likened this to the closure of the Hacienda in 1997 and its eventual transformation into luxury flats in the early 2000s. The Hacienda had its license revoked in June 1997 after the death of a clubgoer earlier in the year, alleged organised criminals working inside the club and the refusal of the Greater Manchester Police to co-operate with the club’s management to conduct operations that would have kept the club open, citing that it was too costly. Before his death, Tony Wilson argued that the Greater Manchester Police conducted large scale operations every weekend to police football crowds, but were unwilling to do so to protect the club’s patrons. But while the Hacienda was eventually sold to developers, the neoliberalisation and gentrification of Manchester’s landscape did not arrive with the closure of the club – it lay dormant for 18 months and work to convert the building only began a few years later. This coincided with the ‘reimagining’ of Manchester’s city centre after a large section of it was destroyed by an IRA bomb in June 1996.

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Adorned on the luxury flats that now occupy the space of the former club on Whitworth Street.

Club culture in the UK had emerged at the periphery of the neoliberal revolution and as I have argued elsewhere, sought to flourish in the spaces that Thatcherism had made vacant, but had not yet occupied. With this brought the attention of the police and the government and under the pretence of a ‘war on drugs’, club culture in the UK became heavily policed and moved into ‘manageable’ spaces, such as clubs like Fabric. But in the ongoing battle between the desires of the neoliberal and nighttime economies, those pushing for further gentrification of the inner city have won out and even these highly policed and contained venues are no longer desirable.

Since the closure of the Hacienda nearly twenty years ago, clubs like Fabric have attempted to work more closely with the police and there has been a shift towards harm minimisation inside these clubs. But while police practices may have changed, the pressures of austerity have discouraged this. So in the end, we may argue that club culture has ended up in the same wasteland after 20 years of trying to ‘regulate’ it and attempts to make it work within the boundaries of ‘the system’.

 

For those on academia.edu, join my feedback session on transnational communism & anti-racism in WWII

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I just thought I’d post this there for anyone on academia.edu and has an interest in transnational communist history. I am currently running a feedback session on the site for my paper ‘”Our Soldiers Need Guns!” Communists and the Enlistment of Black Soldiers in the Second World War in South Africa, Australia and the United States’. If you have an academia.edu profile, you can ask to join the session and provide feedback for the next 6 days. I have already had some really good comments from various scholars, but would be very interested to hear from others, particularly those with a knowledge of Australian left history. So come join the academic fun!

Picture credit: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/shortcuts/2016/jan/24/racial-harmony-in-a-marxist-utopia-how-the-soviet-union-capitalised-on-us-discrimination-in-pictures

Crime, Masculinity and the Post-War Era in Peaky Blinders and Boardwalk Empire

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WARNING: CONTAINS POTENTIAL SPOILERS

 

I have recently finished watching the entire five series of the HBO drama Boardwalk Empire, set in the 1920s in Atlantic City, New Jersey during the era of prohibition, spanning the decade until 1932. Earlier this year, I also watched both series of the UK drama Peaky Blinders, which was set in Birmingham at the end of the First World War. Both series are about the rise of criminal gangs in the post-war era and have many overlapping themes. I think these overlapping themes are worth exploring and here are some preliminary thoughts about them.

The reintegration of ‘damaged’ men at the end of the war

Both series focus heavily on the plight of the returned soldier at the end of the First World War. In Boardwalk Empire, Jimmy Darmody is the protégé of the Treasurer and crime boss of Atlantic City, Enoch ‘Nucky’ Thompson and has returned from the Western front after dropping out of Princeton University. Rather than resume his studies, Darmody becomes Thompson’s driver and right-hand man, convinced by the brutality of the war that there is no social good and that crime is the only path open for him now. At the end of the first series and at the beginning of the second, Jimmy joins forces with several others to attempt to remove Thompson from power. This is partly driven by Jimmy’s disdain for those older men who encouraged him (and other young men) to fight in the war, but left those who returned with little reward. Darmody also suffers from the guilt of surviving the war, which leads him to befriend another former soldier, Richard Harrow, a sniper with a disfigured face. Both Darmody and Harrow use the skills they learnt in the war to become ruthless criminals in the post-war era.

