TV crushes: From Bruce Willis to Konnie Huq to the Yellow Power Ranger

Some of our screen crushes fade quickly, but others (like Bim Adewunmi's for David Addison) last forever. Who's yours?

Earlier this week, I watched Die Hard, now part of the Christmas movie cannon (see also Gremlins, Home Alone and Galaxy Quest). I first watched Die Hard when I was very young – we lived in Nigeria for a while, and BBFC regulations did not reach that far – and I love it. Whenever I re-watch it my heart is light and happy, rejoicing in what is so familiar: the iconic vest and bare feet, the sellotaped gun, the casual smoking indoors, the long ruminations with Sgt Powell (forever Carl Winslow from Family Matters in my heart), and of course, the catchphrases. Like a child awaiting Christmas morning, I impatiently count down the seconds till I get to say them along with the telly. Ultimately though, the main draw of Die Hard is its star, Bruce Willis. I have the biggest crush on him. I have since I was a kid. 

I mentioned living abroad – one of the best things about this was that we got what is essentially classic telly, several years later. BBC and ITV series from as far back as the 60s were beaming into our Lagos living room well into the 1990s, thanks to the efforts of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) and Lagos Television (LTV) channels. It meant I got to watch Timothy Dalton’s Mr Rochester a decade later than ITV broadcast their adaptation of Jane Eyre and enjoyed Michael Praed’s L’Oreal-esque hair swishing as he sat atop a galloping horse as Robin Hood. Best of all, we got Moonlighting, starring Mr Willis and Cybill Shepherd. As David Addison, he was everything I thought I wanted when I was 13. And at 17. And again at 30.

David Addison, for those who don’t know, was a cool guy. The Moonlighting writers' room was very kind to Willis, and he interpreted beautifully: David was from the East Coast, which made him edgier than his LA surroundings. He wore sunglasses, he got drunk and into brawls. He was witty, as well as charming and romantic when he wanted to be. He shook Maddie up, and he was so funny; later I would realise that he was sexy too. In terms of my crush history, David Addison was a big deal. 

I’ve had several small screen crushes over the years: I was an avid reader and film and telly-watcher growing up, and I’ve always had a good imagination. I wove rich narratives featuring these fictional characters for far longer than I should have done, did research on them (think about that, in a pre-Google world – that’s dedication!) and in some memorable cases – Jason Priestley on Beverley Hills, 90210 was just one – wrote them letters. I like to think I was a fairly intelligent child/teen, and knew even at my most naive core, that this was not limerence. I knew there was nothing to be gained by my endeavours, except the natural and fleeting pleasure of being a fan. So I developed my crushes, and while most have faded away (what was I thinking, Michael Praed?), the allure of David Addison remains strong and unwavering: the tendre I nursed back in the 90s remains, and if anything, is stronger than ever. 

I asked people to share their early telly crushes with me on Twitter and Facebook – and got a flood of responses. Obvious choices like Robin of Sherwood (Praed again!) and Zack Morris (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) from Saved By The Bell came up. There was also some left field choices – Nigel Bruce, anyone? Blokes were slower to respond, but when they did, Floella Benjamin – inevitably – came up, as did Konnie Huq of Blue Peter, proving once and for all that Reithian edutainment is where it’s at. Other telly crushes came via various actresses from Australian soaps and of course, Jet from Gladiators. I still get entirely ridiculous crushes on telly folk all the time – my current favourites are Ben Whishaw on BBC2’s The Hour, who makes me giggle like a fool when I watch him, and Jesse Williams on Grey’s Anatomy, a show which has me in its kung fu grip despite being a shadow of its former self. TV crushes are a simple pleasure to have – they come into your home on a weekly basis, a composite of the writers’ (and your) hopes and dreams, beamed directly into your heart. They can be short-lived, as it was for me with Jordan Catalano (“the way he leans...”), or as evidenced by my forever-love for Bruce Willis and all his works, long-lasting. Here’s how I know my David Addison crush is important: almost twenty years later, I have a thing for balding and/or bald guys. Now, I only studied psychology at A-Level, but I reckon that’s pretty influential. I wonder how that translates for the Twitter follower who noted his first telly crush as “the yellow Power Ranger, circa 1994”. Still, at least his crush was human. Consider my friend whose earliest love object was Dooby Duck: her therapy bill must be huge.

Bruce Willis as John McClane in the original Die Hard film. I mean, you would, wouldn't you?

Bim Adewunmi writes about race, feminism and popular culture. Her blog is  yorubagirldancing.com and you can find her on Twitter as @bimadew.

