Pop Between Realities, Home in Time For Tea 15 (Moonbase 3)

(39 comments)

Sometimes the most valuable thing one can do to understand something is to take a step back from it. It should be no secret to anyone reading the blog that I am less fond of the Pertwee era than I am of many of the other eras of Doctor Who. (And it is firmly "less fond," as opposed to "not fond") I've expressed at least part of that frustration, but honestly, it wasn't until I tried watching Moonbase 3 that I realized exactly what it is that seems to me so fundamentally flawed about much of the Pertwee era.

Moonbase 3 is interesting. It's not the first time Doctor Who people went on to try something else - that's basically Adam Adamant Lives! - nor is it the first spinoff of Doctor Who - that's K-9 and Company. But it is the first time major production staff of Doctor Who used Doctor Who as a springboard for a new show. Basically, Moonbase 3 is six episodes of Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks trying desperately to quit Doctor Who for something else. 

In practical terms, it was a failure - low rated, and with a mixed critical consensus. Accounting for why is a tricky project. Terrance Dicks has largely suggested the show was too dark and lacked a sense of wonder. It certainly is serious-minded in the extreme, but no moreso than Doomwatch (from which its first 20 minutes are stolen wholesale) or than Terry Nation's soon to be successful Survivors. And anyway, dark and cynical is a pretty good fit for when the show aired, at least plus or minus a couple of months.

Nor is it quite fair to say that the show failed because it was bad. It had serious flaws, certainly, but no more so than the first season of any number of successful shows. Occasionally the show manages to feel like Babylon 5 done twenty years early, which, given that Babylon 5 is, for all its flaws, one of the absolute landmark pieces of science fiction television, is a hell of impressive feat. No, the best case for why it failed, to my mind, is that doing a show about realistic space exploration in late 1973 is about two years later than the last day you could really do that. Interest in moon bases after the Apollo missions were over is a bit... well... low.

But ultimately, why it failed commercially isn't even the most interesting question. One can just as easily ask why Doctor Who succeeded, and in real terms the answer is going to be a diffuse set of arbitrary and often seemingly small decisions that happened to successfully navigate a given crisis where others seem unlikely to have. The question of industry success is not an uninteresting one, but the answer turns out to be arbitrary and beyond the reach of what can be controlled.

No. Far more interesting is the question of why the show failed aesthetically. And that it did. Again, plenty of cancelled-after-one-season shows have had real impact. Six low-rated episodes can be quite important. But these weren't, really.

And that is a bit odd. On the surface, they're a lovely homage to the spirit of classic science fiction - the sort of Asimov/Heinlein/Clarke stuff. Even with their slight misfit with the spirit of 1973, there's still a core to this that is interesting. As I said, its sense of human greatness on the frontier is at times marvelous and stirring in the same way that Babylon 5 is, and the basic concept and tone of the final episode, "View of a Dead Planet," is an extraordinary piece of bleakness.

But there's something downright nasty lurking under the surface here, and it's something that captures a fundamental failing of the Dicks/Letts/Pertwee era - one that I've talked about in passing before, but that becomes systemic here, and in one key moment becomes completely inexcusable. And to get at it, I'm going to have to talk about a truly appalling moment of television.

See, in the final episode of Moonbase 3, as the entire crew of the Moonbase comes to believe that the Earth has been destroyed due to an ill-advised scientific project. And in the course of that, one crew member breaks into the quarters of the only female regular (having already groped the only other significant female character in the series) and attempts to rape her. She manages to call for help, and the base commander shows up, sends the rapist to his quarters, and the next morning declares that "nothing very serious happened," and says that the man has apologized so it's all OK. The victim is given no opportunity on screen to give any sort of comment on what has happened to her, and the commander's declaration that a rape attempt is not serious and can be cleared up via an apology is allowed to stand unchallenged.

OK. Look. I try to engage in redemptive readings of things here. I try very hard, even when I'm dealing with something that I find deeply problematic and upsetting within Doctor Who, to counterbalance it with at least some positive upside. I do. And I extend that to the creators whenever possible. Sometimes that hasn't been possible, but notably those who have had to be thrown under the bus - Gerry Davis and the Hainsman/Lincoln team most obviously - have been relatively minor figures. Yes, Gerry Davis was script editor, but nobody has ever pined for the Gerry Davis years. People do praise Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts and speak of their tenures with fondness. And deservedly so, because they did some truly wonderful stuff. And I really, really want to stress that I am huge fans of them both on the whole. And I would love to find a way out of calling this scene what it is. 

