I started the whole Skulltopus thing with ‘Horror of Fang Rock’, but that was ages ago (and before I really knew where I was going with this topic) so I feel the need to go back to it, if comparatively briefly.
Okay, so ‘Fang Rock’. Hmm. Well, it’s a Terrance Dicks script, isn’t it? Uncle Tel is, as we all know, well dodgy on politics. He writes about how the working classes are happy being poor, and aristocrats are dandy, and the empire was kind of okay. His baseline assumption is one of contented ‘capitalist realism’, of unquestioning acceptance of the status quo. Plus he’s rubbish on the question of women and sexism. He’s so bad on issues of sexual exploitation that he actually seems to be rather too keen on bringing up the subject of rape.
Weeeeell… however true the above charges may or may not be with regard to his spin-off novels, the funny thing is that, in practice, his actual TV scripts don’t show much evidence of these traits. For instance, ‘Fang Rock’ is obsessed with class, hierarchy, status, property and money… and not in an obviously reactionary, or smugly-liberal way. In fact, it’s kind of edgy (as these things go). It’s one of those relatively few Who stories outside the early Pertwee years which portrays people performing waged labour, let alone showing the working people of twentieth century Britain. And, generally speaking, the story is greatly and openly more sympathetic to the working stiffs, and what they have to put up with, than it is to the gentry. The world the Rutan comes to and fits into is a world of deep economic and social divisions between classes based on work, finance, empire and gender. The workers have to work for a living, and do. They are explicitly below the gentlefolk in a very visible social hierarchy that is painted in unmistakably negative terms, to the point where their lives are shown to be implicitly considered of less value. The business of who does and who doesn’t get a lifeboat when Palmerdale’s yacht goes down foreshadows the sinking of the Titanic, probably the most famous example of ‘gilded age’ social injustice in popular consciousness. We are evidently invited and expected to be angry about this, to side with Harker. Indeed, in his rush to indicate his line on this, Dicks makes Lord Palmerdale just a tad too obviously despicable. Palmerdale’s wealth is evidently based on financial speculation. Skinsale’s position comes from his status as an M.P., as an old imperial soldier and (presumably) his respectable birth (i.e.…
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. …
Some disjointed thoughts about ‘The Time Warrior’. Is it sexist? Is Linx really a girl? And what is the correct Socialist attitude to Irongron?
1. Men Are From Earth, Sontarans Are From… umm… Saturn? No, couldn’t be. ‘Saturn’ is an anagram of ‘Rutans’ for a start…
‘The Time Warrior’ is the chronicle of a failed romance. Irongron and Linx. The odd couple.
|Made for each other.|
The initial attraction. The slowly dawning mutual realisation that they have much in common. They take turns helping each other out. Terms of affection pass between them: Linx is Irongron’s “brother” and will be his “general”. Physical intimacy follows, as Linx allows Irongron to see his face then almost takes his arm as they leave to deal with the android knight. Irongron gives Linx a familiar nickname (albeit a rather unkind one). Then the inevitable falling out. Linx feels disappointed. He questions Irongron’s commitment. They squabble. There is a physical fight. Violence always changes a relationship irrevocably. An uneasy aftermath. Awkward attempts to rescue and preserve the friendship. “Thanks good toadface… er, good Linx”. Irongron helps the bound Linx in an act of residual solidarity. They stand face to face, close together, Irongron fascinated by Linx’s visage. “I was struck down from behind,” says Linx, not wanting to lose face in front of Irongron, but also sounding almost as though he is pleading for sympathy and solidarity. Then there is the final drunken argument. Linx is ready to move on but Irongron doesn’t like the idea of being dumped. He does the dumping, he doesn’t have it done tohim. “For the last time Linx,” says he, “let there be no more talk of leaving!” But Linx makes it clear, his spaceboots were made for walking and that’s just what he’ll do. Then, of course, the ultimate break. Linx was going to leave and destroy all Irongron’s stuff in a final act of scorn. The drunken, spurned Irongron tries one last time to delay the dumping. He gets physical again. Linx puts him down.
