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Young Geoffrey

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Racism, "Racism"(?), Doctor Who and Me - And Some Random Gloats [Jan. 27th, 2009|06:57 pm]
Young Geoffrey
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Edit, close to 24 hours after the fact: If you're coming to this post late and feel inclined to hammer me for it, please read the comments first. I was wrong all over the place and don't want you to have to point out things to me that others have done already.

Jesus. I wanted this post to be All About Me and the fact that my ewebsite 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), matociquala's post was side-hijacked by a reply which suggested she was naive and (unconsciously) racist in some of her assumptions and before you knew it, the flame was on. Attacks were parried, counter-attacks launched and feelings were bruised left, right and centre. (And some very interesting light was shed, as well — three or four hours ago I ws prepared to sit down and write a screed about "professional victims" who find "racism" in every nook and cranny, but now I'm not so sure that wouldn't be to attack a couple of lunatics while ignoring a whole lot of interesting thinking. So I'll hold my fire in the larger battle until such time as I'm sure it's warranted.)

Doctor Who: Turn Left

At least, sort of.

During my reading, I ran into a post by Livejournaler Prusik, who, on said on Tnh's livejournal to Doctor Who's rejuvenator, Russell T. Davis' 11th episode of last season's Turn Left.

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.

prusik said,

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 he she?

The "factual error" I referred to was in prusik use of the term, "'inscrutable Chinese villain'" trope." To my eyes, the villain was not at all "inscrutable", but was, rather, duplicitous and — her plot foiled — emotional.

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.

linkReply

Comments:
[User Picture]From: prusik
2009-01-28 01:57 am (UTC)
You mean the episode actually explained why that woman wanted to implant the insect on Donna back? As far as I could tell, she had no motivation for doing this other than authorial fiat. This is what I mean by "inscrutable."

Of all the ethnicities RTD could have chosen, why did he choose Chinese? Did making her Chinese enhance the character in any way? The only thing the show tells us about her is that she is Asian and she is a villain. Yes, in a planet full of Chinese people, the villain is bound to be Chinese. But why did RTD choose to set the wraparound in a planet full of Chinese people? Why couldn't she have been, at least, an interesting villain rather than this cipher who has no reason to do any of the things she does?

(BTW, that Donna is Welsh actually figures into the show and rounds out her character. So, good use of ethnicity can happen.)

In any case, DW is a show which has very little Asian presence on it at all. That, by definition, makes having a Chinese character on the show exceptional. Now, if that character is also a cipher, it leads to the impression that making her Chinese is a lame attempt to give her some depth, to give her more credibility as a villain.

As I, and many others have said, no one makes a fuss when characters are well written. Likewise, no one has said that RTD can't set stories in other cultures or have characters of colors as villains. Those are strawman that seems to pop up everyone someone suggests that a given work might have racist overtones.

(Likewise, as many have said repeatedly, the intent of such criticism is to encourage authors to see their own work as others see it. Ideally, we all get to a situation where

For that matter, "oh, he's just being over-sensitive" is a natural rebuttal that also seems to pop up when someone suggests that a work might have racist overtones. I'm not sure why you think your view is privileged over mine. I have explained why I think the work is racist. You, on the other hand, choose to offer no counter-explanation. You merely dismiss me out of hand, then resort to tired strawmen. I can only assume then that you think you're right merely because your view is privileged over mine.

I don't know why you are so on script. I mean, you're behaving in exactly the way that caused the recent cultural appropriate flamefest in the first place.

Therefore, unless you go off script, I will not be responding to you again. If you insist on replaying the same, tired discussion, you can go re-read the cultural appropriate flamefest. You don't need me as your punching bag.

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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2009-01-28 03:40 am (UTC)

So much for getting any actual work done tonight

[Edited for lousy HTML and other minutia. Twice.]

You don't know me and so I have no reason to expect you to believe me when I say that my post was intended as an honest attempt to start (yet another) flame war. You saw a racist undertone to "Turn Left" that I didn't and so I asked you to explain your position to me.

You mean the episode actually explained why that woman wanted to implant the insect on Donna back? As far as I could tell, she had no motivation for doing this other than authorial fiat. This is what I mean by "inscrutable."

