Words on Walford: Week of 2 – 6 March 2020

Farewell, Bex. The departure of Jasmine Armfield as Martin and Sonia’s daughter is the biggest development on EastEnders this week, though it is hardly the most interesting. That kind of sums up the character of Bex, though. When you think about it, she has been through a lot over the past few years—being bullied, having her boyfriend sleep with her aunt, a suicide attempt—but every storyline the writers gave her withered on the vine. That’s a shame, because Armfield is a capable actress and Bex could have been an interesting character. Instead, she was the perennial damp squib, her storylines never really climaxing into anything interesting.

The writers never seemed invested in her character, using her mostly as a plot point for other characters. I mentioned the bullying storyline, which came to a climax with Louise’s burns. The Preston storyline was always about Michelle, not Bex. The best (by which I mean worst) example, though, is Bex’s suicide attempt, which had the potential to be a compelling, issue-based storyline but instead was used to further Martin’s and Sonia’s plot. Despite being the one who tried to take her own life, Bex factored little into her suicide storyline.

Because of this, I doubt fans really notice Bex’s absence. I don’t know why Armfield left, but I can’t blame her. She never got the material she deserved. I’m glad they didn’t kill Bex off, though. The door is left open for her return, and maybe in a few years’ time the character can come back to Walford (whether played by Armfield or a recast) and make a bigger impression—one due a legacy character like Rebecca Fowler.

Speaking of legacy characters, let’s talk about Denny Rickman. It’s been two weeks since he drowned on the boat, yet it feels as though he has already been forgotten. Sharon is still grieving, and we got a few very good scenes played by Letitia Dean. Just, not enough. So far Denny’s death has been more about Ian’s guilt and now Dotty’s blackmail. It’s frustrating, because the death of a legacy character like Denny ought to at the very least put Sharon—one of the most iconic characters in the show’s history—front and centre. Maybe it will as we near the funeral, but until then I’m left wondering why we’re not exploring Sharon’s grief over the loss of her son and her relationship with her newborn son more. Instead, Denny’s death has been made about Ian sodding Beale.

Part of this is, no doubt, that Phil Mitchell isn’t around. I’m not sure if Steve McFadden is on holiday or what, but Phil’s absence in the aftermath of the boat crash is jarring. He caused the accident which killed Denny, yet he’s nowhere to be found. I’m certain we’ll get the payoff we’re all waiting for when McFadden returns to our screens, but in the meantime we’re left with no real resolution—to the boat sinking, yes, but also to the Sheanu affair, which is the storyline that just won’t end.

Even Ben, who played a massive role in Denny’s death, isn’t really grappling with that thanks to his hearing loss. It’s an important storyline and I’m glad EastEnders is exploring it, but I would like to see some acknowledgement from Ben that his stepbrother is dead because of his actions. Ben can walk and chew bubblegum at the same time, and the writers ought to be able to as well. The announcement that Paul Usher is returning as gangster Danny Hardcastle doesn’t inspire confidence, though. The last thing Ben needs is another gangster storyline, but Kate Oates and Jon Sen just can’t help themselves.

That’s a shame, because pulling Ben out of the thug life and into family life could make for some amazing stories. Some of the best scenes this week were between Ben, Jay, Lola, and Lexi. Seeing the four of them, with Callum, at the end of Friday’s episode was sweet. I want to see more of it. It’s an interesting family dynamic—mum and boyfriend, dad and boyfriend, all living in harmony and raising little Lexi. I want to see the show explore it further.

We might get that now that Jay and Lola seem to finally be getting a storyline of their own. Lola’s pregnancy wasn’t exactly shocking to anyone but her. Lola’s decision to terminate it, though, was. We didn’t get as much of Jay and Lola as I would have liked this week, but Lola’s uncertainty about starting a family with Jay so soon was an interesting development.

The couple has long been written as endgame, and the writers wasted no time splitting up Jay and Ruby to get them back together. Listening to Lola talk to Chantelle about her pregnancy, though, I was struck that she said she “likes him a lot.” She didn’t say she loved Jay, just that she likes him. Later, when talking to Jay, Lola said they hadn’t been together that long. And it’s true, they haven’t. But it’s hardly like they just met. There’s a lot of history there, so the words Lola chose are perhaps telling. I don’t think she’s as invested in this relationship as Jay is.

Which brings me to Peter. Lauren and Peter had so much drama it’s easy to forget that Lola and Peter have a history together, too. Yet the writers made a point of acknowledging that the week before last. Could they be gearing up for a Peter/Lola/Jay love triangle? It has occurred to me that could be where this is heading, though it’s just idle speculation. (I’m interested to hear what you think—chime in in the comments below.)

It’s understandable that Jay wants a child, though. To start, he loves Lola. But beyond that, Jay has never really had a family of his own. He has the Mitchells, who have mostly been good to him (not always, but mostly), but Jay is the epitome of the poor little orphan boy. It often shows in the stories he gets—or more accurately, doesn’t get—so no doubt the chance to start a family of his own is incredibly exciting. Jay might not have even realised he wanted it, but now that he has I doubt he lets it go. For someone who has never had a family, the chance at one will be strong.

That being said, Lola’s reasons for not wanting a baby are valid. Ben’s struggling, and whether it’s fair or not for Jay to accuse her of putting Ben before him, it’s at least understandable. Ben is the father of her child. Lexi nearly got ran over by a car because of Ben’s inability to hear. Putting Ben first is, in a way, putting Lexi first, which is exactly what a good parent should do.

The question of what makes a good parent is one no doubt troubling Mitch Baker. Once again the most impressive scenes of the week involved Mitch and Keegan. Keegan’s arrest and his frustration over his long wait at the hospital was tough to watch, especially considering Keegan was very clearly being racially profiled in the former. The latter is harder to say—it was clever to have a Black nurse be the one to routinely tell Keegan he had to wait to be seen by a doctor, and to be fair it’s understandable for an A&E to take more critical cases first.

What is also understandable, though, is Keegan’s frustration in that moment. For weeks we’ve seen Keegan being racially profiled and harassed, so it’s not surprising he felt—rightly or wrongly—that it was happening again at hospital. Zack Morris is one of my favourite actors currently on EastEnders, and I’m glad to see him getting another hard-hitting storyline. I was worried that the show wouldn’t do this storyline justice, but after this week I’m hopeful they will. I’m so glad, because as I’ve said before, this is an important storyline that has the potential to change the public perception of racism and policing, which at is best is what EastEnders does.

While we’re talking about race and the Taylor family, let’s talk about Chantelle and Gray Atkins. Feeling the pressure at work, Gray began spiraling out of control (again) this week. We saw him nearly attack Chantelle on Monday, but it was his scenes with his boss which gave us the most insight into Gray’s mind and motivation. A mate of mine texted me, pointing out that the fact that it was a Black woman who was piling on the pressure at work might speak to why Gray treats Chantelle the way he does—that is, he abuses his Black wife because of his anger at his Black boss. I’m sure my mate would agree it’s more complicated than that (abuse always is), but it does introduce an interesting point: what role does race play in the way Gray treats Chantelle, his boss, and others? Chantelle’s and Gray’s domestic violence storyline has, without even trying, explored the power dynamics between men and women, but Chantelle is Black and Gray is white, so there’s another power dynamic in their relationship, too. How does that influence how Gray sees his wife?

I’ll be interested to see how this plays out, especially as the show continues to subtly explore the dynamics of race in Keegan’s marriage to Tiffany, who very clearly does not understand what it is like to be a Black man in modern Britain. Again, this is just speculation, so it may be that race is never addressed when it comes to Gray and Chantelle. But if you want to explore race in modern Britain, the Taylors are the perfect family to do it. Despite having two mixed-race children, Karen Taylor has already shown she can be racist (remember her sparring with Masood over the launderette?). If this is the direction EastEnders is taking this, it will be fascinating to see how it plays out.

One thing is for certain, though: Gray needs to get his comeuppance soon. This abuse storyline has been going on since last summer, and it’s very disturbing to watch. I appreciate that the show is trying to raise awareness of an important issue, and I think they’ve done it well so far. I just don’t know how much more of Gray attacking Chantelle I can handle watching. It’s difficult viewing.

A few more stray observations: Milly Zero is a diamond and I’m so glad she’s there. I’m not just saying that because she followed me on Twitter, either. Her scenes with Ian and Peter were riveting. Jean’s farewell to Daniel was touching and comical; Mo falling into the hole was incredibly fitting. I loved the scenes between Gillian Wright and Linda Henry this week. Jean and Shirley have such a lovely friendship, and I’m glad the show is exploring it again. I can’t wait for Jean to confront Suki over her cancer lie, as it’s clear Jean knows she’s faking. Whitney’s storyline is still boring me. I want to care, but I just don’t. If Kush only got community service for his GBH charge, why didn’t he just plead guilty to begin with? Where the hell is Ruby Allen? Seriously, I’m so annoyed at how the show is wasting Louisa Lytton.

Scene of the week: Jean, Suki, Shirley, and Mo burying Daniel’s ashes in the Square. When Jean threw Daniel onto the other three I SCREAMED! Comedy at its best.

Line of the week: “Why are you so surprised, Dad? It’s just the way it is!” – Keegan throwing Mitch’s words back in his face was chilling.

Performance of the week: Toby-Alexander Smith. Gray is an abusive bastard, but somehow Smith finds a way to make him almost sympathetic at times. Seeing him struggle with the pressures of work (and the expectations of the community) was fascinating. A very nuanced performance by Smith, who conveyed both the insecurity and pressure Gray feels with the rage bubbling just under the surface.

Character of the week: Jay Brown and Lola Pearce – I can’t pick just one, because both really shined this week.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are both terrible candidates, but they don’t have to be. Here’s what they should do to beat Donald Trump.

With Elizabeth Warren’s departure from the Democratic primary, it is officially a two-man race for the nomination. A two old, crotchety man race. Yes, Tulsi Gabbard is still in, but unless she pulls the biggest political upset in American history either Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders will be the party’s nominee.

I don’t think either can defeat Donald Trump. I made the case against Joe Biden in January, and last month I wrote why Bernie Sanders is his own worst enemy. We are where we are, though, and while I don’t think either man can win in November, I don’t know they can’t. If they have any hope of doing it, though, both Biden and Sanders will need to do a few things that neither is comfortable with.

Let’s start with the morbid truth. If elected, Joe Biden will be 78 years old while Bernie Sanders will be 79 years old, meaning either will become the first octogenarian president during his first term. While I don’t think age disqualifies anyone from the presidency (assuming they’re over 35, as the Constitution requires), I do think that even beyond health it raises some problems.

It’s a truism that Democrats win with young, energetic candidates who inspire hope and promise change. While both Biden and Sanders are energetic, neither is young. Bernie promises change, but I don’t think he really inspires hope. Biden provides neither. This, coupled with their advanced age, means the choice of running mate is going to matter.

Of the two, it matters most to Biden. I have long lamented the fact that Democratic leadership doesn’t know when to let go of the reins of power. In 2017 I wrote an article for the Independent lamenting this fact in the race for DNC chair, pointing to two promising young candidates who were denied the chance to lead: activist Jehmu Greene and then-Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Nothing has changed since then, and Biden’s ascendency shows it isn’t going to change anytime soon.

