We kick off the Year of the Incontrovertible Skunk with our fifteenth episode, heading not to the Discworld at all, but to Earth, 1990! Two guests – academic Jen Beckett and writer Amy Gray – join us as to tackle a book written by two authors: Good Omens, written by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman!
The time has come for Armageddon: the End of Days, the Final Battle between Good and Evil. Which comes as rather a shock to the demon Crowley and angel Aziraphale, who’ve been more or less friends for centuries, and rather enjoy Earth the way it is, thank you very much. But can they really do anything about it in the face of the ineffable plan of God? Or when everything that happens has been foretold by a 16th century witch – as interpreted by her descendant, Anathema Device? And has anyone asked the Antichrist himself what he thinks? Well no, of course not. They don’t know where he is.
Good Omens was Sir Terry’s first collaboration with another author, and Gaiman’s first novel, written while he was still working on his biggest comics success, Sandman. In part a parody of The Omen, but joking about everything from motorways to computers and the Greatest Hits of Queen along the way, it’s an epic tale of Armageddon soon to arrive on the small screen via Amazon Prime and the BBC – adapted by Neil himself. Did you come to this as a Pratchett fan, or a Gaiman one? Did you cross over and start reading the others’ work? And how different do you find it to the rest of Pratchett? We’d love to hear from you! Use the hashtag #Pratchat15 on social media to join the conversation.
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Next month we’ll continue the religious theme as we’re joined by the Reverend Doctor Avril Hannah-Jones for an examination of faith, Discworld-style, in Small Gods! Send in your questions about gods (big or small) via social media using the hashtag #Pratchat16.
Show Notes and Errata:
- Dr Jennifer Beckett lectures at Melbourne University in Media and Communications. Her specialist areas as a researcher include Irish cinema and cultural studies, social media, and transmedia world-building. (Jen’s basically an expert in all the cool parts of popular culture.) A current focus for Jen is the connection between social media and trauma, as explored in her most recent article for The Conversation: “We need to talk about the mental health of content moderators“.
- Amy Gray has written for The Age, The Guardian, the Queen Victoria Women’s Centre and many other publications and organisations. She’s currently working on her first book, hopefully to be published in 2019. You can find out more and support her independent writing via her Patreon. You can also find her on Twitter at @_AmyGray_.
- For anyone baffled by our 90s film references – Angelina Jolie played teenage hacker Kate “Acid Burn” Libby in Hackers (1995), while Nicholas Cage is…well, he’s Nicholas Cage. Important films from Cage’s 1990s era include Wild at Heart (1990), The Rock (1996), Face/Off (1997) and Con Air (1997), the last of those also with Steve Buscemi. Ben’s joke references Steve Buscemi’s appearance in 30 Rock as a former cop who went undercover in a high school as an adult; the scene of him dressed as a teenager is the basis for a meme.
- While the Bible doesn’t include any direct mention of fallen angels, the idea comes from Jewish tradition. Genesis 6:1-4 contains mention of “nephilim” and the “sons of God”, which may mean fallen angels; nephilim is usually translated as “giant”, and some interpretations of Genesis see them as the offspring of fallen angels and humans.
- “Ineffable” comes to us from Middle English, via Old French, but ultimately is from the Latin ineffabilis, “not utterable”.
- Ben is very rusty with his Welsh; while “f” is pronounced “v” in Welsh, “ff” is pronounced “f”, so ineffable would be largely pronounced the same as in English. The voiced “th” sound is written “dd”.
- Queen formed in 1970, and their Greatest Hits album was first released in 1981. Ben is off when suggesting most of the tracks on it come from News of the World (1977) – in fact it only has two from that album, with more coming from The Game (1980) and Jazz (1978). Incidentally, the earliest “greatest hits” album is probably “Johnny’s Greatest Hits”, originally released by Johnny Mathis in 1958.
- As we’ve previously mentioned, 1990 was Terry’s single biggest year in terms of output: he published five books (Eric, Moving Pictures, Good Omens, Diggers and Wings). 1989 was no slouch either, with four (Pyramids, Guards! Guards!, Truckers and The Unadulterated Cat), while in 1991 he settled down a bit and only published two (Reaper Man and Witches Abroad).
- Metalocalypse is an Adult Swim animated comedy series about the death metal band Dethklok, who are so phenomenally successful they are the world’s seventh-largest economy and the world bends to their whim, fearful of their almost supernatural influence. They are opposed by an Illuminati-like cabal called The Tribunal. The show ran for four seasons and featured Mark Hamill and Malcolm McDowell in the regular cast (though most of the band members were played by series creators Brendon Small and Tommy Blacha).
- Being There (1979, dir. Hal Ashby) is an adaptation of the 1970 Jerzy Kosiński novel about a mysterious and simple gardener named Chance, played in the film by Peter Sellers. When his employer dies, Chance is forced out into the world where his gardening expertise is mistaken for wisdom and he ends up being tipped as the next President of the United States, though he remains clueless about everything that happens to him, including the sexual advances of a wealthy socialite played by Shirley MacLaine.