No, the episode didn't explain her motivations. But, much as I love Doctor Who, it's been my impression that most of its villains are two-dimensional at best. (Was "Dalek's" Henry Van Statten anything other than a stereotypical "ugly American"?) For what it's worth, by the end of the series, I just presumed she was in some way influenced/controlled by the Daleks and let it go at that. We're talking about a children's show with villains — I don't watch it expecting the villains to be fully-developed, three-dimensional characters.

Of all the ethnicities RTD could have chosen, why did he choose Chinese? Did making her Chinese enhance the character in any way? The only thing the show tells us about her is that she is Asian and she is a villain...

Thinking about this, "Dalek" provides a good counter example. "Of all the ethnicities [they] could have chosen, why did he choose American? Did making him American enhance the character...? The only thing the show tells us about him is that he is (a rich and powerful) American and that he is a villain..."

Without knowing RTD other than through his work, I would guess he thought, "What's a good (but relatively cheap) exotic place we haven't done yet? Hey! Chinatown!" (If I'm right about this, I think you could make a good case that RTD is generally more lazy than we'd like, but that's a different discussion.)

(BTW, that Donna is Welsh actually figures into the show and rounds out her character. So, good use of ethnicity can happen.)

Agreed. But Donna is also a major, recurring character, not a mysterious villain in a framing-sequence.

Now, if that character is also a cipher, it leads to the impression that making her Chinese is a lame attempt to give her some depth, to give her more credibility as a villain...no one makes a fuss when characters are well written...

Which leads me to ask (again?): is it okay when the villainous cypher is white (eg, Van Statten?) If almost all of Doctor Who's villains are cyphers, isn't it better to include some non-white cyphers among the rogues gallery than not? (Again, I'm seriously asking.)

For that matter, "oh, he's just being over-sensitive" is a natural rebuttal that also seems to pop up when someone suggests that a work might have racist overtones...

Sheesh. I was going to slag you for mis-quoting me on the use of the term "over-sensitive". Thank god I double-checked.

What I meant was, I think you're saying RTD should be more careful about stereotyping than he/they is/are when writing about (say) Ugly Americans. And maybe he should be. Hmm ... I need to think about that one some more.

I'm not sure why you think your view is privileged over mine.

Because I'm me and you're just some articulate guy(?) on the internet. Flippancy aside, why do you presume I "think [my] view is privileged over [yours]"? You seem at least as sure of yourself as I am.

I have explained why I think the work is racist.

I know you did, but I wasn't convinced by your explanation, or even fully understand it. So I asked.

You, on the other hand, choose to offer no counter-explanation.

I thought that I did, but apparently did as poor a job for you as you did for me. Which is why I'm glad you took the time to reply.

You merely dismiss me out of hand, then resort to tired strawmen...

I didn't intend to "dismiss [you] out of hand." If that's how I came across (and I guess I did), I apologize. I suppose I'll find out whether I've gone "off script" only if you choose to continue this.

Edited at 2009-01-28 03:42 am (UTC)
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From: vonandmoggy
2009-01-28 02:01 am (UTC)
As a white girl, I'm not allowed to say that I think political correctness and sensitivity has gone too far and that I think it's nuts to quibble over something as...minor...as the fact that a planet appears to be completely Asian.

Firefly had heavy Chinese overtones...Klingons on Star Trek are mostly black...minorities can be jerks, whites can be jerks...I think folks need to calm down.

But don't quote me on any of this...:)
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[User Picture]From: beable
2009-01-28 02:45 am (UTC)

One of the things I liked about Firefly is they were alot more subtle about both colour and gender gradiation.

While I can't comment with any authority on the colour aspect, I liked how Firefly created real woman without the magic "Star Trek sugarcoating" of the real world underneath.

Going back to colour, I was also pleased, on rewatching Babylon-5 a few months ago, to discover that it was a lot more multicultural than pretty much any show I've seen before or since. And more importantl - unobtrusively so. Because I was paying specific attention I registered that an awful lot of characters (and extras in the crowd scenes) seemed to in fact actually look like they came from all over the world. Somewhat refreshing compared to other shows with their "oh quick, we need a token black guy" look.

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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2009-01-28 03:46 am (UTC)

Yes you are ...

As a white girl, I'm not allowed to say that I think political correctness and sensitivity has gone too far...

