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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.

31 Comments

  1. Etana Edelman
    August 31, 2018 @ 10:29 am

    Turning racism into an issue of individual morality has been one of the biggest obstacles to combatting it. I think one of the reasons Who fans often don’t want to acknowledge the racism of Talons is what that implies when racism is seen as something that only bad people are guilty of. Because if Talons is racist, that means Robert Holmes is racist, Philip Hinchcliffe is racist, Tom Baker is racist etc. And if Holmes and Hinchcliffe are racist that makes them bad people because only bad people are racist. And we can’t have the most hallowed era of Doctor Who be the product of bad people can we now?
    On a brief note, can I just say how infuriating it is as a Jew to watch goyim suddenly act like they care about anti-Semitism? I don’t believe for one second that these politicians would give a fuck about Corbyn’s attitudes toward Jews if he were a neoliberal Blairite.

    Reply

    • Lambda
      August 31, 2018 @ 11:56 am

      My idea here is to define two related but separate phenomena, both of which are usually called ‘racism’; personal racism and structural racism. Personal racism is negative thoughts and deeds towards ‘races’ or individuals because of their ‘race’, structural racism is the way that society works generally to the detriment of certain groups of people along lines which can be seen as ‘racial’. (In part by inducing personal racism in people, to wildly varying degrees.) The racism of Talons is structural.

      Reply

      • TomeDeaf
        August 31, 2018 @ 2:50 pm

        Or the divide can be drawn between “Germ” and “Miasma” theories of racism, as one of the commenters on Andrew’s article suggests. But they’re essentially the same model.

        As indicated above, the problem comes from individuals thinking that “racism” is a single definable act with a clear perpetrator, a “bad guy” if you will, when it’s frequently far more pervasive and pernicious than that.

        Reply

  2. Christopher Brown
    August 31, 2018 @ 3:45 pm

    Every time I think you’ve released your best work yet, another piece comes along and tops it. Excellently done, Jack. 🙂

    Reply

  3. Lambda
    August 31, 2018 @ 5:19 pm

    By the way, describing the yellowface as “realistic” isn’t actually confined to a few people on GB. It was in one of the official books, possibly “The Television Companion”. I remember in particular because I read that before seeing Talons for the first time, so I went in expecting to see something convincing, and was quite confused by the reality. I think my first thought might have been “is he supposed to be wearing a mask?”

    Reply

  4. Ryan Frost
    August 31, 2018 @ 7:08 pm

    Great piece, thank you. For what it’s worth, I’m definitely with you and El on this matter and the twitter pile-on the other day was awful to witness.

    I think a much of the problem lies in self-perception. If Talons is racist, and I like Talons, does that make ME a racist?! I think many of the people taking umbrage at El’s words see it as a personal attack – by pointing the finger at something I like very much, you accuse me also.

    This has resulted in a lot of self-reflection on my part. I’m a white male, and I’ve always loved Talons. I’ve always been aware of its inherent racism, and yet I’ve always enjoyed it. Does that make me a bad person? Probably; I’m starting to wonder. My ability to enjoy the story has never been affected by the terrible depictiction of its Chinese characters. My head says “this is obviously terribly racist”, but my heart says “I love this story anyway”. My head switches off so my heart can just enjoy the ride.

    The recent debate has put things into sharp focus, make me question myself and my own attitudes. It’s an uncomfortable feeling but I thank you and El for sparking this self-reassessment. Maybe I need to watch it again with opened eyes.

    Reply

    • Lambda
      August 31, 2018 @ 9:02 pm

      You almost have to be able to enjoy some things which are racist to like sci-fi, at least in the Western tradition. (Not saying other traditions are better, just defining the limits of my ability to speak informedly.) I see racism every time someone capitalises a word like ‘dalek’. It’s race-species confusion, you wouldn’t capitalise ‘lion’. There aren’t big differences between the average person of different races. There are huge differences between the average being of different species. Capitalising ‘dalek’ is part of thinking of daleks as a ‘race’ rather than a species, which means imagining a “race full of merciless killers”, which is a step towards being able to think of a real Earth race as something or other. The race-species confusion is based on embedding national stereotyping into sci-fi.

      I’ve been thinking about issues of definition, and one of the things I noticed is that the details of the racism make a big difference. Compare Toberman in Tomb, and the minstrel monoids in Ark.

      Everyone recognises Toberman as a huge (and negative) racial stereotype, but if your mind works a certain way, it’s possible for that to have no impact whatsoever on your enjoyment of the story whilst remaining perfectly ethical. You just need to think “my enjoyment of this story has no effect on the world outside my own head, so for the duration, I’m going to pretend racial stereotyping doesn’t exist and just imagine he’s just a person who happens randomly to be like that. When I’m doing anything which does have an impact on the world outside my own head, I’ll go back to remembering this stuff again. (A lot of people won’t be able to switch things off and on like that of course, but I’m sure people who can exist.)

