Daytime TV: Enduring love

Alain Badiou can't get a word in, but Emily Bronte's doomed lovers speak volumes, says Gary Day

September 3, 2009


Credit: Miles Cole

I am still recovering from the shock. A French philosopher on British television. Is this the world turned upside down? The end of civilisation as we know it? Thankfully not. Stephen Sackur, the presenter of HARDtalk (BBC News, Tuesday 25 August, 11.30pm), was not in the least interested in what Alain Badiou thought.

It was far too late to be discussing propositions such as "the one is not" and, anyway, Sackur is an Englishman. He doesn't care for ideas. And he's contemptuous of those who have them. "You sit there with your metaphorical Gauloise in your mouth spouting this French radical revolutionary ideology, but no one buys it." Ah, so that's why the programme is called HARDtalk.

"Saying the workers should run things won't win you any support," snarled Sackur. That's right, Steve. You give it to him, mate. Stupid Frenchie. What does he know? Put the workers in charge and, before you can say Jean-Paul Sartre, we've got debt, recession and a rise in crime. Whereas now ... oh dear.

In fact, Badiou made no such claim. Each time he tried to speak, Steve interrupted. "I have been reading your work," he sneered. Being and Event? No. Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil? No. Oh. What about The Century? Erm, no. But Steve had read an article in which Badiou criticised President Sarkozy. You'd think it was Steve who had been called "rat face", from the fuss he made.

Badiou coughed. He coughed a lot. Too many Gauloises, probably. He started to talk about the tradition of French politics. But Steve wasn't having any history. Badiou tried to talk about the need for ideals. But Steve wasn't having any philosophy. So Badiou shot him. No, he didn't really. Bet he would have liked to, though.

Thanks to Steve's unique interviewing technique, we never did get to hear how his guest saw the future. But Michio Kaku has a pretty good idea of what life will look like a few years from now (Visions of the Future: The Biotech Revolution, BBC Four, Wednesday 26 August, 9pm). We will be able to eliminate disease, enhance our abilities and even shape the course of human evolution. You still won't be able to get through to a real person at Virgin Media, though.

A few years ago, Michio was involved in a car crash. He thought his vehicle was so badly damaged it could never be repaired, but it was. Unfortunately he did not give the name of the garage that performed this miracle. Presumably because he had more important matters to communicate. Which he did while driving, looking into the camera and not at the road. Scientists believe that the first person who will live until he or she is 150 years old is in late middle age today. Michio's behaviour behind the wheel suggests it may not be him.

Baroness Greenfield rightly raised concerns about the implications of meddling with Mother Nature. Yes, it is a good thing to be able to switch off genes that cause conditions like SCID (severe combined immunodeficiency) but not if it leads to a demand that we must all be perfect. Our failures civilise us. And if we got rid of death, so central to our understanding of ourselves, who would we be? And how would we spend our time?

Reading the greats of English literature, perhaps? ITV's offering for the Bank Holiday was Peter Bowker's adaptation of Wuthering Heights (Sunday 30 August, 9pm). The opening shots seemed to be a dog's-eye view of the moors as it trotted through the heather. A dog bites Cathy's leg at Thrushcross Grange and dogs greet the sickly Linton Heathcliff when he is delivered into the hands of his father. Was this a bold attempt to alert us to the novel's hitherto undetected canine subtext? Years ago, I had a tutor who demonstrated to a spellbound audience that Wuthering Heights was about the establishment of bourgeois discourse. Heady stuff.

But, to adapt Cathy's famous cry, criticism is like the "foliage in the woods"; art is the "eternal rocks beneath". What remains are not the interpretations, however ingenious, but the words and images, the things that seize hold, never let go and grow with you. It was all here. The cloud-heavy sky, the bleak landscape and Wuthering Heights itself: shadowy, angular, enduring. A place where tears fall on stone.

The cast had to work hard to compete with the setting. Some of them couldn't even manage the Yorkshire accent. Tom Hardy was a "new man" Heathcliff. His face, instead of one scoured by wind and rough weather, was an advert for Nivea. He and Edgar, played by Andrew Lincoln, never looked as if they wanted to bash each other, just swap tips on aftershave lotions. But there was no denying the chemistry between Heathcliff and Cathy. Like DNA, it's immortal.

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