Spectator by Seema Goswami: Déjà vu

Watching old shows is a way of reminding ourselves that nothing ever really changes in this world. Even when it does
While watching The Crown, the author was struck by the parallels between the saga of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex (Aparna Ram)
While watching The Crown, the author was struck by the parallels between the saga of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex (Aparna Ram)
Published on Sep 04, 2021 09:41 PM IST
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By Seema Goswami

The more things change, the more they remain the same. I was struck anew by this thought as I began re-watching Homeland, as part of my resolution to revisit all my favourite shows to see if they still resonated with me. And even though the show premiered ten years ago, it really could have been made this year. The Americans were enmeshed in an endless, seemingly futile war in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s ISI was playing both sides before betraying the USA in a spectacular fashion, the war in Syria was raging, young impressionable Muslim girls were being brainwashed to go join the global jihad, and much more in this vein.

It was almost as if the writers of the show had time travelled to the present, read all the headlines in the newspapers, and based their scripts on them. The Americans were negotiating peace with the Taliban. The refugee camps were overflowing with people fleeing the conflict in Syria. Israel was attacking Iran’s nuclear scientists with magnetic bombs.

That same sense of déjà vu ensued while re-watching my other all-time favourite series, The West Wing, the first season of which was released way back in 1999. But even though we are now in the third decade of a new millennium, the themes of the show still seem current. One of the earlier episodes focusses on the border tensions between India and Pakistan, with the American President, Josiah Bartlett, feeling worried about the prospect of a nuclear confrontation between the two South Asian neighbours. Season five ends with violence on the Gaza Strip, which prompts President Bartlett to try and persuade the Israeli and Palestinian leadership to come to some sort of settlement (spoiler alert: he fails!).

It’s much the same story with the British spy drama, Spooks, which premiered in 2002. There is an ongoing conflict with Iran, because of its nuclear ambitions, that threatens to escalate into a full-on war, with the US planning air strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities. The Saudis are under suspicion of being involved with or giving succor to Al-Qaeda. And, with a certain inevitability, the two nuclear neighbours, India and Pakistan, are on the brink of war (yes, again!).

But, in case you think this feeling of déjà vu only extends to action dramas and involves the themes of terrorism and war, well, think again. Re-watching the early seasons of The Crown, as I wait for the latest season to be released, I was struck by the parallels between the saga of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Both Edward and Harry fell in love with and married two American divorcees, Wallis Simpson and Meghan Markle. Both couples gave up on royal life in the United Kingdom and left for foreign shores, the Windsors to France and the Sussexes to America. Both couples became immensely unpopular with the British media and public. And both seem consumed with anger and resentment at their treatment at the hands of the British royal family.

Last but not the least, there is that old classic, Yes Minister, and in its later incarnation, Yes Prime Minister. Even though the first episodes aired way back in 1980, the series speaks to us with an immediacy even today, with its portrayal of the general uselessness of politicians and the canny way in which they are manipulated by the bureaucrats who seem to be actually in charge.

And then, of course, there are the one-liners that land with a zing even so many decades later. Here is Sir Humphrey: “Well, almost all government policy is wrong but… frightfully well carried out.” And in answer to Bernard saying, “But surely the citizens of a democracy have a right to know,” Sir Humphrey goes: “No, they have a right to be ignorant. Knowledge only means complicity in guilt; ignorance has a certain dignity.” And when Prime Minister Jim Hacker asks what he can do to continue the “run of success” of his government, Sir Humphrey replies, “Have you considered masterly inactivity?”

As I said, the more things change, the more they remain the same!

The views expressed by the columnist are personal

From HT Brunch, September 5, 2021

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