      Whereas despite being far less recognised as such, the minstrel monoids diminish the enjoyability of The Ark for anyone who isn’t a racist who likes laughing at minstrel characters, no matter how your mind works. The story relies on you liking minstrel depictions. If the viewer has never thought about any of this, then they just see monsters who are oddly stupid for no apparent reason, which is a negative factor for the story. (Unless you’re watching it on radically different terms to the usual, and just want to laugh at old Who being creaky and stupid sometimes or the like.) It’s common to find the stupidity of the monoids being part of routine criticism of the story. Everyone doing that is disliking the racism of the story, without even knowing it’s there.

      Anyway, the main point I had been thinking about, which is now just kind of hanging off this comment as tangentially relevant, was that there really are quite a lot of different definitions of ‘racism’ you can use for a story. All of these questions are ones which could have different answers, despite all being possible answers to the question ‘how racist is this story’?

      How bad a role does it play in the racism of society of its time?

      How bad a role does it play in the racism of modern society?

      How bad is its intended meaning?

      How bad is the meaning you get when you analyse it ‘properly’ (for any number of definitions of ‘properly’)?

      How much of a barrier to enjoyment is it if the viewer does not share its racism?

      If the racism of this story doesn’t really bother you, how likely is it that you need to worry about your ethics?

      Reply

  5. Neo. C
    August 31, 2018 @ 8:34 pm

    Well said. Looking forward to the next article.

    Reply

  6. Chris C
    August 31, 2018 @ 8:37 pm

    In the insular moral universe of the clique surrounding Doctor Who paraphernalia, calling for someone’s – gasp – JOB! is the absolute worst thing you could ever do. Making excuses for racism? Directing harassment at critics of racism? Harmless in comparison! Just don’t ever breathe a word, not even the merest tweet, against the right of any of these ~dear friends~ to hold on to their jobs dictating the terms of this franchise.

    What’s that? You’ve got some diverse millennials together to offer a smattering of fresher perspectives on the show? And they want to mildly call out Talons for its racism…? Let me stop you right there. We can publish it, but only if the first thing the reader sees when they open the magazine is an entire page about why Talons isn’t really racist, just so nobody accidentally takes this gang of naive children seriously. All good? Great! Aren’t we lucky that Doctor Who is such a big family of lovely people who all get along?

    Reply

    • John G. Wood
      September 3, 2018 @ 9:13 am

      These days I am unsurprised when people declare that even the most racist DW stories aren’t really racist at all. Because of that, the most shocking aspect of Marcus Hearn’s editorial (as reported in Andrew Rilstone’s article) was the disrespect shown to the Time Team members, as you highlight here.

      (Which is not to say that young people’s oppression is more important than racism denial; but it’s not insignificant either.)

      I am sorry for the extra abuse El had to face as a result of all this.

      Reply

  7. Kate Orman
    September 1, 2018 @ 1:40 am

    This essay made me grow brain tissue.

    I wonder if criticising Talons’ racism provokes even more than discomfort. Is such criticism is a frontal assault on fannish identity itself? Talons is extremely popular and highly regarded; for many fans, it is the definitive Doctor Who story. When someone points out the obvious about Talons, the danger is not just to one flawed story, but the entire edifice of Doctor Who — and the identities of those of us whose souls are inextricably entangled in the show. The criticism must be contained, dismissed, denied, or we and everything we have built will crumble into dust and blow away.

    I’m lucky in that I’ve always thought Talons was boring. Now, Pyramids of Mars… but there’s a whole other can of worms.

    Reply

    • Aylwin
      September 1, 2018 @ 1:37 pm

      Yes, that’s persuasive. Being such a highly-regarded story right at the centre of the concentric circles defining un certain idée de Who (the classic series; Tom Baker; the Hinchcliffe era; Victorian gothic written by Robert Holmes in the Hinchcliffe era of the Tom Baker era of the classic series…) may well make this story feel like a kind of capstone whose crumbling could, as you say, bring the whole lot crashing down.

      And in terms of fandom as a focus for one’s sense of identity, and the impact of threats to this, the social context of the status held by Talons and the particular notion of Doctor Who it epitomises surely makes the issue especially volatile. That school of thought (as it seems to me on the basis of my rather shaky familiarity with the fandom and its history) is the traditional mainstream consensus of old-school orthodoxy, whose preferences were by no means ever universally endorsed but were for a long time predominant and able to expect respectful treatment even from those whose inclinations differed. It’s an outlook, however, which has inevitably been rendered ever less central as fandom founded on the new series expands. It’s the most natural centre of gravity for tendencies to feel that things were better in the old days, to look askance at these kids today and their funny ideas, to feel insecure about “our thing” being “taken away”, and to lay claim to the right to set the terms of conversation. That background surely has to make its exponents particularly inclined to touchy, defensive overreaction when their icons and standards are challenged.

