Young Geoffrey (ed_rex) wrote,
Young Geoffrey

Racism, "Racism"(?), Doctor Who and Me - And Some Random Gloats

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.

Tags: cultural appropriation, doctor who, racism

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