Category Archives: TV

Reel Identities: Transgender Representation in Film and TV

The following post was originally published in the University Observer Vol. XXII, Issue V, and was later posted online on the paper’s website.

Following the backlash The Danish Girl has received for casting Eddie Redmayne as a lead, David Monaghan looks at how trans people are represented within film and television.

2015 was the year of trans. We saw a surge of support for trans rights as Caitlyn Jenner came out on social media to a predominantly positive and supportive public, later winning the Glamour Magazine Woman of the Year award. On home turf, the Irish government passed the Gender Recognition Bill, allowing Ireland’s trans citizens the right to self-identify without the need to provide testimony from psychiatrists or doctors. And more recently, in Northern Ireland a Green Party candidate has become the first transgender person to stand for election within the state. Most spectacularly is the fact that a film that deals with trans issues has reached the Oscars: Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl has landed four nominations: for Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Production Design, and Best Costume Design.

The battle for recognition at such a prestigious awards ceremony was difficult, and not without controversy. A lot of criticisms levelled at the film stem from Eddie Redmayne’s casting as the historical Lili Elbe, the first woman to undergo sex reassignment surgery. He joins the ranks of Dallas Buyers Club’s Jared Leto and Transparent’s Jeffrey Tambor under cisgender actors cast in transgender roles. To many trans activists such a move is considered a joke, and sends the message out that in order to succeed, even in a world where trans people can finally be depicted in mainstream media, you must still be cisgender.

Of course, there are exceptions to this ‘rule.’ Orange is the New Black’s Laverne Cox is a trans actress who plays an openly trans person within the show. Her character, Sophia Burset, deals with the stigma and challenges that come with being trans in a despotic and often harsh prison environment: she puts up with inappropriate conversation from fellow inmates, such as prison chef Red who tells her that she could never accept a child of hers who would make such a transition. In season three she faces her biggest stress as she is assaulted in her salon by embittered prisoners. The threat of violence is an unfortunate reality for trans peoples worldwide. Burset’s problems are viewed as somewhat more valid than that of Redmayne’s as Elbe or Tambor’s as Maura Pfefferman, as Cox has experienced first-hand the hardships people face when expressing their gender identity, while the former two come to their work with a degree of separation from the subject matter. It is worth noting, however, that they both depict characters who are in the process of transitioning, and spend a portion of their respective pieces presenting as male. An argument can be made for their casting with this in mind.

Despite the drawbacks listed above, it is a step forward to acknowledge trans people through the medium of film without the need for cloak and dagger storytelling. In years previous, trans people were treated as the butt of the joke. When they did appear, their stories were not treated with the respect or gravitas that they deserved. In a strange coincidence, the rise in support for the trans rights movement happened concurrently with a sudden boom in Irish cinema, with Ireland bagging a total of nine nominations at the Academy Awards this year. Irish director Neil Jordan won an Oscar in 1993 under the Best Original Screenplay category for his film The Crying Game, which deals with a multitude of social issues, among them issues of gender: one of the characters within the narrative is trans. Stephen Rea’s Fergus is overcome with revulsion when he discovers that his love interest, Jaye Davidson’s Dil, is a transwoman, her gender identity reduced to a mere plot-twist. This does not mark the only time Jordan has dealt with trans representation: his 2005 adaptation of Patrick McCabe’s Breakfast on Pluto treads similar ground.

The film centres on Patrick Braden, later Patricia ‘Kitten’ Braden, and her journey from rural 1970s Cavan to the bustling metropolis of London in a strange quest to find her mother. The word ‘transgender’ is never uttered however, possibly due to Patricia’s inability to receive education on the transgender movement and/or the social ignorance of such a topic in the 1970s: “I am a boy, not a girl!” Patricia’s adoptive mother forces her to say. While Patricia says she is female and presents as such, different pronouns and descriptions are used to refer to the character throughout. Her childhood friends use female pronouns and are fine with her style of dress, while other characters, such as the deeply-closeted singer-cum-republican Billy Hatchet, call her ‘Patrick’ at times. Some characters see Patricia as male, while others see her as female. In a scene set in a London nightclub, a man flirts with Patricia before exclaiming, “Christ, you’re a bloke,” to which Patricia responds, “Ten out of ten, Sherlock.” When magician Bertie Vaughan falls for Patricia, she is forced to tell him “I’m not a girl.” He responds by saying, “I knew that, princess.” Film critic Roger Ebert spoke about this, writing: “[Patricia] doesn’t care if you think [she’s] male or female, as long as you think [she’s] Kitten.”

