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Jack Graham

Jack Graham wrote about Doctor Who and Marxism, often at the same time. These days he co-hosts the I Don't Speak German podcast with Daniel Harper.Support Jack on Patreon.

17 Comments

  1. Gavin Burrows
    July 21, 2013 @ 11:10 am

    I'm probably guilty of a double social failing here. Having just come across your blog via Andrew Hickey's link, I've merely skimmed through one or two posts so far, so should probably be keeping my mouth shut till I'm up to speed. And I don't have much to say about the specific context of this post, apart from the fairly obvious point that you're right.

    (Such folk are, in my view, conflating being privileged with being enlightened. They're assuming that something they like, decent educated middle class people such as themselves, cannot possibly be something so ill-mannered as racist.)

    My question is, when we do get past that elementary (if apparently endless) argument, what then? What comes next?

    By “we” I do of course mean the Royal we. In other words, I mean me. A while ago I wrote a little something about the Forties Superman cartoons. In which I mentioned their racism, but only ended up alluding to it in passing. Which feels kind of tokenistic. It feels like those stickers Tipper Gore got record labels to stick on their covers – “Warning! Some of the content here seems to get a bit racist.” I feel like we should be doing something more than that, but I'm not sure I really know what.

    Reply

  2. Jack Graham
    July 21, 2013 @ 2:09 pm

    Firstly, thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    Secondly, please don't worry about etiquette. I know nothing of this.

    Thirdly, the above post is probably less a considered political statement than a howl of annoyance at some reprehensible dongers. I wasn't able to call them reprehensible dongers at Gallifrey Base because there's this 'Code of Conduct' thing which means you're not allowed to be rude to people. You can say that the above picture looks like a genuine Chinese person, but you're not allowed to call someone who says something like that a reprehensible donger. It's a funny old world.

    So, the above post doesn't even try to address the question of what should actually be done… except that people really should be at the point where they're able to notice racism going on in their favourite media, and should then be able to admit that it's there, and should then be able to say that they don't like it. That's surely a baseline minimum these days? You'd hope, wouldn't you?

    As you say, the assumption is something along the lines of 'nice people like me aren't racists, ergo stuff I like/think/say can't be racist – hurrah!'. Well, that's below zero on the progressometer… and it doesn't even begin to grasp what a complex and multi-dimensional cultural phenomenon racism is. Whitey doesn't usually have to bother grasping this, of course. The consequence of not bothering to grasp it, for Whitey, generally amount to diddlysquat… at least in the immediate.

    Sadly, these preliminary arguments still have to be made… though it's like trying to teach a kumquat synchronised swimming sometimes.

    But then, as you say, 'what next?' As you see more of this blog (if you decide to persevere with it) you'll probably guess that my answer to that would involve the class struggle.

    I'm going to take a proper look at your blog, BTW.

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  3. Gavin Burrows
    July 21, 2013 @ 6:45 pm

    You'll get little argument from me on the subject of class struggle. As the communist writer Gilles Dauve (aka Jean Barrot) wrote “the proletariat is not weak because it's divided: its weaknesses breed division. Anything that makes it stronger strikes a blow at racism.”

    In other words, far-right headcases like the British National Party are able to make inroads after groups like the Labour party have lost even any semblance of standing up for working people's interests. They would find it much harder to make those inroads into a strong, united workers' movement.

    But I was really asking a narrower question – how should such questions influence my blogging habits? I feel like, in the piece I linked to, I kind of say “those old Superman cartoons were hugely important in developing the character. Shame they portrayed the Japanese as buck-toothed imperialists, but never mind.” Which seems a bit… you know, inadequate. Of course, in something I doubt you were suggesting, just ending each blogpost some abstract call for workers' unity would be kneejerk and meaningless. (“Doctor Who fans of all colours and classes unite! You have nothing to lose except the episodes which the BBC have already wiped!”) But I'm not really sure what to do with the information…

    PS If you do get a chance to look at my blog, I'd be interested to know what you think. I would like to read more stuff here, but it will most likely take me a while…

    Reply

  4. Jack Graham
    July 21, 2013 @ 7:12 pm

    Ah, I see. No I wasn't meaning that every blog post should end with a call for worker's solidarity. But a socially-connected critique of the output of culture industries is one 'way in' to a more radical critique of society. Culture hits people where they live, sometimes even more directly than anything else. But this is to talk myself up disgracefully. Generally I just whinge.

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  5. Jacob Nanfito
    July 23, 2013 @ 3:43 pm

    I think you're on the right track. I think exposing and examining racism in its many forms is important work. It may seem pretty insignificant to look at it within pop culture (or old Doctor Who serials) … but I think it's a great starting point. It's a holy-shit, slap-across-the-face moment for people when they see that something they love and enjoy contains racist stereotypes. I recently wrote a paper on racism in video games for school, and it blew my mind. That kind of stuff is a perfect "gateway" for privileged people to begin understanding that racism is complex, socially constructed, and alive and well all around them — especially in a time when a lot of people really feel like racism happened in the past and we are past it.