They were made for each other, but that itself is what makes their union impossible. That and the inevitable social stigma against same-sex and different-species relationships (talk about a double standard!).
Am I actually arguing for a gay subtext? No, perhaps not. But there is something unusually… well, ‘relationshippy’ about the way Irongron and Linx come together and then fall apart. Linx even tries to get rid of Irongron’s friends, or at least to push them out of an inner circle which increasingly includes just him and Irongron. Irongron, meanwhile, does a lot of tipsy complaining to his best mate about how unreasonable Linx is.
|“My Sontaran doesn’t understand me.”|
2. Sexism and the Citadel
I’ve argued elsewhere that ‘The Time Warrior’ is actually fairly good on the issues of feminism and sexism (everything being very relative, of course).…
UPDATE, 25/09/12: If you read this post, please read on through the comments too. Some astute readers used the comments section to set me straight on some issues both of fact and interpretation. As a result, my attitude towards ‘Night Terrors’ is now considerably more negative than my initial reaction (which you can read in the main review below). In fairness to myself, I do spend most of the piece saying what I don’t like about ‘Night Terrors’, including identifying some of what I call the “latent hostility” towards working-class people… but I failed to notice the wider context of the episode and so also the scale of the problem. I don’t mind admitting when I’m wrong (of course, I do really) but I hate that I blogged before giving myself sufficient time to think.
Okay, my foolhardy project of catching up with all the Doctor Who I’ve not seen in order to re-synch with the new stuff (and hopefully provide myself with blogging material) continues.
Last night I finally watched ‘Night Terrors’. Much to my astonishment, I didn’t absolutely hate it. I mean, it wasn’t particularly good… but it wasn’t actively offensive most of the time either. Which is fairly good going for Moffat-era Who written by Gatiss.
I was horrified by the idea that the Doctor now hears and answers prayers like God, with the pleas of a little boy travelling up to him through the heavens, but that was somewhat neutralised later by some technobabble explanation that made it sound very much like a special case. In the end, I liked that the Doctor actually seemed comparatively less full of himself, and more like a guy making it up and thinking it out as he went along. Matt Smith should be encouraged to slow down a bit more often. He had some nice, quiet moments (inbetween all the usual frenetic gibbering) that were very likeable. He does ‘kindly’ rather well.
There were cliches galore, of course. An old lady complains about her knees. A yobbo guy with a pitbull. Hoodies, etc.
Where would any mainstream BBC drama be nowadays if it had to try and depict a housing estate without the employment of hostile cliches? I think the latter stages of RTD’s depiction of Rose’s estate are the last example of such places being sketched without such latent hostility.
But… there was an interesting visual stress on the uniformity and blandness of the housing estate, bathed in that sickly yellow night-time street-light aura.
And this made the opulent but fake interior of the ‘mansion house’ into a fairly interesting visual counterpoint.
Of course, it was entirely predictable that the mansion would turn out to be a dolls house. But even that was kind of covered when the Doctor immediately realises it when he ends up there, treating the conclusion as though it’s self-evident. It looks like evidence of two tracks of thought at work in the story. We’re more on the Doctor’s wavelength than the other characters… which is not self-evidently the wrong way to do it. …
Warning: Triggers and Spoilers. And waffle.
Sex & Monsters
In Prometheus, the Engineers are ancient Titans who created humanity… and, it is implied, seeded the galaxy with their DNA. There is something very noticeable about them: they are all men. Meanwhile, there is a definite vaginal look to a great many of the alien bio-weapons they created and which then subsumed them. However, I don’t think its really possible to read the battle between Engineers and their bio-weapons as a battle of the sexes. The weapon creatures are also phallic and penetrative, as in previous iterations of the Alien universe. All the same, it’s true that presenting the creators of life (in their own image) as exclusively dudes does imply that generative power resides in the male alone. It is enough for one Engineer to dissolve his DNA into the waters of a planet to kickstart the process that will lead to animal life (if that’s how the opening scene is meant to be read). The Engineers are male but apparently sexless, capable of asexual reproduction. The deadly runaway bio-weapons, which seem hermaphroditic, look like the intrusion of sex into a male but sexless world. Sex is thus a terrifying eruption that destabilises a male utopia. The sexual nature of the weapons suggests that the Engineers – we might even be tempted to facetiously re-christen them the ‘Mengineers’ – find sexual reproduction to be inherently threatening. They set about devising weapons of mass destruction and what do they come up with? Biological goo that sets off a chain reaction of tentacle rape, fanged vaginas and violent monster pregnancy.