Indeed, as the narrative progresses, it becomes less a realistic story of coming out as trans, and more a quest of individuality and acceptance in an inherently oppressive society. While the film fails as a trans narrative, it succeeds in depicting the struggle of being different within a suffocating space. This film, and the earlier Crying Game, are indicative of what trans people had often come to expect from cinema before the surge in support for the movement: stories where trans identities are not concrete or treated with enough gravitas. Exceptions like the biographical Boys Don’t Cry did exist, however, offering hope to a misrepresented community.

But now trans representation is at a point, surely, that suggests we are a more welcoming and accepting society? Perhaps not. Recently, Ricky Gervais hosted the Golden Globes and made remarks about Caitlyn Jenner, using her old name in the process. He also joked about what Jeffrey Tambor does in his role as Maura. Trans people, alongside other members of the LGBTQ+ community, are still treated as the butt of the joke within major Hollywood narratives, as a September 2015 YouTube video from GLAAD, titled ‘Hollywood Must Do Better,’ demonstrates. It shows clips from films such as Ted 2, The Wolf of Wall Street, Grown Ups 2, Instructions Not Included, Anchorman 2, and a host of others, that feature trans people as caricatures or walking punchlines (or in some extreme cases, punching bags). The unfortunate thing is that all of these films were made within the last five years, telling us once again that, while progress has been made, there is still a long way to go in creating better representation for trans people within the medium.

History, Reality, and Star Wars

This article was originally published in the University Observer in November 2015, both online and in print. 

In light of comments made about John Boyega’s casting in Star Wars, David Monaghan looks at the importance of history and reality in film, TV, and other popular media.

On October 19th, the trailer for much-anticipated Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released, and fans worldwide took to social media to express their excitement. Two stars of the film were particularly vocal; John Boyega uploaded an Instagram video of himself jumping over a couch in anticipation and Daisy Ridley had a nice cry. The number of tweets about the film reached 17,000 per minute with the hashtags #TheForceAwakens and #TieFighter trending for hours after its initial airing. Everyone was pleased. Or so it seemed.

A small but vocal minority took issue with Boyega. Not for his performance or his costume or anything to do with the trailer as a whole. No, these people took issue with the fact that he was a black actor in what they considered to be a predominantly white world. Angry white nerds took to social media websites to jumpstart hashtags like #BoycottStarWarsVII. “#BoycottStarWarsVII because it is anti-white propaganda promoting #whitegenocide,” writes one twitter user. “If white people aren’t wanted in Star Wars, then our money must not be either” said another. To these people the inclusion of black actors in Star Wars is ‘social justice gone mad.’ They fear that, by making popular franchises multicultural, they will no longer be represented in the things they love.

These fears are unfounded. Never mind the fact that white actors are privileged in the film industry –many white actors have even been cast in roles originally written for people of colour, such as Rooney Mara playing Tiger Lily in Pan – Star Wars has always been multicultural. The original trilogy featured black actors James Earl Jones and Billy Dee Williams as Darth Vader and Lando Calrissian respectively, and the prequels featured Samuel L. Jackson as Jedi Master Mace Windu.

Of course, it is not only the race of certain characters that these people take issue with. When writer Chuck Wendig released his Star Wars novel ‘Aftermath,’ another small but vocal minority accused him of propagating the ‘gay agenda’ for featuring queer characters.  In response to these critics, Wendig wrote: “You’re not the Rebel Alliance. You’re not the good guys. You’re the fucking Empire, man. You’re the shitty, oppressive, totalitarian Empire. If you can imagine a world where Luke Skywalker would be irritated that there were gay people around him, you completely missed the point of Star Wars.”