But I can't. There's absolutely nothing I can possibly find to redeem this scene. It's abhorrent. It's sickening. Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts should be ashamed that they let it make it to screen. There is nothing good whatsoever that can be said about it. It is unacceptable by the standards of 2011. It was unacceptable by the standards of 1973. It is morally bankrupt, and creates a prima facie case against the ethical positions of everyone involved in it. And this is the really annoying thing to have to admit - that case has merits that extend to Doctor Who as well.

Because it would be one thing if the scene were appalling in a way that was massively disconnected from business as usual for Dicks and Letts. But it's not. It's a vile and offensive piece of work for exactly the same reason that Letts and Dicks are often problematic, which is that they've got no commitment whatsoever to the personal scale of things. Politics for them amounts to nothing more than broad moral statements unconnected to any actual material commitment to the world or to people. To overstate the case - though, actually, for the Moonbase 3 scene, it's completely fair - their writing strays at times into overt sociopathy.

This is occasionally hard to see, because they have unflinching commitments to two things that are almost, but not quite, an interest in humanity. The first is, as I suggested, moral statements. Dicks and Letts love a good moral. They develop patrician characters just so they can have people to say morals for them. The second is drama. And so you'll get something like a character believing he is imminently going to die drunkenly trying to rape people, because it's dramatic to watch that, and Corrie isn't on 24/7. And you'll get the square-jawed commander decking him, because rape is bad. The only thing you won't get is anything resembling a human concern with the survivor, because she is neither an easily digestible moral statement nor a case of high human drama. No, she's just some bitch who got raped.

But this isn't just one bum note in an otherwise great series. It's systemic. In the first episode, there's a passing discussion between two characters about whether they want to visit Earth, in which both imply that the conditions on Earth are such that it's preferable to live on the moon. Given that this episode also establishes that the moon is a harsh and brutal place, this is really interesting. And, predictably, not at all developed.

Similarly, in "View of a Dead Planet," at one point the weekly guest star (Michael Gough in this case) expresses a view that nationalism is the root cause of human disasters. This is all well and good. But then as soon as the global catastrophe happens, save for one scene in which the European base checks with the American and Russian bases (there are also Chinese and Brazilian ones) to make sure they're getting the same readings, no effort is made to look at how the moonbases deal with this, or to mirror the moral point about nationalism on the moon divided among the last survivors of humanity according to the lines of nations that don't exist anymore. To call this an oversight misses the point - this isn't sight at all. This is self-evidently what the story is about. It's pitched as a parable against nationalism, and then it proceeds to ignore the actual part where it could illustrate the effects of nationalism in a direct way.

Instead the episode just ends with Michael Gough intoning that a man can make a mistake, but mankind must never make one. Which is fairly typical - instead of looking at the material conditions of an ethical or political problem, Letts and Dicks would prefer to craft a slogan, give it to a good actor to say in a serious voice, and leave it at that. See, you can make a mistake like raping someone, just so long as you oppose pollution. Dominic Strauss-Kahn will be so happy to hear.

For a show like Moonbase 3, this is a catastrophic failure. The value of realist (and this is probably the time to link to the Pop Between Realities entries that dealt with realism in general and specifically with social realism) hard SF is that it explores real human issues. When all of those issues are systematically trimmed out in favor of broad platitudes, you lose the fundamental point of the genre. The whole reason Moonbase 3 is interesting as a premise is because it can explore thoroughly the implications of its world. But Letts and Dicks have no visible interest in doing so.

This isn't as bad in Doctor Who. For one thing, it's a children's show, so Letts and Dicks manage to avoid rape apologism by virtue of avoiding rape. But more broadly, it's a show where the main character is defined in part by his ability (and inclination) to move on to other things. Even in the context of the Doctor's exile and the turning of this into a criticism of him as a character, an anthology show with a mandate to show the audience something radically different every few weeks is always going to avoid the long term implications of a given setting. No matter how much the show responds to the challenge laid down by The War Games, this is always going to be part of its basic structure.

But the disinterest in actual human lives still accounts for many of the places where I've been frustrated with the Pertwee era - namely places where the show seems to raise an interesting situation or point only to ignore it in favor of giving Pertwee a chase scene. Or where it decides to crusade against a social ill and in doing so perpetuates it - whether by suddenly having overt sexism against female characters so that the female characters can complain about it, when the show was ahead of the curve on that before, or by creating a bunch of superficial and stereotypical Welsh miners in the story you're doing in part to stop marginalizing Wales.

