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Less concerned with who’s first up against the wall than with how to decorate it

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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. Wood
    August 5, 2016 @ 7:39 am

    Interesting analysis. Just to add to your comment about how property rights in English ghost stories are different to American ones, it’s interesting to note that genre fictions here in England’s vassal neighbours are also different again in theme.

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  2. Jane
    August 5, 2016 @ 2:58 pm

    I’m reminded of the Puppet Master franchise, which I caught on videotape back in my college days. There was something about those murderous puppets… I found myself rooting for them! I only vaguely remember the stories, something about souls and reanimation from death. One of them, though, ostensibly made the puppets protagonists, which was a blast! Anyways, I guess I like thinking that my affinity towards them might actually be rooted in something more than aesthetics, so thank you for this.

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  3. Anton B
    August 6, 2016 @ 9:41 am

    Wonderful piece Jack, thanks. I like your distinctions between how SF and Horror respectively address the uncanny. Doctor Who is unique, I think, in often attempting to have it both ways when it comes to Horror tropes. The very story you cite, The Satan Pit, introduces the Devil, the eponymous Satan, (an antagonist itself colonially appropriated from a subjugated culture) as its ‘Big Bad’ with as handwavey a piece of quasi mystical technobabble as ever I’ve heard. Compare with the classic series’ The Stones of Blood or The Daemons. I feel there’s a point to be made also about the tropes of War, terror and the demonizing of refugees in ST/fantasy. Look at Rose, the first Nu-Who story and An Unearthly Child the first of the classic series. Rose uses the imagery of a low paid wage slave in that most capitalist of settings, the department store, being menaced by shop window dummies, the very public face of consumerism. They have been animated, possessed, it turns out by a war displaced ‘monster’ an ideologically motivated refugee whom the Doctor attempts to subjugate by quoting obscure articles of Law and Rights (the poetic Shadow Proclamation, later ruined via literalisation by Moffat). The ‘Unearthly Child’ of the first story’s title begins by subverting the very framework of wage slavery via introducing the Other into it’s education (for which read indoctrination) system. There’s an alien child in Coal Hill school! A secret refugee.

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    • Aylwin
      August 6, 2016 @ 10:08 am

      the poetic Shadow Proclamation, later ruined via literalisation by Moffat

      Wasn’t that Davies himself, in The Stolen Earth?

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      • Anton B
        August 7, 2016 @ 8:42 am

        Indeed it was. I misremembered. No slur on Moffat personally was intended (I’m not a Moffat hater) so my point still stands.

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        • Aylwin
          August 11, 2016 @ 4:17 pm

          Indeed. I was just being pernickety. And it’s not as though Moffat hasn’t done that sort of thing on other occasions, as with the rendition of the Time War in Day of the Doctor.

          Reply

  4. Anton B
    August 6, 2016 @ 9:44 am

    Please excuse the unintentional ongoing italics in my above comment.

    Reply

  5. Aylwin
    August 6, 2016 @ 9:57 am

    Really enjoying this series, but I think this strikes the wrong note about the relationship between capitalism and the family, certainly in a context as recent as the 1970s, let alone the present. Yes, the breadwinner-housewife model was promoted by the removal of manufacturing and administrative activity from the home, initially drawing out primarily male labour, but that model was a transitional phenomenon, whose destruction was required by the continued working-through of capitalist development. By the 70s, the capitalist dynamic had long since made the transition from promoting to eroding it.

    That social model is fundamentally at odds with capitalist imperatives, because it removes fully half the locally available workforce from the open labour market for the rest of their lives, rendering their labour unavailable to investors. That would be wasteful enough even if employers got to choose which individuals should be made permanently inaccessible, but to do so with a group that is, in terms of abilities and potential productivity, effectively a randomly-selected one…well, from the capitalist point of view that’s insane.