The real world is diverse. Ireland and the USA have both recently legalised same-sex marriage, instilling a new confidence in LGBTQ+ people. In 2014, Ireland became the fourth country in the world to celebrate Black History Month as 1.3 per cent of the population is of African origin. It is only normal that creators want to reflect this reality in popular fiction, as these groups are also consumers. The anti-diversity Twitter brigade will claim that blockbuster cinema should be escapist and reject reality, but what they feel to realise is that history and reality are integral to some of the best-loved franchises.

“THE ANTI-DIVERSITY TWITTER BRIGADE WILL CLAIM THAT BLOCKBUSTER CINEMA SHOULD BE ESCAPIST AND REJECT REALITY, BUT WHAT THEY FEEL TO REALISE IS THAT HISTORY AND REALITY ARE INTEGRAL TO SOME OF THE BEST-LOVED FRANCHISES.”

Dominican American writer and critic Junot Diaz, when speaking about representation, said “without our stories, without the true nature and reality of who we are as People of Colour, nothing about fanboy or fangirl culture would make sense… If it wasn’t for race, X-Men wouldn’t exist… If it wasn’t for the history of colonialism and imperialism, Star Wars doesn’t make sense.” Diaz is right.  When writing the X-Men series, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were inspired by the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, with Professor X acting as a stand-in for Martin Luther King Jr. and Magneto acting as a sci-fi version of Malcolm X. This metaphor was carried into the X-Men film series by Bryan Singer, who also included vague LGBTQ+ themes. X-Men 2, considered by many to be a high point for the series, includes a ‘coming out’ scene in which a young Bobby Drake has to tell his parents he is a mutant. In the comics, it was recently revealed the Bobby Drake is also gay.

When conceiving the Star Wars, George Lucas wanted the Rebel Alliance, the ‘good guys’ of the original trilogy, to have American accents, while the evil Empire had to have British accents. This immediately draws parallels with real world history. At the height of its influence, the British Empire was the world’s largest global power and had control over American colonies. In the film series, the Galactic Empire also destroys multiple planets and people in order to gain more power. The influence of imperialism that Diaz discusses is at the very surface of the film franchise.

Reality is intrinsically linked to Iron Man’s backstory. When “quintessential capitalist” Tony Stark is injured during the Vietnam War he designs a power suit that will help him survive, and early Iron Man stories saw him fighting the dangers of communism. When the character was adapted for the big screen in 2008’s Iron Man, he was transported to the modern day, receiving his injury against the backdrop of the war in Afghanistan.

Real life is integral to the development and success of popular entertainment, and director J.J. Abrams is keenly aware of this. Shortly before the trailer for The Force Awakens aired, he posted an image to his Twitter that read, “We cannot wait to share the trailer with you tonight. I don’t care if you’re black, white, brown, Jawa, Wookie, Jedi, or Sith. I just hope you like it.” What Abrams understands, and what some people fail to grasp, is that popular media is exactly that: popular. It is for everyone, not just a select few. It reflects reality and mimics it. Speaking once again about representation for people of colour, Junot Diaz writes: “Without us as the secret sauce, none of this works, and it is about time that we understood that we are the Force that holds the Star Wars universe together.”

Distorting Reality: How Unique is Irish Comedy?

This work was originally published by the University Observer in October 2015.

David Monaghan looks at what makes Irish television unique when compared to its American and British counterparts.

Whenever discussions around television comedy arise, two distinct styles are often pitted against each other: British and American. British comedy champions the downtrodden, all-too-human hero, while American comedy offers a more positive and uplifting outlook on life. While this is a slight generalisation (there are a few American comedies that feature underlying negativity, just thinkArrested Development or South Park), in most cases it is the accepted norm. Irish comedy, much in the vein of its British counterpart, also stems from a culture of negativity, but is there anything unique about it?

British comedy, while funny, also displays scenes of intense sadness or pity. Audiences laugh when Ricky Gervais’ David Brent hijacks an office training session to play his comically-misguided guitar songs, they squirm when he attempts to upstage his new boss with a terrible dance. They sympathise with Dawn when she, in the very same show, describes how disappointing her life has turned out to be. Similarly, people remember when a frustrated Basil Fawlty thrashes his car with a broken tree branch, when Del Boy falls through an open bar, and when Blackadder and company make the final leap over the trenches and into war. The humour in British comedy is often physical and at a character’s expense, and is punctuated by moments of reality.