Foz Meadows at her blog Shattersnipe (which I heard about from Jon Blum) has made some apt observations about the film’s dubious concentration upon highly impractical female underwear, grueling ‘ladypain’ and forced impregnation. She goes on to say:
Insofar as the alien attacks go, I’ll give Scott some credit for trope subversion: twice in the course of the film, male characters are violently orally penetrated – and, in the process, killed – by phallic alien tentacles. This is visually disturbing on a number of levels, but given the near universal establishment of tentacle rape as a thing that happens to women, I’m going to give him a big thumbs up for bucking the trend. That being said, what happens to Shaw is awful on just about every level imaginable.
And so it is.
One of the interesting things about the original Alien is that it is a man – Kane (John Hurt) – who is the victim of the facehugger rape and the violent birth of the phallic infant Alien. So, although the alien pregnancy also suggests infection, cancer, parasitism and other horrors attendant on life, there is clearly a way in which the original Alien is a personification of sexual violence. This violence is directed at both sexes and emerges through the violation of a man and a subsequent male pregnancy… however, the creature itself is also intensely male. It has that famously phallic head and yet another phallic symbol springs out of its mouth, this one complete with a snapping set of teeth.…
Imperialism lies not just in the physical violence of invasion, domination, exploitation and subjugation, but also in the cultural violence of the appropriation and representation of the subjugated.
This is how exploitation and domination always works. Patriarchy’s domination of women is expressed in the marginalization, infantilization and suffocating sexualization of the female image in culture, the relentless portrayal of the woman as secondary, as an adjunct, as a commodity, as a servant or helpmate, as a source of male pleasure and satisfaction. So the violence of imperialism is also expressed in the representation of the subjugated peoples as inferior and/or dangerous, by the plundering of their stories, histories, images, ideas, practices, customs, languages, discourses, art, architecture, etc., and their transformation into aspects of the dominant culture of the imperialist.
The subject culture is usually thus shown to be inherently deserving of domination, inherently savage, childlike, irrational and sinister. If the subject culture is not demonized, it is usually infantilized, fanaticized (even their bravery is not real bravery but rather fanatical zeal from savages who do not feel pain or fear death the way we civilized people do), or shown as shambolic, idiotic and comic. Needless to say, any resistance to imperial domination, or violent reaction against it, is generalised and used as evidence of the fanaticism and savagery of the dominated.
The imperialism of the modern age – beyond the brutal reality of bullets and plunder, and beyond the underlying system of states competing globally when their geopolitical priorities converge with those of their national concentrations of capital – is a system of myths. It is as important to promulgate myths among the people of the imperial nation as it is to foist them on the victims. One of the most enduring myths of imperialism is that the victims are to blame for their own plight. This, together with a whole raft of inferiority complexes, is internalized by colonized people. But it is also internalized by the colonizing nation. This manifests itself in various versions. There is, for instance, the ‘it’s for their own good’ version, which says that the colonized benefit from colonialism, because colonialism brings them the benefits of ‘civilization’ (i.e. white Anglo-Saxon Christianity or modern secular liberal democracy, depending on which era the ideology comes from) to people who desperately need it. This is closely related to the demonizing of the colonized. The dual nature of the ‘native’ in all colonialist ideology is that they are “half-devil and half-child”.
Our imperialism needs its ideological myths, just as much as the imperialism of the past… the really scary thing is that we keep coming up with the same myths about the same people… probably because we keep needing those myths as a cultural blindfold to stop ourselves seeing imperialism for what it is.
These are the merest banalities.