Because while Doctor Who can often get away without dealing with humanity in a meaningful fashion, it can't always, as we've seen. And perhaps more to the point, it can shine when it takes a few tricks from social realism. And even in the Letts/Dicks era, both Malcolm Hulke and Robert Holmes were doing better jobs of this. Hulke did it by making sure to include gestures at the question of how to build a society instead of just how to blow up monsters. We discussed his final act of cynicism in this regard last time, but even more important is Colony in Space, where he packs in just as many anti-corporate bromides as a Letts/Dicks effort would demand, but also manages to put in numerous compelling accounts of what alternatives might be - whether it be positioning the Doctor in the role I described as "science vicar" or just in having Bernard Kay's character visibly and pointedly reject one way of life in favor of another.

But the thing that Moonbase 3 really just cries out for is Robert Holmes, who is the obvious pick to write about a run down and underfunded moonbase. Because, as I've said in past entries, what Holmes really excels at is the personal. He is capable of effectively sketching a vivid character, and having characters who are driven by individual foibles and emotions. Where Dicks and Letts write, basically, good guys, bad guys, and immature guys who are learning to be good guys, Holmes writes cowards, gluttons, reluctant heroes, and a whole spectrum of humanity. And it's not that Holmes's characters are realist - they're usually caricatures in the extreme. But Holmes draws on a broad spectrum of humanity to make his caricatures, and ends up with deeper characters than the more serious "realism" of characters that spring from a world as banal as Dicks and Letts's.

Either approach would salvage Moonbase 3. (Well, either approach coupled with not having a sickening rape apologist scene.) Just like either approach, throughout the Pertwee era, made for better Doctor Who than anyone else could manage on a regular basis. Holmes and Hulke were flat out the writing stars of the Pertwee era, to the same extent that Whitaker was the writing star of the Troughton era. The rest of the time, like Moonbase 3, the Pertwee era was variable - sometimes extraordinary, sometimes terrible, often quite good. But in the end, missing something very important: humanity. 

Comments

SK 5 years, 11 months ago

Hm, I think there's some terminological inexactitude there. Specifically it doesn't sound to me like a 'rape apology scene'; an apology is a defence, so a 'rape apology scene' would be one that argued that actually rape was okay (because 'that kind of woman likes it really', or somesuch -- you could imagine something of the type from Gene Hunt, if he weren't being written by twenty-first century liberals so not allowed to express the actual views of a copper from his period). And as you point out Dicks and Letts are clear that rape is bad.

What it sounds like instead is a rape trivialisation scene. It's not saying 'rape is okay', it's saying 'rape is bad, now on with the plot!'. Which, to be clear, is still a moral failure and still a bad thing -- but a different kind of bad thing. And more importantly a more Dicks/Letts bad thing, because Dicks and Letts trivialise everything.

I mean, you can imagine an attempted murder being treated exactly the same way in a Dicks/Letts script, can't you? Someone gets angry at another member of the team; they break into their room with a gun; they are disarmed as they fire, so the shot misses; and the commander declares that no more will be said about it, and the plot goes on as normal -- unless Dicks and Letts have an idea for an exciting prison-break scene.

The problem with Dicks and Letts is that they make everything they touch trivial; this is fine when they are dealing with the trivialities of a children's adventure show (or writing exciting children's novels!), but when they apply the same trivial approach to a serious adult programme, and to serious issues like rape, the result is as distasteful as you describe.

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SK 5 years, 11 months ago

(Indeed, just last story, Mike Yates, after attempted genocide, had arrangements made by the Brigadier for him to retire quietly and no more would be said about it, and he will return in a couple of stories' time with no hard feelings about his treachery and plans to kill the entire cast and everyone they love! If that's not trivialisation I don't know what is.)

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Spacewarp 5 years, 11 months ago