American comedy, on the other hand, is distinctly different. While tackling moments of sadness, as well as elements of reality, it tends to wrap things up in a nice, neat narrative; rarely is anything left sad or ambiguous. In the sitcomScrubs, for example, a storyline involving Dr. Cox’s alcoholism and depression is brought to a conclusion when JD helps the misanthropic doctor get back on his feet, and most episodes end with a life lesson or a moral. Friends concludes with Ross and Rachel getting back together, ending a long-running plot thread. This is in contrast to the final episode of something like the UK’s The Thick of It,in which Malcolm Tucker is arrested, his future left uncertain.

So, where does all this leave Irish comedy? Like British comedy, it wallows in negativity at times, but unlike British comedy, reality is often distorted or rejected. A very introspective form of comedy, it sees the faults in our culture, or our society, and it exaggerates them to the point of parody. It is no coincidence that Father Ted came to our screens in the 1990s, when people began to question the failures of the clergy in decades past. The show follows three Catholic priests on a small island off the west coast of Ireland – a simple, realistic premise. It is only when they do strange things like enter a version of the Eurovision or fend off an invasion of elderly women that farce comes into play. Both Father Ted and Father Dougal display incompetency at their jobs, and in one episode Father Ted attempts to woo a female writer on the island, a very controversial depiction. Writer Graham Linehan explains that they’re “just two people who happen to be [priests].”

This parody of Ireland’s reality can also be seen in shows like Republic of Telly.In a mock news segment, for example, host Bernard O’Shea sings in sean-nós style about emigrants’ longing for Tayto crisps while abroad – bringing Ireland’s emigration problem to the fore and playing with it. In a sketch from the same show, titled ‘Edward Hurleyhands,’ a blatant spoof of Edward Scissorhands, a character, dressed head-to-toe in black and with hurley sticks for hands, uses his strange gift to master the game of hurling. Irish culture and reality are once again brought to the fore, but are mocked or distorted to the point of parody.

While British and American brands of comedy continue to dominate the scene, Irish comedy, while holding some similarities to its British counterpart, is a unique creature. Seeing the flaws in its own culture, it chooses to parody them instead of embracing them. So why is it that it teeters on the edge of discussing something real, only to take two steps back? It can be argued that it has something to do with an Irish cultural reluctance to discuss things frankly, but who knows for sure? To paraphrase one Father Dougal Maguire; “the whole thing’s a bit of a puzzler.”

The Man of Many Voices: Mario Rosenstock

This work was originally published by the University Observer in October 2015.

Mario Rosenstock sits down with David Monaghan to discuss his work in TV and radio as a comedian and impressionist

Mario Rosenstock is known to many as the voice (or voices) of the satirical breakfast show Gift Grub, in which he lampoons various political and sports figures throughout Ireland. On television, he is known for The Mario Rosenstock Show, a sketch show featuring his repertoire of characters in unusual situations; like Joan Burton riding a wrecking ball, or Donal Skehan breaking his nice guy act to beat up some local scumbags. Taking a well-deserved break from satirising the country’s elite, Rosenstock speaks about working in television and radio, his friendship with Ian Dempsey, and the pressure he feels when creating content.

Spawning numerous albums and singles since its inception in 1999, Gift Grub is the first port of call for many people when seeking Irish political satire. However, its success came as a surprise to Rosenstock. “When I started, everything I did was depending on the radio station I was working in being successful,” he says. “[It was] called Radio Ireland, and it just didn’t know what it was at the beginning. It was known in the papers, mockingly, as Radio 0%, and Radio Direland.” Radio Ireland eventually changed its name to Today FM. After recruiting Ian Dempsey to host the morning show, it began to grow in popularity. “It started to really, really appeal to people. I started working with Ian on the breakfast show [and] it was in tandem with this Bertie Ahern thing that was happening. I was the only one in Ireland doing sketches about him every day and that kind of caught the imagination.”

