Wednesday, 07 August 2013

The New Doctor As anyone who cares enough to be reading this already knows, yesterday the BBC announced that it had cast the new Doctor, and to the shock of absolutely no one paying attention, he looks like this: I confess to being disappointed: I’d hoped to see Idris Elba fulfil the Doctor’s wish of regenerating ginger—yes, you read that correctly—because a show whose operative principles are any thing, any where, any time shouldn’t limit its protagonist to white men from the British Isles. Endlessly doing so constitutes a failure of imagination on the part of a show predicated on imaginative possibility. I’m not claiming the new Doctor had to be a black man. Neil Gaiman introduced into canon the concept of regenerating into another gender in “The Doctor’s Wife,” so I would’ve been satisfied with a white woman.* Essentially, I wanted Steven Moffat to make a selection as outrageously ambitious as the show itself can be, and Peter Capaldi is more of the same. Which isn’t to say he’ll be a terrible Doctor, as Capaldi’s a fine actor and will bring to the role a gravitas it’s lacked since the end of David Tennant’s run. But as heroes go, the Doctor’s just “a madman with a box” whose power, such as it is, is the ability to bluff his way out of a war. And as powers go, “intelligence” is limitless in its potential appeal because everyone likes to think they’re smart. Having him embodied by an endless parade of white British males creates an unwholesome and unnecessary connection between intelligence, acts of extreme whiteness and penises. Why does that matter? I’ll tell you the same story I told my Doctor Who class when trying to explain its cultural significance to the British people: One evening while I was trapped in North London by an Icelandic volcano, I noticed the streets were unusually empty. The hundreds of Pakistani children usually found playing in the street had vanished, so I decided to take advantage of the quiet and read on the front porch. About five minutes later, the Pakistani family that lived next door returned home from wherever they’d been and went inside. Five minutes after that, another Pakistani family from down the street walked up to and in my neighbor’s house. Five minutes after that, another Pakistani family, this one completely unfamiliar to me, did the same. This continued for about an hour, until the house was packed well beyond capacity.** I had no idea what was going on, so when one of the children I recognized was walking up, I asked. “What’s going on?” “The Doctor,” he said. Imagine what the atmosphere in that house would be like if Matt Smith regenerated into someone who resembled them. Because that’s all you can do, imagine, for the time being. *I’ve read that some are disappointed that the Doctor will be straight again. I sympathize—though the series deserves credit on that front for Captain Jack—but unless they have access to scripts Moffat hasn’t...
Has neoliberalism made geeks of us all? Original image by Paul Hadsall In “On Geek Culture,” Ian Williams collapses geek and sport cultures into each other by claiming both are tribal manifestations of brand loyalty: In my beloved roleplaying game circles, doxing and threats of violence over the internet occur regularly over which edition of Dungeons and Dragons people prefer. Go to any video game forum and one can see pages of arguments about which console is the “right” one to enjoy. On and on it goes, across intellectual properties and hobbies, right down to nearly breaking out in actual physical violence. This is remarkably similar to diehard sports fan culture. It’s not merely that a disagreement exists over which consumed product is superior; it’s that the fan of the other team is an Other. This, again, blurs the lines between what we think of as geek fandom and non-geek. On its face, the idea that geek-love for a particular franchise is the psychological equivalent of devotion to a particular athletic team makes sense: both are characterized by an over-identification with the central figures in an ongoing drama, be it the trials of a fictional protagonist or the tribulations of a team seemingly committed to never cracking .500. And in both cases, these figures are representatives of corporate media, such that it doesn’t matter to the BBC who plays the Doctor, so long as the show itself is successful, anymore than it matters to the NFL who wins the Super Bowl, so long as the game itself is an obscene encomium to American capitalism. For Williams, the corporate nature of the objects of fandom overrides the differences between how those objects are related to. “Neoliberalism,” he claims, “has made geeks of us all: jocks, nerds, and dweebs alike,” and so he suggests that we make “a concerted effort to free the media being consumed from the corporate realm.” As sentiments go, that’s a lovely one; but as statements about reality go, it indicates that Williams isn’t remotely familiar with geek culture. That should’ve been apparent when he linked to a fight at a Star Wars club and claimed “[t]his is remarkably similar to diehard sports fan culture.” His entire argument relies on that analogy, but his diction betrays that he lacks confidence in it. Depending on how remarkable you prefer your similarities, a honey badger is “remarkably similar” to the least chipmunk. They share a kingdom, phylum, and class, which any 19th Century naturalist will tell you means that they’re more similar than not. Ask the same 19th Century naturalist which one he’d rather be locked in a small box with, however, and you’d quickly learn that the differences between them are more significant than their similarities are remarkable. (Only one, for example, is a vainglorious carnivore.) Point being, the rare instance of verbal arguments leading to physical altercations in geek culture shouldn’t be the basis of an analogy to a sport culture in which such an escalation is common. So, Williams’s argument on the corporate nature...

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