@SK. I agree. We often hit upon situations that sit uncomfortably with us when watching drama from a different decade. Treatment of black and female characters in 1970s British Television comedy is particularly difficult to sit through. However we have to remember that not only are we watching something from a different moral climate, we're watching it from today's moral perspective. As you've rightly pointed out, a real-life Gene Hunt (and probably a lot of the audience) would have had different views of that scene. Views that we would find unacceptable today. This doesn't mean that we should wholeheartedly apologise for such drama and say "the characters aren't wrong - that's how TV was back then." But also we shouldn't condemn the writers for their moral bankruptcy in allowing such scenes. Morality changes with every decade, and although it's tempting to say that our attitudes towards women, race, children, the mentally-ill, the short, the physically handicapped, and the old are continually improving - that's not really the case. We tend to feel we are more enlightened than our forebears, but take a look at such things as attitudes towards certain foreign races. If you were a German in Britain prior to 1939 you would be treated with considerably more respect than 2 years later. Muslims prior to 2001 were treated with far less disdain and open hostility than they are now. And as for Single Parents and the Unemployed, the pendulum of public opinion swings back and forth several times a decade. In the same way that the offensive "N" word used in "Celestial Toymaker" doesn't indicate ignorance or dismissal on behalf of the writers. I think the best that can be said is that it indicates we are listening/watching something from a different decade. No more no less. We shouldn't excuse it, but we also shouldn't castigate it. We should just grit our teeth and plough through. If it ruins our enjoyment of the programme, that's a shame, but it's surely no-one's fault, but just an artifact of the situation. If there had been a myriad of complaints about the Moonbase 3 scene at the time, then a case could be made for it being out of step with the current social more, but TV drama in the early 70s was full of "women who asked for it", in the same way as it was full of stereotypical Irishmen and Blacks. That was then, this is now. We can fool ourselves that we're better now, but if we've changed that much in so few decades I for one am looking forward to the next thirty years, when we'll be Angels, finally living in Paradise.

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SK 5 years, 11 months ago

Um... my point was not about the 1970s, it was about Letts and Dicks.

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Philip Sandifer 5 years, 11 months ago

I think that the distinction Hinchcliffe used to make between fantasy violence and real violence plays in here. Yes, in a meaningful sense what Yates attempts is worse than rape from an ethical perspective. But what Yates tries is also an imaginary sin - nobody can actually provide material support to an effort to wipe out human history. Whereas rape is a real thing that happens daily. Trivializing it is worse than trivializing Yates's betrayal.

I'm disinclined to quibble over "rape apologist" via "rape trivializer." "Rape apologist" is a commonly used term within feminist circles (which are usually the circles that do most of the thinking about this topic) for those who make excuses or otherwise minimize the horror of a rape. And Moonbase 3 provides textbook examples of what the term "rape apologist" is used to cover. If you Google the term and look at discussion of it, you'll see plenty of cases where it's used to cover trivializations as well. http://metalsunflower.wordpress.com/bingo/rape-apologist-bingo/ is a particularly cynical example.

As for the idea that discrimination and oppression are transient historical phenomena without anyone at fault... no. Just no.

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SK 5 years, 11 months ago

But what Yates tries is also an imaginary sin

Well, that's my point: their trivialising approach works with fantasy crimes in a fantastic programme. It doesn't work when transplanted onto real crimes in a realistic programme.

(Where it gets dicey is when you have real crimes in a fantasy programme: from Yate's treason against his superiors and his friends, which unlike the genocide is a realistic crime (and one in the public mind thanks to Burgess, Maclean and Philby in the decades before), to all the instances of murder in Doctor Who, to the implied attempted sexual violence every time a female companion is at the mercy of a leering male villain. Are those fantasy crimes or real crimes? A lot depends on the treatment.)

(As to terminology, that an inaccurate term is widespread in certain circles doesn't mean that we should perpetuate the inaccuracy).

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Philip Sandifer 5 years, 11 months ago

I view "rape apologist" as no more inaccurate than "homophobic" or a number of other terms that, while not what I would have chosen, are not so off base that I am inclined to put up a stink. "Apologist" is broadly defined as someone who offers a defense of something. What happens in Moonbase 3 is unequivocally a defense of the rape attempt, although admittedly more of a plea-bargaining style of defense.

I also think we have to take seriously the question of metaphor. I mean, for one thing, the failure to treat what Yates does with any seriousness and the willingness of everyone to tut about poor Mike and how he'll never work at UNIT again is bloody awful. It just doesn't stick out with the stultifying awfulness of the Moonbase 3 scene. And part of why it's awful is that what Mike does, although not a real crime, resembles real crimes, and more to the point, is clearly meant to be seen as analogous to real crimes.

It sticks slightly less when a metaphor for a real crime goes unpunished - sufficiently so that with a serious treatment of what happened in Invasion of the Dinosaurs they still could have gotten away with Planet of the Spiders. But as I pretty much said here, the failure to take humanity seriously as a concern does screw up Doctor Who as well.

(Of course, the real case study in appalling metaphors is going to be Monster of Peladon in a week's time.)