    I like this quote from Derrick Jensen's massive treatise on racism and imperialism, "The Culture of Make-Believe" (it's referring to reevaluating history, but I still think it applies here):

    "I leave it to black people to interpret their experience of living in our culture, and to Indians their experience, and women theirs. Instead it falls to me — and others of my race and gender — to explore and articulate — and thus, I hope, help to halt — the white male experience of hatred: How did we come to enslave our continent, significantly depopulate another, and work our will on all of the others? How, in short, have we come to conquer the world? Why have we wanted to do it in the first place? And can we stop wanting it?

    Although the . . . movements of history can be interesting, in and of themselves they are meaningless. Any exploration of them must return to the personal, to the particular, because that's all we've got.

    If we wish to stop the atrocities, we will need to understand and change the social and economic conditions that cause them." (preface, xi-xii).

    Reply

  6. Jack Graham
    July 23, 2013 @ 4:26 pm

    Jacob, thank you for allowing me to believe that this blog has some kind of purpose (beyond being a platform for me to vent my little obsessions). 🙂

    Reply

  7. Gavin Burrows
    July 27, 2013 @ 2:04 pm

    ”How did we come to enslave our continent, significantly depopulate another, and work our will on all of the others?”

    I think we should be a little careful over when we say “we”. All too often, when we use the Royal “we”, we end up talking about Royalty rather than ourselves.

    The classic imperial era was of course formally about nations. Hong Kong became a possession of Britain, and so on. But, just like the current economic era being formally about business, that can mask a lot of other things. It is of course entirely possible that ancestors of mine had a hand in enslaving and depopulating other Continents. But if they did so, they did so not because they chose to but because they were told to. When one nation enslaves another, it does not flatten out questions of class – in either the invading or invaded nation.

    On the other hand, it would be absurdly reductive to suggest working in a factory in Manchester is interchangeable with working in a factory in Bangladesh. (If that was true capitalists would have no reason to close factories in Manchester and open them in Bangladesh, which clearly they are doing.) I can remember the time when Leftist groups commonly talked about “the worker”, like everyone reduced to one of those cloth-capped info-graphics. Usually, hand-in-glove with that went a downplaying over any questions of race, sexual preference or… well, pretty much everything else, come to think of it. If I'm questioning of identity politics, it's not because I want to see those days back.

    Life would be simpler if we could focus on just one thing or the other – on class or on imperial subjugation. But of course it's not simple at all.

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  8. Jacob Nanfito
    July 28, 2013 @ 5:30 pm

    I think I get what you are saying. In the quote, the "we" Jensen is referring to is white males .. and, at least in the last several centuries, it has been white males propagating imperialism and racism. I didn't read all of Jensen's book in which the quote comes from (it's massive!) but he didn't really touch on class struggles in the sections I read. Maybe that's a fault in his argument/analysis.

    I came to the quote while doing research for History/English project I was working on about my hometown. I live in the Pacific Northwest of the USA (about 10 miles north of Seattle, WA) and there is a cherished belief held here that our area has always been enlightened or progressive and not a part of the racist/imperial horrors the rest of the US has been engaged in.

    My project was about showing how false that is. In my sleepy little town, there is a massive history of racism and imperialism enacted by the working and the poor classes — it was the miners, farmers, homesteaders, fur trappers, traders, missionaries, etc. that "settled" the area … forcibly displacing the 10,000 native people that lived and thrived here for a millennia. It was a very personal, conscious removal and suppression of entire cultures. I don't know that they were told to do that by the upper classes — it's just what they did. White males came here and saw rich natural resources and they wanted them … so they stole them and then vilified the people who had occupied the land before.

    My hometown certainly has had it's share of class struggles (the Everett Massacre took place about 2 miles from my doorstep) … but that was long after imperialism had taken root here.

    Or am I understanding you wrong? Maybe I'm using "imperialism" in too broadly a way….

    Reply

  9. Gavin Burrows
    July 29, 2013 @ 1:16 pm

    Maybe "imperialism" in too broad a way. But of course I wouldn't disagree overall. There's not a shortage of examples of the working class dividing itself across racial or other grounds. Belonging to a class just pins you to a position in an economic relationship, no more. It's kind of mythical that us lot assume being working class is some kind of virtue, and that working class people never make bad or wrong decisions.

    I was just making the point that the rhetoric of nationalism is pernicious, the idea that I am British and so is Richard Branson or Boris Johnson therefore we're kind of interchangeable.

