Television Review

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The Independent Culture
FOR ALL the excitable talk you hear about sexual stereotypes breaking down, about people forging their own identities and discovering new gender roles, not much has changed. In last week's opening episode of the documentary series Soldiers to Be (BBC1), we saw a platoon of women army recruits introducing themselves to each other with little speeches about their families and their commitment to the job; by contrast, a platoon of men showed off about their near-misses with the law. (One NCO prophesied that the army will soon be taking murderers.)

Last night, the women were taken out into the woods to get a taste of the outdoor life ("You've got to be at one with the woods," a corporal explained as they rolled in the mud). After a night in the open, their kit was inspected, and found to be, well, too girly. One had taken along a cloth toilet-bag with a floral pattern; one had brought her own hairspray; another had two different types of deodorant. Still, compared with the throat-ripping the men suffered last week, their telling off was quite moderate: "Everything's a more gentle reproach with the females," according to a corporal. Meanwhile, some of the men were having trouble with PT; their instructor offered some gentle encouragement: "You are soldiers now, not pansies in civvy street."

Generally speaking, the army seems to rely on a somewhat stereotyped view of human nature: we've also heard over the last couple of weeks that southerners tend to be soft and that young people are not what they used to be. You can understand why it is that the army is unhappy about admitting homosexuals: the problem isn't so much that soldiers are worried about being eyed up in the showers, it's that, given the necessarily tight restrictions that military discipline places on soldiers, there isn't much room for any sort of deviation from the norm.

That is exaggerated by the recruits in Soldiers to Be - young, nervous, desperate to fit in, they don't have any time or energy for rebellion or flamboyance. The upshot is that the only drama available to the programme is the drama of weakness: it's the flabby, the undisciplined, the apathetic ones who attract the camera. Last week, it was Recruit Much, whose poor motivation was expressed in a series of increasingly debilitating injuries before he was chucked out; this week, it was Wayne Egglestone, a lumbering 17-year-old who was struggling to run fast enough for army requirements. He did make the speed, but was put back in training anyway. Taken by itself, Egglestone's story was not undramatic, but the series' bias towards failure is getting wearing.

Back with the pansies on civvy street, and doing something to break down the stereotypes, Julia Grant finally achieved happiness in the final part of A Change of Sex (BBC2), "marrying" - as far as is legally possible - her boyfriend, Alan. I still don't see this as a necessary resolution, given the level of self-assurance she showed in the last film, but apparently, when that was broadcast, a remark of Julia's about money she had earned was picked up by the Inland Revenue, and she ended up bankrupt. So perhaps this one was made by way of making up for that. Quite right too.

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