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Steve Hogan 5 years, 11 months ago

Just watched that episode. (Never seen the show before.) I think the show dealt with the issue trivially, but there's some context that's not mentioned in this post: 1) Not only do they believe that Earth has been destroyed, but that they will run out of food and air in a couple weeks and all die 2) The Commander is contemplating euthanising everyone and 3) On the night in question much of the base is drunk and freaking out.

Given that the Commander was able to lay the smackdown on Bruno before things go too far into sexual violence, his words can be taken to some extent in the context of what COULD have happened and everything else that was going on. (Of course on the other hand, it's stupid that he's lending almost equal gravity to that incident and the fact one of his men hasn't been shaving.)

What I found more appalling was a later scene where Bruno starts joking about their legacy being found by sexy, sexy space women and he's flanked by both intended drunken rape victim and the object of his sexual harassment...both laughing along with him like nothing's happened. ("Oh Bruno! You're incorrigible!")

So I guess either way...gross.

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SK 5 years, 11 months ago

Actually, going off at a tangent, I'm fairly sure that the desire not to get into that dicey territory of real crimes in a fantasy programme is why there are almost no examples of humans murdering humans in new Doctor Who -- which really sticks out compared to the old series.

(There are also relatively few examples of humans helping monsters, but I think that might be more to do with the reduced running times meaning there's less need for plot twists of the 'he's a traitor!' variety, and less opportunity to build up more than one antagonist).

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SK 5 years, 11 months ago

('What happens in Moonbase 3 is unequivocally a defense of the rape attempt, although admittedly more of a plea-bargaining style of defense.' -- I think you're confusing 'defence' and 'mitigation'. A defence would be to argue that the crime wasn't committed (when the scene as described accepts it clearly was); mitigation is to argue that the crime was committed but the sentence should be reduced to, in this case, apology already served).

And going back to the point, is the 'disinterest in actual human lives' not in itself an aspect of the trivialising tendency? After all, if anything is the opposite of trivial, it's an actual human life. To deal with the reality of human lives would require depth, which Letts and Dicks are either incapable of doing or don't want to do (they may have simply decided that the trivial makes better television, and they wouldn't be the first nor the last to do so).

The description of the scene about the different nationalities' moonbases, for example, seems again more to me about a trivial treatment rather than any particular lack of humanity. After all, in this case it's not 'actual human lives' we're talking about, it's the relation between scattered groups of humans -- and they still trivialise it.

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Philip Sandifer 5 years, 11 months ago

I dunno, I still just don't think describing "it wasn't that bad" as an apologia is a particularly objectionable use of language.

I'd say that you're right that what they do is trivialize, but that what they trivialize is consistently lived human experience - the actual material conditions of life as opposed to broad moral slogans.

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SK 5 years, 11 months ago

Perhaps the study of apologetics means I'm just more particular about the use of the word 'apology'.

I'd say that the reduction of experience to slogans is how their trivialising tendency manifests when it is applied to life.

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7a1abfde-af0e-11e0-b72c-000bcdcb5194 5 years, 11 months ago

"Morality changes with every decade": well, views of morality may change every decade, but that doesn't mean that morality itself -- what is actually right and wrong -- changes. And when in a given decade a particular view about morality is at odds with what's actually moral, the fact that the view is widespread is not much of a defense.

Granted, it's some defense. It's worse to be an advocate of slavery in 2011 than in 1811, because there's less excuse for it nowadays -- you have to struggle against the flow to be a slavery advocate now, when in 1811 mere intellectual and moral laziness would get you there. The easier it is to recognise a view as wrong, the less excuse one has for not doing so.

All the same, back in 1811 -- or 811 -- it really was wrong to be a slavery advocate, and wrong for reasons that people were perfectly capable of recognising; slavery clashes with moral truisms that just about every society accepts, and failing to notice the clash is culpable.

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7a1abfde-af0e-11e0-b72c-000bcdcb5194 5 years, 11 months ago

If an attorney makes a plea bargain, we still call him a defense attorney, not a mitigation attorney.

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Steve Hogan 5 years, 11 months ago

Having only ever seen this episode (And not really all that geared up to see more.) I have to ask: do these people always drink this much? Even before the apocalyptic freakout, they're swilling down booze like it's Moonbase Delta House.

Michael Gough's first words to Fiona Gaunt's character seem like a clearer case than Time Warrior of ramping up the sexism so the feminist can be a feminist. It sounds ridiculous for 1973, let alone the intended setting of 30 years later. Of course on the other hand, Russell T. Davies dusted off the same kind of cliche in the latest Torchwood series with the whole "Wait, you're a doctor AND a woman? Whaaaaaat." bit. Granted the character was supposed to be a crazy villain, but still it's dated.

