The other joy of the Bake Off is the presenters. I have already written about their skill and joie de vivre; I must also mention their diversity. The standard TV format for a presenting team of four is three men and one woman, the “token woman” often being young and pretty. Much has been written in other fora about the lack of representation of women in the media generally, and the fact that there appears to be strong bias in what there is towards pretty young women and/or women in supporting roles. (The finest description of this I ever read was a comment by an older actress, it might have been Sissy Spacek, that after she hit her mid-thirties, all she was offered were “Come to bed, honey, it’s late” roles).
On Bake Off, in contrast, we have four presenters, only one a man, and of the three women, one is in her late seventies, one a confidently out gay woman and one the daughter of a Polish immigrant who still bears his name. Way to do diversity, Bake Off!! And furthermore the lead judge is a woman and, better and better, all three women are there because they are confident professionals doing their jobs brilliantly. They are not there as somebody’s daughter, wife, mother, sister or arm-candy. They are there as themselves.
Would it be foolish of me to suggest that this contributes in large part to the huge success of the Bake Off? More than fifty percent of the people in this country are female and a very large chunk of those women are older, and they don’t have too many opportunities to see people like them on TV, or, indeed, in movies. There are a lot of theories about the astonishing success of the film Mamma Mia, but for me, the main reason the film succeeded was because it showed women, including, triumphantly, older women, as people in their own right, with friendships, interests and emotions which had nothing to do with men. Oh, sure, men are there too, but as a part of the mix, not the whole of it.
One of the loveliest scenes in the film is the one in which Sophie, played by Amanda Seyfried, swims out to spend the day on a yacht with Bill, Sam and Harry, played by, respectively, Stellan Skarsgaard, Pierce Brosnan and Colin Firth. Seyfried is a beautiful young woman in her twenties, Skarsgaard, Brosnan and Firth extremely attractive men in their fifties. In a “normal” Hollywood movie Seyfried would be there as the love interest. In Mamma Mia, she is there as their daughter and their tenderness for her is entirely, and touchingly, paternal.
In short, there are a lot of us women out there, we have a lot of money and time at our disposal, and we are tired of being pushed “entertainment” consisting of the opportunity to watch Jeremy Clarkson and his ilk behaving like tits or Jack Nicholson being lustfully pursued by the likes of Scarlett Johansson. Bake Off provides us with a glorious alternative to all that crap.