Biden also lacks any sort of enthusiasm around his candidacy. I’ve yet to meet one excited Biden supporter. They might like his experience or trust him because of his association with Obama and decades spent in the House and Senate, but he hardly energizes the public. His policies are not bold and he himself—despite a compelling personal narrative no one can take from him—is bland in comparison to the diverse field of candidates we had.

So what can Joe Biden do to electrify his campaign? Biden needs someone to bring the “it” factor to his campaign, a “game changer” like Sarah Palin was meant to be for John McCain but who also isn’t dumb as a box of rocks. My preference is Pete Buttigieg, but there are plenty of young, progressive Democrats who are qualified to be Joe Biden’s Vice President—including plenty of women of color. Stacey Abrams and Kamala Harris are the most mentioned, but there are others and Joe Biden should pick one of them.

Then, and this is the part that makes this a game changing moment, he should pledge to serve on term. Look, no matter how you cut it, Joe Biden is old. Those close to the former Vice President are already whispering that it is inconceivable an 81-year-old Biden would campaign for reelection. He’d be 87 by the end of his second term.

If Joe Biden selected a young running mate and then appointed a young, fresh cabinet, he could be viewed as a transition figure, someone from the old guard who finally ushered in a new era of Democratic leadership. He could also provide a stark alternative to Donald Trump, showing that his campaign is about the future of America, not just a return to the status quo of the pre-Trump years. Most importantly, though, he could make his candidacy exciting, which is the last thing it is right now.

Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, doesn’t have a problem with excitement. He promises radical changes from Medicare for All to free tuition at public colleges. Boldness has never been an issue for him. What he does have a problem with, though, is growing his share of the vote. Super Tuesday saw Sanders underperform, losing states he won in 2016 and coming second to Joe Biden in delegates won. Sanders’ supporters are true believers, and he can galvanize an audience better than any politician on the left, assuming they’re already converted to his cause.

It’s almost the inverse of the problem Biden has, really. Sanders’ problem is that he and his supporters are too fervent. They ostracize anyone who doesn’t agree with them 100%. They ridicule, demean, and insult opponents and even those who agree with their policies but just aren’t convinced Sanders can deliver them. They are, to put it bluntly, mean. They’re just mean. I can already imagine a Sanders supporter tweeting at me “’oh someone tweeted a rat emoji at you and was mean to you online so poor people should all die because of it.’” Rhetoric like that is Bernie Sanders’ biggest problem.

Voters want change, and Sanders offers it. The problem is they don’t want bullying and they certainly don’t want revolution—especially a socialist revolution. They just want their lives to get better. Sanders’ policies are fairly milquetoast compared to proper socialism and he is right to point out that universal healthcare is not a controversial stance in most of the Western world. He should keep pointing this out, because I think it’s an effective strategy. What he needs to stop is his relentless attacks on the dreaded “establishment”—who they are Sanders has never made clear—and tone down his bluster.

Passion is good, but there’s a thin line between zeal and fervor. Sanders needs to show he’s a capable, rational, safe pair of hands in which to place the country. If I could say anything to Bernie Sanders, it would be “stop shouting.” Stop waving your arms around. Stop with the class warfare rhetoric, because even though I completely agree with you, it’s a turn off to most voters who still wrongly believe America lives in a classless society.

Instead, explain why your policies would make life better for those living in Kenosha, or in the towns of the Pennsylvania Main Line, or in Little Havana. Explain why they’re not actually that radical at all. Do it evenly and thoughtfully. Essentially, calm down, Bernie.

“But this is a class war! But we should be irate!” I can already see the tweets coming in. That’s the other problem Bernie has. His supporters are his worst enemy. He needs to get a hold on them. After four years of Donald Trump, swing voters do not want more of the same vitriol, anger, and rancor just with leftwing politics. You’re not helping your cause. Take a breath. Is it really worth tweeting that snake emoji at the heartbroken Warren supporter? Do you really need to tell the disaffected Buttigieg voter that he’s literally killing people because he’s now supporting Biden? Even if you truly feel that way, is that the best way to dialogue with people? No. You immediately turn them off. The old adage is true—you catch more flies with hunger than vinegar, and right now Sanders supporters are nothing but piss and vinegar.

For Bernie to attract more voters, he’s going to have to tone it down and lasso his self-righteous supporters who think being mean to people online is justified in the name of the class war. It’s not, but even if it was, it’s a terrible strategy for winning an election. People want positivity, not to be told they’re part of the “establishment” because they voted for the other guy.

I hope both candidates’ advisors recognize this, because right now both are incredibly weak nominees at a time when we need the strongest possible candidate. If Biden and Sanders can do these things, they might stand a chance at beating Donald Trump. That’s what matters.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

I was a Pete Buttigieg supporter. Now I’m not voting.

It still hurts. I thought if I slept on it I might feel better, but I don’t. Hell, I barely slept last night, tossing and turning until 3:00 in the morning. For those of us who supported Pete Buttigieg, who last night suspended his campaign and will no longer seek the Democratic nomination, today is just really fucking hard. It’s never easy to lose, and when you doorstep, phone bank, and throw yourself into a campaign with gusto it’s always difficult to concede defeat. It really is akin to the stages of grief.

Yet like vultures, other campaigns are already circling, trying to pick off Mayor Pete’s supporters before the body is even cold. His departure does naturally raise the question of where we on #TeamPete will end up. The conventional wisdom is we are natural Biden voters now. I think that is incredibly shortsighted and misses what it was about Pete that appealed to many of his most ardent supporters – he was young, progressive, and promised to lead us into the future, not return us to the politics of the past. Don’t count out Bernie Sanders or even Elizabeth Warren receiving a fair share of migrants from Team Pete.

Tomorrow is Super Tuesday, when my state (Tennessee) is scheduled to vote, meaning I and countless other supporters of Mayor Pete have a very short amount of time to decide where to go. For me, though, the answer is obvious: nowhere. I will not vote in this primary, unless it is for Pete Buttigieg.

Before I go any further, let me head off accusations that I am throwing a temper tantrum, taking my ball home because I lost, enabling Trump, yada yada yada. I have pledged to “vote blue, no matter who,” and I stand by that. I’m aware of the realities of the situation, and crucially, I am not a fascist. I won’t let my own grievances prevent me from doing what is best for the country. Anyone—my 10-year-old nephew, Snooki from Jersey Shore, a plague of locusts—would make a better president than Donald Trump. I am entirely committed to voting for whoever the Democratic nominee is in November. However, I will not have a say in who that nominee is.

The truth is I have been preparing for this eventuality for a while. I’m no political neophyte, and the writing on the wall was evident; I’ve known in my gut for weeks now that Mayor Pete would not be the nominee, at least not this time. There are lot of reasons for that, some of them entirely fair and some of them infuriatingly not fair. Still, I saw what was coming and considered my options. I didn’t like what I found.

I don’t think any of these candidates deserve my vote. Let’s look at why:

  • Joe Biden is a walking gaffe. As I wrote in January for The Independent, I think he should have dropped out long ago because this Burisma/Ukraine scandal—though undoubtedly bullshit concocted by the right to smear him—is an albatross around his neck. But it’s not just that. His treatment of Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas hearings, his weird habit of smelling women’s hair, and his age (if elected, he’ll be our first octogenarian president) all concern me. The truth is, I think a Biden nomination is a disaster waiting to happen. This is his third bid for the nomination, and the third time might be the charm. Frankly, I don’t think he should have even run, though I accept it is not my place to tell anyone whether they should or shouldn’t run. But if I’m looking for the strongest nominee to go up against Donald Trump, Biden isn’t it.
  • Bernie Sanders is the Donald Trump of the left. There, I said it. In another article for The Independent, I lamented the fact that Bernie and his supporters seem to be hellbent on making every last mistake Jeremy Corbyn made as Labour leader. Last night, while all the other candidates were congratulating Pete on a race well ran and noting the historic nature of his candidacy, Bernie was trying to woo his supporters. Hard pass. I am not about to join a campaign whose supporters have spent the last several months harassing and attacking me, other Pete supporters, and Pete himself online. It’s not happening. Bernie Sanders and his supporters are toxifying American public discourse the same way the Red Hats are. What’s more is they think they are entirely justified in doing so in the name of class war, a bunch of middle-class kids who think they’re radical by supporting what are at best soft-left policies. Bernie isn’t going to bring the revolution even if he wins, because he isn’t a revolutionary, he’s a shouty old man who has enabled the most vile and vitriolic trolls. A Bernie Sanders nomination will be a disaster for the party, but by all means carry on with your ideological purity tests. I will have no part of it.
  • Elizabeth Warren is a liar. She lied about being Native American. She lied about Pete changing his policies to suit his donors. She made a mountain out of a wine cave. She has blasted big money in politics yet rolled over big money donations from her Senate campaign to her presidential campaign and just recently took money from a Super PAC. It’s upsetting, because before this election I really liked Elizabeth Warren, and for a long time she was my second choice. Not now. It doesn’t really matter, though, because right now this race looks like it’s going to be between Sanders and Biden, so she’s a non-entity. I do want to say, though, that in my experience her volunteers are very nice.
  • Amy Klobuchar is an abusive jerk. I never gave credence to those reports that Amy Klobuchar abused her staff until I saw her condescending, smug attitude towards Pete Buttigieg on the debate stage. “I wish everyone was as perfect as you, Pete.” So do I Amy, so do I. Honestly, her disdain for Pete was palpable, and it was a massive turnoff to me as a voter. It also rang as homophobic to me and many other gay men who are all-too-familiar with self-righteous people like her patronizing us. Like Warren, she’s also a non-entity if this race is how it looks right now, which is a two-way contest between Biden and Sanders.
  • Mike Bloomberg is a Republican. I mean, that’s it. He’s done a lot of good on gun violence, but I don’t trust Mike Bloomberg to govern as a progressive. I don’t like that he’s poured millions of his own money into ad buys while eschewing campaigning in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. I don’t think he would be a marked improvement on the Trump years. I don’t think he can win. That he’s still in the race when Pete Buttigieg isn’t is a damning indictment of the role money can play in American politics.
  • Tulsi Gabbard is an authoritarian sympathizer. From Narendra Modi to Bashar al-Assad in Syria to Donald Trump in America, Gabbard loves herself an authoritarian leader. Her views on foreign policy are enough to disqualify her from receiving my vote, but her record on gay rights is also questionable enough to raise red flags.

Pete Buttigieg is the only candidate who articulated a message of hope, of unity, and of moving the country forward. He’s the only candidate in this field I could enthusiastically vote for, and he is the only candidate I think could beat Donald Trump. I am utterly unimpressed with my remaining options and cannot in good faith say any of these people deserve to be the Democratic nominee. Therefore, for the first time in my life, I will not be voting in the Democratic primary. May the biggest asshole win.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

Requiem for Pete Buttigieg

“Being open about my sexual orientation at school – and the hell that goes along with it – is not only the right thing to do, but the only thing to do.” I wrote those words in my diary in 2003. I was running for student body president as the only openly gay student in my sleepy little town in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. I had come out my sophomore year, and the daily crucible of homophobic slurs and threats of violence I experienced taught me that victory was a longshot.