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SK 5 years, 11 months ago

Any barrister or solicitor will know the difference between a defence and a mitigation. Suggest you check with one.

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Philip Sandifer 5 years, 11 months ago

It's possible we have a US/UK split here. What I was talking about, and what I think 7a1abfde was talking about, is that in the US, the default term for the attorney working for the accused is "defense attorney." Even when they are attempting to make a plea bargain or just argue for a reduced sentence. And so to the American idiom, calling those sorts of pleas a defense makes intuitive sense. Even when you're arguing for mitigating circumstances, you are still definitely a "defense attorney." Which is why we have terms like the "insanity defense," or, more infamously, "Twinkie defense," which both involve admissions of guilt under severely mitigating circumstances.

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SK 5 years, 11 months ago

Though as I understand it both those are defences (ie, they attempt to claim the defendant is not guilty, either not guilty at all by reason of insanity or not guilty because they are guilty of a lesser crime).

For example, if you deliberately kill a human being, that would normally be murder; but there are some defences that, if successfully pled, mean that you are not guilty of murder but are in fact guilty of voluntary manslaughter: diminished responsibility, provocation, suicide pact, or infanticide.

(And of course technically if you don't produce your driving licence when requested to do so by a police officer you are guilty of an offence, but it is an absolute defence (ie it means you are not guilty of a crime at all) to prove that you did produce it at a police station within seven days of the request).

And of course there are general defences, which if successfully pled mean that you are not guilty of any crime: for example, duress or 'insanity' (in its specific meaning).

There are of course alongside the basic defence of 'I wasn't there, if I was there I didn't do it, if I did do it nobody saw me, and if anybody did see me you can't believe a word they say.'

So a defence is something which attempts to prove the defendant innocent (of the crime of which they are accused; they might still be guilty of a lesser crime, for example in the voluntary manslaughter defences).

Whereas a mitigation is an attempt, once the defendant has been found guilty, to argue for a reduced sentence.

So a mitigation comes after guilt has been established.

I assume the same holds true in US courtrooms, though I admit I can't be sure.

In this case the scene seems constructed to be quite clear that the crewmember's guilt is not in doubt. It's not that the commander says 'actually you didn't do anything wrong'. Instead, the 'sentence' is what is ridiculously out-of-proportion to the crime.

It's not as if the perpetrator had been let off; more like they'd been found guilty but then argued their sentence down to a slap on the wrist. Hence, mitigation rather than defence.

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Philip Sandifer 5 years, 11 months ago

I'm about 90% certain those are still commonly referred to as defenses both casually and professionally, but I think we're pretty far off the topic here. :)

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SK 5 years, 11 months ago

According to http://ask.yahoo.com/20010829.html the 'twinkie defence' was an actual defence (it resulted in the defendant being acquitted of murder), not a mitigation (which would have been given after the defendant had been found guilty).

And 'insanity' is again a defence, as if a defendant is McNaughton insane, they will be acquitted.

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Wm Keith 5 years, 11 months ago

I'm an English solicitor. More to the point, I'm a native speaker of British English. We don't have "attorneys" here (not in the US sense, anyway). But other than that, it's not a UK/US split. Philip is using the correct idiom in an imprecise manner. SK is using the correct technical terminology, but he's coming across as a bit of a tit. Now can we get back to utopia, please? Because, as apologetics go, this is hardly J H Newman, and I'm missing my regular dose of feel-good anarcho-Marxist alchemy.

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Philip Sandifer 5 years, 11 months ago

Wm Keith - The clarification is much appreciated. I've got plenty of anarcho-Marxist alchemy on tap next week and the week after. :)

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Anna 5 years, 11 months ago

@SK - you're making an argument based on specialized legal understandings of the words 'apology', 'defense', and 'mitigation'. In common usage, an 'apology' (in the sense used here) is "a defense, excuse, or justification" (taken from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/apology). So, it covers all of the meanings you're trying to differentiate between. This is both the common understanding of the word 'apologist' (that is, one who attempts to defend something, usually a belief, as in Christian Apologist) and the way it is used in Social Justice circles (aka Rape Apologist, one who defends or attempts to excuse the artifacts of Rape Culture).

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5tephe 5 years, 11 months ago

They tell me that Feel-Good-Anarcho-Marxist-Alchemy is what all the cool kids come here for. I'll have a double!

