Cruel and Cowardly


Trigger Warning.

So, Jimmy Savile and all that.  The hidden well of suppurating pus beneath the now-picked scab of BBC light entertainment.

It would seem that vast amounts of Doctor Who were made by an organisation that, in its widespread branches and ascending echelons, actively colluded in facilitating and covering-up the abuse and rape of children.  Lots of children.

By itself, this observation is irrelevant to the wider scandal, and to dwell on it from the fan standpoint would surely amount to morally myopic solipsism of the first degree.  What matters isn't how we feel about it, or how it changes our viewing of contemporaneous episodes.  On the list of things that matter, that's so far down that it's in an appendix, in small print.  Yet it surely demands some thought from those of us steeped in the show, in the history of it and the watching of it.

Most of us fans have - via the videos and DVDs and toys and... ahem... websites - given unreasonable amounts of our time and loyalty and extra money to the BBC.  The same organisation that cosetted and enabled a man who, beyond being a routine right-wing shitsmear of a type all-too-common in the entertainment world, was also a known child rapist.  The BBC, the makers and marketers of the children's own show that the adults adore, instititionally sat on the knowledge and did nothing.

We shouldn't, of course, be shocked out of any illusions about the BBC being a beneveolent, lovable old auntie or any such mindless, sentimental bollocks.  I'm now past the point where I'd be happy to take part in any 'Proud of the BBC' campaigns.  I guess even Mitch Benn would probably not write the same lyrics, were he writing today.

No, no.  The BBC News helps naturalise and peddle and thus facilitate wars, invasions, corruption, hard-right government policies, police brutality, neo-liberal assumptions galore, and a thoroughly establishment view of reality.  This is it's notion of balance and objectivity.  Andrew Marr and Jeremy Vine and other such clueless parrots of capitalist realism, spewing endless reiterations of hegemonic ideology.  BBC drama and comedy and entertainment shows - Doctor Who included - generally promulgate deference, hierarchy, cultural racism, heterodoxy and conformity, heteronormativity, contempt for the working class and bourgeois values.  The BBC, as a force in the culture industries, instinctively advocates respect for authority and royalty and capitalism and established power.

That it is loathed and hated poisonously by the Murdoch press and the rest of Britain's reactionary print media is testament only to the fact that, being publically owned, it doesn't earn profit for the capitalist class directly, and even cuts into a wedge of the market.  Being nominally accountable to the public, it is occasionally capable of mild deviations from the ideological ultra-lunacy of the press, red-top or 'quality'.  From the standpoint of Melanie Phillips and persons of her loathsome ilk, it's communism to even affect neutrality over, say, Israel/Palestine, even if the real effect of your coverage is to perpetuate all the reactionary lies peddled about the conflict.  That the BBC isn't 'as bad' as the Daily Mail is no excuse.  It may even be its own special kind of crime, since the appearance of sanity and neutrality gives its heavily ideological programming a veneer of respectability that the Mail lacks (for all but the most far-gone).

It's also a hierarchical institution, run by relatively wealthy, expensively-educated members of the social elite.  It should be no shock that it will engage in ruthless arse-covering, upward arse-kissing and total disregard for the rights or testimonies of people lower down the pecking order.  That's what hierarchies are like.  That's what they're for.

Even so, and granting all of the above, I'd be worried about myself if I weren't still shocked by the corporation's wide-ranging complicity in and cover-up of child rape.  I am.  I should be.  So should we all.  We should all be uncomfortable when we next sit down to watch a favourite episode, knowing that it may have been filmed in the same building where Savile was sat, perhaps fondly remembering his most recent conquest, secure in the knowledge that the people upstairs would do nothing about it.

Anyone anxious to re-watch 'In a Fix with Sontarans'?


Josh Marsfelder 8 years, 2 months ago

Very well put: Someone needed to come along and spell out the uncomfortable truths about the BBC and this is about as good an opportunity for that as exists. If nothing else you've got me busily rewriting some of the bits on public broadcasting I'd put in the blog post I had planned for Monday.