Photo: Getty
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Social media tome #Republic questions the wisdom of crowds

Cass R Sunstein explores how insulation pushes groups towards more extreme opinions.

Cass Sunstein, one of the leading public intellectuals in the United States and a former Obama administration official, has worried and written for more than 15 years about the effects of the internet and digital communications on democracy. This book, his third on the subject, tackles social media.

The heart of his argument lies in the cumulative, collective effect of what individuals do online. Networking, shopping, dating and activism are all transformed by the engine of opportunity that is the internet. But those new links and choices produce a malign side effect: “filter bubbles”, inside which like-minded people shut themselves off from opinions that might challenge their assumptions. Insulation pushes groups towards more extreme opinions.

Sunstein’s organising principle is the ­difference between consumer and political sovereignty. The former promotes individual choice despite its possible consequences; the latter takes into account the needs of society as a whole. His inspiration is Jane Jacobs, the historian of US cities who celebrated, in poetic language, the benign and enriching effect on democracy of random encounters between citizens on pavements and in parks. How do we now reverse or dilute the polarisation driven by Facebook and Twitter?

The solutions Sunstein proposes for this very difficult problem are oddly tentative: websites stocked with challenging ideas and deliberative debates, voluntary self-regulation and “serendipity buttons”. He rightly stresses transparency: we know far too little about the algorithms that sift news for our attention on the networks. Facebook has talked about trying to show news that is “engaging” and “interesting”, without ever engaging in detailed public discussion of what these words mean. The disclosure requirements for social networks “require consideration”, Sunstein writes, without saying whether Facebook might have to be required legally to explain precisely how it routes news to almost two billion users.

Sunstein’s most interesting arguments are myth-busters. He questions the “wisdom of crowds”, while refraining from pointing out directly that the single strongest argument against this idea is the inequality of opinions. Not all opinions are equally valuable. He warily suggests what only a very few American voices have so far dared to say: that the First Amendment to the constitution, which guarantees a free press, should not be treated – as the courts have recently tended to do – as an equally strong protection for the freedom of all speech.

Sunstein is nostalgic for the media system and regulation of the past. I spent years working for a daily “general-interest” newspaper (the Times) and regret the decline of those outlets as much as he does, yet there is no reversing the technological and economic changes that have undermined them. It might have been a mistake to deregulate television in the United States, and killing the “fairness doctrine” might have had unforeseen effects, but that does not deal with the dilemmas thrown up by WhatsApp or Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter.

Users of these platforms face the problem of managing abundance. Writers such as Sunstein imply that people who lock themselves in filter bubbles are deplorably unable to break out of their informational isolation. But we all now live in bubbles that we design to make sense of the torrent of information flowing through our phones. Better-designed, heterogeneous bubbles include the unexpected and the challenging.

Yet the problem lies deeper than the quality of your bubble. Polarised societies can no longer agree on how to recognise the truth. Filter bubbles play a part, but so do a preference for emotion over reason, attacks on scientific fact from religion, decades of public emphasis on self-fulfilment, and a belief that political elites are stagnant and corrupt. Like many journalists, Sunstein treats the problem of a malfunctioning communications system as a supply-side matter: the information being generated and distributed ought to be better.

In the case of fake news, that is indisputable. But there is also a demand-side problem, one that hinges on the motives of those consuming information. If, inside their bubbles, people are not curious about alternative opinions, are indifferent to critical thinking and prefer stoking their dislike – of, say, Hillary Clinton – will they have even the slightest interest in venturing outside their comfort zone? Do we have a right to ignore the views of others, or an obligation to square up to them? Millions of Americans believe that one of the most important guarantees in their constitution is the right to be left alone – and that includes being left alone by the New York Times.

Sunstein does not venture far into this territory. He only hints that if we worry about what people know, we must also worry about what kinds of societies we build. Globalisation has reshaped communities, dismantling some and building others online, but the net effect has been to reduce deliberation and increase a tendency to press the “Like” button, or loathe opponents you can’t see or hear. The ability to debate civilly and well may depend on complex social chemistry and many ingredients – elite expertise, education, critical thinking, culture, law – but we need to be thinking about the best recipes. 

George Brock is the author of “Out of Print: Newspapers, Journalism and the Business of News in the Digital Age” (Kogan Page)

#Republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media
Cass R Sunstein
Princeton University Press, 328pp, £24.95​

George Brock is a former managing editor of The Times who is now head of journalism at City University in London.

This article first appeared in the 22 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The zombie PM

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