      Without actually spelling out the wider resonances, well, you see where I’m going with this. Those resonances would be there even if the particular point at issue and dramatis personae were not what and who they are; given those specifics, they ring louder.

      Reply

      • Aylwin
        September 2, 2018 @ 11:16 am

        I mean a keystone, not a capstone.

        Reply

    • Aylwin
      September 2, 2018 @ 11:33 am

      Oh, and er, you surely won’t remember this because it was about a year ago, but last time I responded to one of your comments I was kind of an idiot. I was rude even while trying (not hard enough) not to be, and vaulted bumptiously off to natter about what I was thinking about without giving proper consideration to what you were saying. I happened to go back to that thread months later, reread it and winced. I know this is probably sheer self-indulgence at this point, but I apologise.

      Reply

  8. Toby Reek
    September 1, 2018 @ 7:40 am

    “…what El actually said was “People should be fucking sacked for it”. That isn’t a demand or even a suggestion. It’s clearly angry rhetoric”

    Sorry, no. What Dr Sandifer said was “No part of this is excusable. People should be fucking sacked for it, and I’m not giving @DWMtweets a penny until there’s a new editor or a comprehensive apology from the current one.”

    That’s not rhetorical. That is a threat to withdraw funding if action is not taken. It was posted on Dr Sandifer’s live stream and had a potential of being directly seen by some 3000+ of her followers. By addressing it to @DWMtweets it had the potential to reach the live streams of 171,000+ other people.

    As such, it is a call to arms.

    Given that DWM has print run of less than 19,467, of which only 7482 are the core audience of subscribers, and is supplemented by a small digital subscription of 1,808, any reaction in terms of 100s or small 1000s of subscription changes in the next month would be noticeable and would result in a response from the publishers and the BBC.

    I am not defending any of the subsequent events that have occurred. Nor am I defending the original editorial. Talons of Weng Chiang undeniably has racist elements and could not be made today. The fact that it was made in 1977 reflects the prevailing attitude of the time – but that does not make it any more acceptable then or now.

    None of those facts excuse Dr Sandifer’s original tweet, however. It was a rally cry to anyone in a worldwide audience who would listen, calling for an individual’s expulsion before giving them or the organisation for which they work a chance to respond.

    Siccing her followers onto individuals in this way is as much bullying as anything else that ensued. It is as unforgivable for an academic.

    Reply

    • James Murphy
      September 1, 2018 @ 8:29 am

      A threat to withdraw funding? You’re a clown. Don’t play a puerile numbers game to pretend that the Official Magazine is put into any danger whatsoever by an angry post. You’re absolutely trying to justify the behaviour of the aggrieved Dr Who gammons by exaggerating the risk of a transwoman mentioning racism.

      Reply

      • Toby Reek
        September 1, 2018 @ 8:42 am

        And, once again, the name calling begins and factors that have nothing to do with the behaviour being called out are used as a justification for those behaviours.

        Dr Sandifer had every right to highlight her disagreement with what was published. Her method is what is in question along with the fact that the author of this article chose to “edit” those methods when quoting them to remove the sting of the behaviour.

        Reply

        • Kate Orman
          September 1, 2018 @ 12:20 pm

          If you’re right, Toby, then the damage is done: we can expect a response from Panini and the Beeb next month. If there is no response, that will be evidence that tweets have little impact on DWM, and that it’s safe for readers to criticise the magazine, even angrily.

          Reply

    • Jack Graham
      September 1, 2018 @ 11:16 am

      Quoting El’s remarks in full simply shows that they were perfectly justifiable consumer feedback. If DWM doesn’t want to potentially lose the chunk of its readership that includes people who follow El, it should do things that piss them off. “A call to arms”? Okay.

      Reply

      • Jack Graham
        September 1, 2018 @ 11:17 am

        I of course meant “shouldn’t”. Bleurgh.

        Reply

      • Toby Reek
        September 1, 2018 @ 12:04 pm

        Yes, in that Dr Sandifer is a thought leader, just like the people who wrote and published the editorial that started the whole business.

        Her opinions carry weight and they can influence the opinions of those who read them – as demonstrated by the number of responses (not all by any means but a good sum) to the ensuing tweets and retweets which read something along the lines of “I’ve haven’t read/seen the editorial/article/serial in question, but I agree with…”

        Whether intentional of not, that is a call to arms.

        I am not defending the actions of the people who in turn sicced their followers on Dr. Sandifer. That was equally deplorable. Unfortunately behaviour of a sort tends to result in responses of the same sort but magnified.

        Reply

        • Lambda
          September 1, 2018 @ 2:35 pm

          I don’t think there’s really any equivalence between not buying a publication which you’re not fond of the politics of, (even if you’re delegating the judgement to a popular commentator you trust,) and harassing someone.