Your indictment of the BBC as being firmly establishment does get me thinking though. Aside from giving one explanation for why I detested this last season of Doctor Who so very, very much (if not making me feel at all better about it) I do have to wonder-What about a show built from firmly radical roots that ends up on public television? Is this by definition a conflict of interest? Are producers of media driven by a desire for positive social change obligated to avoid both public and capitalist outlets? It's certainly easier now with the Internet, but what about content producers who worked in times before then? Does this invalidate their work, or merely force another level of analysis when critiquing them?

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Jack Graham 8 years, 2 months ago

I have to doubt that a show "built from firmly radical roots" would end up on the BBC in the first place. To the extent that any programme is aiming at fundamentally changing society it is incompatible with the BBC, because the whole notion of the public service broadcaster who provides a service to 'the nation' is firmly entrenched in a static view of what 'the nation' is. For a start, it's a nation. Nationalism is built into it. Secondly, the public is a static thing. People are like *this*, they like *this* and *that*, etc., and so we must therefore provide a certain cultural diet. All too often this is riddled with misconceptions based on the class background of people at every level of the institution, from the Reithian patrician outlook of the early days to the modern obsession the BBC has with representing the 'white working class' in certain ways. But the main point is that it's static and it's not seen as being for the BBC to engage in social engineering... maybe a bit of charity work, public information, etc, but be neutral in the politics. Of course, neutrality in politics and economics and so on is really just siding with whoever is powerful enough to want passivity. Given that the whole point of radicalism is social transformation at a root level, yeah there's a conflict of interest. Even with the BBC as an island of non-commercialism, state-affiliated provision, etc (whittled away but real enough) there's still a conflict. Capitalism is a system of relations rather than just an economy, and state/non-commercial entities are part of that system of relations all the same.

As for whether producers of media who want radical social change have to avoid public and capitalist outlets... no way. Firstly, how can you? It's almost like the argument that anti-capitalist protesters lose legitimacy if they drink a coffee from Starbucks. No, get published by Random House or get on the BBC or Sky1 if you can. Capitalism will sell copies of books called 'Destroy Capitalism Now'. If there's a crack and you can slip through, slip through. But a) be aware of how risky this is (you're liable to get cancelled or rewritten or re-edited or never see the light of day), b) be aware of how the very process of capitalist production and selling recuperates whatever you've made into the commodity system. Doesn't invalidate the work but the work can never entirely free itself (by itself) from the stultifying effects of the all-encompassing system. As you say, another level of analysis is needed. The radical message, if it gets through (and the culture industries are geared to grind up any radical message and spew out pulped conformity instead), can be analysed... but the effect of recuperation through commodification can also be analysed.

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Josh Marsfelder 8 years, 2 months ago

Wow, thanks for the incredibly detailed and thoughtful response! I was just throwing out half-formed discussion points. I think you've spelled it all out extremely well.

I'm now wondering about the divisions between "public good", "public service", "service to the nation" and social change. I think you're right about public broadcasting by definition having a kind of stasis and nationalism built into it, I just can't help but think about something like Doctor Who under Lambert/Whitaker/Holmes/Adams/Cartmel and, actually, the show I'm going to be covering on Monday. These are all programmes that, despite their public service pretensions, clearly want to be something bigger, grander, and more toothily radical. There's still very clearly a tension that's built into what they are, but they're certainly reaching. For what it's worth I think you really nailed the difficulties and contradictions inherent in radical media trying to attract a larger audience.

I guess this ultimately gets back to the big debate we had about "The Wheel of Ice" and whether it's truly possible to have a really radically-minded mass-market franchise. Following a rewatch of a few non-DW shows and having largely gotten over my white-hot Moffat-induced rage of a few months back (though still refusing to forgive him) I have to say I don't know.

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