Mr Bean

“There is no such thing as society: There are individual men and women, and there are families.”Margaret Thatcher, 1987.

Historians are divided on the impacts of Thatcherism and what sort of Britons it produced.

On one side are those who view Thatcher’s Homo Economicus Britannia as a positive creation: a creature who thrived in the open market, success assured with the right mix of entrepreneurial savvy and raw hard work.

On the other side are those who say that Thatcher’s Britain produced a generation of sociopaths: unable to relate to their fellow human beings, cruel and single-minded, whose pursuit of their own self-interest could easily lead to calamity.

Mr Bean was a solitary man of few words. With an almost alien inability to relate to other humans, he instead found friendship in a brown Teddy bear.

Neither a successful High Street banker nor a hardened coal miner, as Thatcher’s labour market reforms kicked into gear, Bean moved between a series of low-paid jobs in London’s services sector.

But this didn’t bother Bean, who seemed resigned simply to drift through life. Realising his inability to influence the bigger picture, he instead focused his attention on solving the little things in life: purchasing the right toothbrush through trial and error, or changing into one’s swimming trunks without taking one’s trousers off.

On his meagre income, Bean made do – stealing Christmas trees helped. He even managed the occasional holiday.

So when people around him complained about the increasingly fractious nature of British social relations thanks to the Tories, he couldn’t understand what they were complaining about; what did it matter that wages were not keeping up with inflation when your only major expense was petrol for your Mini Cooper? Why would you care if family benefits were inadequate when your closest companion was a stuffed toy?

In ’92, largely just to spite the whingers around him, Bean resolved to vote to bring John Major back for another term. However, he never made it to the polling booth, distracted on election day by the task of running a blue, three-wheeled Reliant Regal off the road.

After meeting Queen Elizabeth, Bean became a staunch monarchist. Unlike many people, he never supported Charles’s marriage to Diana and stood by the Queen’s seemingly cold reaction to Diana’s death. When Tony Blair began posturing around the passing of the “people’s princess”, Bean was appalled, and strengthened his resolve never to vote Labour.

Today, perhaps for the first time in his life, Bean shares something in common with his fellow countrymen: a sense of confusion as to what David Cameron’s “Big Society” actually entails and what role he, a tweed-wearing man of thrift, who has never participated successfully in any society (let alone a “Big” one), is supposed to play.

Mr Bean

Willie Tanner

Willie Tanner was a good man.

Who, after all, would take in an alien with a penchant for cats, no questions asked?

He was the product of a thriving, open, optimistic America. He was a man who could always see the good in people.

A social worker in the 1980s, Tanner had been on the frontline as America’s working poor grew and Reaganomics unleashed waves of deindustrialisation.

Despite his dislike of Reagan and the 1980s culture of excess, Tanner was no bleeding heart.  While he saw more and more people struggling, in some part of him, he could see a logic in what was happening to his country.

While Willie had always been on the left of the Democratic Party  – he’d campaigned for McGovern, supported Kennedy’s challenge to Carter in 1980, and was an early supporter of Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988 – he was still pragmatic. He’d lived long enough to see times change, and he thought they would once a Democrat took the White House.

Yet, when the US Military’s abducted ALF and Willie’s best friend was never heard of again, Tanner was hit by a jolt. He came to see the 1980s not as an exception before another American rebirth, but as a newly entrenched norm.

For Tanner, the US Government’s treatment of ALF seemed to foreshadow a much wider attack on outsiders throughout the 1990s and into the new century.

As a social worker, he’d worked with the downtrodden all his life.  He’d seen how hard it was for migrants to make it in Reagan’s America. But when the false promise of Bill Clinton (who Tanner did vote for) proved to be exactly that, and Clinton signed into law Gingrich’s Welfare to Work legislation in the 1990s, Tanner broke with official politics in the United States and never looked back.

He could no longer tolerate the way the US Government treated its most downtrodden. And he could not tolerate the way a creeping xenophobia began to infiltrate the nation’s public life.

The social crisis echoed a personal one – after his wife Kate embarked on a torrid affair with longtime neighbor Mr Ochmonek, Tanner broke from his comfortable life as well.

So, Tanner left town and headed south, and spent the remainder of the 1990s and most of the 2000s on the Mexican border, ferrying migrants illegally across the Rio Grande. He couldn’t save ALF, his marriage, or the country at large, but he could aide Mexican workers as they sought a better life, echoing the refuge he gave an alien from Melmac nearly two decades before.

Sadly, as economic conditions in the US worsened, opportunistic politicians jumped on illegal immigration and whipped up racial resentment as a distraction to social plight. In the ensuing frenzy that erupted, Willie Tanner fell victim to a bullet from neo-fascist Minutemen.

He was attempting to bring a young mother and her son across the border.

He was denounced as a traitor in the right-wing media.

But Willie Tanner was a good man.

Willie Tanner

Marty and Jennifer McFly

Never a man of particularly subtle intellect, Marty McFly has nevertheless always demonstrated a certain acuteness of feeling.