Rosenstock has collaborated with Ian Dempsey ever since. “We have a very special relationship. Some people describe it as a husband and wife; I don’t know who’s the man and who’s the woman. No one knows his audience better than Ian [and] he’s also a really great judge of an audience in relation to me. He’d look at stuff I do and go, ‘what would people love to see Mario doing?’ And he’d know better than I would. He often points me in the right direction.”

Having worked almost exclusively in radio over the years, The Mario Rosenstock Show was a slight departure for the performer. “In radio you can go, ‘Imagine if Joan Burton suddenly became Alexander the Great back in 20 BC, and there’s an army of 50,000 people with elephants.’ You could do that on the radio that day, and peoples’ minds will see [it].” Rosenstock, who often plays multiple characters at once on radio, simply cannot mimic this approach on television. “Radio is good for getting the ideas out there tomorrow. Television takes weeks.”

Mario Rosenstock’s sketches often veer into the absurd. Since breaking out onto the scene, we have borne witness to Alan Shatter as a 1970s TV cop, Gerry Adams as a starship captain, and Bertie Ahern as a culinary chef. This surreal approach will draw comparisons to the style of British comedy troupe Monty Python. “I was exposed to the absurdity of Monty Python. I would have been very impressed with Life of Brian, The Holy Grail, [that was] the stuff I really enjoyed.” Rosenstock also speaks of his love for American sketch showSaturday Night Live. “I love idea that you do sketches which are topical each week in front of a live audience. I love that up-to-date topical comedy.”

SNL features sketches written over the course of a week, to be performed live in front of a studio audience on the Saturday. As a result, actors can sometimes break character, forget lines, and crack up. Rosenstock is no stranger to this type of pressure. “Yes, [but] there’s pressure and there’s stress,” he explains. “Pressure is really good. [It’s] bringing the best out of yourself, rising to the occasion. I [feel] a lot of pressure doing things that I have, but I now realise that feeling is a good feeling. Stress is not a good feeling. Stress is when something is preventing you from working. You’re sick, you’re run down, you can’t think straight – that’s stress. Pressure is when you’re a bit worried, but feel of creative intent and energy.”

In 2005, Mario Rosenstock surprised many by topping the Irish Christmas charts with a parody of Will Young’s ‘Leave Right Now.’ “I’ve always loved music. I can actually hold a note really well when I’m in character – not so much as myself! I think music is a beautiful, glorious thing. You can also write stuff in music that is like poetry – rhymes and stuff – and put them into characters mouths, like politicians, or people like Paul O’Connell, and it makes them funny for a minute.” Indeed, seeing Joan Burton perform Wrecking Ball à la Miley Cyrus is not a sight many people can take seriously.

Three years ago, Rosenstock created minor controversy when the Catholic Communications Office took offence to a sketch depicting a character spitting into a bucket before receiving Holy Communion. Has the writer-performer stirred any other note-worthy controversies? “I’m careful to observe the law of defamation,” he says. “I’m also careful to observe a natural law, which is [not to] go off on somebody in a poisonous, malicious way. Satire has to be funny first. Otherwise you’re just a taxi driver giving out: ‘Them fuckin’ government, that fuckin’ bunch o’ clowns!’ So my thing would be, I don’t want to say that unless I can make it funny.”

Rosenstock’s comments bring to mind the recent developments surrounding the Denis O’Brien/Waterford Whispers News conflict; the media mogul threatened to sue the satirical news source over its depiction of him. “Waterford Whispers News published something, he threatened to sue them, which he’s entitled to do as a person,” says Rosenstock, whose radio station is owned by O’Brien. “Should he be allowed to do that? Well, he is. It’s the law. Is it right for him to do that? Maybe not, but he can. Say you live in a house, and I want to build a gigantic railway and a shopping centre right next to your house. You can object, but if I win the objection, I can build my railway and shopping centre near your house. It’s legal. It’s not nice, but it’s legal. So, we have to deal with those parameters as well.”

After a succession of albums, live performances, and a television show, what can Mario Rosenstock do next to surprise us? “[I have a] new TV show coming in November and December. It’s Saturday Night Live-based idea, so some studio based sketches, pre-recorded sketches, music, and hopefully live guests. There’s a lot going on; possibly an election – it’ll be pre-election time anyway – the 1916 anniversary, and also lots of rugby and soccer things coming to a climax. So, it’s going to be a very, very interesting time.”