    In its insatiable need to keep expanding, capitalism has attacked and continues to attack that model from both sides. On the one hand, it has demanded that women’s capacity for profitable labour of all kinds be as fully and flexibly marketised as that of men, or as close to that as is feasible. And on the other, it has demanded the marketisation of domestic labour functions. This has been both a necessity for making women available for work outside the home while still getting domestic work done, and a means of extending opportunities for profitable investment into a previously relatively unmarketised sector of activity. It proceeds partly through straightforwardly turning over “housewife” functions to wage-labourers (childminders/nursery staff/nannies, cleaners etc), and partly, and preferably, through replacing low-tech labour on the spot with more highly-capitalised and productive manufacturing labour (“labour-saving” household appliances, pre-processed foods etc).

    You say that unpaid domestic labour is “cost-free (to capitalism)”, but it’s not, because (as I think you have previously noted yourself) a viable wage must support not only the worker but any dependents, so that the cost-pressures effectively work out much the same, whether the market-wide wage-bargaining environment is based on one pay-packet per household or two. In any case, capitalism is not about minimising costs but maximising profits. Paying more workers is welcome if it brings a proportional increase in work done, revenues and profits.

    Of course, the marketisation of female labour does seem to have contributed to falling birth-rates and thus a growing shortage of native labour in developed economies. But that’s the kind of problem, operating on a society-wide level and relatively slowly, that capitalism is systematically unsuited to addressing, and indeed actively militates against addressing. Because capitalism is not a “group-mind”. It’s more like the dynamic of natural selection, like life itself, that other hegemonising swarm intent on restructuring all available matter and energy into expressions of itself, proceeding in a blindly undirected but self-organising fashion. Not quite, of course, because it’s created by humans, with their considerable individual capacity for planning. But it fundamentally discourages and impedes the use of those faculties for society-wide or long-term planning, given its imperative to operate on the time-scale of the investment cycle and its decision-making system based on the interests of the individual business enterprise. Actions that benefit its constituent parts in the short term are favoured even if they undermine the whole system in the long term (I think someone or other once used the phrase “internal contradictions”?). See also climate change.

    Capitalism and social convervatism are often fundamentally opposed to one other, as I think you have observed in the past. Is this not the classic case?

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    • Aylwin
      August 6, 2016 @ 12:11 pm

      Oh, and I left out another aspect of this: the erosion of gender roles that makes it more socially viable for men to take on the traditionally feminine position of principal child-carer etc (full-time or part-time), where this suits the circumstances and personalities of the individuals involved. This also conforms with the capitalist dynamic, since when treated in gender-neutral terms, that question of which partner is more suitable for staying at home tends to correspond closely to the question of which one earns less – that is to say, which one’s labour offers less value to employers. Thus gender-neutral parenting enhances the household’s capacity to generate profit for investors.

      Besides this labour-supply-side element, I think (though this is a more questionable proposition, and if true, the process is certainly less far-advanced), that eroding gender distinctions also fits a capitalist logic on the consumer-demand side of things, which I talked a bit about a while back, on one of Jack’s Star Wars posts.

      All of which is to say, (though this is controversial and voiced with some trepidation) that I think feminism is broadly harmonious with capitalism. Most major feminist goals seem to be either in line with capitalist imperatives or matters of indifference from a capitalist point of view. Second-wave feminism went in for some wide-rangingly radical propositions with damaging implications for capitalism, but that seems to have been rather a temporary phenomenon.

      The degree to which feminism and capitalism have tended to wind up being espoused by opposing groups in political conversation seems like chiefly an artefact of coalition-building, which has created a strong alignment between capitalism and social conservatism, despite their profound contradictions with one another. This includes the “internal coalition-building” of personal psychology – people in positions of power and privilege, which in a capitalist society commonly involves power in, from and over capitalist institutions, tend to have a natural predisposition towards conservatism, which can take effect even in areas where this is in conflict with the capitalist dynamic.