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SK 5 years, 11 months ago

Well, in that case I think that as described Letts and Dicks definitely aren't offering a 'defence, excuse or justification' of the attempted rape: it sounds from the descriptions (and I'm handicapped by never having seen the episode so just going on the descriptions, but on the other hand I suspect that people who have seen the episode are few and far between) like they are clear that the attempted rape was wrong, that there was no excuse, and that it was unjustified.

The punishment (or lack of it) is of course then grossly out of proportion to the crime, but minimising or trivialising -- while certainly a bad thing -- is not the same as defending, excusing or justifying.

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Philip Sandifer 5 years, 11 months ago

The thing that perhaps needs to be stressed is that "nothing too serious happened" and "he apologized" are not merely statements that trivialize the attempted rape in the episode. They are phrases that are chillingly familiar to anyone who has ever experienced or seen someone they care about experience a sexual assault and then be silenced or ignored by authorities. They are, word for word, exact phrases that are used to bully women out of pressing charges in the real world. (Nobody will believe you anyway, you're just overreacting. Why aren't you accepting his apology.)

The problem is not merely that rape is treated with a lack of moral seriousness, although it is. Nor is it that rape is treated as less morally serious than other crimes such as political oppression, although, again, it is. It is that the main character and moral center of the show delivers two excuses on behalf of an attempted rapist that are, verbatim, excuses used in the real world to help rapists get away with it.

The scene is morally depraved to a staggering extent. I'm at this point reluctant to further discuss the precise terminology appropriate to describing it, given that A) "Rape apologist" is an existing and widely used term, and B) Quibbling about semantics seems itself to lack moral seriousness compared to putting an apologia for rape out on BBC1.

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SK 5 years, 11 months ago

And I've never disputed the immorality of the scene as described, only the terminology used to describe it (if the inaccurate term is in wide use, that's no reason to perpetuate the inaccuracy).

I would have thought that someone devoting such a large amount of time to a critical project would appreciate the importance of precision of terminology.

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Philip Sandifer 5 years, 11 months ago

I appreciate the importance of successful communication. Replacing terms that are in common use with new terms in order to gain marginal increases in technical accuracy does not aid communication. It hinders it.

Given the choice between using a term in wide circulation in feminist and social justice circles that already talk a lot about the issues in question or creating new terms that put me on the outside of existing conversations, I am always going to use the term in wide circulation unless it has really grievous flaws.

The hair-splitting between excuse, apology, and mitigation is not a grievous flaw. It's just a nitpick that does not warrant throwing out the established vocabulary for talking about rape culture and media.

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Aaron 5 years, 11 months ago

"You say you wanna save humanity, but it's people that you just can't stand." -John Lennon, I don't wanna take it

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Wm Keith 5 years, 11 months ago

The base commander has completely lost it. Listen to his "morale-boosting" speech (youtube, part 3 of 4)

1. We'll brush the attempted rape under the carpet.

2. Tom, you haven't shaved! (never mind that the base commander has a beard.)

3. Bruno (incidentally, Bruno is the attempted rapist), you look more like a plumber than a scientist! (as Bruno is wearing a red shirt, there is a certain Star Trek logic here, but even in 1973 this line surely cannot have been taken seriously.)

So, what happens next? Well, I believe that once communication with Earth is restored, the assault victim makes a formal complaint. Commander Nathan Spring of the Space Police is sent to investigate, and arrests the entire command staff for complicity in the attack. The next shuttle up from Earth carries the moonbase's new commander - John Koenig.

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spdk1 5 years, 11 months ago

I actually kind of want to see this despite it's apparent terribleness. Great review, and thanks for educating me on a show I had never seen1

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Spacewarp 5 years, 11 months ago

"views of morality may change every decade, but that doesn't mean that morality itself -- what is actually right and wrong -- changes."

Bit late in the day, but I'd question that. Morality is in the eye of the beholder. Even today different societies and countries can't agree on what is right and what is wrong, so we shouldn't be surprised that the past is just as bad. Morality isn't an absolute. It's what the current society decides it to be. Cannibal societies would not regard it as immoral to eat their enemies, and in the context of their world, they would be right.

People in the Present always assumes that today's Moral Code is the Right Way to behave (in previous centuries the "Christian" way), and that our Morality is a way of determining what is inherently Right or Wrong. If things were done differently in the past, that was because those people were wrong and misguided. But surely the current Morality is determined [i]BY[/i] the current Moral Code, not the other way round.

I remember seeing a cartoon years ago of two men in Hell, standing up to their waists in fire and brimstone. One says to the other "What I'm in here for is no longer a sin."