While Ireland is undergoing many social and political changes, it is comforting to know that one thing will remain consistent; Mario Rosenstock will be there to point the finger and laugh. Just don’t ask him to sing out of character.

Revenge of the Nerds

This work was originally published by the University Observer in September 2015.

David Monaghan looks at how the archetype of the nerd has changed in and outside of Film and TV.

We are all familiar with the trope of the nerd: a bespectacled, basement-dwelling mess, usually depicted with horn-rimmed glasses and a love for niche science-fiction. This image permeates nearly every aspect of popular culture, from movies to TV, comic books to literature. Almost anyone can identify these characters through appearance alone, but how true is this archetype to reality?

Typically portrayed as outsiders, traditional ‘nerds’ are usually defined by their difference to other more ‘normal’ characters. Steve Urkel, protagonist of the long-running American sitcom, Family Matters, wears braces, a striped cardigan, and speaks in a shrill, high-pitched voice, much to the chagrin of the Winslow family. Comic Book Guy in The Simpsons displays more negative characteristics, using his differences and love of niche subjects as a means to belittle other people.

A brief visit to both Dublin Comic-Con and its sister event MCM Comic-Con, it can be said that the archetype of the nerd, which will be forever embedded in our collective pop culture conscience, holds very little bearing in reality. Or rather, the reality is a little more complicated than one might initially imagine. Movements like ‘Gamergate’, a campaign of harassment against female games journalists, seem to only reaffirm the standards set by characters like Comic Book Guy. Events like aforementioned conventions show that the communities can be both welcoming and warm.

“It’s okay to like [comic books] now. It’s the cool thing to do,” says Trudie Mitchell, a student, dressed from head to toe in Captain America’s familiar red, white and blue. “Due to the movies and the popularity of the video games, it has gotten big for all generations,” says Darragh Gallagher, complimenting Trudie’s outfit with his very own spin on Peter Parker. One glance around the halls at both events proves them right. Parents and children, dressed as a selection of characters from the world of popular culture, like Groot and Rocket fromGuardians of the Galaxy, or Geralt the Witcher from the eponymous video game, run from stall to stall buying a mix of comic books, games, and movies – a far cry from the basement-dwellers of popular myth.

So why has attending cons become the ‘cool’ thing to do? Why has a nerd gone from a subject of derision to being dominant in popular culture? This might have a lot to do with how accessible certain niche media has become. In the 1980s and 1990s, the ‘nerd’ character in fiction typically had an encyclopaedic knowledge of certain subject areas, like science fiction or comic books. This knowledge was often obtained with great patience and difficulty (for example, finding a copy of the difficult-to-source Star Wars Christmas Special, or obsessively watching episodes of a TV show), and was therefore inaccessible or alien to most other characters. This was the perception of nerds in and outside the land of Film and TV.

In the 1990s, however, we begin to see a shift. Filmmakers Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino, amongst others, use their love of comic books and movies to litter their own films with pop culture references. Smith’sClerks and Mallrats contain normal, everyday people discussing, without irony, the architecture of the Death Star, as well as their favourite Star Wars films. Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction contains numerous references to, and replicates many shots from, his favourite films, including Psycho, It’s A Wonderful Life, and The Great Train Robbery. ‘Nerd’ characters are no longer the socially-awkward, loud, annoying tropes we expect them to be, but instead they have become the people we see everyday; the man in the corner shop or on the street. In Tarantino’s case, becoming obsessive over something will not lead to derision, but instead will lead to a successful movie career. Indeed, with the development of the internet and the ability to share information with a mass of people, these filtered versions of all things ‘nerdy,’ once thought impenetrable, have now opened up to allow more and more people to feel welcomed.