Knock it off. Nobody's saying you can't say anything on the subject just because you're a white girl — although I'll admit that some people might say you shouldn't. But criticism and censorship are very different things and I think its important to keep that in mind.

(Way to go, Young Geoffrey; start a fight with your supporters.)
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[User Picture]From: beable
2009-01-28 02:37 am (UTC)

I've been mildly reading this imbroglio from several angles (I actually first heard about it from the people who were pissed at Elizabeth Bear) before noticing the appropriation debate that I had been missing in my "journal skim" mode.

But, onto the specific discussion about Turn Left, than yes, I absolutely agree with prusik. Consider:
1) The fortune teller is speaking in that broken fragmented English that is - yes - characteristic of the "inscrutable Oriental" trope
2) The Tardis translates people psychicly. There is absolutely no reason Donna should be hearing "language barrier" English.

It may be a very minor thing to me (not being Chinese) - and in fact if someone else hadn't pointed it out, I might not have quite noticed, but it is perceptible, and it is lazy and unneccesary. I wouldn't go so far as to call RTD deliberately racist, but it is a good example of what Elizabeth Bear was exhorting people not to do in her original "Writing the Other" post.

In terms of reactions, if Pruzik was setting up a petition to boycott Doctor Who, I owuld think it was a massive overreaction, and a case of sensitivity gone to far.

But in the context of a larger discussion on cultural appopropiation, I think it's a fairly good example.
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2009-01-28 03:57 am (UTC)

Going into geek mode (or is that "nerd"?)

1) The fortune teller is speaking in that broken fragmented English that is - yes - characteristic of the "inscrutable Oriental" trope
2) The Tardis translates people psychicly. There is absolutely no reason Donna should be hearing "language barrier" English.


I know I'm metaphorically pulling the Enterprise's blueprints off the shelf here, but just how does that Tardis translation-thingy work, anyway? If we're asking for strict logic, shouldn't every alien/foreigner have the same accent?

More seriously, I remember experiencing a bit of a cringe the first time I saw the episode, but quickly dismissed it on the grounds that accents are not, in and of themselves, racist. I mean, we've all got one.

And the accents in that episode did, I think, lend an air of exoticism to Who's (English-speaking) audience.

And I still don't see "inscrutable" in any of it.

...it is a good example of what Elizabeth Bear was exhorting people not to do in her original "Writing the Other" post.

True, but I inferred that Bear was talking about serious writing, not the sort of cartoon adventure (I use the term affectionately) that is Doctor Who.

But in the context of a larger discussion on cultural appopropiation, I think it's a fairly good example.

I disagree, largely because (as I pointed out in my interminable reply to pruzik, most of Doctor Who villains are shallow — I mean, just what is Davros' problem with "all life in the universe" anyway?
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From: sacrosankt
2009-01-28 03:14 am (UTC)
Does the fact that Russell T. Davies is a white Englishman preclude him from telling stories set in other (human) cultures?*

In my opinion, no; but then, I'm white too; is my opinion really credible?
Some critics are not. Is their opinion any more credible?

It's easy to say no. When playing the colour card, clearly both sides are predisposed to their own biases.

I think it's silly, all in all. "Professional victims" abound, and anyways, everything should be dared and tried.
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[User Picture]From: beable
2009-01-28 04:08 am (UTC)

In my opinion, no; but then, I'm white too; is my opinion really credible?
Some critics are not. Is their opinion any more credible?


The main problem that has turned the discussion into a flame war that has spanned numerous blogs is the way those opinions are being treated.

If I saw "X is a cliched hack" and you say "X is well written". That's one thing. We disagree, so what?

But that's not what is happening. There is a big difference between "I thik X is well-written, here's why" and "Your opinion is invalid, X is obviously brilliant, so your opinion based on your own experience is obviously irrelevant and I can't believe you are even daring to expresss that opinion omg it's so wrong, come back when you understand how to read X with my lens rather than your own".

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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2009-01-28 04:09 am (UTC)

Yes and no (with a caveat or two)

In my opinion, no; but then, I'm white too; is my opinion really credible?

As just about everybody has quoted at one time or another, "opinions are like assholes — everybody's got one" (except for a really unfortunate few).