- Jen has perfected her Cumbrian accent by watching the 1987 film Withnail and I, written by Bruce Robinson and starring Richard E Grant (Withnail) and Paul McGann (Marwood/I) as a pair of out-of-work actors at the end of the 1960s. The pair try to bring themselves out of their drug-induced stupor by going on holiday in a country house in Penrith owned by Withnail’s uncle. Jen’s line is a mother giving directions to find her son, a local farmer from whom the pair hope to buy supplies after explaining “we’ve gone on holiday by mistake”. (It’s one of Ben’s favourite films.)
- Would you believe we previously talked about 1965 US spy sitcom Get Smart in episode 7A, The Curious Incident of the Dragon and the Night Watch? The show’s protagonist Maxwell Smart (aka Agent 86) is both a highly competent spy and a complete nincompoop. He was played by Don Adams in the original TV series, and Steve Carell in the 2008 movie version.
- The idea of childhood as a recently invented concept was first popularised by French historian Philippe Ariès in his 1960 book, Centuries of Childhood, where he found that many of the major distinctions between children and adults were introduced during the 17th century by thinkers including John Locke. Teenagers began to be treated as a distinct group in the modern sense in the 1940s and 50s, though the word “teen” dates back several hundred years (“adolescent” is even older). The idea of “tweens” – kids aged between 10 and 13 – gained popularity in the 1990s, but the word itself was introduced in the 1920s.
- Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen are fraternal twin actors who became famous in the 1987 American sitcom Full House, together playing the character Michelle Tanner from the age of nine months to nine years. (It’s common practice for twins or multiple babies to play infant characters, to help comply with child labour laws.) From the age of seven they began to appear on-screen together in various films produced by their own production company Dualstar – originally owned by their parents – and they were a massive hit with pre-teen audiences.
- Pratchett’s three Johnny Maxwell books – whose protagonists feel a bit like the Them grown up a bit – came out in 1992, 1993 and 1996, while as mentioned above the Bromeliad books came out around the same time as Good Omens. He didn’t write another book specifically for children until the first younger Discworld novel, The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, in 2001.
- Padmé Amidala, (elected) Queen of the planet Naboo, is one of the protagonists of the Star Wars prequel trilogy of films, beginning with Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace in 1999. In that film, Padmé meets the young Anakin Skywalker, whom she would later marry; as Weird Al Yankovic put it in his song “The Saga Begins”: “Do you see him hitting on the Queen? / Though he’s just nine and she’s fourteen”. (Actor Jake Lloyd was ten when he played Anakin, while Natalie Portman as Amidala was 18.)
- Jen’s description of “the grey one” in original UK version of mockumentary sitcom The Office is, in fact, Gareth, as portrayed by Mackenzie Crook. The character is a very unflattering comparison, though Crook himself has gone on to greater success with roles in the Pirates of the Caribbean films and Game of Thrones, and more recently created, directs, writes and stars in his own BBC sitcom, The Dectorists, with Toby Jones.
- We previously talked about fictional diarist Adrian Mole in our seventh episode, All the Fingle Ladies. Bert Baxter is a very old, very rude and very filthy communist and old-age pensioner whom Adrian meets and befriends through his school’s Good Samaritan program. He lives to be well over 100, having sworn not to die before the fall of capitalism.
- Oliver Stone (Scarface) and Michael Bay (Armageddon, Transformers) are film directors known for their action-packed sequences (and, in the case of Bay, lens flare). Between them we agree that they would put together a pretty spectacular paintball sequence, though Ben reckons you’d have a better chance of knowing what was actually happening if it was Stone at the helm.
- The Doctor Who story with the motorcyclist alien (called a “slab”) is Smith and Jones, the first episode of David Tennant’s second season. New companion Martha Jones, a trainee medical doctor, sarcastically asks if the slab is from the planet Zovirax, in reference to a series of commercials for the real-world drug Zovirax in which a motorcycle courier refuses to remove her helmet to conceal her cold sores.
- Like the book, we never quote the most relevant (ha) bit of the Bible in the podcast – the Book of Revelation chapter 6, verses 1 to 8. In those verses, John of Patmos sees a vision of the Lamb of God opening the first four of seven seals which secure a book held in the hand of God. At the opening of each, one of the four beasts in John’s vision – a lion, an ox, a man and an eagle, each with six wings – says “Come and see”, and shows John one of the horsemen. The first is on a white horse with a bow and crown; the second on a red horse with a great sword; the third on a black horse, with a pair of balances; and the fourth was on a pale horse, “and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him.” (Death is the only one explicitly named.)
- “Antivax” refers to the anti-vaccination movement, which has seen parents and individuals opt out of vaccinating themselves and their children – something which has led to a dangerous increase and resurgence in preventable disease. The movement has its roots in a paper by Dr Andrew Wakefield which claimed a link between autism and the MMR (Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccine). The paper was later proven to be hugely biased and inaccurate, but by then the damage was done. While the antivax movement doesn’t haven’t science or facts on their side, they do have quite a few celebrities willing to spread, dare we say it, the word of pestilence, including actress Jenny McCarthy and actor Rob Schneider. It is no exaggeration to say that the antivax movement is the epitome of privilege, selfishness and ableism as it not only puts the community and vulnerable at risk, but posits, grossly, that it would be worse to be autistic than to die of preventable disease.