          Reply

        • TomeDeaf
          September 1, 2018 @ 3:13 pm

          I love the idea of an “unintentional call to arms”. Can anyone make one of those over the washing up? At what point does it become the fault of those who misread the intentions of the original statement? Should everybody everywhere police their language to the extent that nobody nowhere could possibly misread any utterance as a rallying cry?

          Or is it, perchance, silly hyperbole?

          Reply

        • Przemek
          September 3, 2018 @ 8:05 am

          I honestly wish we lived in a world where an angry tweet from a fan can seriously damage an official magazine published by one of the most powerful institutions in the country. Overthrowing capitalism would be so much easier.

          Reply

    • Sarah42
      September 2, 2018 @ 3:06 am

      Excuse me? It’s terrible bullying to say online that one is no longer paying for a glorified fanzine? Personally, I no longer intend to spend $11.99 US monthly on a zine that no longer interests me now that Capaldi’s era’s done. (He’s really all I’ve cared about in NuWho. I have no interest in Chibnall’s upcoming output. Big deal. I dumped a long-time DWM subscription back in 1996 and didn’t touch the zine again until Capaldi. Did they notice?)

      I’m certain that there are plenty in fandom who’d already decided whether or not they wanted to continue buying DWM. I decided last year that I’d drop it once the Twelfth Doctor changed over in the comic story, and I’ve already collected more issues than I really wanted to see (because I can’t stress enough how uninterested I am in Chibnall as showrunner). El’s angry post alerted me to yet more annoying behavior from DWM staff (seen plenty of that already as they’ve become even-more-fawning BBC mouthpieces), but I’d already decided way before that that the zine bores me stiff and the staff annoys hell out of me.

      I really doubt my sole opinion will influence DWM’s future, because there are enough fans out there who’ve been proclaiming Chibnall and Whittaker to be personal saviors that no one will miss eyerollingly-bored ex-fans.

      Reply

  9. Jack
    September 1, 2018 @ 11:41 pm

    Since I don’t twitter, and I don’t read DWM, could someone give me a summary of what the hell is going on here?

    Reply

    • Sleepyscholar
      September 2, 2018 @ 3:21 am

      I am also not on Twitter, and my DWM sub lapsed years ago, but I would have thought the outline of what happened was pretty clear:

      1. DWM got some young people to watch Talons. They quite rightly called it on its racism.
      2. In the same issue, DWM published an editorial that said they were wrong to call it for its racism, because [insert the various excuses, which you can infer from Jack’s article, or read in Andrew’s]
      3. El denounced the editorial.
      4. A load of Twitter trolls ‘denounced’ El.

      Not saying there isn’t a certain amount of complexity beyond that, but that complexity is what the articles cover.

      Reply

      • Jack
        September 2, 2018 @ 1:08 pm

        Point #1 was the thing that, near as I can tell, wasn’t mentioned in any of this; without that, it makes it look like someone at DWM woke up one day and decided to make an editorial defending Talons. Which, yeah, for all it’s good qualities as a story was pretty amazingly racist in it’s time, let alone in 2018. Even as a kid watching it on my local PBS station back in 1979 I could tell that this story was a mess. Thanks for clarifying the events for me, though.

        Reply

  10. C.S.
    September 2, 2018 @ 3:17 pm

    I’ve never quite understood people that didn’t acknowledge racism and sexism within Doctor Who, but they tend to pop up in the same numbers as people who see it practically everywhere. It’s not too difficult to say to yourself, “Oopsies, Toberman/Chang/The Toymaker was a terrible mistake. If I was a viewer at the time I’d likely have been outraged. Thank god things have become better in recent years in this regard.” and then go on. Of course, there’s also the part of you that has to remember that “Aliens aren’t all stand-ins for black people. This entire show is not about killing the blacks. Nobody believes that and nobody ever will. That’s ridiculous,” and then go on with the Hulke story somebody snuck onto the DVD rack.

    Anywho, common sense doesn’t prevail among Twitter-based Who fans much.

    Reply

  11. Spacestronaut
    September 3, 2018 @ 12:13 am

    A more interesting question is would the ’90s Leekey remake of Talons have necessarily been racist? Could you do a version that was as close as possible to being unproblematic?

    I think so, you just recast the Jago and Litefoot characters with asian actors and make them the real heroes. Turn the whole thing into a Big Trouble in Little China homage with Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor playing the clueless Jack Burton role.

    Reply

    • Kate Orman
      September 3, 2018 @ 1:06 am

      This is an attractive idea, and would certainly improve on Talons; but it still relies on the baddies being a bunch of Sax Rohmer stereotypes (much as Big Trouble in Little China draws on sinophobic tropes). Mind you, make the baddies British, and –! I’ll bring the TV snax.

      Reply

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