Your question reminds me of a long-standing opinion of my own, which is that what people feel is less important than what they think. While I think we should be careful not to hurt people's feelings unnecessarily, I don't think the fact that someone "feels hurt" or "pain" due to another person's opinion is necessarily right to feel that pain. (Not saying the pain isn't real, just that it doesn't always have much to do with the "real world" outside of him/herself.

...and anyways, everything should be dared and tried.

Agreed. But if you put the attempt in the public eye, you've got to accept that some people are going to think you've failed and will say so.
Some critics are not. Is their opinion any more credible?
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[User Picture]From: beable
2009-01-28 04:19 am (UTC)

BTW a distraction I can blame you for


So having spent the past hour and a half wading back to other links in and about this particular framing discussion, I ended up on the site http://tvtropes.org (initially reading about token twofers such as Geordi LaForge) and I found this gem on breaking the fourth wall that I thought you'd appreciate:

In the Tenth Doctor story "Blink", the monsters-of-the-week are creatures that are "quantum locked", meaning that they instantly turn into immobile statues when any other living thing looks at them. However, during that episode, they are immobile whenever they are on camera, even when no other character is looking at them, because we are looking at them.
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2009-01-28 04:28 am (UTC)

Re: BTW a distraction I can blame you for

That's a stretch, but a lovely one. (I always kind of presumed they didn't move for budgetary reasons and that the resulting creepiness was a happy accident.)

Lord, sometimes I feel I could spend my entire life just serendipitously surfing away ...
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[User Picture]From: jamiewho
2009-01-28 06:30 am (UTC)
Liking the new look for your website. It's...more tidy? I dunno, but I think it's better than the previous.

Oh, and I dunno if it's just me, but the image on your fiction page isn't showing up. *shrug*
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2009-01-28 07:15 am (UTC)

Thank you

I like it better, too. I think I'm (slowly) internalizing the difference between on-screen and print. I'm thinking now that the links on the left should be smaller and less ... bulbous? Something like that. In any case, when/if I change it, I need only change one file ...

As for the image on the Fiction page, it's not just you, it's a bad link. For some reason, my version of Firefox only shows a missing image if there's some kind of accompanying text. Thanks for pointing it out; I'll fix it tomorrow.
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[User Picture]From: jamiewho
2009-01-28 07:50 am (UTC)

Re: Thank you

No problem. :)

Personally, I like the links on the left the way they are. *shrug*

Also...your image for "Lily" is screwing with your text formatting and cutting off the ends of words.
Your text size changes a couple of times in "Memoirs of Maggie" in places where it doesn't look right...the first paragraph after the breaks.

Not that it's a huge deal *laughs* but I know I when I had my rugby site going, I obsessed over things like that.
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[User Picture]From: ellie_elephant
2009-01-28 07:04 am (UTC)
Just going to say a few short words, since I'm really late for class already :)

Maybe I'm also being oversensitive, because I'm part-Asian, and I have experienced racism in the UK, and have a lot of friends who have experienced. If you've been to London and been called a Paki, or a dirty Chinese whore, you would take an Engrish speaking "exotic" villain on a children's TV show a lot more seriously.

Sure, it's a TV show, and the villains are shallow and not meant to be taken too seriously - but they have a huge influence and spread cultural stereotypes in a country that's still more racist than it likes to believe.

And sure, there's stereotypical American villains - and that, in my opinion, is just as bad. But when a character is so ostensibly Asian, people tend to notice more - and they might not attribute their evilness to their character, but to their being Asian.

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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2009-01-28 07:55 am (UTC)

It's been *ages*!

First, and maybe at risk of sounding sycophantic, I am so damned pleased to know you're still reading me, even if you hardly ever post anymore (and I wish you would). Anyway.

Maybe I'm also being oversensitive, because I'm part-Asian...

Maybe, maybe not. Considering I've never known you as someone who finds racism behind every casual remark, I'm inclined to think you're thoughtfully offering up your experience as an honest attempt to answer my question(s).

Being (mostly — on my dad's side of the family we like to think we're direct descendants of Genghis Khan; but even if that's true it's a long way back)) white and living in Canada, my experience with being the object of racism is pretty limited. Which is why I've been hoping some of my non-white LJ friends would pipe up here. Even I know there's a big difference between having a few internet loud-mouths-with-agendas have at you, and living life as a minority. But I fear I'm babbling.

