steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

Moving Wallpaper

I haven't blogged here about the controversial episode of ITV's Moving Wallpaper that was aired on March 20th, in which a transsexual woman was hired (and then fired) by a TV scriptwriting team. It was as exploitative and openly transphobic a show as I've ever seen or could even easily imagine - and when it comes to the media representation of trans people, it's got a lot of competition! An incomplete list of the problems can be found here , here and in various other places on the web. The programme itself is no longer online, so you'll have to take my word for it, or not, as you decide.

Over 100 people complained to Ofcom, and I must admit I thought it was an open-and-shut case. But apparently not! Because Ofcom has just ruled that it was not in breach of their code after all (although from their description they appear to have watched a different show).

For some nuts, only a sledgehammer will do - so I've written the following letter to Ofcom in full-on sarcastic mode. Not that it will do any good, but it's cathartic for me at least:

Dear Ofcom


I was delighted to read your ruling (in Broadcast Bulletin 135, 8th June 2009) that the episode of Moving Wallpaper featuring a transsexual character was not in breach of your code. This pleases me especially, because I have recently penned a comedy set in a similar milieu. My script uses satire and absurdist comedy to highlight the problem of Islamophobia in the workplace, just as Moving Wallpaper so effectively highlighted the plight of transsexual women. Perhaps you would care to hear about it?


In my comedy, a team of television scriptwriters is making a series about vampires. The boorish producer, David, decides that to understand the vampire phenomenon they need a Christian perspective, and accordingly hires a Catholic writer, Fiona Smith. Imagine his surprise when he discovers on her arrival that she has recently converted to Islam, and taken the name Fatima!


David’s discomfiture leads to numerous embarrasing verbal slip-ups on his part. (“Let’s draw a veil over that”, “It’s going to go down a bomb – not a suicide bomb of course!”, “We’re in this business to make a profit – peace be upon him!”, etc.) He makes it clear that Fatima’s religious conversion is connected in his mind with the subject of his TV series, in which humans are “converted” into undead. At one point he mischievously writes the words “Female circumcision” on a whiteboard planner.

But this edgy satire isn’t confined to the producer. The other regular characters also join in the fun.  They all refer to Fatima as Fiona, despite her repeated corrections. (And as if that weren’t funny enough she’s even referred to as Fiona in the show’s closing credits! It’s a cleverly postmodern way of highlighting Islamophobia and lack of respect by “enacting” it, I’m sure you’ll agree.) Fatima’s colleagues declare themselves “freaked out” at the idea of sharing an office with a Muslim convert, describing her as “unnatural”, and “a walking jihad”. They complain that she’ll demand paid leave to go on haj, and want all the desks turned towards Mecca. At one point two colleagues make a bet as to which item she’ll choose from the lunch menu – the bacon or the pork cutlets? “You’re about as convincing a producer as Fiona is a Muslim!” one says to David. “I’d like to strangle her with her own headscarf!” quips another. There is much speculation about exactly what she wears under her hijab. And these comic gems just keep coming, all the way through the show!


Finally David is able to dispense with the universally-unpopular Fatima’s services without compensation, realizing that he has not actually signed her contract. As he tells her: “I was so put off by your Ramadan breath that I forgot to sign it.” Everyone is glad to see her go, and in a clever twist as Fatima is leaving the building she is seen swigging liberally from a hip flask – bringing into question just how sincere her “conversion” really was.


I think that a programme of this kind will make fun prime-time viewing, while highlighting the serious issue of Islamophobia in a contemporary, satirical and absurdist way. You may have noticed that it bears some resemblances to the disputed episode of Moving Wallpaper, and I admit that I used that excellent show as a close model, not least because it has been deemed by you to not to breach the Ofcom code – and of course, like the makers of that show I would never be gratuitously offensive. Ironically, however, I suspect that many Islamophobes may enjoy it too – and I’m sure you’ll agree that we must also cater to their tastes, especially now that BNP voters have been shown to make up a significant part of the viewing audience. Possibly the only people who will object are the more humourless amongst the Muslim community itself, who may complain about  its “crass pandering to stereotypes”, its “using the Muslim character as nothing but a source of cheap laughs”, its “endorsing and legitimizing prejudice and victimization”, and so on – but thanks to your Moving Wallpaper decision I’m confident that the values of Free Speech will trump their hysteria and oversensitivity.


So thanks once again, Ofcom, for giving such a clear signal to the writers and broadcasters of the future, who I’m sure will use your judgement as a powerful precedent in cases still to come!

Tags: gender
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