In Peaky Blinders, brothers Tommy and Arthur Shelby had fought on the Western front and the younger brother, Tommy, had earned commendations for his actions during the war. Back in Birmingham in 1919, the Shelbies, along with many other young men, use their military experience to commit criminal acts, or in the case of Freddie Thorne, to agitate for a communist revolution. It seems that Tommy Shelby had become been the leader of many of the local men in France and they still looked to him as a leader in the peacetime. The Shelbies are able to exploit this as they seek to expand their criminal empire. Both Tommy and Arthur, as well several others, suffer from flashbacks and remain traumatised by their wartime memories. The worst of these is suffered by Danny ‘Whizz-Bang’ Owens, who has repeated hallucinations that he is back in the trenches, leading to him to stab to death a local bystander during one episode.

Both series depict the trauma experienced by soldiers during the First World War is a reason for their inability to reintegrate into society in the post-war era and serves as a partial explanation for their criminal behaviour.

Patriarchal figures and the attempts to build a ‘family’

In both series, the patriarchal figure in the criminal ‘family’, Nucky Thompson and Tommy Shelby, are obsessed with the idea of family and go to extreme lengths to maintain their families. In Boardwalk Empire, we learn that Thompson’s wife and child had died a long time ago, so Thompson lives vicariously through the large family of his brother, Eli, who begins the series as the local sheriff. Thompson eventually marries an Irish woman (whose husband is killed by Eli and other police officers), Margaret Schroeder and adopts her two children as his own. However Thompson’s criminality means that both of these families are driven away, with Margaret separating Thompson and living on her own in New York, while Eli’s family suffers from his exile to Chicago after killing a FBI agent.

In Peaky Blinders, Tommy is obsessed with keeping the family together, but his ambition also provides tensions between family members, particularly as his siblings feel that he puts the idea of ‘family’ above their well-being. Tommy’s younger sister, Ada marries Freddie, the communist activist, and eventually runs away to London to escape Tommy’s grip. On the other hand, Tommy’s younger brother John is convinced to marry the daughter from another crime family to help Tommy’s criminal ambitions.

Both Nucky and Tommy try to argue that their actions were for the good of their family and to provide a legacy. However both series show that this idea of ‘family’ is warped by their criminality and each time they attempt to secure their family’s future, their actions negatively impact on those around them.

Crime as social mobility

At the heart of both series is that the idea that crime can bring some form of social mobility, generating extraordinary wealth, but it cannot bring legitimacy. In the first series of Peaky Blinders, Tommy Shelby’s plan is to takeover the bookmakers’ operations at racetracks across the south and west of England and then transform these into a legitimate bookmaking business. In the second series, it shows that this does not quench Tommy’s ambition and he is keen to seize the business of other bookmakers in London and across the north of England.

In Boardwalk Empire, Thompson and his brother already occupy positions of power within Atlantic City and are economic and political kingmakers, but while extremely wealthy and powerful, Thompson is plagued by feelings of illegitimacy. For Thompson, his continued involvement in the bootlegging business brings him into contact with the criminal elements of society, which he detests. In the final series, he campaigns for an end to prohibition (which had brought him enormous wealth over the previous decade) in the belief that this would bring him legitimacy and confirm his role at the high end of society. However even as he campaigns for this, he finds that many businessmen are unwilling to associate with him because of his criminal associations.

Like many other cinematic and televisual depictions of organised crime, both series become morality tales of how crime can bring people almost to the top, but their criminality (and ambition) will always make them fall in the end – although we are yet to see what happens in the third series of Peaky Blinders.

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The Irish as ‘outsiders’

In the inter-war period, the Irish in Britain and the United States were still viewed by many with suspicion and those of Irish descent were often associated with criminality and deviance. This is explicit in Peaky Blinders where the authorities bring in a Protestant Chief Inspector from Belfast to investigate the criminal and subversive behaviour of the Irish community in Birmingham, specifically looking for a weapon before it falls into the hands of the Irish Republican Army (or the communists). For the Shelbies, this suspicion of the Irish in England convinces them that the only way to move up the social ladder is to become involved criminal enterprises.

For Thompson and his brother, they cynically tap into the divisions between Anglo and Irish American society to gain favour with those in the Irish-American community in Atlantic City. This involves obtaining money and votes from the community when needed. Thompson also makes overtures to the IRA in Ireland to obtain whiskey in exchange for weapons and uses a shared Irish heritage to try to convince the IRA leadership to accept this deal.