I ran anyway.

17 years later, Pete Buttigieg didn’t become the first openly gay president. Tonight, following a blistering defeat in South Carolina, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana suspended his campaign for the Democratic nomination. As an ardent supporter of Mayor Pete, and as a gay man, I am heartbroken—as are millions of others like me, gay and straight, who felt inspired by his candidacy.

I mourn for what we were denied. The sight of an openly gay man, his husband holding the Bible, take the oath of office. White House Christmas cards with a smiling, happy same-sex couple (and possibly their children; the Buttigiegs are young enough to start a family). The inspiring rhetoric and cool-as-a-cucumber disposition which made him feel to millions of people the ablest and best hands in which to place the country. I lament the fact that thousands of volunteers and grassroots supporters around the country are feeling as heartbroken as I am, disappointed and forlorn and unsure of what to do now that the man we all believed should be president won’t be.

Yet I am heartened by what we have accomplished. Growing up, the only political role models I had were Barney Frank, a surly and stalwart old Democrat who has written eloquently about his own struggles coming out, and Harvey Milk, who was shot. That was it. At the time I mounted my campaign for student body president, no state had legalized gay marriage. Another entry in my diary from that autumn screams that “gay marriage band struck down by a court in Massachusetts!” It was a watershed moment, one that inspired a 17-year-old gay boy to keep his chin up, that it might get better.

Watching Mayor Pete speak tonight felt a lot like that. “We send a message to every kid wondering if whatever marks them as different, means they are somehow destined to be less than—to see that someone who once felt that exact same way, become a leading American presidential candidate with his husband at his side,” he said. I thought of all the 17-year-old gay kids watching him as he spoke, as he kissed his husband in front of a row of American flags draped along a stage, a loving same-sex couple who could have been our first same-sex first couple.

They would see there on that stage a middle-class, middle-American gay man who dared to dream bigger than anyone thought he had a right to dream. No one can say Americans won’t vote for a gay man for president; Pete Buttigieg, a gay man, won the Iowa caucus. He outperformed senators and governors and in three states a former vice president. He had the audacity to think America was ready for an openly gay president his husband, the first gentleman, and America proved that even if it isn’t there yet, it’s further along than many of us imagined.

At the risk of being premature—he’s not even 40, and his future is bright—this is the legacy of Pete Buttigieg. Someone always has to go first, and for gay Americans, now someone has. If voters ever had any doubt that a gay candidate could be as articulate, as unifying, as electable as a straight candidate, Mayor Pete proved them wrong. Much like Shirley Chisolm’s historic 1972 run blazed a trail for women and people of colour, Mayor Pete has laid a path for future candidates to follow. It doesn’t mean it will be easy, or it will happen in 2024 (as some supporters chanted as Mayor Pete spoke) but a precedent has been set, an apprehension calmed, a fear assuaged. It’s no longer a question of if a gay man can be elected president, but rather when.

I lost my bid for student body president in 2003. Years later, I got a message from one of my high school teachers. “You made this school a better and more accepting place,” she said. “What you did mattered.” It was one of the most touching messages I have ever received, to know that in my own small way, I changed at least a little part of the world.

I hope Pete Buttigieg feels that way tonight. He should be proud of what he has accomplished. I know I am. His campaign may have ended, but his story has only just begun. Watching it unfold, I have never been prouder to be a gay American.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

 

Words on Walford: Week of 24 – 28 February 2020

The week after an epic stunt like what I call “Boat Week” – that is, the 35th anniversary episodes – is always a bit of a comedown. It’s like getting back from a long holiday, when your mind is still firmly on the sun and sand but you’re back in your drab, fluorescently lit office. Considering this, my expectations for this past week were minimal. I wanted EastEnders to carry the plot forward while also dealing with the repercussions of the previous week’s events. Denny’s death was sure to send ripples around the Square, as was Whitney’s arrest and, to a lesser degree, Keanu’s (final) departure.

Yet throughout the four episodes following what was a successful anniversary week, I felt the show was muddled in its storytelling. Certain character arcs we would have expected to see continued screeched to a halt, while others were continued trucking along, becoming lost in the aftermath of the boat tragedy. Some weren’t even mentioned at all (where is Patrick Trueman?). Let’s look at what worked, and what didn’t.

This week was always going to be about the Beales. Ian’s guilt over Denny’s death, Peter’s return, Bobby’s recovery, and Kathy’s presence right at the centre of it all forced the family to the forefront. That’s not a bad thing—the Beales are if not the most important family in EastEnders history, certainly the show’s oldest family—and Adam Woodyatt and Gillian Taylforth rose to the occasion, giving moving, powerful performances. Watching Ian wrestle with his guilt could have been maudlin and tedious, but Woodyatt has dug beneath the material to find a pathos in Ian that is truly compelling. Meanwhile, Taylforth is excelling at the role Kathy was always destined for—put-upon matriarch trying to corral her unruly brood. The show hasn’t done enough with Kathy Beale since they resurrected her five years ago, but having Bobby, Peter, and Ben all back on the Square (where they should have been all along) has the potential to do wonders for her character and give Taylforth something to sink her teeth into.

Another standout of the week has been newcomer Dayle Hudson as Peter Beale mark seven. Leaving aside the jarring height difference between Hudson and his predecessor in the role, Hollywood hunk Ben Hardy (Hudson is seven inches taller than Hardy), he has already made the role his own. Stepping into Ben Hardy’s shoes was going to be tough considering both the stellar performance he gave during his two years on the show and his skyrocketing film career, but Hudson has done it not only ably but with gusto. His presence feels natural and familiar, and his chemistry with Woodyatt and Taylforth is palpable. I can’t wait to see what Peter gets up to next.

The same can’t be said for Whitney. A week in jail and I am already bored with this storyline. Obviously Whitney had to be arrested for killing Leo (not that she deserves it, but the story wouldn’t strain credibility if she wasn’t), so I am cutting EastEnders some slack here. This is a necessary development in an ongoing storyline. Still, it’s not one I am particularly interested in. EastEnders has a long history of sending its characters to the slammer, from the Dickens Hill storyline with Den Watts in the 1980s on up to Mick Carter’s incarceration in 2018.

The problem is I don’t think the show ever gets them right. I’m not talking about the societal commentary on the prison system or British justice—though someone more knowledgeable on the topic could no doubt write an essay on it—but simply the stories themselves. It’s always a challenge when you remove a character from the setting in which the story is overwhelmingly taking place (that is, Albert Square), as it doesn’t easily jive with the rest of the show. I care about Whitney’s plight because I care about Whitney as a character, but I haven’t found these scenes particularly interesting. Lying to Gray about Mick’s involvement, swearing she killed Leo in self-defence; it’s all a bit predictable and derivative. Procedurals like The Bill and mysteries like Broadchurch work because the entire show is based around that particular premise. Soap makes it a bit more tricky, because part of what makes soap great is characters interacting with one another. Throwing Whitney into jail removes her from that.

Like I said, though, it had to happen. I trust that Jon Sen and Kate Oates know what they’re doing and where this storyline is going, so we could end up with a riveting arc for Whitney. It’s too early to say, though these first scenes do not inspire confidence.

The Whitney saga seemed to take up most of the first couple episodes, while Sharon’s grief was relegated to B-plot. This felt like a mistake. Watching Sharon walk around in a daze felt real and hit me in the gut. When I was in high school a friend passed away in a car accident, and I remember that almost zombie-like look and demeanor in her mother. Letitia Dean nailed the way grief knocks everything out of you. Far from over-the-top melodrama, we got an understated, nuanced performance (I think I used that same phrase to describe Dean’s acting last week, but it bears repeating). The scene between Sharon and Shirley, in particular, was heart-wrenching. It was the first time we’d seen Sharon properly break down, and it was a nice scene that highlighted the shared humanity between two longtime foils, if not outright foes.

I would have liked to have seen more of Sharon’s journey, though I suspect we will be watching that unfold in the weeks to come. Denny’s funeral, in particular, will offer Dean a chance to flex her muscles. I can’t wait to see what happens as she continues to find out more about Ian’s role in Denny’s death and finally confronts Phil over the fact that his machismo and wounded pride—and not Sharon’s affair—are what ultimately lead to the loss of her son.

Sharon won’t be the only Walford woman grieving, though. Daniel’s death was not exactly a surprise—we all knew he had terminal cancer, and what that meant—but I wasn’t expecting it so soon. Ade Edmondson was a gift as Daniel Cook. His departure, though always inevitable, is nonetheless a loss for the show. Daniel’s romance with Jean is one of the great love stories in EastEnders history, a touching look at life, love, loss, and ultimately mortality. Gillian Wright gave a beautiful performance as Jean discovers Daniel’s corpse in the Square, quietly conveying the pain of a woman who knew this was going to happen but is nonetheless heartbroken.

It was a powerful and poignant moment. I wish the show had waited a little longer for it, though—not because I wanted to see more of Edmondson’s performance (well, not only because of that), but because Jean’s and Daniel’s final moments seemed to get swallowed up in the aftermath of the boat tragedy. DigitalSpy pointed out that Jean didn’t even get the duff duff for Daniel’s death, which shows just how overwhelmed this scene was by events elsewhere in Walford.

Another storyline that seems to be swallowed up by events, not just this week but generally, is Keegan’s continued harassment by the police. I understand from spoilers that we’ll be revisiting that soon, but it’s worth pointing out that since their elopement back in the autumn, neither Keegan nor Tiffany have had much screen time. This is a shame, because Zack Morris and Maisie Smith are two of the brightest young stars on the show, and they are endlessly delightful to watch, as evidenced by the “wedding-ring-in-a-cupcake” scenes this week. It was a welcome point of levity in an otherwise bleak and depressing episode, and Morris and Smith played it with such charm and warmth. I hope to see more of them.

On the other hand, I hope to see less of Ben and Callum. I have never exactly warmed to #Ballum the way many other fans have, finding their entire relationship to be both contrived and toxic. This push-and-pull between them, with Ben blowing hot or cold depending on the day, is exhausting and uninteresting. No one seriously thought Ben wouldn’t find Callum, and their interactions afterwards felt more like bad fan fiction than it did good soap. Callum tracing “I ❤ you” on Ben’s back was cute, but them jumping in the sack five minutes after Callum has been rescued from spending days in a skip rang untrue and felt as though it was written to please horny #Ballum fans rather than stay true to the characters and ground the show in reality. Fans love #Ballum, though, so clearly I’m missing something. I fully admit that. I just wish I knew what it was.

I do want to commend EastEnders for tackling a storyline about deafness and for casting a deaf actress as a deaf character (to be debuting soon). Disability isn’t often addressed on soap, so it will be interesting to see how the show handles this and whether Ben’s hearing loss is permanent or temporary. The sound effects really show how Ben is hearing the world and the extent of the damage done on the boat. This has the potential to be an informative, issue-based storyline. I hope the show does it justice. I suspect it will.

