Dr Who and the New Companion

We are halfway through a new season of Dr Who and a new companion has recently been introduced and I have some Opinions about the dear Clara. Going into this season of Dr Who I was…skeptical to say the least. I did not like what Moffat did with Rory and Amy and honestly by the end of their run I couldn’t tell what was going on half the time and didn’t care enough to pay attention and figure it out. It all just felt like a big mush of “how much can Moffat show off how brilliant his plot twists are. Over and over and over”.  I also have agreed with the many many criticisms of how poorly Moffat has handled gender and race and…well pretty much every demographic that’s not white cismale on his run as head writer.

 

So I was uncertain going in to a new companion, but also hopeful because it would be a clean slate, and every episode wouldn’t be another mindfuck of “oh no who’s related to who and what time period are we in and how are their histories looping back on each other oh no!” I was definitely looking forward to just some one-shot episodes, which is what Moffat does best. So what do I think of Clara so far?

 

Well in many ways I am unimpressed. The first two episodes with her I thought were intensely promising. I really like the idea of a human as a Dalek, I really liked that she was the brilliant one controlling everything in that episode (although I didn’t like that she was stuck and waiting for him). In the Christmas episode, I again thought that she was interesting and forceful and refused to listen to the Doctor when she felt she needed to get things done. Unfortunately since we’ve met Clara of the modern world, things have kind of tanked.

 

The first time we meet Clara of the modern world she’s too incompetent to get on the internet. Really? REALLY? I mean she goes on to become brilliant enough to figure out where the company is when the Doctor couldn’t, but still. Not a good introduction. Since then, I’ve spent almost every episode wondering why she’s even there. In the most recent episode she appeared to do nothing except for stand around and be slightly empathetic (and fly the TARDIS into the pocket dimension, which is good and should not be forgotten). However in the past, companions have actually contributed to the Doctor’s understanding of situations, they’ve pushed the Doctor to let them do more, they’ve explored, they’ve met people, they’ve figured things out on their own. Clara only appears to be capable of that when the Doctor is out of commission. And honestly in Cold War she was so unmemorable that I almost forgot that episode existed.

 

The one episode in which she appears to show some true autonomy is The Rings of Akhatan, in which she goes off on her own and meets Merry. She comforts Merry and tells her stories, and is the one who starts the theme of the whole episode of strength through words. I want to see more moments like this, because I think Clara has potential. She has a sharp tongue, she’s not afraid to show up the Doctor or say no to him (one of the few companions to tell him she didn’t want to travel with him at first), she appears incredibly smart, and I just WANT to like her. So if the writers could get around to giving her something to do, if they could just let her wander off more (which is the classic companion action through all of Dr Who), I think she could live up to the potential that she had in the first few episodes.

I’m just not even going to touch the romantic bits between Clara and the Dr. Honestly I’m slightly disturbed that the Doctor seems far more interested in her than she is in him even though it’s KIND OF EXCITING but the Dr is like a bit 5 year old…5 year olds don’t have crushes.

In addition, there is obviously supposed to be something special or different about her. I am extremely worried about what this might turn out to be, but I’m hoping that it’s something brilliant which gives her more power and allows her more autonomy. In the episodes where her “strangeness” was played up, she was able to do more. I’m not totally sure how I feel about this idea that she can only be equal to the Dr when there is something magical about her, but I’d rather have that version of her than the useless pretty girl who stands around and does nothing. For the moment I think it’s hard to tell how she’s going to turn out. We’ve only seen her in a few episodes, but so far Moffat has done very little to impress me. At the same time, Clara still has potential. Guess we’ll just have to keep watching, right?

Once Upon a Time: A Feminist Manifesto?

I don’t think I’ve made this a secret around here but I’m a bit of a nerd. Yes, it’s true. In particular I can be a junkie for certain TV shows (Anything by Joss Whedon…). And lately…well lately it’s been Once Upon a Time, which I cannot get enough of. I think I’m going to tone down a few of my next posts and do some pop culture things, a little bit of Dr Who, a bit of Buffy, and a bit of Once Upon a Time: some analysis and some feedback. It should be good. And so today I want to build a bit off of my dark fiction post and explain one of the reasons I absolutely totally and completely adore Once Upon a Time.

Once Upon a Time is possibly the most feminist show I’ve ever seen in my life. This might seem unexpected from a show that is both a reimagining of fairy tales and on prime time TV, but I think it does the strongest job of portraying all genders as complex, varied, autonomous individuals with motivations and histories. Women on this show do all kinds of things. They rule. They give birth. They adopt. They kill. They rescue. They show mercy. They use magic. They capture people. They inspire. They make mistakes. They suffer trauma. They recover. They are kind. They are motherly. They are vicious and selfish.

Women take on all sorts of roles. Off the top of my head: a nun, a mayor, a cop, a mother, a teacher, lovers, rescuers, queens, millers, peasants, pampered noblewomen, warriors, friends, sisters, daughters…the show passes the Bechdel test over and over, with women talking together about their children and their lovers yes, but also their enemies, their kingdom, their hopes, their guilts, their frustrations, their plans. And just as the women spend some time on their family life and their lovers, so do the men, AT LEAST as often as the women. For every scene we see Belle or Snow talking about trying to reconnect with her lover, we see Charming looking for Snow, or Rumplestiltskin wondering how he can continue without Belle. The refrain of Charming and Snow is “we will always find each other”. It’s mutual. They equally contribute to the well-being of the couple, and they have equal say in what happens in their kingdom. In our world, they always consult each other when trying to make plans for the future of their family and their subjects. They even allow their child and grandchild to express their opinions and take those opinions into account when they’re making decisions.

