Essays: Green beef |
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Green beef **

UNLIKE Bionic Woman or Six Million Dollar Man, The Incredible Hulk (ITV) is not a rebuild but a true mutant. Bionic and Six used to be ordinary human beings but were transformed by engineering. Hulk remains an ordinary human being who can’t help turning into an extraordinary one every time he gets angry. An ‘overdose of gamma radiation’ has altered ‘his body chemistry’ so that in vexing moments he becomes the physical expression of his own fury.

‘The creature,’ it is explained, ‘is driven by rage.’ A combination of Clark Kent and Dr Jekyll, ‘mild-mannered’ David Banner falls first into a sweat, then into a trance, and finally into a metamorphosis. In the same time that it takes to wheel a small actor off and a large one on, a weedy schnurk like you and me is transmogrified into seven feet of green beef.

Hulk has the standard body-builder’s physique, with two sets of shoulders one on top of the other and wings of lateral muscle that hold his arms out from his sides as if his armpits had piles. He is made remarkable by his avocado complexion, eyes like plover’s eggs and the same permanently exposed lower teeth displayed by Richard Harris when he is acting determined, or indeed just acting.

Given a flying start by the shock effect of his personal appearance, Hulk goes into action against the heavies, flinging them about in slow motion. Like Bionic, Six and Wonder Woman, Hulk does his action numbers at glacial speed. Emitting slow roars of rage, Hulk runs very slowly towards the enemy, who slowly attempt to make their escape. But no matter how slowly they run, Hulk runs more slowly. Slowly he picks them up, gradually bangs their heads together, and with a supreme burst of lethargy throws them through the side of a building.

Hardly have the bricks floated to the ground before Hulk is changing back into spindly David, with a sad cello weeping on the sound-track. One thinks of Frankenstein’s monster or the Hunchback of Notre Dame. One thinks of King Kong. One thinks one is being had. Why can’t the soft twit cut the soul-searching and just enjoy his ability to swell up and clobber the foe? But David is in quest of ‘a way to control the raging spirit that dwells within him.’ Since the series could hardly continue if he finds it, presumably he will be a long time on the trail.

If you took the violence out of American television there wouldn’t be much left, and if you took the American television out of British television there wouldn’t be much left of that either. Without imported series, our programme planners couldn’t fill the schedules. Whether schedules ought to be filled is another question. As things stand, American series have to be bought in. Nearly all of them are violent to some degree. But those who believe that violence on television causes violence in real life should take consolation from the fact that most of the violence in American series is on a par with the Incredible Hulk torpidly jumping up and down on the languorously writhing opponents of freedom and justice.

It’s British programmes that show life’s dark underside. In American programmes, however full of crashed cars and flying bodies, the values remain unswervingly wholesome. You can’t imagine the Americans making a series like Out (Thames). I found myself wishing that the British hadn’t made it either. Having missed the early episodes, I was a bit behind the story when I finally tuned in, so perhaps the thread escaped me. Certainly the atmospherics deserved all the praise they got: Tom Bell and the other actors reeked of bad diet and even the air looked dirty. But the events seemed unlikely. The hit-man who blew up the hero’s car was the only person on the scene after the explosion. Common sense told you that everyone in the district would have been on the scene and the hit-man would have been somewhere else.

Authenticity was reserved for the torture scenes. A grass had his kidneys knuckled by the hero’s friend. This was all too believable. Lest we miss any of it, the camera moved in tight on the victim’s face. One of my reasons for not joining panels or accepting invitations to give lectures is that I simply don’t know whether television ought to show things as they are or as they ought to be. Moreover I don’t trust anybody who thinks he does know.

On the whole it is probably wiser to show that hitting somebody really hurts him, instead of just making him drift lazily through the air. But there were times during the latest Z-Cars (BBC1) when watching, say, ‘Cannon’ seemed very preferable. As some foul-spoken dockside stripper cowered at the prospect of having a steel comb shoved up her nose, it was impossible not to yearn for the magic land in which Cannon — the original and still the most incredible of all hulks — struggles from his car, plods after the fleeing thugs, and fells them with karate chops from his marshmallow hands.

Jane Fonda (BBC1) inhabits the same country. She is, in fact, a radicalised version of Wonder Woman. Having brought the war in Vietnam to an end, she is justifiably still awe-stricken at the change in her personality which made it all possible. It goes without saying — or rather it goes with a lot of saying — that the details of how she changed from a sex object into a political demiurge are of prime concern to the world.

I believe most of what Jane Fonda believes. In fact I believed most of it before she did. But after you have heard a few of your own liberal opinions coming out of Jane’s mouth you start wondering whether the John Birch Society is so bad after all. Like Vanessa Redgrave, Jane seems to think that the state of her own ego is of fundamental importance to the history of the human race. Truly their collaboration in the film ‘Julia’ was a conjunction of the mind and opposition of the stars. ‘People were asking: “Where is Barbarella?”’ piped Jane. Actually nobody was asking that. Nobody gave a stuff about Barbarella. But conceit must be forgiven in any woman married to a man like Tom Hayden. ‘She has an intensity like no one you’ll ever see,’ he informed us, referring sternly to ‘the agony of a life-change,’ while neglecting to examine the question of whether her earlier incarnation — the one that married Vadim and made idiotic movies like Barbarella — did so from choice.

The tacit assumption seemed to be that everyone was like that then: the whole culture was to blame. ‘I think that she’s changed in the sense that she’s evolved.’ Jane was ready to go along with that. ‘I... I... me... I felt unworthy... very much a part of my whole being.’ There is a lot to admire in Jane Fonda, but people so keen to tell you how they’ve changed never really change.

The Observer, 3rd September 1978

[ ** We don't have a copy of Clive’s original column for September 3rd 1978, nor can we confirm its original title. The text above is reproduced from the piece’s re-issue in the Picador collection Visions Before Midnight. It may or may not be complete — typically the versions there have been edited for length and in some cases entire paragraphs have been omitted.

If you have a copy of the ‘Observer’ original, we would be delighted to include it in place of this. Please contact us HERE. ]