Someone I respect a lot has recently said that Moffat’s Who stories don’t really display much in the way of viewpoints. With all due respect to Gallibase forum poster Affirmation (and that’s one heck of a lot of respect), I actually think Moffat’s stories do tell us a lot about what he thinks. I think they tell us quite a bit about what he thinks about women, for instance.
‘Blink’, for example, tells us that following a woman you’ve just met is an acceptable (even whimsically amusing) way of wooing her. It tells us that geeky internety guys are amusingly tragic pratts… but that women exist to redeem them by accepting them. Ultimately, the gorgeous young girl misses her opportunity to ‘get’ the hot cool copper (she automatically imagines marrying him once she’s automatically attracted to him) and has to settle for the nerd. Settling for the nerd (i.e. finally getting herself a man of some description) is the sign that she’s grown up, settled her issues, is ready to move on with life, etc. Living with her mate and having a laugh were the preludes to Real Life, the start of which (for both female characters) is naturally signfied by becoming a wife or permanent girlfriend to the nearest man ready to accept her.
And ‘Blink’, I should add, is one of Moffat’s better stories (in my ‘umble). Compared to other of his episodes, ‘Blink’ actually does seem (to me) to have some things to say. It rather amusingly takes bad sitcom characters and subjects then to a very non-sitcom plot (which is more than Gareth Roberts could manage). Of course, they’re still just bad sitcom characters… but the episode does say something about the passing of time and the achievement of emotional maturity.
Of course, the sentiments expressed are somewhat sexist (see above) and are not particularly original or shattering. Life passes quicker than you think it will, you don’t always get what you want or expect in life… well, unless you’re the steadfastly and creepily loyal nerd who eventually ‘wins’ his ‘out-of-his-league’ girlfriend once she realises what a loyal puppydog he is.
One doesn’t have to be Freud, does one?…
So, it’s now pretty much official. Amy is there to be leered at. We now have plots that hinge on Rory being unable to stop himself staring up her skirt.
Let me just repeat that:
Doctor Who, in 2011, has episodes (albeit charity ‘comedy’ ones) in which vital plot points rest on a man staring up a woman’s skirt without her knowledge or consent.
To add insult to injury, the episode coyly reminds us that the man in question is the woman’s husband, as though that makes it okay… So spying on a woman’s privacy and getting off on it is permissable as long as your relationship is sanctified by holy wedlock, is that it?
Still, Amy doesn’t seem to mind too much, so it must be okay. After all, if a woman character in a show written by a man makes a sexist comment or displays a sexist attitude, that proves she’s okay with sexism, as long as it’s all, like, jokey and ironic ‘n’ stuff.
But Amy wouldn’t mind, would she? Firstly, she’s Moffat’s meat puppet and viewer titilation service. Secondly, she’s a self-involved, self-adoring harpy… just like so many women in Moffat scripts. But that’s okay ‘cos she’s ‘feisty’… which means that, while she may be an unflattering misogynistic stereotype, she’s an unflattering misogynistic stereotype in a modern, liberated, post-feminist kinda way.
In fact, Amy is so far from minding being leered at and leched over that she deliberately uses her body as a way of getting favours (i.e. driving test passes) from the poor, helpless men she enslaves with her feminine wiles. Women, eh? They really fancy themselves, don’t they?
Well, Amy is now so self-involved and self-adoring that she literally fancies herself. She flirts with her own doppelganger, providing lesbian fantasy fodder for Rory (but that’s okay ‘cos he’s her husband, remember?).
I’m sure Wossy was amused too… if that’s a recommendation these days.
The Doctor then saves the day by twiddling his “wibbly lever”. I can’t help thinking that this is almost too perfect as a metaphor, both for how Moffat now writes the show and for how millions of lechy mysoginist fans now watch it. Stare at Amy, fiddle with the wibbly lever and, before you know it, the episode has reached a satisfying climax.
As the Doctor says: “Euurrrgghh… so this is how it ends…” Not with a whimper even, but with a sexist wank.
Still, it was all for charity, wasn’t it? Fitting. After all, what is Comic Relief but a great big load of sanctimonious, sentimental, self-righteous masturbation?…