A few more stray observations before we go. Where is Linda? We saw her in Monday’s episode, but if I recall that was it. Her alcoholism was such a big part of Boat Week that it seems odd we wouldn’t be dealing with the aftermath of her decision to get sober. I’m sure that’s coming, but her absence glaring. I also would have liked to have seen a scene or two between Iqra, Habiba, and Bobby. It got mentioned that the Ahmed sisters were visiting him in hospital, but their friendship is so sweet it felt like a missed opportunity. Ricky Champ gave a comedic turn as Stuart Highway, and I couldn’t help but to laugh as he mimed whilst trying to communicate with Ben. Karen naming the baby Kayden was nice, and as many pointed out it has “Den” in it. Overall, though, I felt Karen was all too nonchalant about Keanu’s exit again. Perhaps she had come to terms with it, having said goodbye to him in early January, but it still felt like the show was happy to move on as though he never existed. Also, can we please get Bernadette a storyline? Ruby Allen, too. Louisa Lytton is too talented to be relegated to the role of a speaking extra. I didn’t mention this earlier, but yay, Jean is cancer free!

Scene of the week: Jean going to get them each a cocoa only to come back and find Daniel dead will stick with me for a long time.

Line of the week: “Apart from when Bobby nearly set the house on fire or the other day when Uncle Ian threw him out.” Lexi dropping truth bomb after truth bomb on Peter, dispelling Kathy’s notion that the Beales are on solid ground, was hilarious. Isabella Brown is adorable, and I hope she sticks around for a very long time.

Performance of the week: Letitia Dean. It could be no other. Every time she was onscreen my heart broke for Sharon.

Character of the week: Keegan Baker, if only because he had me howling with laughter and he got his kit off.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

 

Reading my teenage blog: Part I – “Heartbreak, You Got The Best Of Me……….”

If you follow me on Twitter you might have seen that I recently discovered my online blog from high school. Earlier this month I answered the same questions at 34 I answered at 17. That got such a fun response from people (mostly those who know me personally, but some who follow my professional writing) that I decided to go ahead and make this a series.

I’m going to do a paragraph-by-paragraph response to my blog, seeing how my views have changed over the past two decades and laughing at myself (or cringing at myself) where needed. Some entries may be edited to take out personal information or information I think others would not want revealed, and I will indicate where that happens.

We start with this entry from April 2002, in which apparently I have had my heart broken. In April 2002 I was 16-years-old, a sophomore in high school, and living in southeastern Kentucky. On the date this was written – 24 April 2002 – “Foolish” by Ashanti was the number one song in the US while “Girlfriend” by *NSync topped the British charts. The Scorpion King, starring The Rock, was the number one film in the United States. 9/11 had happened only seven months prior, George W Bush was in his first term, the iPod had only just been released the previous autumn, and I had never had a mobile phone and didn’t see the point of one. 

How things have changed. Or have they? Let’s take a look at what 16-year-old Skylar thought.

Heartbreak, You Got The Best Of Me………. 4/24/2002
If something seems to good to be true, it probably is. How true is that line? OMG its just…..read about my day.

I always had a flare for the dramatic. But I still agree that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

First hour my hair was all fucked up, so I ran all around school fixing it. I used lotion to get the hairspray out, then I had to run to Sherri’s locker (down the MATH WING!) to get the fucking hairspray and I used spit to fix it. Then my spit fell on the desk. We watched some movie over Jews so it was easy.

NOT THE MATH WING! There’s so much happening in this paragraph. First of all, Sherri, I’m sorry but I don’t remember you. Thanks for letting me use your hairspray… and spit? Maybe I used my own spit. God I hope I used my own spit. If I used Sherri’s spit I really should remember her. Anyway, I’m not sure why I used lotion to get hairpsray out of my hair. Is that a trick I’ve forgotten over the years? Does anybody know?

I’m really fucking disappointed in how blase I was about “some movie over Jews.” That just reads as incredibly offensive to me as a 34-year-old man. I’m sure I didn’t mean it offensively, but fucking hell boy, word choice matters.

Second hour we rehearsed and I joked around with Amanda Jo. I have to go get a costume really soon. I’m so nervous about being in front of the whole school. I’ve been acting my entire life, but not in front of people who know me and my entire life story. AND NOT IN FRONT OF [RYAN – a psuedonym to be used here on out]!

I changed the name of the boy because I want to respect his privacy. Some of my high school friends will probably figure out from context who it is. Just leave it, I ask. It’s been 18 years – let’s let sleeping dogs lie.

Amanda Jo! We had such fun together. I miss her. (If you’re reading this, hi Amanda Jo!) What were we rehearsing? 2002… must have been Alice in Wonderland. I plaid the White Rabbit. I had a line during a croquet match that went “my ball, my ball, I can’t play without my ball!” but slipped up in a performance and said “I can’t play without my balls!” It was humiliating, but also hilarious. 

Third hour I hung out with Sally, Samantha, Teddy Bear, and some other seniors in the library. We talked about Prom and looking for Prom parties. SO far no luck.

Sally I remember. Teddy Bear I remember his face, though not his name (Josh, maybe?). Samantha… sorry, love, no idea. Why is “Prom” capitalised. It’s not a proper noun you fool. We found a prom party in the end and it is one of the most memorable nights of my life. It was a big night in my life, as prom nights often are. Yes, I’m being coy. I’m much less brazen at 34 than I was at 16.

Fourth hour I forgot my work for Koog and so I get a 0 on that. It sucks because I had it all finished, too! I feel like such the dumbass! And so yah. The major thing of fourth period was when Sally told me that [Ryan] had had a girlfriend way back in sixth grade [name redacted]! OMG one of my best friends dated him and failed to tell me this! And he does have a crush on [name redacted] (so he says-we’re not sure if we believe this). That scares me, because I’m starting to think [he] may be straight. If he is straight I’d be happy for him, but I know that I’ll die inside. I swear I need him. I wrote him a letter about being an ass to me fourth hour, too.

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. You deserved that 0. As it stands I still end up going out of the house and forgetting half of what I meant to bring. I guess that’s less a youthful folly than it is a character flaw.

I really hate how goddamn needy and frankly obsessive I am in this paragraph. It’s bad. It was also the start of a pattern in my life, one in which I routinely fall for men who don’t seem interested in me or are unwilling to commit and who say they’re straight but actually aren’t straight at all. Ryan was the prototype for so many heartbreaks through my twenties. I didn’t die inside, though. That happened about 9 years later.

 I wonder if I ever gave Ryan that letter? I don’t think I did, because I remember “Ryan” well and I think I’d remember something like that (it was a weird time in my life). I hope to God I didn’t, anyway, not just because it would be mortifying to me but because Ryan clearly set boundaries that I was ignoring. This is not romantic, baby Skylar, it’s abusive. Stop it. (I did stop it – and I was 16, so, you know, I’m cutting myself a little slack here.

[REDACTED PARAGRAPH – Personal information about another individual]

This was my fear when I decided to do this, and one entry in I’m already redacting quite a bit. This person would not want this information revealed though, I am 100% certain about that. Rather than risk anyone finding out, I’m just going to redact it. The point of this is to have fun, but it’s also to look at how much our world and I have changed since the early 2000s. I don’t think this really adds anything of interest in that context, so I’m okay leaving it out.

Fifth hour we watched “To Kill A Mockingbird” and that was that. Me, Lee, and Bridget started the “Broken Hearts Club,” which now has Sally as a member too. Lee says we should get the rest of the cheerleaders in it. I’m thinking about getting Becka in it too.

I’m still a member of this club. Also – does every American high school student read “To Kill a Mockingbird?” I think they do.

Snacks. Oh lord Sally told me [RYAN] said no to the picture (okay, I didn’t really care-HONESTLY LoL shocked me too). SHe told him he needs to start saying “hi” to me or something and he just sadly shook his head no. She said when he said he didn’t want to take that picture (I’m guessing thats what she meant) his eyes said he was lying. She said she thinks the boy is 100% gay [redacted few words]. I dunno…..I hope she’s right.

Take the fucking hint and leave the lad alone, baby Skylar. Honestly Ryan had the patience of Job and I am not liking how relentless I was here. Again, 16, so… cutting myself some slack. But yikes. Anyway, I do remember this actually. I wanted a picture of us together, and he said no. We did eventually take some pictures together, but I burnt them a year later after watching “The Craft” and thinking that maybe sorcery could work. It didn’t, but I still have hope it might.

Sixth hour I worked and thought of [RYAN]. Thats about it. We took Sara home today and then rode around ’till about 4:00 when Sal brought me home and I got online!

Imagine a time where “getting online” was a cause for excitement. In 2002 we made a point of being online, but in 2020 we make a point of disconnecting. A Twitter friend of mine just went offline until June as part of her Lenten sacrifice and social media detox – something that would have baffled people in the early 00s, when the internet was not a ubiquitous part of our lives. Did we know how it would come to take over our world? I don’t think I did. I never could have imagined smart phones or social media, though of course neither was a big step from Palm Pilots or AOL Chat Rooms/websites like LiveJournal. In hindsight it was all quite a logical progression, but at the time it would have seemed impossible if I had thought it.

GOSSIP TIME! LoL well lets see…..Peter Pan and Whitney are happy together. How, I don’t know, but hey, good for them-even though Bridgets heart is breaking. Lee’s crush is still acting like a fucker to her. Becka and Will may be broken up-Becka doesn’t know. She said something to me like “he needs to see what hes got.” I agree-Becka’s a great catch. [NAME REDACTED] wants to go back out with [NAME REDACTED] (they dated from 4-7 grade), but shes afraid all he wants is sex. And he won’t make the first move.

This was one paragraph (together with the next section), but I’m splitting it into two. I have no idea who Peter Pan was, and only a vague idea who Whitney was. OH WAIT – Bridget liked him. Yes, I do remebmer who Peter Pan is. He was a dick to me. (Bridget, I hope you found a better man.) I don’t remember Becka dating a Will, but I guess she did. She is a great catch though, that much is still true.

THEY DATED FROM 4 – 7 GRADE. I read that and howled. Imagine thinking that mattered. That’s like ages 10 – 13. What do you even do when you “date” someone that young? Hold hands and pretend to argue over money and how much “juice” he drinks because that’s what your parents do so that must be how marriage works? Silly kids. Silly, silly kids.

[Me] and [RYAN] may not hook up like everybody thought, because [RYAN] is being a prick (we also found out that [RYAN] and [REDACTED] dated in sixth grade). People are pulling for [me] though. Angela found out about [my] crush on [RYAN] by Stephanie, who decided to open her big mouth-but [I am] not to be mad at Stephanie (oh, God forbid!).

Get the fuck over yourself, baby Skylar. This boy is not worth it, and he clearly isn’t interested in you. Look at your life, look at your choices. Also, Stephanie and I recently followed one another on Twitter so there’s every chance she reads this and I just want to say that I forgive you for telling Angela about my crush our sophomore year of high school which was apparently a big deal at the time but honestly I don’t even remember. Thank you for still having me in your wedding despite this snarky post. Hope you’re well.

Tim and Amanda are back together, which breaks Sally’s heart. One of her old boyfriends (I don’t know his name) wants back together with her.

No idea who Tim and Amanda are, unless they’re the couple that Sally and I went to see 8 Mile with. Don’t feel too bad for Sally, though; she’s been married since 2003 and has a beautiful family, so it all worked out.

[REDACTED TWO SENTENCES – PERSONAL INFORMATION ABOUT ANOTHER PERSON]

[I] cried over [Ryan] today in the library at lunch, and chased Sammie Jo off. [I’m] becoming a cruel, heartless bitch.

