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August 01, 1997

  • H*mping and P*mping
  • Author’s Note: I wrote this review of the British TV series This Life for the autumn 1997 issue of Movement, the magazine of the British SCM—a student chaplaincy organisation committed to an open-minded exploration of christianity, the arts and social justice. It remains to be the most controversial print review I’ve ever written as apparently a number of readers, most of them “alumni friends” of SCM near or over the age of mandatory retirement, objected to my use of “the ‘f’ word” in this piece. It was rumoured that a few of them were even threatening to withhold their annual contribution to SCM as a result (perhaps they were disquieted that my author biog stated I was to become the magazine’s next editor!) I still find the whole incident a bit perplexing. I can only badly misquote Stephen Fry that it’s indicative of our cultural hang-ups about sexuality that we can’t use “fucking” as a verb to describe what is as natural a facet of life as drinking, reading or sleeping.

    This Life is essentially about fucking.

    If you find that shocking, then chances are you probably don’t watch This Life.

    While it’s true that This Life is ostensibly an increasingly hip drama on BBC-2 about a group of twentysomething lawyers and friends trying to make their way through life, careers, relationships and love, at its heart, the program is about fucking.

    My flatmates and I may not see each other for a whole week on end, but without fail, every Thursday at 9.30 (or whenever else the BBC decide to move it around the schedule), we’re in the lounge listening to that cool signature tune by The Way Out. And, yes, we’re concerned about whether Anna will get tenured in chambers, or whether Milly will stop being such a cow with Rachel, or whether Egg’s career as a chef will succeed, or whether Miles will actually grow up. And yes, we’re amused by the witty dialogue, the arty verite direction and the scripts that occasionally cut too close to home. All the while, however, we’re all there waiting for that inevitable scene when two characters grab each other and, we scream with delight, it’s time for “Humping and Pumping”.

    It’s not about sex, really, and, in spite of the Mills and Boon nature of some of the relationships (Kira and Jo, Milly and her boss and, especially, Anna and Miles), it’s not even about romance. It’s about fucking. It’s about passion, it’s about being caught up in that moment where everything in the world stops and all that matters is doing the deed. It’s about the raw animal magnetism that exists between people.

    This Life is a celebration of fucking, really. It crosses boundaries of gender and sexuality (ie. it’s one of the only dramas on television that is happy to have gay sexuality). It crosses the breadth of class and social stratas. It even crosses a variety of settings (my favourite: Anna and Jo in Miles’s office).

    Best of all, This Life addresses the breadth of emotions and complex reasons why people fuck. It deals with the unpleasant after-effects of fucking. It deals with the morning afters when you don’t have a clue what to say to the partner you were with the night before—viewers need only look at the way Jo was cruelly brushed off by Anna in the first series, and the way that Lenny was recently brushed off by Ferdy in the current series to witness this. It deals with the moments of doubt, of struggling with the emotions that are otherwise subsumed in the process of “humping and pumping”—Anna and Miles are in a near-constant state of this, and Milly’s affair with her boss is slowly disintegrating her carefully ordered world. All of these are uncomfortably real problems which people face after such moments of passion To its credit, This Life has also dealt with the more risky aftereffects for straight couples when Jo feared Kira pregnant, and for gay men when Warren eventually loses his career after being caught fucking in public place and his partner GBH-ed a police officer.

    At the same time, This Life shows what a joy fucking can be. Miles may have committed relational suicide when he and Anna ‘did the nasty’ in the lounge while his fiancee slept upstairs, but at the same time that act was done in a moment of tenderness and comforting for Anna, who had just finally admitted that she grieved the loss of her estranged mother, and as such was deeply moving. Kira and Jo’s first coupling was a glorious moment, as she pretends her parents are home for the first while and makes him be quiet. When she finally tells Jo they’re in Tenerife, the unbridled, and loud, joy shown between the two of them is profound.

    I do question the verisimilitude of how often everyone seems to be ‘doing it’ compared to myself and my contemporaries (would that we could move to Southwark and have so fulfilling, and so frequent, a sex life). Otherwise, I think that This Life may be a paean to our generation. We are a generation that, unlike others, are interested in fucking. In our post-modern world, romance tends to be akin to an amusement park ride; love the sort of term our parents used before they got divorced or wound up in mundane marriages. The sexual politics of the 1990s, especially for people in their twenties, are, in the main, about fucking. Our sexual relationships are largely in it for the moment. Maybe we’ll wind up in monogamous relationships, and maybe we’ll wind up continually fucking new people, but for the most part it’s for what’s there at that point in time.

    This Life is on the finger of that particular pulse of our generation. We may—and probably should—critique this against a broader canvas of moral and relational concerns (certainly the makers of This Life attempt this), but perhaps This Life is simply stating the way things are. Human relationships are a complex web of connections with the occasional moment of loud whooping. Maybe we need to be more honest about that, and revel in it.

    August 1997

    ©1997 Graeme Burk

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