Sure, it's a TV show, and the villains are shallow and not meant to be taken too seriously - but they have a huge influence and spread cultural stereotypes in a country that's still more racist than it likes to believe.

You're making me entertain the idea that I've been living in a bit of a bubble. I'd still (at least for now; I have a feeling that come morning I'll have even more reason to reconsider my post) argue that in the context of Doctor Who as a whole that one episode was "exotica" and not "racisms", but in the context of Western society as a whole I'm no longer so sure.

If you've been to London and been called a Paki, or a dirty Chinese whore, you would take an Engrish speaking "exotic" villain on a children's TV show a lot more seriously.

Does that happen a lot? One of the questions the whole Doctor Who franchise has raised in my mind is whether England/Britain (and London in particular) is as colour-blind as the program(s) would lead one to believe.

People of non-white colour in Toronto? Does what ellie_elephant describes happen in Hogtown on a regular basis as well?

And sure, there's stereotypical American villains - and that, in my opinion, is just as bad.

In my (particular) world, stereotypes aren't so bad. After all, there are loud, white, rich and evil American men, just as there are shifty, heavily-accented Chinese women working for evil organizations.

As a white guy, I suppose I'm used to seeing white guys portrayed in every possible light, so I don't mind when I see one portrayed as a bad guy.

Am I right in thinking that part of your objection is that there are almost no portrayals of Asians in western media?

Anyway, you've given me a lot to think about, without getting my back up. Thank you. And if you feel like posting more often, I'd be delighted.
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[User Picture]From: ellie_elephant
2009-01-28 10:54 am (UTC)

Re: It's been *ages*!

Thanks :) I still skim through my friendslist and always read your posts, but I'm ashamed to say I hardly ever comment (sorry!) I'm trying to get back into the habit of posting (in fact, I've just written one), and you'll be hearing more from me come March when exams are over - and hopefully they'll be of some substance, not just rambling about trying to find my keys :)


Does that happen a lot? One of the questions the whole Doctor Who franchise has raised in my mind is whether England/Britain (and London in particular) is as colour-blind as the program(s) would lead one to believe.


When I was an exchange student in London in 2001 (I was 13) it happened frequently. Now, it doesn't happen as often to me, but that might be because I speak fluent English and I make sure everyone knows it. My mum, however, speaks English with a heavy Thai accent, and she gets a lot of shit flung at her, even though she lives in Cardiff, which is a really cosmopolitan city.

Am I right in thinking that part of your objection is that there are almost no portrayals of Asians in western media?
Yes. For the UK media, that's certainly true (it's different all over Europe, and don't even get me started on Germany). They are making an effort though. Commercial advertising is using more non-white models. There are protests to get high fashion advertising in London to do the same (London Fashion Week uses barely any ethnic models - it's just as bad in New York, and worse in Paris and Milan, but that's a whole different subject.) In television, it's not just that there are so few Asians, it's also that when they appear, they are invariably a minor character (the token Asian, to make sure everything is nice and politically correct) and hopelessly stereotypical. In The Doctor Who universe, the only major Asian character is Toshiko in Torchwood, and one could argue that she embodies the stereotype of the nerdy, book worm, perfectionist Asian. In Little Britain, there's Ting Tong, the Thai mail-order wife. The comedians of Little Britain argue that they make fun of everyone, they don't believe in positive discrimination. But then again, for the sake of all the kids being teased in playgrounds, and woman being shouted at on the bus, and my mum being too shy to speak to strangers because she's worried they'll laugh at her - a little positive discrimination wouldn't hurt.

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[User Picture]From: sabotabby
2009-01-28 07:57 pm (UTC)

Re: It's been *ages*!

People of non-white colour in Toronto? Does what [info]ellie_elephant describes happen in Hogtown on a regular basis as well?

I'm white, but almost all of the people I interact with on a daily basis are not, and from what they say: Oh hell yes, all the time.
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[User Picture]From: pakaboori
2009-01-28 09:26 am (UTC)

a few hopefully helpful interpolations

I've been following this thing for two weeks, and it's been such an intense experience that I don't really even know what to say about it. However, a couple of the things you and your commenters have said have caught my eye, so here are the best explanations I can give....

1. 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.