You’re becoming an annoying little prick, but I don’t know about a cruel, heartless bitch. I think you just need to chill out, leave the “straight” boys alone, and wait until college when you can really let your hair down. (Spoilers: you won’t, and the next two years will be even more dramatic than this – a long-lost mother, a love triangle, a murder. Huh, my high school career kind of sounds like an episode of Riverdale.

Peace out.

Deuces

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

Scott Bixby was right to report on Ben Mora’s tweets

We need to talk about Ben Mora.

Mora was a regional field director for the Bernie Sanders campaign until last night, when he was sacked over offensive and derogatory tweets about other candidates, including disparaging remarks about Amy Klobuchar’s and Elizabeth Warren’s physical appearance and Pete Buttigieg’s sexuality. Since then, the journalist who broke the story—Scott Bixby of the Daily Beast, has received a torrent of harassment on social media, including being doxxed by Sanders supporters.

Abusive “Bernie Bros” have become a bit of a cliché, one many supporters of the Vermont Senator reject as a fabrication. Yet they keep giving us cause to write about their odious online behavior. Earlier this month I warned that the toxic online culture of the “Bernie Bros” (or, to avoid accusations of sexism, the “Bernie Brigade” from here on out) will cost Sanders in the general election should he secure the nomination. Countless other journalists and political analysts have written similar articles. I’m not sure there’s much use in wringing my hands over them on this humble blog—they’re not going to listen to vague chastisements from a writer who has endorsed Pete Buttigieg and just yesterday wrote a blog critical of their candidate.

That being said, I do think it’s worth addressing some specific tweets about the Mora/Bixby brouhaha. The Bernie Brigade is losing its shit, and their defense of these odious tweets strains credulity. So, I want to discuss some of the more outlandish claims and arguments against Bixby and in favour of Mora.

First, though, let’s take a look at what Mora actually tweeted, while bearing in mind that he was a regional field director for the Sanders campaign—meaning a paid up staffer of moderate rank within the campaign apparatus, not some hapless intern:

  • Mora tweeted that Elizabeth Warren is “an adult diaper fetishist” who, in another tweet, Mora said “looks like shit”
  • Mora said Amy Klobuchar “looks like her name: pained, chunky, [and] confused origin/purpose”- definitely misogynistic, and the ‘confused origin/purpose’ line reeks of ethnocentrism
  • Pete Buttigieg, Mora tweeted, “is what happens when the therapist botches the conversion” – a homophobic comment implying Pete went through conversion therapy, which is of course junk science and torture (note: Mora himself is gay according to many on Twitter)
  • “Hillary Clinton should be literally catapulted off the planet,” Mora tweeted of the former Secretary of State and 2016 Democratic nominee (and Bernie Sanders’ archnemesis)

There’s more, but you get the idea. Mora’s comments about women’s appearance are misogynistic, and his comments about Pete and Chasten Buttigieg are homophobic. That Mora is gay (again, according to Twitter) matters not; being gay doesn’t give you a pass to say offensive things.

Now, let’s look at some of the arguments in Mora’s defense.

It is true that Mora tweeted from a locked account that didn’t look to be his “official” Twitter, and that many people have such “alternative” Twitter accounts. That doesn’t matter, though. The fact remains that Mora was a representative of the Sanders campaign. As a regional field director he was a public figure, and his tweets—even if not in an official campaign capacity—reflected on the campaign.

I would also point out that it was the Sanders campaign who sacked Mora. Any gripe about his termination should be directed at them.

Ben Mora was not a private citizen. He was a campaign staffer. His tweets are of public interest because he was a representative of a presidential campaign.

To begin with, comparing the sacking of a campaign staffer to the massacre of magazine writers is just beyond absurd and incredibly callous, at best. Leaving that aside, though, “shitposting” as satire is a take, I guess, but homophobic and misogynistic comments are beyond the pale. When comedians overstep, we call them out for it. We should certainly hold campaign staffers to the same, if not a higher, standard. Which brings me to the next point – Mora wasn’t a comedian, but a Bernie Sanders staffer. His comments reflect on the campaign for which he worked. The Sanders campaign decided they reflected poorly and on it and severed ties with Mora.

Bixby didn’t dox Mora. I’m not sure how Bixby got access to Mora’s locked Twitter account, but it doesn’t really matter. Bixby didn’t reveal Mora’s home address or phone number (both of which Bixby himself had publicly revealed). What he did was report on things a paid regional field director for the Bernie Sanders campaign said on Twitter, which is a public platform. Even if you lock your Twitter account, your tweets are still publicly available to anyone who follows you. It is no guarantee of privacy. If Mora didn’t know this before he certainly knows it now.

Bixby is a journalist, and a respected one at that. The Daily Beast is not a website that I always agree with, but it produces a lot of excellent reporting, especially on global events. Mora might well be working class (I don’t know him), and Bixby apparently does have a trust fund (good on him, I guess). The Bernie Brigade is trying to paint this as some great battle in the class war, but that argument doesn’t pass muster.

Bixby is a reporter covering the 2020 election, and Mora was a campaign staffer—and, as I pointed out earlier, not just any old intern or flunky but a regional field director—posting misogynistic and homophobic comments about other candidates. That’s newsworthy. Mora didn’t lose his job because Bixby did his, he lost his job because he tweeted inflammatory comments which the Sanders campaign (rightly) decided crossed a line. Bixby didn’t fire Mora, the Sanders campaign did.

I’m always here for conversations about classism in American media, because I’m a working-class guy from the mountains of Eastern Kentucky who has been trying to make it in media for years now. This isn’t that conversation, though.

I’m not sure that it matters—it probably does to some people—but Bixby is gay. That’s an easily verifiable fact. I just found this tweet interesting because it shows how little the Bernie Brigade seems to know about Bixby. Again, though, I don’t think it really matters any more than Mora’s sexuality matters in this story, because this isn’t really a story about gay men or class—it’s a story about a campaign staffer and a journalist.

I feel very bad for Bixby, who doesn’t deserve the doxxing and harassment he’s receiving. Someone tweeted his address at me earlier which is public information so doesn’t strike me as doxxing per se, but still seems inappropriate. (I hesitate to say this, lest I embolden those will ill-intent, but the address of nearly every homeowner in America is publicly available.)

For what it’s worth, I also feel a little bad for Mora. No one likes to lose their job. That, and the attention he’s getting, must be stressful. It’s a shame it came to this, but Mora has no one to blame but himself. It’s 2020, for Christ’s sake. By now everyone ought to know that tweets can get you fired, even from a locked account. Mora ought to have known better.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

It’s time to sling some mud at Bernie Sanders

It’s no secret that Bernie Sanders is a democratic socialist. He wears the red rosette proudly. I like that about him—in fact, his policies might be the only thing I like about him. We are, broadly, in agreement on taxing the wealthy, healthcare that is free at the point of access, and universal Pre-K and free tuition at public universities. The problem, as I’ve pointed out before, is that most Americans are not. A Bernie Sanders nomination would be disastrous for Democrats in November.

We got a taste of what’s to come last night. In a 60 Minutes interview with Anderson Cooper, Sanders was unable to answer how he would pay for his expensive programs. As if that wasn’t bad enough, after Cooper showed a clip from the 1980s of Sanders speaking glowingly of the Soviet Union, the Sandinistas, and the Cuban Revolution. In explaining the clip, Sanders did—to his credit—say he condemns the authoritarian nature of the Cuban regime, only to then praise Fidel Castro for the literacy program the deceased Cuban dictator implemented “when he took office”—totally ignoring the fact that Castro didn’t “take office,” but violently stormed his way to power.

Not having fully costed your policy proposals is not going to fly with the electorate. Praising Fidel Castro will go down like a lead balloon, especially in Florida. This is just one clip, too. Sanders has been a public figure for nearly 40 years.

What else is out there? Democratic candidates ought to be looking to find out. If I were the Buttigieg or the Warren campaign, I would have staffers trawling through everything Bernie Sanders has ever said. Pour over his back catalogue and play the greatest hits on repeat. Show Democratic voters exactly who he is.

If this sounds like mudslinging, that’s because it is. I don’t deny it. It’s absolutely politics at its lowest. But have we forgotten who we’re going up against in November? Donald Trump is the most unscrupulous man to hold the White House in living memory—tenfold dirtier than Tricky Dick Nixon ever dared to be. Anyone who doesn’t think that these clips won’t be found and packaged into brutally effective attack ads playing at least once an hour in living rooms across the country is kidding themselves.

The Sanders campaign itself ought to be combing through Bernie’s record and every public utterance in anticipation of these attacks—possibly in the primary, but certainly in the general. And Bernie Sanders needs to get better at answering them. I don’t care if Fidel Castro had a great literacy program or not, you don’t stay that he did. Some things are third rails in American politics, and praise for a Cuban dictator is one of them.

The problem is that Bernie doesn’t want to play the game. He doesn’t know how, nor does he care to learn. I hate to keep bleating on about Jeremy Corbyn, but he was much the same. He blamed the media for taking his crystal clear words out of context and seemed annoyed at being asked about previous comments, as though a journalist doing her or his job was a nuisance. It didn’t work, but Corbyn didn’t care. A disdain for the system was a feature, not a bug, to him and his supporters.

When you’re as self-righteous as Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders, your correctness is self-evident and so being asked to explain it is a nuisance. That was on full display last night. It’s further complicating the problem; it’s bad enough these clips exist, but the inability to understand why they’re a problem and unwillingness to attempt to control the damage only serves to maximize the inevitable damage they will do.

Part of a rigorous primary contest is to vet the eventual nominee. So far, this hasn’t happened—at least not to Bernie Sanders. Most of the candidates have kept personal attacks to a minimum, but as last week’s debate in Nevada showed, the gloves are coming off. The problem is that while Buttigieg and Klobuchar and Warren are no longer pulling any punches, they’re all punching one another and not Bernie Sanders. Going after Mike Bloomberg, like Warren did, is all well and good, but Bernie is the most likely nominee at this point and so it’s time to start seriously looking at not only what he’s done (or hasn’t done), but what he’s said.

Obviously no Democrat wants to damage the eventual nominee, whoever she or he may turn out to be. That’s why we haven’t seen a more heated and contentious primary. It’s a double-edged sword, I admit. On the one hand, you don’t want to give the Republicans ammunition in the general election. On the other hand, you want to make sure Democratic voters know what ammunition there is so that they can decide whether the man who is most likely to be our party’s nominee is able to withstand it.

As the chances of a Sanders nomination continue to grow—and make no mistake, he’s the frontrunner right now—we will have to continue to square this circle. How much do we show our own hand in hopes of stopping a man who, right now, at least feels unstoppable? How much do we damage our own nominee in trying to stop him from becoming our nominee?

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

Words on Walford: Week of 17 – 21 February 2020

Over the past decade, EastEnders anniversaries have come to be known for their epic nature. For the 25th anniversary in 2010 we had the first live episodes as Bradley Branning fell to his death and Stacey Slater admitted to killing Archie Mitchell. In 2015, the 30th anniversary saw Kim Fox gave birth, Kathy Beale returned from the dead, and after ten months of wondering, fans finally learned that Bobby Beale killed his sister, Lucy. Oh, and the episodes were live again.