    Reply

  10. Jacob Nanfito
    July 29, 2013 @ 3:54 pm

    Oh, Ok. I see. Thanks for the discussion/clarification. I'm still learning and discovering a lot about these topics.

    Reply

  11. Mark R
    July 29, 2013 @ 5:36 pm

    Oh my god, I've found a Doctor Who blog where people quote Gilles Dauve and talk about class struggle. I had to pinch myself to make sure this wasn't a dream. I suspect from the links I'm coming from a slightly more anarchist/libertarian marxist angle, but as long as we keep off the topic of Kronstadt we should be ok…

    I guess I'm not embedded enough in fandom to have realised people don't find the yellowface an appalling stain on an otherwise great story. Pointing out your favourite show has fucked up shouldn't be taken as an attack on the whole thing. If you take the show seriously you should be prepared to look at it honestly and discuss the low points as well as the high points. Excusing or ignoring racism is not a neutral stance, it's validating it. It's not like I'd call for the episode to be cut, but I think an acknowledgement of gross stereotyping should be a kind of shared bottom line when considering or discussing 'Talons…'

    Reply

    • Sex and Violins
      October 26, 2015 @ 2:46 pm

      But the yellowface IS only the tip of the iceberg. I find the racist attitudes of the whole story infinitely more troubling. Its simply not the case that the whole thing would be fine if no one was wearing yellowface because there is still so much racist yellow peril imagery.

      Reply

  12. Jacob Nanfito
    July 29, 2013 @ 6:00 pm

    You'd think, but you'd be sadly surprised.

    Reply

  13. Jack Graham
    July 29, 2013 @ 6:14 pm

    Also, pointing out that the Bolsheviks fucked up shouldn't be taken as an attack on the whole thing. 😉

    Welcome to Shabgraff.

    Reply

  14. Jack Graham
    July 30, 2013 @ 1:12 pm

    This blog has a 'no platform' policy towards racism and apologetics for racism. I'm putting comment moderation back on.

    Reply

  15. John
    August 8, 2013 @ 2:37 pm

    What do we do with these cultural artifacts that are tainted, by contemporary standards, with sexism and racism? 60's and 70's Doctor Who is certainly guilty, but they're not alone. How do we embrace what we love from that era and address the gender and racial stereotyping, blackface, yellowface, etc? Monty Python's Flying Circus had every actor appear at least once in blackface, and Connie Booth and Carol Cleveland were pretty much only there to be leered at. Fawlty Towers had the Old Major droning about the differences between N****rs and W*gs played for comedy (albeit in an episode that was attempting to make a statement about racism). One of Peter Sellers' best comic performances unfortunately was in "The Party," where he wore brown makeup to play an Indian actor. Every couple of years some school district bans "Huck Finn" from its library. How do we reconcile the Shakespeare who wrote "Hamlet" with the Shakespeare who wrote "Othello" and "Merchant of Venice?"

    If we have to repudiate Talons, then we also have to dismiss every story in which a white actor ever played a non-white role: Marco Polo, Aztecs, Crusades, Daleks' Masterplan, Toymaker, Evil of the Daleks (unless we permit dispensation for non-whites playing a different non-white race), Tomb of the Cybermen, Abominable Snowmen, Enemy of the World, War Games, Planet of the Spiders, Pyramids of Mars, Power of Kroll (technically), and Black Orchid (see "Evil")… quite a lot of classic stories there.

    I have to ask, Jack, for a Doctor Who fan, you seem to have written off the entire history of the show. Are there any episodes left that you still like? 🙂

    Reply

  16. Jack Graham
    August 8, 2013 @ 7:14 pm

    John, what we do is precisely what you said: we embrace and address. To do the former without the latter is inexcusable… but to abandon what we love because it has political problems is dogmatic, insincere and kind of robotic.

    There is no crime or sin or political transgression in loving reactionary stuff. I love all manner of deeply reactionary garbage. Indeed, the vast majority of capitalist cultural production is so studiedly offensive, when you burrow into it, that if I only 'liked' things I agreed with… well, I'd have a pretty dry DVD collection. I'd have to chuck out about nine tenths of Doctor Who for a start, which obviously isn't going to fly.

    So, I repudiate the racism in 'Talons' but I still watch and enjoy the story (as I say above, and elsewhere, it's got lots of good points). There's no crime in loving things that one wants to criticise. The crime would be in keeping silent about the problems, or just not noticing them. That's the glib, flabby and dishonest comfort of unexamined privilege.

    Moreover, as a historical materialist, it's my duty to brush history and culture against the grain… but to do that, one must be in both history and culture. Indeed, one is fooling oneself if one imagines for a moment that one has any choice.

    Reply

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