Friday, February 7, 2014

So, I think the world is now ready for Jerry Cornelius

(B5 will be back soon, Season 5 is proving to be harder to binge watch...)

I wrote a mostly coherent series of articles not too long ago about the death of canon in popular genre fiction. One of the things that motivated that introspection was my dissatisfaction with the current state of one of my favorite franchises; Doctor Who. I came to realize that it was ok that the Nu Who was not the same as the Classic Who that I love so much. Texts do not have an obligation to remain consistent with texts written by different authors on the same topics/characters.
The 50th anniversary of Doctor Who gave us a couple of things to digest, first a quite furious debate about who should be Matt Smiths replacement, and a (in my mind) cementing of the fact that this Doctor Who is a distinct character in many ways from the one I grew up with.
I have spoken to many fans who the Nu series, many who have not seen the Classic series and like Doctor Who for their own distinct reasons. My view of the Doctor has always been as a low level but heroic cosmic meddler, he enters situations as the outsider who is distrusted but perseveres though wit and genius. He is not a character with many "powers" beyond his intelligence; (a trait I like in my heroes, I admire Sherlock Holmes for the same reason) , his mentalism is minor, he can regenerate his body (although that is never really used as a plot point) upon extreme injury, he has a respiratory bypass system (ie he can hold his breath a long time) and of course the Sonic Screwdriver. Even the TARDIS is rarely used as a plot point in Classic Who, it is more a gateway to the story for the Doctor and his companions. Naturally these are played up more in the Nu series, in particular the Regeneration and Sonic Screwdriver. The Nu Doctor is a Pansexual lonely Messiah, who appears in all places and all times. He is not a character who generally needs to gain credibility from the people he meets as he has a reputation that proceeds him. (He more often than not now needs to deal with people's fear of him or the Time Lords)
Now this is my opinion which holds just as much authority as any other person with too much time, a keyboard and a net connection; but I think the character that Nu Who fans want subconsciously is not the Classic Doctor at all. It's Micheal Moorcock's Eponymous anti-hero Jerry Cornelius.
Now I love Jerry Cornelius, he is one of my most favorite literary constructs, Moorecock's eternal champion work boiled down into one insanely cool entity. I and many actually good authors have used him or aspects of him in derived works as Moorecock put the character out there as a sort of open source protagonist. (Although he did take exception to Grant Morrison's Gideon Stargrave for following his formula too closely. I'm unsure if he was right there...)
We now live in the age of the Internet, of mashups, gender swaps and a movement towards a more inclusive and plastic popular culture. The retelling of The Hobbit with a total gender swapped cast gaining attention is a peak indication that this phenomena is starting to become very much part of the culture.
Cornelius as a character is all that and a bag of crisps, in fact I can think of few better poster children for the neo-plastic popular culture that we now see ourselves moving into. Cornelius is gender morphing, non bound by sexuality, time and dimension mobile and a Messianic avatar of the time he is written in. Most of the most famous works in his series are very heavily steeped in the 1960s and 70s, hence the characters often seen connection to the drug culture of the time. The Cornelius of the classic quartet of novels is still a little out there even for today's fan, the reoccurring masochistic and incestuous relationship with his sister Catherine for example. But the metafictional Jerry Cornelius finds popular culture gravitating towards him, Moorcock even included a more distinctly feminine reflection of Cornelius in his work in the character of Una Persson who would not only appear as Jerry's lover but often would best him for the affections of Catherine. (In "The Condition of Muzak" for example)
It would seem Cornelius is a character who's time has come as "he" already has so many of the aspects that fans want in a fictional character. The plasticity to fit into any place and time, to be anyone. Much in the same way at the Doctor is seen as a great post modern character, though he is shackled by decades of canon and fan expectation. (Hense why the female Doctor thing tends to spark passionate debate on the intertubes. Something John Nathan Turner joked about to vex die hard fans in the 1980s still vexes today)
So as pop culture moves away from its segmented origins and becomes one greater meta-plastic mess of fiction, crossovers, swaps and switches, it is time for Jerry Cornelius.