The plight of the Irish in America is also portrayed in Boardwalk Empire through the character of Margaret Schroeder (later Thompson), a migrant from Ireland. Margaret occupies a range of professions during her life in America and lives close to the poverty line while married to her first husband in Atlantic City. She escapes this by marrying Nucky Thompson, but once she leaves him and moves to New York, she once again struggles to keep herself and her children housed until she strikes a deal with gangster, Arnold Rothstein.

The changing role of women in Western society

Following from this, we also see the changing role of women in Britain and America after the First World War. The first series of Boardwalk Empire takes place in 1920 when the debate over whether to give women the vote in the US was raging. Thompson is in favour of giving women the vote as he believes that they will vote for him, as he is running for re-election as Treasurer. To ensure this support, Thompson speaks at the local chapter of the Women’s Temperance Movement and uses this as a platform to call for the vote for women and his re-election. For the women of the Temperance Movement, 1920 was a victorious year, gaining the right to vote as well as seeing the prohibition of alcohol.

In Peaky Blinders, the changing role of women is demonstrated through the character of Aunt Polly. While the Shelby boys were away during the war, Polly looked after the family business and raised the remaining Shelby children (including John and Ada). When the war ended, Tommy (and to a lesser extent, Arthur) came back to Birmingham to take over the business from Polly. Polly resents that after running the business for the duration of the war, she is now supposed to go back to her pre-war role – a situation that was commonly experienced by working class women across Britain in the years after the First World War.

Political extremism in the post-war era

Both Peaky Blinders and Boardwalk Empire depict the great political upheaval that occurred at the end of the war and these crime dramas play out against a background of political violence and extremism. In Peaky Blinders, the ‘threat’ of communism and Irish republicanism is ever present and intermingle with each other and the criminal underworld in Birmingham. Tommy Shelby negotiates with both political movements in his plans to take over the bookmaking business of his rival Billy Kimber.

In Boardwalk Empire, the spectre of communism and the ‘red scare’ is conspicuously absent, but Irish republicanism does feature, as mentioned above. The threat of the Ku Klux Klan is depicted in several episodes and is shown as a nuisance to Thompson’s business, who helps Albert ‘Chalky’ White take revenge on the KKK in return to White’s loyalty in the bootlegging business. In the last two series, the Pan-Africanist organisation of Marcus Garvey, the Universal Negro Improvement Association, is featured heavily as Dr. Valentin Narcisse emerges as a rival to ‘Chalky’ White, selling heroin out of an establishment in Harlem.

In both series, the authorities (the Special Branch in Peaky Blinders and the fledgling FBI in Boardwalk Empire) are more concerned with the political threats than the criminal activities of Shelby and Thompson. However individual agents, namely CI Chester Campbell in Peaky Blinders and Agent Jim Tolliver in Boardwalk Empire, press that the focus should be on Tommy Shelby and Nucky Thompson, rather than the IRA or the UNIA. In the end , these become personal vendettas that are blown apart by the changing political situation in both Britain and the USA during the inter-war period.

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These are just some initial thoughts and hopefully I will have time to flesh these out in the near future. As usual, any comments or queries are most welcome. And if you know of any scholarly work looking at these two series, please let me know.

10 memes for your next referee report

Inspired by this tweet:

I thought I’d create some ‘hilarious’ memes for easy insertion into your next referee report…

1. Often found in history referee reports… 679537     2. When an article makes big claims… 679514 3. When you get an article on the topic you’ve been working on for the last five years and no references to any of your work… 679581 4. The hard to follow abstract… 679615 5. When you get an article on Buffy, Angel, The X-Files or Clueless 679661 6. When someone cites Dominic Sandbrook… 679720 7. When you get to the end of an article and realise you haven’t understood a word… 679753 8. Please keep your footnotes tidy… 679790 9. When someone cites Zizek (or the later works of Chomsky)… 679814 And

10. The catch-all meme… CJikV3IUcAE4_R8 On a serious note, please remember to be kind when reviewing other people’s work. In the words of Rebecca Schuman (or Adam Hills), don’t be a dick.