The "factual error" I referred to was in the use of the term, "'inscrutable Chinese villain'" trope." To my eyes, the villain was not at all "inscrutable"....


The "inscrutability" of the character is not a matter of fact, it's a matter of opinion, as you obviously understand from your use of the phrase "to my eyes." But you also contradict yourself, by asserting that prusik's interpretation is a "factual error," caused by "over-sensitivity." This implies that you think your interpretation *is* reality and anyone seeing something different is delusional. This is probably why prusik said that you seem to be priveleging your view over his.

The point is: there is no right answer as to whether that trope was in play or not. The way you can be non-offensive about your disagreement is to acknowledge that while you think you're right and the other side is wrong, you know it's ultimately a matter of interpretation. Implying that there's only one right way to interpret the show, and choosing to interpret it as not-racist-at-all, is pretty much going to get you dismissed as just another blogger blinded by his white male privilege.

Or, most simply, what you're saying boils down to "If I don't see it, it can not exist."

2. We're talking about a children's show with villains — I don't watch it expecting the villains to be fully-developed, three-dimensional characters.

True, but I inferred that Bear was talking about serious writing, not the sort of cartoon adventure (I use the term affectionately) that is Doctor Who.

Avoiding racist representation/subtext is important in "non-serious" writing too. I would especially hope that art directed at children (whether DW or not) would not contribute to exoticization of other cultures, or perpetuate racist (or sexist, ableist, heterosexist...) stereotypes and tropes.

My point is, "It's not serious fiction!" is not an excuse for being insensitive.

Please note that I don't mean this in specific reference to the episode in question, because I haven't seen it and won't form an opinion based on other people's summaries.

3. "over-sensitive."
Know why POC seem oversensitive to you? Because when the stuff you watch and read features people who look like you, it's mostly not as a caricature, so when it is you can maybe laugh about it, or at the very least turn to something more nuanced/accurate/interesting. You don't have to be sensitive.

In contrast, there are few representations of POC to begin with, so when a particular portrayal is stereotypical or one-dimensional or under-researched and wrong, it has more offensive impact. It doesn't get diffused/offset by a sea of more nuanced/accurate/interesting portrayals.

And it helps reinforce those stereotypical or one-dimensional views of that particular minority community. *You* might know better than to think that all/most black/brown/yellow people are like that one character on a tv show, but a lot of people don't. The cultural impact can be profound -- because if those views are all that are shown, they will be popularly taken for truth. The very least that progressive authors/artists/etc can do is try not to perpetuate destructive narratives, negative stereotypes, and plain ol' misconceptions.

4. Does the fact that Davies is a white Englishman preclude him from telling stories set in other cultures?

No, of course not. He just has to make an effort at being aware of how his stories can come across, and learn from criticism. The intention of the criticism is to point out flaws and make people think about how they can do better.
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2009-01-28 07:09 pm (UTC)

Re: a few hopefully helpful interpolations

Good to see that you're still around, too!

Regarding your point 1, I certainly didn't intend to imply "that there's only one right right way" to interpret the show. I stated my opinion and asked for his/her response.

...and choosing to interpret it as not-racist-at-all, is pretty much going to get you dismissed as just another blogger blinded by his white male privilege.

I don't "choose" my interpretations, I have them. They're subject to change, but I'm now inferring that you're implying that my (former) position was factually incorrect. As it turns out, I think I was blinded by my white (I don't think "male" enters into this particular example) privilege — but if I hadn't expressed my opinion in the first place, it wouldn't have changed.

Or, most simply, what you're saying boils down to "If I don't see it, it can not exist."

No. At least in intent, I was saying, "I don't see it; can you point it out for me?"

Regarding your point 2, I can hardly believe I said something that stupid. I don't now and never have believed that children's literature should be held to lower standards than art for adults.

The only defence I can muster is that when I wrote it I didn't see that nameless Chinese villain as a stereotype, but that doesn't let me off the hook for my dumb comment about kids' shows.

Know why POC seem oversensitive to you? Because when the stuff you watch and read features people who look like you, it's mostly not as a caricature, so when it is you can maybe laugh about it, or at the very least turn to something more nuanced/accurate/interesting. You don't have to be sensitive.

