Asexual Myths & Tales

Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Beauty and the Beast Revisited

 



“This is where the wealthy and the powerful rule...” The words that put a shiver down my teenage spine. 

Last Christmas I was given a full box set of the 1980s TV drama Beauty and the Beast. And surprisingly given the lack of activities available in 2020, I’m still working my way through it. For those not in the know, the series followed the story of Catherine, a wealthy lawyer in New York, and Vincent, a sensitive and troubled man-beast who was part of a secret colony below the city streets. It absolutely rocked my world in the 80s and early 90s. I still have the novelisation, cassette of poetry and music from the show, and unwatchable VHS tapes of four selected episodes. But mainly, I hadn’t watched it since my teens. These are my thoughts on revisiting it as a 40-something in the year 2020.

1. So many episodes!

I remember going to the USA as an au pair in 1994 and discovering episodes of Beauty and the Beast I had never seen before. Well, here’s some news for myself: there are even more episodes! Just so many. It’s like watching for the first time.

2. Flat cars, fat computers

I was fully prepared for the big hair and shoulder pads, but I totally forgot how flat the cars were. (Was that an American thing?) They honestly look like they’ve been squashed! And the size of the computers! When you think what you can do now with a smart phone...

3. A screenwriter always pays his debts 

Yes, that’s right. Many of the episodes were written and produced by none other than George R R Martin. I have to admit, his episodes do stand out for the quality of their storytelling. But what a transition from the lyrical spirituality of Catherine and Vincent’s love to the blood and guts of Westeros!

4. New York, New York

As a teenager in the North of England, I knew very little about New York, beyond a vague idea that it was dangerous. (I did visit on my way back to Britain in 1994 in the company of my aunty and uncle, but that was very brief). I didn’t know that in the 80s the crime and drugs scene was as bad as it was. Many of the early episodes of B &B address social issues facing different communities within New York, which I found fascinating and forward-thinking on my re-watch.

5. The Towering Inferno

My teenage self had never heard of Donald Trump either. (Oh, blissful time!) But watching now, I can’t help feeling that the character of property developer Elliott Burch is at least partly meant to represent him, particularly in the episode “Ozymandius”, where he is building a huge tower that threatens the existence of the Tunnels.

6. The category is... The Tunnels

Neither can I view B & B in the same light having watched Pose, the drama about New York’s underground trans scene in the 1980s. (Which actually included a character working in Trump Tower). Unsurprisingly, my teenage self knew nothing about this either. But B & B was one of the first things that came to my mind when watching Pose. I couldn’t help wondering if the idea of an secret, alternate society based on chosen family, hidden under the streets of New York had some basis in fact.

7. Asexual in the 80s

And - oh, yes! - Catherine and Vincent’s story is so ace! Knowing now that I’m a (very) romantic asexual, I understand why B & B meant so much to me as a teenager. Two people with a spiritual bond, who “though they cannot be together will never, ever be apart”. The fact that - as Ron Perlman and Linda Hamilton point out in the interviews - they do everything to express affection without actually kissing. (I mean, that episode where they embrace and their shadows kiss in the moon! Ohhhh!!!) This is the reason why, back in the day, I never bought the VHS of “Above, Below and Beyond”, where Catherine supposedly has Vincent’s baby. (And why I still don’t know whether I can bring myself to venture into the unknown territory of Season 3 in my current box set). Any suggestion that they might have “done it” felt like a betrayal of the entire story. Now I understand why.

So, will I ever complete the series? I don’t know. In the meantime, I’ll keep the magic of that haunting woodwind opening and that silk-and-granite voice: “Her name is Catherine.”