And so when he zipped forward 30 years, from 1985 to 2015, he was at once thrilled by the America he saw around him: all that neon, the automatic zip-up boots, the flying cars, the hoverboard.

Yet at a deeper level – so deep he was barely conscious of it at first, and even in later years he has never really been able to, or had the desire to, articulate the feeling into anything as robust of a political philosophy – there was this gnawing sense of unease. Something about the consumerism, a claustrophobia brought on by all that advertising, would eventually trigger a longing in Marty for open spaces, for shrubbery, for national parks.

It was a longing that would eventually pitch him and girlfriend Jennifer sideways into the disjointed politics of America’s Green movement.

When they returned from their time travels, politics was the last thing on either Marty or Jennifer’s mind. As they set about building their lives, and eventually their family, in Hill Valley, the same Californian community their parents had called home, politics would remain a sideshow to them, something for other people to think about. Marty would vote for Reagan in ’88, largely because of family pressure from the cousins. Neither voted in ’92 or ’96, though Jennifer was tempted to cast for Clinton in the latter election because of the hypocrisy of the campaign against his sexual mores.

But 1996 saw both Marty and Jennifer have a political awakening of sorts, as a friend from their children’s school encouraged them to get involved in a local battle to save a rare species of frog, threatened by one of the many southern Californian housing developments that seemed to be springing up everywhere about them.

They had started on the fringes of the frog campaign, but by 1997 Marty and Jennifer were quickly finding more and more species to concern themselves with. Jennifer started cycling again, for ideological reasons this time. Marty sold his truck and began skateboarding to work. They took their holidays in Yosemite. And while they had started to become political – more political than the average American family – their politics were determinedly local. They voted for Ralph Nader in 2000, but not with any real expectation he could help. You could not look to Washington for answers, they thought. Families like the McFlys had to create a greener America for themselves.

Jennifer’s perspective started to broaden after the invasion of Iraq. You could not stop this injustice in the local scout hall, she thought. So she seriously considered becoming a human shield, and even went so far as to attend training courses in San Francisco. But Marty talked her out of it, and she was glad that he did. Disillusioned with national politics, they would remain resistant even to the charms of Barack Obama. They have not voted since 2000. But they are still finding more species to protect, and have recently begun pouring their energies into designing sustainable project homes.

Marty and Jennifer McFly

Luke Skywalker

Growing up under an anti-democratic, pan-galactic empire doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t be politically aware. Luke Skywalker’s irregular life path is similarly matched by an irregular political evolution which reflects the tempestuousness of the world around him and his own singular personal narrative.

Like many sons of the agrarian lower-middle classes, Skywalker saw the armed forces as his ticket out of the family business and a life on the farm. He was staunchly pro-military, initially as an admirer of order and increasingly as an advocate of aggressive interplanetary foreign policy. With aspirations to transcend his social standing and exceed the wealth and success of his Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen, Ronald Reagan spoke to him, as he did to so many aspiring sons of the lower middle classes, keen to make their mark on the galaxy and make their dreams come true.

Skywalker’s dealings with alien races also bred in him a healthy cynicism of other ethnicities and cultures, making him a mild racist in early life. You might be too, if you were sold an R2 unit with a bad motivator on more than one occasion. As such, Skywalker’s early politics were very much centred on the right wing, championing a para-military protectionist approach that was, at best, white nationalist and, at worst, humanoid supremacist.

However, like many who ventured away from their rural roots toward the larger metropolis, his eyes were opened to cultural diversity in early adulthood. He learned to embrace this, particularly enjoying the vibrant cantinas of Mos Eisley and learning to trust and enjoy the cultural nuances of the citizens of Kashik and Endor. This –  as well as his discovery that humankind, and not sandpeople, had been responsible for the death of his surrogate parents – left the young Skywalker disillusioned and questioning the right-wing rhetoric he had previously championed. Skywalker voted Dukakis in 1988 as a flagrant rebellion against the politics of his youth.

Skywalker’s focus on religion changed his political outlook in general. The more he engaged with his spirituality, the more he rejected traditional political thought. After his second spell on Dagobah, Skywalker began looking closely at minor party candidates, but was disappointed by the atheist viewpoints of the left and the bombastic, oversimplification of the right. He voted Clinton in 1992 and then stayed away from the ballot box until 2004.

Having lived through several galactic wars, Skywalker was deeply concerned by the Bush Administration. He was awoken from his political slumber to vote for Kerry, a man who he empathised with as a veteran and as a man of leadership. He has since become an ardent student of the libertarian movement, and his cynicism for big government is only outweighed by his religious beliefs and insistence on judging political candidates based on their midi-chlorian count.

Luke Skywalker

Dr. Heathcliff ‘Cliff’ Huxtable

The United States emerged from the Second World War as the world’s industrial powerhouse.

Effective full employment, strong manufacturing, social security and rising standards of living meant a lot of things.

It meant the beginning of the civil rights movement of the ’50s and ’60s.

It meant an optimistic population, who elected optimistic, energised leaders.

And it meant jobs for African Americans.

This is the America that produced Doctor Cliff Huxtable.

