Changing Times, Nice Guys and ‘Strong Female Characters’

I’ve gone on the record saying I think Moffat’s version of Doctor Who is sexist and heteronormative.  A challenge I often hear – and it’s a serious point – is the idea that Moffat’s Who is, at least, no worse than previous eras on issues like depictions of gay relationships, and is frequently better.  There are positive depictions of gay characters, quite unlike anything in, say, the Hartnell era.  Well, firstly, let me say that I don’t want to claim that things are ‘worse’ now (in any absolute way) than in the Hartnell years, when homosexuality essentially didn’t exist at all in-story in the Who universe. And sure, many old episodes have displayed all sorts of heteronormative stuff, and also outright homophobic stuff (albeit usually by implication).  Harrison Chase is, in many ways, implied to be an evil gay man (it’s not that I think gay people are like him, but rather that he is constructed partly of tropes that connote gayness in pop culture).

It isn’t that there’s a scale that pertains to culture now just as it pertained in 1963 and 73 and 83 etc, with Who scoring 3.7 points on the heteronormativity scale (or the racist, or sexist, or whatever, scale) in 1963 but now scoring 9.1 under Moffat. That’s not how I see it (which isn’t to say that comparisons across the decades are meaningless). Normative assumptions shift and fluctuate with all sorts of social and economic changes (this is part of what I was getting at in my previous post with regards to upswings and downswings in the reactionary content of culture). There are ideas now that simply weren’t widely accepted (or even much known about) in, say, 1963… but which are now widely understood and championed by large numbers of people.

Awareness of homophobia, discrimination against LGBT people, heteronormativity, etc, are all examples of issues where people’s widespread views have changed drastically. And this isn’t the ‘condescension of posterity’, because I acknowledge that people’s ideas have been changed by people, particularly as a result of the great breakthrough struggles of the mid 60s through to the early 70s. That’s partly why Moffat’s Who looks extraordinarily liberal and right-on by the standards of much of the old show… if we look at them with the same constant, reductive scale of measurement… which we can’t do because it’s more complex than that, with struggles and changing ideas altering the normative assumptions against which we make judgements. 

To be crude about it, even today’s crusading reactionaries in the Tory party talk the talk of respect for gender equality, racial equality, etc.  They have to… even as their actual policies reinforce division, discrimination, inequality and attacks upon the living standards of ordinary people that Thatcher could only fondly dream of getting away with.  But there are swings and roundabouts in people’s consciousness.  Poeple today would be (and are) very unwilling to tolerate open racial prejudice from their politicians, yet there is widespread anxiety about immigration and asylum, carefull inculcated by the media. …

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