Both the 25th and 30th anniversaries were widely praised by critics and fans alike, so expectations were high going into the 35th anniversary episodes, which aired last week. Eschewing the live format of the previous two milestones, Kate Oates and Jon Sen – the creative bosses currently at the helm of EastEnders – opted instead for a major stunt, sending many of our favourite characters on a party cruise and one of them to a watery grave.

Spoilers lurk below, so if you haven’t seen EastEnders recently read ahead at your own peril.

We’ll get to that death later, because it is a gamechanger. Sen and Oates deserve credit for being brave enough to kill off Dennis Rickman, Jr, because it took guts. But what they also deserve credit for is changing up the entire format of EastEnders. Traditionally married to linear storytelling with few sound effects and nearly no incidental music, Sen and Oates have not shied away from tinkering with the format that viewers have come to know. This was evident during the festive season, which saw an episode told entirely from drunk Linda Carter’s view and the New Year’s Day episode a flashback to Christmas Day, showing events we hadn’t seen before and filling in several plot holes.

At the time, many fans were unimpressed with the changes, particularly the flashback episode and the cheesy drumbeats used throughout the Christmas Day episode (such as when Louise “feels” Keanu get shot). I was and remain one of them. The sound effects are utterly unnecessary and distracting, not just because they’re tacky but because they are not something EastEnders viewers are accustomed to, making them even more jarring and taking us out of the story. They were, mercifully, forsaken during boat week. As for the flashback episode—I’m not opposed to a flashback episode in principle, but the New Year’s episode felt utterly unnecessary, as every bit of it could have been told in a linear Christmas Day episode.

Not so with boat week. Seeing the day’s events from different characters’ perspectives was fascinating. Sticking with one family—whether the Carters, the Beales, or the Mitchells—allowed us to more fully invest in their storyline, devoting our attention entirely to those characters in that moment. In a way, it felt as though the stakes were raised because our minds weren’t constantly casting back to what was happening elsewhere on the boat. Being left entirely in the moment—such as when Mick tried in futility to rescue Linda on Monday—led to some edge-of-the-seat viewing, and the anguish of having to wait days to find out why the boat crashed and whether certain characters survived made the show unmissable. It was a brilliant choice by the production team.

Still, I wouldn’t want this sort of storytelling to become the norm. Like cumin, a little goes a long way. The same can be said for incidental music. The scene at the end of the Christmas episode, where Martin burns Keanu’s belongings as “Stay Another Day” swells to a climax, was incredibly gripping. Similarly, the montage at the end of Friday’s episode—showing the denizens of Walford coming to terms with Denny’s death—was particularly haunting. I would have used Julia’s Theme or some other version of the iconic theme tune (maybe not Pat’s Theme—the dark, melancholy version used when Pat Butcher died, but something like it), as it’s more familiar to fans and has a long legacy of being used at particularly poignant moments in the show’s history.

Even with an unfamiliar tune, though, the poignancy of those moments following the tragedy on the Thames was only increased by the music. Now, I don’t want to see EastEnders go full on American soap opera and have every scene scored, but music definitely added to the atmosphere of two of the finest moments of boat week, both in Friday’s episode—the aforementioned closing montage and the montage of the characters following their rescue from the river.

Well, almost all the characters. Poor Denny Rickman, aged only 13, did not make it off the boat alive. The decision to kill off Sharon’s only oldest son was, regardless of whether you agree with it or not, a bold one. Denny is the epitome of a legacy character, the only biological descendant of one of the show’s original and most iconic characters who was, until Friday, still on the canvas. Some fans have complained that he wasn’t a “major” character (as the producers had promised), but it’s hard to get more “major” than the son of Sharon Watts and the grandson of Den Watts.

Was it the right decision? I don’t know. On the one hand, it isn’t an obvious colossal mistake the way killing Roxy and Ronnie was in 2017. While Denny certainly rises to the level of “major” character, those fans who feel cheated are right in that he hasn’t driven any storyline or been front-and-centre, well, ever. Most of that is down to age; for a number of reasons it is hard to give child actors major storylines. I, for one, find myself mourning the Denny storylines we’ll never get. He had the makings of a proper little villain, a chip off grandpa Dirty Den’s old block. That we won’t get to see Denny (as well as actor Bleu Landau, who is one of the most compelling young actors working in British television today) grow up is a real loss for the show. There is a lot of squandered potential there.

The show seems to think it’s worth it. Scriptwriter Pete Lawson tweeted that even six years after Lucy Beale’s death, we’re still feeling the repercussions. In some ways this is true—there’s still conflict between Bobby and Ian over Lucy’s murder, and in many ways that moment in 2014 defines Bobby Beale as a character. And then, of course, there’s Peter, who only just returned and will have to deal with his own anger towards Bobby. It drove storyline for other characters, too—Max’s revenge plot, Lauren’s eventual relationship with Steven—so, I can see where the production staff would think it was a rousing success.

https://twitter.com/petelawson68/status/1231156226219745280?s=20

There is one major difference between Lucy Beale and Denny Rickman, though: Lucy wasn’t an only child. Now, I know technically Denny isn’t an only child either—he has a little brother now, born the same day he died in what must be the most soapy twist of all time—but he was the only biological grandchild of Den Watts. That made him a unicorn. Killing a unicorn is a risky move. As a writer, I don’t think I would have done it. Kate Oates herself has said that having those iconic families represented on the canvas is important, making it even more puzzling why she and Sen would greenlight the death of a character with such deep and rare connections to the show’s past. As of the time I’m writing this, I do not agree creatively with the decision to kill Denny.

That might change. Lawson is right that this has the potential to drive story for years. Phil and Ben caused the boat accident that killed Sharon’s son. Ian tried to rescue him, but Denny was only in need of rescue because Ian locked him below deck. This puts three of the longest-serving and most iconic characters right at the forefront of the show, which is exactly where they should be. There’s so much potential for compelling story. How does Sharon react to her best friend’s role in her son’s death? How does she react to her estranged husband’s role? How does Phil react when he finds out Ian locked Denny up? How does Callum react to Ben’s involvement in a boy’s death? (That is, assuming Callum survives being trapped in a skip.) And how does Ian look at Bobby now that Ian himself is wracked with guilt over his role in another’s death?

The answers to these questions will determine whether the Denny’s death was “worth it.” The one thing I’ll say is, for me, if Sharon and Phil reconcile then it absolutely was not. Nothing short of all-out war between Sharon and Phil, with Phil eventually getting his comeuppance (however that looks) will satisfy me as a viewer. Phil and Sharon have had a destructive relationship for going on 30 years, and it ultimately lead to this unspeakable tragedy. To have them reconcile now would be to not only insult Denny’s memory but to insult the viewers. It should not happen.

There’s so much more to talk about, including Sharon’s funeral home birth (who saw that coming?), Mick and Linda’s reconciliation (as of now that storyline has been tied up too easily, but I suspect it won’t be smooth sailing—no pun intended—going forward), Halfway in a skip (escaping your kidnapper only to end up in a skip is such a Halfway thing to do), Bex’s drugs (I’m glad she wasn’t the boat death for so many reasons), Bobby’s brain bleed (I hope they explore the Islamophobia storyline further, but with the attention and care it deserves), Peter’s return (blimey, he is quite the dish), and just where exactly is Patrick Trueman. For now, though, we’ll leave it here. I have a feeling we’ll be able to discuss all this next week.

Scene of the week: The aftermath of the boat crash, including the attempts to resuscitate poor Denny

Line of the week: “I played my trumpt, what do you think?” – Sonia, sarcastically explaining to Martin how she got rid of the police

Performance of the week: Kellie Bright as Linda broke my heart when she was pleading with Mick to save himself so their children would still have a parent alive

Character of the week: RIP Denny Rickman – you deserved better, even if you were a dick

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

The 35 most compelling characters in EastEnders history

As EastEnders celebrates its 35th anniversary, I thought it would be fun to look back at 35 of its most compelling characters. These characters helped shape the course of the show’s history, providing some of the most interesting, timely, and memorable storylines. Some of them were on our screens for years, others for a very short time. Regardless, they made a mark, telling stories that riveted us, moved us, or even made us think.

These are the 35 most compelling characters in EastEnders history.

35. Bobby Beale (2003 – 2016; 2019 – present)
Best known for killing his sister, Lucy, when he was only 11-years-old, Bobby Beale returned to Walford after being locked up for the crime. Since then, Clay Milner Russell has brilliantly portrayed the pathos and conflict of a still-young boy grappling to come to terms with what he did. Rather than going the easy route and making Bobby a cartoon villain, the writers and Milner Russell have created a character who is sensitive, kind, yet tortured by what he did and still wrestling with the temper which drove him to do it. Throw in his conversion to Islam—a brilliant storyline and character development—and Bobby has easily been the most fascinating character of the past year.

34. Debbie Wilkins (1985 – 1987)
Debbie Wilkins was Walford’s first snob. Upwardly mobile, she and her boyfriend, fellow Yuppie Andy O’Brien, moved to Albert Square in March 1985. “Debs” and Andy set the standard for class conflict in Walford and blazed a trail for later characters, right on up to Gray and Chantelle Atkins today. It’s Debbie’s character growth, though, that really sets her apart—beneath that cold exterior was a warm, compassionate heart. Her friendship with Naima Jeffery was a highlight of her time on the Square, but it’s the episode where she finds out Andy has been killed that actress Shirley Cheriton really shines.

33. Mary “The Punk” Smith (1985 – 1988; 2019)
Like Debs, Mary is one of the original characters created by Julia Smith and Tony Holland. Walford’s original rebel, Mary arrived in March 1985 as an unwed, illiterate teenage mum. Her time in Albert Square was marked with trouble, including being bedded by Mehmet Osman on a dare only to be later pimped out by him when she was on the game with Pat Wicks. Mary’s friendship with pensioner Dot Cotton was a highlight of her time on the show, but it was Linda Davidson’s portrayal of Mary—as a scared, struggling young woman trying to make a life for her and her daughter—that makes her stand out. Mary returned in 2019 for the funeral of fellow original EastEnder Dr Legg. The punk was gone, but the spunk was not.

32. Joe Wicks (1996 – 1997)
It’s a shame Paul Nicholls didn’t stick around EastEnders for more than 18 months, because Joe Wicks had the potential to become one of the all-time great characters. The show handled his schizophrenia with compassion and aplomb, setting the standard for an even deeper look at mental illness with Stacey Slater. Joe’s relationship with Sarah kept fans interested—that is, until he slept with his cousin—but it’s how deftly Nicholls and the writers and producers handled mental illness which makes Joe memorable all these years later.

31. Martin Fowler (1985 – 2007; 2014 – present)
The first baby born on EastEnders, viewers have literally watched Martin grow up. An arrogant, stubborn boy as a teenager (wonder where he got that from, Pauline?), Martin started out as someone you just wanted to slap. Becoming a father with fellow teen Sonia Jackson helped grow him up a little, and as time progressed Martin (then played by James Alexandrou) became less a caricature of your typical teenage jackass and more like his father—a decent, ordinary man just trying to make ends meet for his family. Since his return in 2014 (now played by James Bye), Martin’s friendship with ex-wife Sonia and devotion to current wife Stacey have made him one of my personal favourites. Even his recent turn as a mobster for the Mitchells has been an interesting development that, nonetheless, is still very much in character for someone who tries to do the right thing but, deep down, is a bit of an arsehole—just like his mum.