American prosperity brought Huxtable to medical school.  It bought him his three-storey Brooklyn brownstone. It made him a respected member of the Brooklyn African-American community.

Huxtable’s politics were that of the northeastern African American elite — staunchly liberal Democrat, supportive of Carter, Jesse Jackson and Clinton. However, they took a rightward shift in the mid-nineties as the social crisis confronting African Americans in particular, and the United States in general, destroyed what remained of the mid-20th century liberal consensus.

Most men are unaware of the social forces, which, like waves on the sea, either lift them up or cause them to fall.  For a man who owed his social rise to the cleavages in the global economy a half century before, it was easier for Huxtable to think it was merely hard work which won him success. It was easy then for him to look at the social decay, rising unemployment and despair confronting inner-city African Americans and blame it all on the poor themselves.

Now in his seventies, Huxtable remains a staunch Democrat and in 2008, Obama proved a natural fit for his harder-edged views. Like the President, Huxtable’s politics stress personal responsibility and the supposed failure of absentee fathers for the social crisis.

Cliff Huxtable: just another man hemmed in by the limitations of American liberalism.

Dr. Heathcliff ‘Cliff’ Huxtable

Danny Tanner, Jesse Katsopoulis and Joey Gladstone

Tanner and wife, Pam, a successful couple living in Russian Hill, were archetypal champagne Democrats – passionate about social issues but increasingly uncomfortable that their views on taxation and public versus private education were becoming skewed by their higher income and desire to best provide for their children, DJ, Stephanie and Michelle.

When their world came crashing down after Pam’s untimely death, Tanner’s politics also changed.

The time-poor widower Tanner, finding it hard enough to provide ample attention for his three daughters, looked outside of his milieu and marvelled at the ability of single parents in other neighbourhoods who were faced with considerably more hardship than he was. It’s hard enough with a big paycheck and two male friends to help you raise your kids – imagine if you were on food stamps!

This galvanised Tanner’s outlook and pushed him further towards the left wing. Recent years have seen him increasingly use his personality and platform of Wake up San Francisco as a means to push his leftist, big government-driven agenda down the throats of San Franciscans.

Uncle Jesse takes a loosey goosey approach to politics. C’mon – he spent his youth chasing chicks and playing in the Beach Boys back-up band, so he was hardly enraged by the Iran Contra scandal! He is passionate about certain topics but does not have a highly evolved political sphere of consciousness.

Jesse has gay friends – he wants them to be recognised just like he and Becky are. He also thinks that people should manage their money correctly and not rely on government welfare. He is passionate about these topics and several others, but finds it difficult to find a candidate or party which totally speaks to him. He often makes up his decision at the polling booth or based on a candidate “he thinks he can trust”.

Joey  is a single issue voter: public education. Since the conclusion of the program and the evaporation of his radio and television career, Joey has returned to his roots as a classroom teacher and is heavily involved in the teachers union and carving out better funding for inner city schools. He commutes to Oakland each day from his basement abode in Russian Hill.

In a somewhat surprising twist since the show’s conclusion, family friend Kimmy Gibler became highly politically aware during college. She was elected student body president of UC Berkeley and now works as a staffer for Sen (D) Dianne Feinstein, but feels she is at times too moderate.

Danny Tanner, Jesse Katsopoulis and Joey Gladstone

Tim ‘The Toolman’ Taylor

Growing up in the working class enclaves of Detroit, Michigan, Tim’s politics are grounded in reality. He saw his parents, their friends and their friends’ friends do it tough from time to time, instilling in him a sense of social justice which saw him gravitate toward the Democratic party early in life. For Tim’s burgeoning political awareness, Watergate came at a particularly influential moment.

All this changed in the late ’70s. Tim became disillusioned with the Democratic party and the Carter administration had him wanting more. “We should aspire to succeed,” thought the young Tim, who by this time was on the television fast-track, with a young, smart girlfriend he intended to make his wife and a life of creature comforts and middle class suburban-dom knocking at his door. “I want my car port, I want my kids to go to good schools and I shouldn’t feel ashamed about that,” thought Tim.

Tim voted Reagan in 1980, and since then has swapped his votes between moderate Republicans and moderate Democrats: Reagan in ’84; Bush in ’88; Clinton in ’92; not getting to the booth in ‘96 (due to a sandbelting accident which left Al Borland in emergency); Bush in 2000; Kerry in 2004; and Obama in 2008.

When he goes to the polls in 2012, Tim will consider what he sees as chronic economic mismanagement and a misguided health care policy by the Democrats since 2008 against worrying signs that the extreme right wing is taking over the Republican party’s middle ground. He may look to an independent candidate, should Rick Perry get the nomination, or would likely vote Republican if Mitt Romney is the party’s selected candidate.

Tim and his neighbour Wilson discuss politics over the fence in this backyard frequently – Wilson tries in vain to convince Tim of Ron Paul’s feasibility as a presidential candidate and the validity of the libertarian movement. Uuuuruhh? 

Tim ‘The Toolman’ Taylor