Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Pushing the envelope

Two nights ago, I watched "The Star Beast," the first of three sixtieth anniversary specials of my favorite show, Doctor Who.  As I might have expected, it was campy good fun, and featured the return of my favorite of the Doctor's companions, Donna Noble (played brilliantly by the inimitable Catherine Tate).

As I also might have expected, the howling from the right-wingers started almost immediately.

The problem this time is Donna's daughter, Rose (played by the wonderful Yasmin Finney), who is a trans woman.  The script looks at her identity head on; our first introduction to Rose shows her being taunted by some transphobic classmates, and there was a scene where Donna's irascible mother Sylvia struggles with her own guilt about sometimes slipping up and misgendering her granddaughter.  It was handled with sensitivity, and not with any sort of hit-you-over-the-head virtue signaling, but there's no doubt that Rose's being trans is an important part of the storyline.

Then later, one of the aliens in the episode, Beep the Meep (I shit you not, that's this alien's name), is talking with the Doctor, and the Doctor asks what pronouns the Meep uses, and gets the response, "My chosen pronoun is the definite article.  The.  Same as you, Doctor."

Which is a funny and poignant line -- especially considering that the Doctor's previous incarnation was female.

Well, you'd swear Doctor Who had declared war on everything good and holy in the world.

"Doctor Who has gone woke!" one ex-fan shrieked.  "I'm done with it for good!"  Another declared that Doctor Who "hates men."  Yet another made a whole YouTube video dedicated to the statement that the show had "set its legacy on fire."

To which I respond: my dudes, have you ever even watched this show?

Doctor Who has been on the leading edge of social acceptance and representation ever since the reboot in 2005.  Captain Jack Harkness gave new meaning to "pansexual" by flirting with damn near everyone he came into contact with, ultimately falling hard (and tragically) for a Welshman named Ianto Jones.  Freema Agyeman and Pearl Mackie were the first two Black women to play companions; Mackie's character, Bill Potts, was lesbian as well, as was the Thirteenth Doctor's companion Yasmin Khan (played by Mandip Gill).  Then there's the wonderfully badass Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh) and her wife Jenny Flint (Catrin Stewart), who are in a same-sex relationship that is also an interspecies one.

Not only has this show steadfastly championed representation, its themes frequently press us to question societal issues.  It's addressed racial prejudice (several episodes, most notably Rosa and Cold Blood), slavery (The Planet of the Ood), climate change (Orphan 55), whether it's ever possible to forgive your sworn enemies (Dalek), the terrifying evils of tribalism (Midnight), how power eventually corrupts anyone who wields too much of it (The Waters of Mars), how easy it is to dehumanize those whom we don't understand (The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People), if vengeance ever goes too far (Human Nature/The Family of Blood), and the devastating horrors of war (The Zygon Inversion).

So it's not like the people running this show shy away from looking hard at difficult issues.  It's pushed the envelope pretty much from day one.

More to the point, though -- the most troubling part of all the backlash is the subtext of the whining about how "woke" Doctor Who is.  What they're saying is they want to be able to pretend that those who are different -- in this case, trans people, but more generally, LGBTQ+ individuals -- don't exist.  They don't want to be reminded that everyone isn't straight and White; even having queer folks or people of color appear on a show like this is "ramming wokeness down everyone's throats."

Well, let me say this loud and clear -- as a queer guy who was in the closet for four decades because of this kind of mindless, heartless bigotry: never again.  We will never again be silent, never again be shamed into hiding, never again pretend we're invisible, never again quietly accept that we don't deserve exactly the same respect -- and representation -- as anyone else.  I can only imagine how different the trajectory of my life would have been if there'd been these kinds of positive depictions of queer people on the shows I watched as a teenager; how dare you wish that fate upon yet another generation of young adults.

So if that makes you stop watching Doctor Who -- I think I can speak for the majority of fans by saying, "Oh well."  *shoulder shrug*  We don't need you.  However, it does make me wonder how you don't see the irony of calling us snowflakes, when you are the ones who get your knickers in a twist because of someone asking what pronouns a furry alien prefers.  

In other words, don't let the door hit you on the ass on your way out.  Because we LGBTQ+ people are here to stay, as are people of other races, ethnicities, cultures, and religions.  If you don't like that, you might want to sit and think about why you believe the world has the obligation to reshape itself in order to conform to your narrow-mindedness and prejudice.

As for me, I'm going to continue to watch Doctor Who and continue to enjoy it, and -- to judge by the great ratings "The Star Beast" got -- so are millions of other "woke" fans.

Deal with it.


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