Racism, "Racism"(?), Doctor Who and Me - And Some Random Gloats
(For some fascinating and insightful comments on this, please visit my cross-posted Livejournal entry and read the comments there before spanking me here. Truth to tell, I'm tempted to delete this entry — nobody likes to publicly fall on their face — but if I'm going to make a fool of myself in public, pretending it didn't happen seems to me to be intellectually and morally dishonest. To read on, if you will, but know that I don't stand by this anymore. GD, January 28, 2009.)
Racism, "Racism"(?), Doctor Who and Me
Jesus. I wanted this post to be All About Me and the fact that my website has been rebuilt and is now interactive (yes, comments about the look and feel of it are more than welcome; at this point, most of you are familiar with most of the material that's on it), but instead I've spent hours reading various iterations of the Great Cultural Appropriation Debate of (January) 2009.
Some of you are already aware of it and I don't have the strength to try to summarize it — suffice it to say that that the starting point was matociquala's post about "writing the other". The ensuing discussion/flame-war(s) contain(s) links-a-plenty for those interested in pursuings it/them.
In a nutshell (as I understand/remember it — and note that my understanding has changed quite a bit over the past few days),
At least, sort of.
For those of you who are not fans (shocking!), the framing device for the episode was set on a planet (or at least a city) largely inhabited by people one can only presumed were of Chinese descent. The setting reminded me of what I imagine Hong Kong looked like in the 1970s and the actors spoke English like people only recently off the boat.
I totally understand that, in terms of impact, intentionality does not matter. "Turn Left" affected me viscerally in ways that I'm sure RTD did not intend. Whether RTD intended it as an example of the whole "Dr Fu Man Chu" evil Chinese villain thing or not is utterly irrelevant to the textual analysis that shows we have people who are villains, who are evil, and, oh yeah, they happen to be foreign, exotic Chinese people. How ever RTD tries to justify it, I will still see it as an example of using the Chinese ethnicity as a short hand for "inscrutable, evil villain." Note that here, race is intrinsically a part of the text. (This is not the case with Patrick's statement. Racial context there was inferred.)
He also said,
i.e., I agree. "He didn't mean to" is not a meaningful rebuttal to "'Turn Left'makes use of the 'inscrutable Chinese villain'" trope." (This, BTW, does not mean that someone can not successfully explain to me why "Turn Left" is not, in fact, racist. It just means "He didn't mean to" will not do so successfully.)
There's one factual error above, and I suspect it's indicative of the over-sensitivity (I think) some people have when it comes to the portrayal of minorities/ethnics/people-of-colour.
On the other hand, presumably, Davies should get credit for setting a Doctor Who episode on a planet largely bereft of white people; but on the other, Doctor Who adventures pretty much demand that someone is a bad guy — and if the Doctor is on a planet colonized by Chinese people, the villain pretty much has to be Chinese, doesn't
The "factual error" I referred to was in
Yes, the episode's framing device was set on a world (or city) that appeared to be a lot like a western image of (industrial) China; yes, the villain was ethnically Chinese.
But so what?
Does the fact that Russell T. Davies is a white Englishman preclude him from telling stories set in other (human) cultures?*
Does being "sensitive" mean that Davies cannot (legitimately) cast "people of colour" as villains?
Quite seriously, am I missing something important here?
If I haven't made it abundantly clear, I don't think I am. But I'd be very interested in hearing why you think I'm wrong, if you do.
*For the record, I realize that no one criticizing him on LJ is in a position to stop Davies from setting stories, and casting them, anywhere he wants. My question is about the intention of the criticism, not its (non-existent) censorial powers or intent.