It would not be strange to suggest, then, that this only opened the gate to the development of more comic book and sci-fi films. No longer seen as something alien or strange, people now flock to see films that would not have been made as often or as regularly nearly twenty years ago. Speaking to Simon Fisher-Becker, Doctor Who’s Dorium Maldovar, at MCM Comic-Con, he offered up a differing view: “I totally accept that there are a lot of people who think sci-fi is just phooey and they don’t understand it at all. For human beings, and for society as a whole, sci-fi is important because the fantasies of today become the realities of tomorrow, and the proof of that is Star Trek! I mean, Captain Kirk had the original flip-phone. We all use a video screen of some sort nowadays. And now with the 3D printing, that’s the start of the replicator! And there are writers of the past – Jules Verne, HG Welles, and to some extent George Orwell – I mean, 1984! We have CCTV everywhere. Big Brother is here.”

Many of our anxieties about the future are reflected in the popular media we consume. Bryan Singer’s X-Men films look at persecution through the mutant metaphor. The Dark Knight examines terrorism through the anarchic Joker, and every Fantastic Four film successfully reminds us how terrifyingly bad superhero films can still be.

While the trope of the isolated nerd will never truly go away, more and more people feel welcomed now than ever before by media once deemed inaccessible. Despite protestations from hate groups like Gamergate, people of all races, genders, backgrounds, and sexualities find comfort in attending conventions and speaking about their love of games, movies, and comics. The nerd is no longer an outsider. The nerd is now the everyman.

Spoilers, Barbarians, and the Circus: Ian Beattie

This work was originally published by the University Observer in September 2015.

Fans of Game of Thrones will be readily familiar with Ser Meryn Trant, member of the Kingsguard under King Joffrey. He is a sadistic, brutal and all-round vile character, appeasing those he serves through nefarious means. So it was lucky that Ian Beattie, the actor behind Ser Meryn, could not be more different. Bouncing around in his seat at MCM Comic-Con, he enthusiastically shared how the show has impacted his life, how he attempted, rather unsuccessfully, to avoid spoilers on set, and all that he has in store now that his time on the show has come to an end.

“It has made a huge difference to my career, certainly,” says Beattie, looking very relaxed now that he has ditched the Iron Throne for a seat in the RDS. “Before Game of Thrones, I got occasionally very prestigious jobs, but they were also not as regular. Game of Thrones just took me up to a whole different level and got me into many, many more rooms than I previously would have gotten into.” He has showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss to thank for that. The pair have overseen the show since its inception in 2011 and have developed its memorable storylines. “Anyone who has seen season five will know that I was given a ridiculously good send-off,” Beattie says.

As the conversation progresses, it becomes clear that, despite becoming an integral part of one of the biggest fantasy shows of all time, Beattie remains a fan at heart. Speaking about conventions, he says, “I absolutely love them! I love interacting with people and finding out what their theories are, because I’m a huge fan of the show as well.”

In order to avoid spoilers, Beattie did not read full scripts. Instead, he only read passages that contaed his scenes. “One of the funniest stories I experienced in Game of Thrones [was when] we were in season four, and it was the last day of filming in Belfast. I was filming with Jack Gleeson and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau [King Joffrey and Jaime Lannister, respectively]. We finished the scene and Charles Dance was there and he said, ‘well, the little bastards have finally killed me,’ and I said, ‘No, you’ve just given me the end of the season!’”

With the rise of social media websites like Facebook and Twitter, spoilers for popular TV shows like Game of Thrones are becoming harder and harder to avoid. Beattie notes that it’s not just social media that causes such a common problem; BBC News, one of the biggest news outlets in the United Kingdom, posted an article on the ending of season five shortly before the episode was due to air. “Many people want to know what happens next, but most people don’t,” says Beattie. “And the reason I think Game of Thrones has been so incredibly successful is, no matter how invested you are in a character, nobody is safe, and that makes for the most compelling television.

The figures for the last season averaged approximately 8 million viewers per episode, and the season’s debut alone was downloaded illegally 13 million times. Game of Thrones is showing no signs of slowing down. Beattie feels another reason for the show’s continued success is its filmic quality. “It’s a game-changer for television. It is film quality. And the attention to detail! You don’t even see it all, you have to pause the TV [and say], ‘look at that, look at that, look at that.’ They have created a world, and they have created it so well.”

Beattie’s start in acting began at an early age, when he used to tour Northern Ireland in a circus with his father. “From that age I always wanted to act, there was never any question.” Speaking directly to anyone with an interest in entering the business, Beattie says, “if they know that that’s what they want to be, then that’s what they’re going to be. Simple as that.”