      But I’m probably going to get taken off at the knees here.

      Reply

      • Aylwin
        August 6, 2016 @ 12:19 pm

        I mean, if anyone bothers to read this far. Shutting up now.

        Reply

      • mr_mond
        August 6, 2016 @ 2:44 pm

        Brilliant comment! But I am curious – what second-wave feminism policies would you say are (were?) damaging to capitalism? I thought (though my knowledge is very limited, but that is why I’m asking) that the main thrust of second-wave feminism was “we can do all the stuff men do!”, which would mean entering the market and playing the capitalist game as well as possible, which would support the whole system. If you could point to some examples, I would be very grateful.

        Reply

        • Aylwin
          August 6, 2016 @ 5:07 pm

          Thank you – though you’ve unerringly zeroed in on probably the sketchiest single sentence I posted!

          I was thinking of the prominence in the radical end of second-wave feminism of elements like pacifism, environmentalism and non-hierarchical communal separatism, conceived of in terms that associated such themes specifically with the female. All that sort of thing was linked by a general philosophical attitude that there was a fundamentally different (and better) female way of doing things, such that a society in which female potential was fully expressed would necessarily involve a drastically different social, political and economic order.

          That’s a way of thinking that rests heavily on gender essentialism, which has lost ground after the second wave, in favour of views of gender distinctions as culturally constructed and generally dubious. That shift moves feminism away from the espousal of a feminine principle fundamentally incompatible with, and so demanding the overthrow of, the whole established order, necessarily including capitalism as a central part of that. It leaves a much greater emphasis in feminist aims on slotting women into traditionally male roles, in an essentially unchanged structure. Which has of course always been a very big strand in feminism, but is now a more preponderant one than in the second-wave era. Such an approach and ethos has notably been very prominent in the burst of femininst output in genre media in the last year or two, Doctor Who included.

          All of which is probably a gross over-generalisation, and should be taken as liberally sprinkled with caveats of various flavours. It’s also more on an abstract plane than the more concrete economic issues that I was mostly talking about. But that’s what I was getting at there.

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      • Gavin Burrows
        August 7, 2016 @ 12:33 pm

        Interesting comments on an interesting piece. My initial response would be to ask whether you aren’t getting the cart before the horse. There was a long period where women were only marginally represented in the workplace (outside of wartime), and it would seem to me a bit more than a coincidence that it should change after the arising of second wave feminism. Otherwise, if it was just a simple calculation that twice the workers per household equalled twice the production, why wouldn’t it have happened much earlier? To reduce it to rather crude terms, a less gendered workplace was capitalism’s ‘answer’ to feminism.

        (Plus, at least in the UK, it was an attempt to break the strength of Trade Unions. Unions were strong here in the Seventies but were mostly composed of men and concerned with men’s issues. Women’s labour was seen as a marginal issue, “brother” a generic term. Increasing the numbers of a non-unionised section of the workforce ‘answered’ unionism as much as it did feminism.)

        More widely, I don’t picture some teleological path of “capitalist development”, any more than I do a telological path towards communism. Actual capitalists don’t tend to be bright forward thinkers from Rand novels or mastermind criminals like Lex Luthor, they tend to be small-minded and greedy people like Donald Trump and Philp Greed. Ultimately capitalism isn’t driven by it’s own internal imperatives, not even the drive to maximise profit, so much as it is by the conflict between oppressed and oppressing groups. Oppressed groups act in response to their situation, as with Trade Unionism or second wave feminism, to which capitalism is itself forced to react. It’s about the struggle, as someone or other once said.

        Whether feminism is inherently in contradiction to capitalism is a fascinating question, but probably ultimately an unanswerable one. Capitalism’s ability to respond to challenges shouldn’t be seen as something neat or schematic, or endlessly elastic. The classic example would be Black Lives Matter. On paper, that would be the easiest of challenges to meet. Just decree the cops to shoot a few less black people, something which in itself doesn’t generate any profit, and the demonstrations stop. Yet if they were able to do that, the chances are they’d have done it by now.