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7a1abfde-af0e-11e0-b72c-000bcdcb5194 5 years, 11 months ago

"Morality is in the eye of the beholder. Even today different societies and countries can't agree on what is right and what is wrong"

So what? "People disagree about X" does not entail "There's no objective fact of the matter about X." People used to disagree as to whether the earth was round or flat. Today they disagree as to whether, e.g., stimulus programs are good or bad for the economy, or whether there's significant anthropogenic global warming, etc., etc. But presumably you wouldn't say there's no fact of the matter about such issues. Disagreement is not an automatic license for subjectivism or relativism.

"People in the Present always assumes that today's Moral Code is the Right Way to behave"

No, thank goodness, they don't. In every society, in every era, there are people who reject large parts of that society's code and work to reform it. The first abolitionists, the first feminists, and the first opponents of monarchy are examples. And as an anarchist I obviously don't think the present moral code is right about everything.

Moreover, notice how moral reformers actually argue. They don't say: "I reject the prevailing moral code because it clashes with my own personal moral code!" Instead they point out that the prevailing moral code is inconsistent, and that its most central strands logically entail the rejection of some of the peripheral strands. That's exactly how the first opponents of slavery argued.

Now once someone has pointed out that a given view is logically inconsistent -- and therefore necessarily false, by its own standards -- it doesn't make any sense to keep insisting that the original view was true for the people who held it. If the people who hold it have to contradict themselves in order to hold it, then it can't be true, and can't ever have been true, even for them.

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Spacewarp 5 years, 11 months ago

"So what? "People disagree about X" does not entail "There's no objective fact of the matter about X." People used to disagree as to whether the earth was round or flat. Today they disagree as to whether, e.g., stimulus programs are good or bad for the economy, or whether there's significant anthropogenic global warming, etc., etc. But presumably you wouldn't say there's no fact of the matter about such issues. Disagreement is not an automatic license for subjectivism or relativism."

But those are provable facts. "The world is round" isn't something that can change with time or viewpoint. Things being good or bad for the economy...now that's opinion. You can argue that a certain economic policy either saved us from a boom, or caused a bust, but you can't prove it in the same way as you can prove the world is round or black isn't white. Any Governmental claim that a certain policy solved a certain problem will be decried by the Opposition.

I can show you mathematical proof that Earth is not flat, but I can't do the same to prove that "Slavery is Wrong." Good/Bad and Right/Wrong are Subjective value judgements. Give me solid proof that Homicide is Wrong, or Slavery is Wrong, or Cannibalism is Wrong.

Here's one. Is Prostitution Wrong? Yes or No. Objective proof, not subjective moral proof.

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Wm Keith 5 years, 11 months ago

Please will you show us your mathematical proof that the Earth is not flat?

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7a1abfde-af0e-11e0-b72c-000bcdcb5194 5 years, 11 months ago

Spacewarp,

First of all, you've changed the subject. Whether something is objectively true is one thing, whether it's provable is another. "The first person ever to set foot on Australia was right-handed" is either objectively true or objectively false, independently of what anyone thinks; it's not relative or subjective. But that doesn't mean it's provable or disprovable.

But since I think moral claims are both objectively true and provable, I won't stress the difference. When people say they aren't provable, they tend to have in mind some extravagant conception of proof that doesn't even apply to physics, and then they demand that morality meet that standard.

But that's not how things work -- either in physics or in ethics. If I show you that your belief that X is permissible conflicts with your belief that Y is wrong, I've proven beyond doubt that there's a falsehood needing correction in your set of value beliefs. That's how philosophy works. Of course there's room for debate as to which belief is wrong, but the same applies in empirical science -- famously, you can never empirically test an individual thesis, you can only test collections of beliefs, because no scientific claim has testable implications without the aid of auxiliary hypotheses. (The Duhem-Quine thesis.) But that's fine: in both philosophy and empirical science, you go on to the next step by bringing in more theses. It's like doing a crossword puzzle.

The foundations of economics are conceptual rather than empirical truths and so are proven in the philosophical manner.

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Philip Sandifer 5 years, 11 months ago

If it's all the same to everyone, and I'm certainly not going to start deleting posts or swinging around the moderation functions of the blog to enforce this request, but...

I'd just as soon my blog not be the place to discuss whether rape is inherently wrong or not.

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7a1abfde-af0e-11e0-b72c-000bcdcb5194 5 years, 11 months ago

You mean someone remembers what this dispute was originally about?

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Deert 2 years, 7 months ago

Even with their slight misfit with the spirit of 1973, there's still a core ... qmisfitshine.blogspot.com

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