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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.

5 Comments

  1. Iain Coleman
    February 5, 2014 @ 9:24 am

    One thing I really liked in Aliens of London / World War III was that the Slitheen were presented, not as a race, but as a family. (Presumably any family members who want out of the interstellar crime racket end up doing a Michael Corleone.) Unfortunately, this distinction seems to have been elided ever since. Perhaps "Raxacoricofallapatorian" is too long to fit on the action figure box?

    Reply

  2. liminalD
    February 5, 2014 @ 1:54 pm

    Yeah, popular science fiction stories, particularly, seem especially prone to racist depictions of the 'other'. Star Trek and Doctor Who seem to be two of the worst offenders – the Daleks are always genocidal, the Vulcans are always calm and logical, etc etc… and I think it's because each 'race' or species is meant to be an allegory for a real world concern. The Daleks (and the Cardassians) 'represent' Nazism, the Klingons were originally intended as a representation of the Soviet threat, and so on. Star Trek has tried, since the Next Generation at least, to address this problem, with varying degrees of success. Depictions of the Klingons and Romulans became far more nuanced, with plenty of noble and heroic members shown from each society, while also unfortunately setting up new racial generalizations, the Betazoids are all gentle (feminine) empaths, the Ferengi are all greedy, cowardly capitalists, and so on. They then had to deconstruct these stereotypes too, which they mostly did in Deep Space Nine. I suspect it's more to do with the format of the show – the Star Trek series that are set on starships frequently fall into the Planet of the Hats pattern, whereas DS9, in being largely limited to one setting, has the time to really engage with its material and characters and thus largely avoids falling into the trap of making racial generalizations. Sure, different species are depicted, but a real effort is made to present any characteristics of each group as cultural, rather than inherent.

    Doctor Who, having more in common with the starship-based Trek series than with DS9, falls into the race trap all the time, one of the foundational structures of the show is the alien incursion narrative – the threat that comes from the other and has to be dealt with. And I think there is an awareness in the production team since 2005 of the problematic racial overtones in that structure – as Iain said, the Slitheen are shown to be a family, which is a start, and I'd add that RTD tried to show the cat people as a diverse group too. More recently, Moffat has tried to give us at least one sympathetic Dalek, Sontaran, Silurian and Cyberman (though its debatable whether he succeeded in doing that). But these concessions can't stop the inertia of the show, which is by now a pop-culture juggernaut. The Daleks have always been fascists, that's the way we as a culture like them, and we scream our protests (in all-capslock) when anything is done to mess with that. But maybe they're a special case – I can't imagine anyone kicking up that much of a fuss if the Sontarans suddenly gave up their war-like ways.

    In stark contrast, Star Wars is probably the least racially problematic of the big popular sci-fi franchises – since its inception it's shown a staggering diversity of alien and human characters from a vast multitude of species. There are Ithorian merchants, smugglers, and Jedi. There are both heroic and sleazy Twi'leks. Good and bad Zabraks. True, the struggle against the Empire seems to be largely a human affair, but it's worth noting that the Rebel Alliance includes in its ranks a number of alien faces while the Empire is presented as human, and uniform. Star Wars has its own problems, such as the glorification of militaristic conflict and a deeply ingrained sexism, but race doesn't appear to be among them.

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    • Kyle Edwards
      March 10, 2017 @ 6:31 pm

      I know this is so, so, late, but just one quibble: do Daleks count? I’ve heard the idea that dismissing all Daleks as evil is racist, but didn’t Genesis of the Daleks establish that Davros basically lobotomized them (or at least altered their brains in some way) so that they could only hate and desire destructions?

      Reply

  3. T. Hartwell
    February 7, 2014 @ 5:15 am

    Well, at least until you get to the prequels, where racial stereotypes abound (just within TPM you have crafty oriental trade officials, hook-nosed merchants, and pidgin-speaking comic relief characters that willingly place themselves in 'life debts'). Though I'm not sure I could even look at something like the Tusken Raiders in the original film and come away with a positive reading.

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  4. Anonymous
    August 28, 2014 @ 4:12 pm

    "He was a product of the late-19th and early-20th centuries…"

    And earlier, given the books in grandpa's library.

    Reply

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