Now that he has now left the show, Beattie can finally appreciate it without fear of encountering spoilers (unless he has a Facebook page). Speaking about where he thinks the series is going in the future, he notes that there are many characters alive in the books who have died in the show. “I’ve got a funny feeling their days are numbered. The genius that is George RR Martin knows what happens in the shows. He and David and Dan obviously spend a lot of time following storylines. I strongly suspect that anyone who didn’t make it to the end of season five will not be making it to the end of book six.”

Now that Beattie’s time in Westoros is at an end, what has the Northern Irish actor got in store for the future? “Quite a few things actually,” he assures. “The first thing [is] a series I’ve just finished for the History Channel called Barbarians Rising. It’s the Roman Empire versus different Barbarian tribes that went against them. It’s an eight part series that’s coming out early next year. Very excited about that.” Exciting indeed, but it’s what Beattie says next is what will intrigue most. “Next month, I start filming a film in Belfast with Timothy Spall as Ian Paisley, Colm Meaney as Martin McGuiness, and I will be playing Gerry Adams.” With the glasses, the beard, and a mimicry of Adams’ recognisable Belfast accent, you only have to close your eyes to imagine that it is not the enthusiastic Game of Thrones actor before you, but the Sinn Féin leader himself.

From the circus tent, to one of the biggest fantasy franchises of all time, Beattie’s career has gone from strength to strength. And with a plethora of projects in the works, this trend seems set to continue.

Not Walking Sex Acts: The Oversexualisation of Gay Men on Television

This work was originally published by the University Observer in September 2015.

Russell T Davies is never one to shy away from depicting gay life on screen. His radical 1999 drama Queer as Folk smashed through preconceptions about gay men and how far we can go in presenting them on television. His 2001 show Bob and Rose showed that sexuality can be fluid, and when he was tasked with rebooting the much-loved sci-fi show Doctor Who, he introduced LGBTQ+ characters into a world that had previously neglected their very existence – an unfortunate rarity in family shows. RTD, as he is referred to by fans, has been a vanguard for change in depicting gay people on TV, so why is it that he continues to perpetuate so many negative stereotypes about the community?

In the 1990s, many people had begun to open up to the idea of depicting gay life on television. Shows like Ellen, Will and Grace, and the ever-popular Friendsfinally embraced gay characters and storylines, but change did not come quick enough for some people. Gay characters were featured, but were often muted. They rarely interacted with romantic partners and the Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer peoples of the community were never featured at all. That is why RTD’s seminal Queer as Folk was a breath of fresh air – it didn’t pertain to the barriers set by TV standards, it smashed right through them. While other parts of the community remained underrepresented still, gay men were not depicted as stereotypes. RTD overcompensated for the lack of boyfriend characters in preceding shows by making his characters overly promiscuous. And therein lies the problem.

While such a depiction may have been necessary in the land of 1990s TV, where writers tip-toed around gay people like they were made of broken glass, it is certainly most unwelcome today. RTD’s recent trilogy of shows – 2015’s Cucumber, Banana, and Tofu – show that the writer-producer has learned a lot since his Queer as Folk days; lesbian, trans, and bisexual characters are depicted with sensitivity and kindness, while gay men are still depicted as overly sexual. For example, the show’s protagonist, middle-aged Henry Best, leaves his long-term boyfriend in search of further sexual conquests.

There would not have been much of a problem with this depiction if it did not bleed into every other area of film and television. In arguably the best episode of the IT Crowd, titled ‘The Work Outing,’ the characters go to see a production of a musical called ‘Gay,’ which features parody songs that conform to the stereotype of the promiscuous gay man. In the sitcom Extras, there is a character called Bunny, and one of his character traits is that he is a gay man who enjoys having sex. This is not the say the writers of these sitcoms are homophobic (Graham Linehan’s support of the Yes Equality campaign in May would indicate otherwise), but rather that they consciously (or unconsciously) perpetuate negative stereotypes about the gay community.

And who are we to criticise them if we continue to push these portrayals ourselves? Russell T Davies is, as has been said, a vanguard of change, but he still has some work to do in changing perceptions of gay men on TV.