Friday, April 28, 2017

Bending history... in a useful way

It should come as no surprise to those who know me that I am a huge fan of the British sci-fi television series Doctor Who. I've been a fan since the 80's, and Tom Baker is my doctor. But I still like the new show that debuted on the BBC in 2005 (and has been rebroadcast in the US on BBC America). I know a Dalek from a Cyberman, and chances are you'll find a bag of jelly babies in my house at any given moment.


The current show runner for Doctor Who, Steven Moffat, who is leaving the show after this season, recently gave an interview to TV guide and had this to say:
"History is always white washed," says Moffat. "How do we manage to have a diverse cast despite that? The way that we did it was ... [to just] say that you will see people of different colors there. In fact, there were. People all didn't arrive in the twinkle of an eye. It is bending history slightly, but in a progressive and useful way."
Re-read that last sentence, carefully:
It is bending history slightly, but in a progressive and useful way.
Anyone who has read George Orwell's novel 1984 should be both angered and terrified by the nonchalance of those words. He lays it out in no uncertain terms:
And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed – if all records told the same tale – then the lie passed into history and became truth. "Who controls the past," ran the Party slogan, "controls the future: who controls the present controls the past." And yet the past, though of its nature alterable, never had been altered. Whatever was true now was true from everlasting to everlasting. It was quite simple.

We have always been at war with East Asia. The chocolate ration is being increased to twenty grams. There were thousands of black people and women and out of the closet homosexuals in Victorian London and they were treated as equals to straight white men.

And that's what Doctor Who, under Moffat at least, has done. Whenever there's a black companion to the Doctor, and they end up in Victorian (or earlier) times, nobody blinks an eye. The extras in the shots are as diverse as one might find on a Paddington street today. And the newest companion, Bill (played by Pearl Mackie) checks three boxes in one; she's gay, and black, and a woman (although that last one doesn't really count; there have been female companions since the show debuted in 1963).

Now, I don't particularly care that the Doctor's companion is a gay black woman. This is a show with Sontarans, and lizard people, and blobs of green slime in metal boxes fitted with plungers are the most feared things in the universe. I'm not going to get upset because they have minorities, of any stripe, as characters. Ditto Star Trek, Star Wars, and Marvel movies*, by the way.

But it's a show about time travel, and when the guy who's in charge of the show says outright that they're deliberately distorting history as presented in the show to promote a "progressive" agenda because it is "useful" to a political agenda, I get angry.

This is entertainment. It shouldn't be used as a vehicle to deliberately deceive people into thinking that today's social mores have always been the norm. If you're making a show that centers around traveling in time, you should at least make an attempt to show those times accurately. Russel Davies, the previous showrunner, took that approach; there was an episode where the (black female) companion Martha was chastised for interrupting when white people above her station were talking in Edwardian England.

Everything is politicized now, in every way and in every space the alt-left can possibly find, and even history itself is threatened, in the most innocuous of places; a popular sci-fi show originally aimed at 12 year-olds. BB would be proud.

History should not be "bent" to serve any political aim, progressive or otherwise.


* That goes for Idris Elba as Heimdall, too. The movies make it very clear that the Asgardians are aliens masquerading as gods, not actual gods. In fact, the comic books even had the comic-book-Thor meet the actual Thor from the Norse legends in one book.

1 comment:

  1. I'm a history buff and you put your finger on one of my pet peeves - the propensity for modern-day filmmakers, novelists and even historians to project modern-day manners, morals (or lack of morals) and attitudes into the past. Even as recently as WWII, people acted differently, thought differently and had a different attitude towards life and the world in general.

    Keep up the good work. Hail the Gods and Goddesses!