But the biggest reason that I love this show and the biggest reason that I believe it treats women more fairly than many other shows is that it gives each and every one of its characters complex backstory. No one’s history is ever set in stone. It is always possible for the show to flash back even further and show you a facet of their character that you never expected. This means that you can never become stuck in your stereotype of an individual and many of them continue to surprise you or gain your sympathy when you hear their story and motivation. I love that I never can fully peg a character, just like I can never fully peg a person in real life because there will always be elements of their history that I don’t know. I think that this humanizes the characters in a really relatable way, and it’s done for everyone across the show.

The fact that this story continually reinterprets the traditional stories and continues to interweave them in new ways that create different relationships and histories that you never expected is wonderful. When you thought Regina was evil, you found out that she has a lost love and fell into darkness afterwards. And once you start feeling some sympathy for her, you find out that she abandoned Rumple after saying she loved him. And when you start getting angry again, you find out that she is still working to protect her grandson and is always trying to earn the approval of a mother who never approved. That’s human. We all have hundreds of experiences of being broken and trying to take power back again, and being broken again. We try to protect ourselves and become “evil”. But none of us are truly evil, and each of these stories helps to make us who we are, to give us the autonomy we have, and to break away from any stereotypes people might have of us. These ongoing histories that develop as we see the characters develop are a way to allow us to get to know the characters better. It’s just like hearing your friends tell you stories: it helps you understand them better. And because OUAT allows every character the chance to tell their story, I see it as one of the most humanizing shows I’ve ever watched.

Bad People do Good Things

There’s a problem I’ve run into a number of times. I find a piece of art, or writing or media that I really enjoy, and just when I’m set to properly fangirl it, I find out that it’s creator was a douche in some fashion or other. For example a lot of people really love Picasso (he’s not personally my cup of tea) and then they find out he was a misogynistic asshole and they really don’t know what to think anymore. I’ve also seen someone’s entire body of work dismissed for certain bigoted elements of it (Nietzsche was anti-semitic! Everything he says is wrong!).

Now obviously we don’t want to condone things like misogyny or anti-semitism. We probably also don’t want to give money to the people who produce those works, because we also don’t want to support those things. But how do we accept that we might like something created by a problematic individual? CAN we like things that are created by problematic individuals?

Media is a really tough thing when you try to be social justice conscious. There’s almost nothing out there that’s wholly unproblematic, and since everything is created by people, nothing is created by someone who never screws up. I personally can confess to liking a number of shows and books that are racist, sexist, transphobic…all sorts of problematic things. I don’t like those elements of them. I don’t like that when I watch Say Yes to the Dress, it suggests over and over that the most important thing for a woman on her wedding day is to look good. But I still love watching the show. It makes me happy, it makes me excited, it engages me. I have no guilt whatsoever about liking a show about dresses, but I do worry about liking a show that tells women their worth is in their looks.

So how do we react to things like this? Obviously we can’t keep ourselves from all media unless we want to become hermits, or secede and create an all social justice minded media ALL THE TIME (and we’d still have disagreements about what’s acceptable). One extremely important thing that I try to remember is that media is not its creator. I can appreciate Nietzsche’s writings and thoughts without accepting his anti-semitic postures. Obviously he doesn’t get money from me consuming his work, so that’s a much easier one. I can talk about certain elements of Nietzsche and then also mention that I don’t condone anti-semitism. Different facets of individuals can be taken separately.

But what about media that I still enjoy that I still want to consume but that might give money to someone whose views I don’t appreciate? To take an example that’s big for me, Joss Whedon: Whedon does a lot to try to address sexism and to create media that is conscious of gender. However he is not very good at race issues. I LOVE Joss Whedon’s shows. I continue to watch Joss Whedon’s shows. And I’m going to fess up: I should be doing more to let the world know that I think Whedon’s shows should be more race conscious. I should be posting blogs about it. I should be tweeting about it. I should be writing letters to Joss. These are things I should do to help shows that I like get better. These are ways that I can LIKE something and still recognize its problematic aspects.

Something that might be even more important is that BECAUSE I like these shows, I have more of an impetus to push for change on them. Because I like them, I want them to be better. Dr Who is a great example of this: there are lots of diehard fans of the show who have made their opinions known loudly and repeatedly since Steven Moffat took over the show that they are NOT ok with his treatment of women and that they expect better out of their favorite show.

Another important thing to do is just to discuss the different elements of the things that we like. Of course creating something that’s cool or good in one arena does not excuse bigotry in another arena. We can’t tell Oscar Pritorius that it’s cool he shot his girlfriend because he’s done a lot of inspiring work with his disability. But talking about all these interactions is the best way to address them: it’s also a wonderful way for these negative things to be twisted into something more positive. They might force important conversations that we should be having anyway. There is some GREAT critical thinking and writing about a lot of TV and movies today (even academic journals written about Joss Whedon), and pop culture is a great place to jump off for some important conversations about the state of society today.

The last element of this is some self-forgiveness and other-forgiveness. We have to cut ourselves some slack. It’s OK to like something that you recognize is problematic. It doesn’t mean your evil, it doesn’t mean you’re betraying your cause, it doesn’t mean you’re condoning the behavior of whoever might have produced this piece of media. What it DOES mean is that you’re a human being with a variety of interests. We should remember this about other people as well. If you run across someone who likes The Biggest Loser, it might not be a good idea to yell at them about how it causes eating disorders. Asking them what they like about it and then providing some more information about the show and why it’s a little unhealthy might be a better way to approach them. If you run across someone who likes Nietzsche, don’t yell that they’re an anti-semite: ask what they know about Nietzsche himself and whether they’ve thought about some of his problematic personal views as well as some of his interesting philosophical views.

Problematic media is a great way to start discussions, to do some personal thinking, and to try to hold producers accountable. What it shouldn’t be is a great way to shame yourself or others.