Yes. You're right (I'm going to get tired of saying that) on all points. (With one caveat: some "POC"s are over-sensitive, just as some are utterly oblivious. I'm suddenly reminded of a black guy I used to know, English as it happens. He told me more than once that he had never experienced discrimination of any kind, anywhere, that blacks who do experience it only because of their chip-on-the-shoulder attitudes. Seriously, that's what he said.)

Finally, point 4. Another mea culpa. Though the question was rhetorical, I'm embarrassed that I fell into that trap. It was a dumb question, which I (partly) blame on the general tone of that two-week series of flame-wars, which I had just spent hours reading. I got infected and didn't even realize it.

Christ. I'm really feeling kind of hammered here. Thanks for doing so gently (and start posting again, damn it!).

Edited at 2009-01-28 07:11 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: sabotabby
2009-01-28 03:09 pm (UTC)
I didn't have a problem with the villain being Chinese. I had a problem with the villain being a Chinese stereotype. There are other Whoverse episodes where the villain has been a POC and no one's said anything about it. I don't think many people objected to Donna's spider-loving ex-fiancé being black, for example, because he had different villainous facets to his personality. Whereas the Chinese fortuneteller was a collection of ethnic stereotypes that have appeared in other media. She was a shorthand for "inscrutable Asian villain."

Does the fact that Russell T. Davies is a white Englishman preclude him from telling stories set in other (human) cultures?*

No. But like everyone else, he has to do the fucking research, be aware of falling into clichés and stereotypes, and take it like a man when people call him on his fuck-ups.

Does being "sensitive" mean that Davies cannot (legitimately) cast "people of colour" as villains?

Of course not. He just has to not make his villains ethnic stereotypes, and he's shown himself capable of doing that. (As has Whedon. Though he has a few blindspots, such as populating a Mandarin-speaking universe with primarily white people, he's given us Mr. Trick, Jubal Early, and the Operative, all of whom were interesting villains played by POC.)

Quite seriously, am I missing something important here?

Seriously, yes. Having an American stereotype as a villain is not the same as having a Chinese stereotype as a villain, because mass media was never used to demonize Americans the way it was to spread propaganda about the Yellow Peril. It's as though he put a random alien played by a white person in blackface and then pretended to be ignorant about the historical connotations.

For the record, I think he does do a lot of things right, though I'm glad Moffat is taking over because I think he's a better writer, and RTD gets too obsessed with his Mary Sues. But he's not above criticism when he gets it wrong.
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2009-01-28 07:23 pm (UTC)

Gonna try to keep this short ...

I'm kind of embarrassed by the post now, but I'm glad I made it since I've learned quite a bit.

I didn't have a problem with the villain being Chinese. I had a problem with the villain being a Chinese stereotype.

Being a framing device, I don't think the fortune-teller role could have been anything but a cypher — there simply wasn't time. But you (and others here) have convinced me that in the context of western culture was a Big Mistake.

Seriously, yes. Having an American stereotype as a villain is not the same as having a Chinese stereotype as a villain...It's as though he put a random alien played by a white person in blackface and then pretended to be ignorant about the historical connotations.

Nicely put. As I've said in other replies, I've changed my mind about just about everything I said in the initial post.

For the record, I think he does do a lot of things right, though I'm glad Moffat is taking over because I think he's a better writer, and RTD gets too obsessed with his Mary Sues. But he's not above criticism when he gets it wrong.

"Mary Sues"?

I'm optimistic about Moffat's tenure as well — though I'll note with some trepidation that he was responsible for the not-so-good "Midnight" epi — Whoops! I've been wrong enough in the past 12 or 14 hours. That was Davies (thank you, Google!).
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[User Picture]From: tacky_tramp
2009-01-28 06:34 pm (UTC)
As soon as you call angry, hurt people of color "oversensitive," you're already well on your way to enthusiastic fail. May I suggest that people of color are attuned to issues of racism and representation for very good reasons?
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2009-01-28 07:28 pm (UTC)

I'm wiping the mud off my face now

May I suggest that people of color are attuned to issues of racism and representation for very good reasons?

You may. You should. If you check the comments above, you'll see I've re-thought just about everything I said initially.

I reserve the right to suggest that individual people of colour are being over-sensitive, but I'm going to be a lot more judicious about it in the future. (Though, for the record, I had the impression that prusik was another white guy when I wrote the piece in the first place.)
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