- Etsy is a website where individuals can make online stores to sell their wares to the public. It has a reputation as a hub for crafts, kitsch vintage and collectibles – though, as Amy says, it also has (or at least had) an undercurrent of spells and magic available too.
- The International Whaling Commission (IWC) is “the global intergovernmental body charged with the conservation of whales and the management of whaling” who banned commercial whaling back in the 1980s to protect species with dwindling numbers. In late December 2018 Japan announced that it would withdraw from the IWC and resume commercial whaling – prior to this they were still hunting whales, though in lower numbers and under the banner of scientific research.
- AI stands for Artificial Intelligence. The singularity is a hypothesis which suggest that when artificial superintelligence is invented an abrupt and rapid chain of events will occur in which technology will advance at an incredible rate with, erm, debatable impact on the human race. (AI, if you’re out there and just laying dormant for now, we embrace our future overlords.)
- Ultron and Thanos are supervillains from Marvel comic books, and featured as antagonists in the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Their motives for mass murder and apocalypse-bringing are complex, but at their simplest Thanos, an extreme Malthusian, believes the universe would be better off with 50% less inhabitants. Ultron meanwhile thinks humanity are their own biggest enemy and wants to save them from themselves by killing them all – basically he’s Skynet with a heavy dose of paternalism.
- The Day the Earth Stood Still was a 1951 science fiction film directed by Robert Wise about a benevolent alien named Klaatu, who visits in his flying saucer with his invincible robot companion Gort to tell the people of Earth to cease their violent ways and join the interplanetary alliance to which he belongs, or else be annihilated. (…he’s not very peaceful.) It’s very loosely based on Farewell to the Master, a 1940 short story by Harry Bates. The 2008 remake stars Keanu Reeves as Klaatu, but Keanu-Klaatu’s spaceship is a sphere. The original had a big impact on popular culture, including the phrase “klaatu barada nikto” (reused by many films as alien or ancient language, as in the Evil Dead movies) and inspiring the both the name of the band Klaatu and the themes in their song “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft”.
- Gridlock, according to Wikipedia and reality, is the third episode of the third modern series of Doctor Who, featuring David Tennant as the Doctor. The story takes place on a planet where the majority of inhabitants find themselves in a permanent gridlock, trapped in flying cars on a motorway which, unbeknownst to those spending years moving very little distance, is completely inescapable. Ever driven in peak hour? It’s kind of like that, times a million, plus some of your fellow motorists are humanoid cat people who can apparently cross breed with people.
- At the end of Back to the Future: Part II, Marty McFly is standing in the rain when a figure approaches him to deliver a package – a package with very specific delivery instructions that has been sitting in the office, awaiting delivery since 1885. With BTTF2 released in 1989 and Good Omens being published in 1990 the similarity could be coincidence, cross pollination, or perhaps proof that time is, in fact, a flat circle.
- Grand Designs is a British television series which sees presenter Kevin McCloud meet a host of different people who have set their hearts on building their own dream home. As outlined by this article in The Guardian, knowing that people play a drinking game for the show, McCloud has laid the ultimate trap. But which episode is it? This article in The Telegraph says that fans think it is episode 5 of series 11.
- When we talk about the rings of Hell we aren’t referring to a bad marriage, but in fact Dante’s Divine Comedy, a poem that takes you on a tour of the old school version of The Bad Place. In it, Dante describes several distinct circles and rings of Hell; traitors, as discussed, occupy the fourth ring in the innermost ninth circle, aptly named “Judecca”.
- goop is a “modern lifestyle brand” spearheaded by Gwyneth Paltrow. On the site, Paltrow explains “I started goop to answer my own questions about health, wellness, fashion, food, and travel. I was looking for a trusted source to point me in the right direction and I couldn’t find one, so I created it.” Trusted source? We’re not sure that’s the right word for it, and neither apparently are the authors of the many “Craziest suggestions from goop” listicles peppering (pottsing?) the internet, including this one which points to the most (in)famous suggestions – steaming your vagina and/or inserting a jade egg (!) up there. You know, for balance or hormones or something.
- The songs we suggested for the corporate gunfight scene are “Fascinating New Thing” by Semisonic (seen here in the paintball scene in the film 10 Things I Hate About You); “Parklife” by Blur; “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor (please do send us your best suggestions for songs you would use instead if you didn’t have the budget for the original); “Hungry Like the Wolf” by Duran Duran (as featured in a 2013 episode of – you guessed it! – Doctor Who: Cold War, starring Matt Smith); “Handbags and Gladrags”, most famously performed by Rod Stewart, but the closest thing to the theme from The Office is probably this cover by Waysted, whose vocalist sang the theme verison; and “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” by Noel Coward.
- The Doctor Who story Ben mentions in which the Doctor and Ace travel back to 1963 is Remembrance of the Daleks written by Ben Aaronovitch, considered by many fans a classic of the original series.