30. Aidan Brosnan (1993)
Before there was Joe Wicks, there was Aidan Brosnan. Mandy Salter’s Irish boyfriend, Aidan spent less than a year in Walford yet had one of the most interesting journeys any character has taken. Originally a talented footballer with Walford FC, an injury ended his dreams. Getting involved in drugs and drink with Mandy, Aidan’s mental health slowly deteriorated as he found himself sleeping rough and grappling with the pressures his parents put upon him. It all culminated with Aidan preparing to take his own life on Christmas Day, only to be literally talked down from a ledge by Mandy. Aidan went back to Ireland, but the layered, moving performance of Sean Maguire stands out as one of the show’s greatest.

29. Keegan Butcher-Baker (2017 – present)
From his initial introduction as one of Bex’s bullies (who can forget Louise Mitchell calling him a “total toenail” or Denise Fox slapping him silly?), Keegan has grown into a fascinating and complex character. Indeed, Keegan Butcher-Baker might be the most interesting character in Walford right now. Watching him deal with the murder of his best friend Shakil—a storyline in which EastEnders deftly took on knife crime and forced Keegan to reckon with his own role in Shakil’s death—was gripping. Even his love story with Tiffany Butcher is infinitely watchable. I can’t wait to see how Keegan develops over the coming years. If his latest storyline—about the racism of stop-and-search and only just beginning—is any indication, he will continue to be one of the most enthralling characters on the show.

28. Shirley Carter (2006 – present)
Shirley should be higher on this list and the only reason she isn’t is because producers woefully underuse the talented Linda Henry. Still, tough-as-nails Shirley steals every scene she’s in. Equally adept at comedy (pretty much any scene with her and dearly departed best friend Heather) and drama (she’s knocked it out of the park with Linda’s alcoholism storyline), Henry sinks her teeth into whatever she is given. Shirley has come a long way since we first met her, when she was but the deadbeat mum of Dean and Carly, and it’s hard to imagine Walford without her.

27. Billy Mitchell (1998 – present)
When first introduced, Billy Mitchell was the guardian of his nephew, Jamie Mitchell. Since then, we’ve seen Billy transform from child abuser (he was beating Jamie) to dopey everyman. Indeed, that journey from villain to well, not hero, exactly, but at least a lovable oaf has been fascinating to watch. Whether falling in love with Little Mo Slater, struggling as a single father when Honey left him (the first time), or dealing with the guilt of cheating on Honey with Tina Carter, Perry Fenwick has created one of the most complex—or at least, certainly one of the most tenured—characters in EastEnders history. It’s no surprise, then, that Billy was chosen to run the Olympic torch through Walford in 2012.

26. Michelle Fowler (1985 – 1995; 2016 – 2018)
It’s hard to think of a character who has had more of a journey than Michelle Fowler. Starting out as a teenager pregnant with her best friend’s father’s baby, Michelle refused to be defined by it. She worked her way through university, becoming a teacher and moving to America. In the meantime, she fell in love (memorably with Grant Mitchell) and stood by her brother Mark through his HIV diagnoses. The character of Michelle stands out as an example of why soap opera is such a great medium—the longevity of the show means that you can really tell a complex, character-driven narrative. She epitomises everything that is good about soap. Her return to Walford (with another actress in the role) was not well-received by fans, but personally I found her relationship with Preston Cooper—the American high school student she’d seduced—as compelling as it was repulsive.

25. Whitney Dean (2008 – present)
Has there every been a character with worse luck than Whitney Dean? I’m trying to think of a time when Whitney got a happy ending and I can’t. Shona McGarty shines as the eternally put-upon ward of Bianca Jackson, and her potential was immediately apparent in her first big storyline—in which Whitney was groomed and molested by Bianca’s fiancé, Tony King—which still ranks as one of the best in EastEnders history. From her relationship with Lee Carter to discovering Callum Highway was gay right before she was to marry him on up to her terrifying scenes with stalker Leo King (son of the man who molested her), for twelve years we’ve watched Whitney battle against the odds in a quest to just be happy. I hope we get to watch her for another twelve.

24. Zainab Masood (2008 – 2013)
I love Nina Wadia. I love Zainab Masood. I really love Nina Wadia as Zainab Masood. To me, Zainab is one of the great matriarchs in Walford history—a Pauline Fowler for our times. Watching her marriage to Masood disintegrate and then watching with horror as she was abused by evil Yusef was heartbreaking. Wadia always brought a humanity to Zainab so that even when you weren’t rooting for her—such as when she reacted horribly to her son Syed coming out—you could sympathise with her. Watching Zainab reconcile her belief in the way her life and family should be with how both turned out was endlessly fascinating, and Wadia really brought to life a complex, nuanced, modern Muslim British woman.

23. Sonia Jackson (1993 – 2007; 2010 – 2011; 2014 – present)
Like her ex-husband/current paramour Martin Fowler, Sonia is a character we’ve watched grow up. Unlike Martin, Sonia has been played by the same actress (Natalie Cassidy) since her inception. Watching Sonia grow from insecure little girl to independent woman has been a real treat, and Cassidy has given us plenty of memorable scenes along the way, from busking with her trumpet to giving birth to Bex to pushing Sharon in a pool. Watching Sonia balance her nursing career with the demands of family has been endlessly interesting, especially early on when it caused tensions with her and Pauline. One of only a handful of bisexual characters on British soap, Sonia’s relationships with Tina Carter and Naomi Julien were fun to watch. It is her teenage romance with Jamie Mitchell, though, that remains one of the sweetest and most tragic couplings in the show’s history.

22. Ronnie Mitchell (2007 – 2011; 2013 – 2017)
You could write an entire essay on why Ronnie Mitchell is one of the greatest characters in EastEnders history. Her push-and-pull romance with Jack Branning was popular, but it is her relationships with the other women on the square that makes Ronnie so compelling. With sister Roxy—the fire to Ronnie’s ice—Ronnie formed half of one of the show’s most iconic duos. The scene where she discovers Danielle is her daughter, only for Danielle to die moments later, will never not make me cry. Watching her grief and guilt after giving Tommy back to Kat at the end of the baby-swap storyline is heartbreaking. What makes Ronnie truly iconic, though, is that even though we root for her she is, in the end, a Mitchell. Whether killing Carl White or sending Fatboy to be crushed to death, Ronnie proved she was every bit as stone cold as cousins Phil and Grant.

21. Ricky Butcher (1988 – 2000; 2002 – 2004; 2008 – 2012)
I’m not sure there has ever been a more decent man in Walford than Ricky Butcher. From eloping with Sam Mitchell to his unexpected friendship with her brother Phil—who was in many ways as much a father figure to Ricky as his own dad Frank—Ricky grew from awkwardly charming teenage boy to a good man who always tried his best. His relationships with father Frank and sister Janine were complicated and fascinating to watch, but his romance with Bianca Jackson is the stuff of legend, forming half of one of the most iconic couples in the show’s history. Fans spent years rooting for those two crazy kids, only to be left heartbroken when in the end they just couldn’t make it work.

20. Denise Fox (2006 – present)
I love Denise. I love her because she’s level-headed (a rarity in Walford). I love her because she’s loyal and protective of her loved ones. I love her because she’s always on a mission to do better, to be better. Sure, she’s sometimes a stick in the mud, and yes, she moans a lot. But if you lived in Albert Square you’d moan a lot too; the neighbours are bonkers. Denise has grown so much from her early days as Chelsea’s fussy mum. Whether her heartbreaking goodbye to dead husband Kevin Wicks, or being kidnapped by her next husband Lucas Johnson, or grappling with whether to give her late-in-life son up for adoption or struggling with homelessness and completing her GCSE at 50, Denise has held our attention for 14 years. This is in no small part thanks to the tender and thoughtful performance of Diane Parish, who along with Linda Henry remains one of the most sorely underutilised actors on the show today.

19. Angie Watts (1985 – 1988)
Angie was a hot mess and we loved her for it. Walford’s original drunken landlady, Angie was a spitfire. With Den Watts she formed one-half of Walford’s most popular 1980s couple, and the sparring between Anita Dobson and Leslie Grantham was impossible not to watch. Watching as poor ole’ Ange tried to reconcile her life as it was with the life she thought she deserved was riveting, and we were always left wondering just what she would do next. Faking cancer to keep Den around is still one of the most conniving things we’ve seen in Walford—and their confrontation on Christmas Day 1986 remains one of the show’s most iconic moments.

18. Max Branning (2006 – present)
The frustrating thing about Max Branning is that you know that deep down he’s a decent man. You see it in the way he forgives and supports Bobby—despite Max being framed for Bobby’s crime—and the way he tries to support the people around him. The problem with Max is that, too often, he listens to the devil on his shoulder. His affair with daughter-in-law Stacey remains one of the most memorable in the show’s history and watching his complicated relationship with daughters Lauren and Abi evolve over the years made for some great television. What makes Max truly compelling is the constant internal struggle between good and evil which is happening just below the surface, a pathos brilliantly portrayed by Jake Wood.

17. Frank Butcher (1987 – 2000; 2002; 2005)
Mike Reid is one of the greatest actors to ever appear in EastEnders, and Frank Butcher is one of the most iconic characters in soap opera history. Walford’s original wide boy, viewers couldn’t wait to see what kind of scheme Frank cooked up next. His love triangle with Pat and Peggy was endlessly fun to watch play out (who can forget Frank’s bowtie!), but Reid was just as adept at drama as he was comedy. His performance following the fire at the car lot, which unintentionally killed a man, is still one of the most moving I have ever seen as Reid adeptly conveyed the anguish and guilt Frank felt.

16. Bianca Jackson (1993 – 1999; 2008 – 2014; 2019)
One of my favourite moments in EastEnders history is when David tries to teach Bianca to drive. It’s such a simple, everyday thing—but Patsy Palmer is hilarious. It’s down to her that Bianca is one of the all-time Walford greats. Whether making us laugh with witty one-liners or breaking our hearts with moving performances, Palmer created a fully-realised character. Bianca’s heart is usually in the right place, even if more often than not she makes the obviously wrong choice. Her heart is always in the right place, though, and because of that you can’t help but love her.

15. Grant Mitchell (1990 – 1999; 2005 – 2006; 2016)
Is Grant a hero or a villain? I’d say the latter, but many would argue the former. Either way, watching his growth over nine years on the show—and two short stints in subsequent years—makes him one of the most fascinating figures in Walford history. Originally hot-tempered and bull-headed, Grant mellowed as time progressed, no doubt in part because of his heartbreak over wife Sharon sleeping with his brother Phil. Still, you can’t watch Ross Kemp’s performance and not feel just a little bad for Grant, as it’s clear underneath the gruff machismo that he’s a sensitive, wounded man. It’s this complexity that makes Grant such a great character.

