Sunday, January 09, 2005

What's Wrong With These People?

Culture shock in London. Especially after Moscow.

The big news seems here to be that the BBC broadcast Jerry Springer: The Opera last night. It is a West End musical starring David Soul (Starsky and Hutch) that contains some 300 swear words and depicts Jesus Christ wearing a diaper and as "a bit gay."

This is the kind of camp stuff that was going on the in USA in the 1990s that almost led to the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts. Now the BBC has gotten some 40,000 protest letters and the Conservatives want to punish the network.

The whole thing seems pretty stupid in a world after 9/11. Radio Four had an interview with David Soul and a Christian critic, and there was a time warp quality. Don't we have more important issues facing us right now than Jerry Springer? (Is he still on the air?) Plus the Christian was saying the BBC should do good, high-quality stuff and the American tv actor was saying the BBC should air crap. How embarrassing! American TV can air crap, but if the BBC has any justification for its existence at all, it is that it shows good TV.

The tube is full of advertisements threatening people that they will be fined 1000 pounds if they don't pay their BBC licence fee. Sitting on the train, you stare at a poster saying something like 'We have a database of every television license in England' and the TV police will track you down if you don't pay up.

I interviewed Michael Grade, now head of the BBC, when I did my Masterpiece Theatre book--he produced some wonderful British classic costume dramas for the Mobil Corporation. Now, as George Bush the First used to say, his BBC is in 'deep doo-doo'. No wonder people are mad--they can go to jail here if they don't pay the BBC for Jerry Springer.

No wonder, that London seems paradoxically crappy. There's still the charming English historical stuff, but contemporary British culture seems to be pure 'rubbish,' to use an old-fashioned English term.

We didn't see the Jerry Springer BBC TV special because last night we went to the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Romeo and Juliet at the Albery Theatre in Leicester Square.

Not much better. We walked out at halftime. The best thing about it was the nice old West End theatre. Juliet was a poor man's Gwyneth Paltrow, Romeo noone at all. The production was of the dreadful Shakespeare's Bawdy codpiece-grabbing smutty school that is all too widely spread in the US. Leering and bellowing. Yuck.

Perhaps this reflects a past power struggle at the RSC. A couple of years ago we saw some terrific productions in the Barbican. Then it was announced they were shutting down due to some sort of god-knows-what British intrigue and financial problems. They were completely closed in London for a long time. We eagerly awaited the RSC London reopening. Because we were there on the last night in The Pit, when the RSC actors cried and recited Prospero's speech from The Tempest about revels being ended. It was fantastic, memorable, theatrical, emotional. Brilliant.

That was then. Now, the RSC seems to have reinvented itself, almost the Jerry Springer Shakespeare Company.

The capper to our lousy night at half of Romeo and Juliet was seeing the homeless people camping out in the subway tunnels leading to Charing Cross tube station. The scene reminded us of New York City before Mayor Giuliani.

What's wrong with these people?