        This is probably coming over as more damning of your comments than they deserve. Treat it as an attempt to get some of the ‘other side’ over…

        Reply

        • Aylwin
          August 11, 2016 @ 10:01 pm

          Belatedly getting back to this…

          Thank you for a thought-provoking response and some verry good points, and don’t worry about being critical.

          On putting the cart before the horse, I would say that I was not trying to take a position on the relative importance of feminism and capitalism as causative factors in creating a less gender-determined labour market, or on the causative interactions between the two. I was making the more limited case that they are essentially operating in the same direction in this regard, and perhaps in others. The “reserve army of labour” implications for union-busting which you mention are in line with that view.

          I think a lot of our difference here is conceptual, or even semantic. My not-being-a-Marxist kicks in here. I tend to think of capitalism as an approach to economic activity and to the role of economic activity in the world, a complex of ideas, attitudes, practices and institutional patterns which exerts varying degrees of influence over the behaviour of individuals, which their actions express and embody to varying degrees. (Which starts to sound a bit Idealist, and oh blimey am I turning Platonist in my old age. But that is perhaps more defensible when dealing with an abstract concept like capitalism, something that has a less concrete independent existence than a physical object and is more evidently just a convenient interpretative framework for grouping and simplifying into manageability a set of phenomena. And yes, I know that in strict philosophical terms that distinction is at most one of degree, but speaking for practical purposes.) I do not see it as encompassing (to wildly caricature a class-based description) whatever members of the bourgeoisie do.

          Hence I would not necessarily see actions undertaken by people of a generally capitalist outlook, operating through the power they hold in capitalist institutions or through wealth acquired by capitalist means, as expressions of capitalism, where those actions arise from non-capitalist drives and contradict capitalist imperatives. Such people have all manner of other characteristics besides those associated with capitalism, and these can exert a very powerful influence indeed, something that has a major bearing on the question of why these changes took so long. Patriarchy, after all, has been putting down roots for an awful lot longer than the modern capitalist ascendancy has been at work.

          Reply

          • Gavin Burrows
            August 13, 2016 @ 1:09 pm

            With causality, I was really picking up on your term “capitalist development”, and possibly running off with it. So apologies if I was accusing you of rearranging carts and horses baselessly.

            I don’t thing I see capitalism as either a complex of ideas or a physical object so much as a social relation, which then gets instanced in both of those. Capitalism isn’t the ruling class and what they’re up to this time. True, capitalists like to talk in terms of plans they make, and like to manufacture outrage if those plans are opposed by workers. But that’s to see things too much from their perspective, even if you then go on to side with those workers. It’s the dynamics of the relation between the classes which is the defining thing. Class struggle isn’t an abberation to capitalism but a feature of it, possibly the core feature.

            On the subject of capitalism and conservatism, less an observation than a personal reaction… If you’re UK-based and as old as me, you came of age politically speaking in the Eighties. And it seemed most obvious thing in the world that our prime antagonist would be called the Conservative party. And that they’d attempt to break organised labour while at the same time doing something like passing the notoriously homophobic Section 28, that seemed just as obvious. That the same group, while still calling themselves the Conservatives, would continue to crush the workers like never before yet pass gay marriage into law feels pretty weird to me. I mean, I can rationalise it but it still feels weird.

  6. Daibhid Ceannaideach
    August 6, 2016 @ 10:49 am

    Fascinating analysis.

    Sorry I don’t have anything more insightful to comment with, but am I alone in the fact that, whenever I here the phrase “Enfield Haunting”, I picture the ghost announcing its possession with a cheery “Only me!”? Yeah, I thought I probably was.

    Reply

    • Daibhid Ceannaideach
      August 6, 2016 @ 10:50 am

      Gah, “hear the phrase…”

      Reply

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