14. Stacey Slater (2004 – 2010; 2014 – present)
Few could have expected that Stacey would become one of the most iconic characters in EastEnders history when Lacey Turner arrived on screens in 2004. A plucky teenager turning to her great uncle, Charlie Slater, for help, Stacey immediately made her presence known, mixing it up with cousin Zoe and befriending Ruby Allen. Watching Stacey care for bipolar mother Jean, and then deal with her own mental illness (both bipolar disorder and postpartum psychosis) made for some of the best scenes the show has ever done, and Turner has rightly won boatloads of awards for her tender, nuanced portrayal. Stacey’s growth over the years—from bubbly teenager to budding matriarch—has been a joy to watch, and I look forward to Turner returning from maternity leave later this year.

13. Janine Butcher (1989 – 1993; 1993 – 1996; 1999 – 2004; 2008 – 2014)
Janine is the greatest villain in EastEnders history. At current count, she’s directly responsible for at least two deaths (Barry Evans and Michael Moon) and, one could argue, somewhat responsible for Laura Beale’s death, too. Charlie Brooks is brilliant the cold-hearted, self-centered, Janine as just evil enough to be despicable but not so evil that she isn’t redeemable. Indeed, it’s that Janine isn’t entirely evil that makes her such a compelling character. You always hope Janine will do the right thing and if you know you’re likely to be disappointed. It doesn’t hurt that Brooks doesn’t take herself too seriously, which adds a zany, almost camp element to Janine’s villainy.

12. Ian Beale (1985 – present)
The only original character with a continuous run, Ian is a Walford stalwart. A sniveling weasel of a man, thanks to Adam Woodyatt’s performance Ian is still someone you can’t help but to root for. Ian has always thought himself better than the rest of Walford, a smug conviction that has only gotten worse with age. But watching him build a business empire, then lose it, then build it again has been fascinating, and Ian himself serves as an extended commentary on class—and upward mobility—in modern Britain. It’s hard to pick a “greatest moment” for a character who has been on our screens for 35 years, but Woodyatt’s moving performance when Ian finds out Lucy was murdered is unforgettable.

11. Linda Carter (2013 – present)
For reasons I can’t understand, Mick seems to be the more popular of the Carter couple. Linda, though, is by far the more interesting of the pair. It was clear early on that Kellie Bright was going to be a wonderful addition to the cast, but the way she’s portrayed Linda—a woman who struggles to reconcile her high expectations with reality—has been remarkable. Bright’s performance as Linda struggled to accept Johnny’s sexuality was at turns moving and infuriating. That’s what makes Linda such a great character, though. She is so many things at once—spiteful, vindictive, cruel; sensitive, vulnerable; compassionate. Linda Carter truly is one of the most complex women in Walford history.

10. Pauline Fowler (1985 – 2006)
A working mother who was endlessly put upon by her children and her husband, Pauline Fowler is the original Walford everywoman. Uptight and judgmental, Pauline had an opinion on everyone and everything and never shied away from letting people know. Yet she was also kind—such as when she comforted Pat after the latter accidentally ran over and killed a little girl—and a pillar of the community. Yes, it took Pauline a while to come to terms with things (such as Mark’s HIV status), but you knew that she always would. Her final row with daughter-in-law Sonia over the role of a wife and mother summed up the character most succinctly and beautifully. Pauline was, like so many people, a decent, salt-of-the-earth woman who, though struggling with the pace of change in her community, truly meant well.

9. Kathy Beale (1985 – 2000; 2015 – present)
I fear Kathy will be most remembered for coming back from the dead. That’s a shame, because Kathy is one of the most interesting characters to ever come through Walford. Originally defined by her role as a wife and mother, it soon became clear that Kathy wanted to be more than Mrs. Pete Beale. Watching her as she slowly began to assert her independence was refreshing in the 1980s. Gillian Taylforth’s performance following Kathy’s rape by James Wilmott-Brown remains one of the most haunting in the show’s history, and her chemistry with Steve McFadden made Phil and Kathy’s relationship riveting to watch. (I’ll never forget Kathy throwing her wedding ring in the Seine when Phil confessed to again cheating.) Now sadly relegated to the role of exasperated mother of dickheads Ian and Ben, Kathy remains one of the greatest female characters in the show’s history.

8. Den Watts (1985 – 1989; 2003 – 2005)
Another back-from-the-dead character, Den was the show’s original gangster. There would be no Phil or Grant Mitchell without him. Den was a villain, to be sure, but he was also an endlessly decent man. Den often did the wrong thing for the right reasons, which made him endlessly watchable. Let’s not forget that he ended up “dead” the first time only because of a chain of events which started with him getting revenge on Wilmott-Brown for raping Kathy. Beyond that, he was genuinely good to Michelle Fowler (well, as good as Den could be) and no daughter has ever been as loved by her father as Sharon Watts.

7. Patrick Trueman (2001 – present)
One of the things I noticed when I sat down to write this list and the 35 most iconic scenes list is that, truly, there is a dearth of BME characters on EastEnders. That’s a shame, because East London is one of the most diverse places in the world. While the show has not always done characters of colour the justice they deserve, Rudolph Walker’s Patrick Trueman might be an exception. When he first stepped onto the Square in 2001, Patrick was a bit of a lothario—a father who hadn’t seen his sons in years and an unrepentant ladies’ man. Over the course of two decades, though, Patrick would grow to become a pillar of the community. Walker’s performance as a grieving Patrick following Paul Trueman’s death was heartbreaking, and the father-daughter relationship between him and Denise has been one of the highlights of the show in recent years. I’m so glad to see Patrick being put front-and-centre again as we learn more about his secret son, Isaac in the weeks to come. It’s only right that he plays a central role in the 35th anniversary episodes, as Patrick Trueman is the most iconic Black character in the show’s history.

6. Kat Slater (2000 – 2006; 2010 – 2016; 2018 – present)
When the Slater family first arrived in Walford way back in 2000, it was impossible to know the impact they would have. Loud and disruptive, it’s now impossible to imagine Albert Square without a Slater on it. Of all that unruly brood—and there have been many throughout the years—none is more iconic than Kat. Jessie Wallace solidified her place in the pantheon of EastEnders stars with her gripping performance opposite Michelle Ryan as Kat tearfully admits she is Zoe’s mum, the result of Kat’s rape by her uncle years before. Since then, Wallace has gone from strength to strength, giving us both heartbreaking dramatic performances and hilariously comic moments. Whether tearfully realising her son is alive or walking into her own wake, there is never a dull moment when Kat Slater is around. It’s no surprise that the BBC gave her and on-again, off-again husband Alfie their own spinoff (which is, I have to say, incredibly underrated).

5. Peggy Mitchell (1991; 1994 – 2010; 2013; 2014; 2015; 2016)
The quintessential Walford matriarch, Peggy Mitchell is legendary, and Barbara Windsor is a national treasure. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine another actress playing Peggy—yet Windsor was the second performer to step into her kitten heels. Watching her try to corral her unruly brood of children—whether brokering peace between Phil and Grant or trying to sort out Sam’s latest mess—was tv at its finest, and her friendship/rivalry with Pat Butcher is unlikely to ever be surpassed. Right up until the very end, when Windsor movingly portrayed Peggy’s decision to end her own life after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, Peggy kept us riveted, giving us consistently moving performances and one of tv’s all-time greatest catchphrases in “Get outta my pub!”

4. Sharon Watts (1985 – 1995; 2001 – 2006; 2012 – present)
“We must all bow down to Sharon of House Watts, First of Her Name, Bringer of Justice, Puller of Pints, The Countess of Clapbacks, The Thick-Lashed, The Undefeatable, the rightful Lady of the Vic and one true Queen of Walford,” I tweeted last month—and it’s true. There is no contest—Sharon is the undisputed queen of Walford. Played brilliantly by original cast member Letitia Dean on and off since 1985, Sharon has grown from naïve teenage girl to a strong, independent woman. Whether having an affair with her husband’s brother or falling in love with her father’s son (long story), Sharon has given us some of the most memorable moments in the show’s history. Indeed, who but Sharon would have an entire Twitter account dedicated with keeping up with how she’s doing? She is truly the Queen in the East(End).

3. Pat Butcher (1986 – 2012)
Pat is my favourite character of all time, the original tart-with-a-heart. A prototype for characters to come, from Mandy Salter to Bianca Jackson to Kat Slater and even Kim Fox, Pat was brash, bold, and unbothered. Beginning her time on the Square as a troublemaker and prostitute, Pat grew to become one of the greatest matriarchs and most iconic characters in soap opera history. Her earrings are the stuff of legend, rivalled in size only by her heart. Sweet and gentle sometimes, piss and vinegar others, Pam St Clement’s performance was layered and sublime. Her friendship and rivalry with Peggy Mitchell is the best the soap has ever portrayed, and her romance with Frank is one of the greatest in soap history. Pat was vital to the continued success of EastEnders through the 1990s and 2000s, anchoring the show in its past while always helping to move it forward. I feel I would be remiss not to mention the amazing chemistry between St Clement and Charlie Brooks, and the two of them made Pat and Janine possibly the most compelling mother-daughter duo in the show’s history, which is no small feat considering Pat wasn’t Janine’s actual mother!

2. Phil Mitchell (1990 – present)
It’s difficult to overstate just how important Steve McFadden’s Phil Mitchell has been to the history and success of EastEnders. His arrival in 1990 revitalised the show, but I don’t think anyone at the time could have realised just how iconic Phil Mitchell would become. A gangster with a heart, Phil has committed some unspeakable acts in his time—most recently organising a failed hit on Keanu Taylor—yet can’t be described as an outright villain because under that gruff exterior beats a giant heart. Indeed, in his own way, Phil is a man who believes in justice and fairness, even if he doesn’t always act just or fair. His relationship with godson Jamie, his guilt over Vincent’s murder and subsequent support for Kim, his support for Sonia when she was accused of killing Pauline all point to a man who knows what is right, even if he doesn’t always listen to himself. Phil’s struggles with alcohol and drug addiction have become something of a joke among fans, but they are relevant and timely stories which McFadden has repeatedly sank his teeth into. Imagining Walford without Phil Mitchell is just impossible, and after three decades Phil is possibly the most iconic male character in British soap opera history.

1. Dot Branning (1985 – 1993; 1997 – present)
It had to be Dot. Walford’s original busybody, June Brown has played the devout Christian since 1985, debuting only months after the show itself premiered. Since then, Dot has become a pillar of the community, the one person Walford residents know they can turn to for a bit of advice or even just to listen. Her development over the course of 35 years—from a sort of caricature of the meddling, gossipy pensioner to a woman of remarkable compassion who struggles to reconcile her deep faith with her love of those it condemns—has been the most compelling journey of any character. Her relationship with her evil son Nick was always gripping, but Dot is so much more than a distraught and dismayed mother. There’s no better example than Dot’s evolution on gay rights from her early homophobia to eventually attending her dear friend Collin’s gay wedding nearly 30 years later. Whether wrestling with her conscience over whether to help best friend Ethel end her life, or supporting Dr. Legg as he both faces antisemitism and faces his impending death, Dot has provided us with some of the finest moments in British tv history. June Brown was nominated for a BAFTA for her one-hander—the only in the show’s history—and has solidified Dot’s place as the most iconic character in EastEnders history.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan