Friday, January 15, 2010

The Avengers: A Land Without Children...or Visible Minorities


Revolving in digital aspic
Trying to analyse The Avengers leads to a conundrum, akin to racing over a sunny morning meadow, straining to net a playful butterfly: it’s delicate and fleeting, never looking back, and you know capturing the creature will destroy its beauty, yet beauty only exists if seen...

...But onward we beat, boats against the current…Let’s do a little analyzing, hopefully without impaling this profoundly original British TV series on the Great Cork-board of Life.

Above all, the Avengers (1961-69) was goofy fun — but goofy in a swinging 60s Matt-Helm kind of way, not a hippy-dippy Rowan-Martin mold. The two lead characters, played by Patrick McNee (John Steed) and either Honor Blackman (Cathy Gale), Diana Rigg (Emma Peel), or Linda Thorson (Tara King), were, by varying degrees, sexy, breezy, detached, bright, chic, educated, athletic and rich without any visible means of support.
Emma kicking butt

The program made London and its surrounding environs a huge playground for grownups, that is, for Steed and his female buddies, blithely laughing over cocktails, meting out judo chops to vaguely threatening villains — always witty, always bemused, stereotypes of a stereotype that they were in the process of inventing. Big kids on expense accounts (though hard currency is never, ever seen. Way too real darling).

Mona Lisa of the 1960s
In fact, it’s hard to think of an Avengers episode in which kids are present, let alone featured. For the appearance of a real child, along side a man-child/woman-child, tends to emphasize the underdevelopment of the latter. (How many kids have you seen in Bond movies?). As for visible minorities...The Avengers managed to salaam its way around most hot issues of the 1960s. Vietnam had no call on Avengerland. 

AvengerLand is a world without seasons and calendars, a timeless London of clean, neat streets (usually – strangely - devoid of humans and traffic), of bucolic Britain with lazy, leafy lanes and Elizabethan-era bridges. Technology, when it does appear, is most often associated with evil — sociopathic robots, mind-control machines – that kind of thing). Even Steed drives a forty-year-old car. And rarely is there a gun about, or an explosion heard. Entering AvengerLand is the upbeat flipside of poor ‘ol Patrick (The Prisoner) McGoohan entering ‘The Village’.

Trapping that butterfly called The Avengers will tell you nothing, aside from the notion that butterflies belong in a meadow, not pinned dying to a board: expressions of 60s pop culture should be appraised within that swirling, psychedelic glass dome of their times. Because outside that dome, the air is pure poison and sure to distort perspective and curtail ‘goofy fun’.

The romance of callligraphy
...So now we depart Steed and leather-cat-suited Emma, comforted in the knowledge that they shall always be there, when we need them, ageless and enticing, revolving in the digital aspic of a DVD, in pre-email Land where a man may contact his ravishing workmate with just a tasteful, embossed calling card, as in ‘Mrs. Peel, We’re Needed!’