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06 September 2007 @ 05:43 pm
Credo. Or when comments spin out of control...  
This entry was originally begun and intended as a reply to a wonderful, read- and squee-worthy Doctor Who post by astrogirl2, but at one point I realized that my thoughts had run off into a more universal and somewhat off topic direction. Probably , because the following remark by Astrogirl really hit a sensitive spot:

"I'm developing this psychological block against admitting to the fact that I love the show, and I love this season, and I love it all with a deep and joyful love. Because that makes me feel like I must be stupid and politically suspect or something, in the eyes of fans I genuinely respect."

In situations like this I usually opt for a decidedly anti-social approach by trusting my own interpretation of the source material more than I trust the findings of others.

Of course I keep reading the ongoing discussions, apply my own brain to the presented arguments and am certainly not above re-evaluating if I find that somebody else's points are actually more valid than mine.

But that doesn't stop me from being a bloody cultural relativist at core.

Due to my own daily surroundings, age, education, ethnicity, philosophical, literary and aesthetic convictions, I will always read things differently, access and understand things differently than someone who was raised in another cocoon of socio-cultural surroundings and whose individual background and daily experiences do not match my own.

If interpretations of source material and canon do vary, this doesn't necessarily mean that one of us is wrong, ignorant and possibly evil, I think. Quite often it is merely a sign that we are reading stuff through different cultural lenses and with our own respective cognitive bias.

Is it important to not t hide one's head in the sand? To actively inform oneself about other people's findings, to acknowledge, respect and - where necessary – also to adopt or vehemently question, depending on case? Yes. (In fact, one could easily make a point that this is not only important, but rather a self-evident necessity and obligation as a decent, intelligent human being.)

However, I think that the very same degree of curiosity, respect and acceptance we hold for the opinions of others should also apply to our own subjective opinions and findings.

As much as I wish to understand the dynamics at work behind my own judgements (and this wish to understand also includes the detection of any potential blind spots) I refuse to feel guilty about not seeing what I cannot possibly see from my own subjective perspective.

Because the lenses are natural.

If we are being alert and smart enough, we can keep struggling to frequently sharpen and re-focus them. Attempt to paint them in different colours, so they might allow an alternate experience of the whole spectrum.

But one fact always remains. No matter how hard we try, in the end the frelling things are impossible to completely change or remove. This doesn't make anyone of us a better or lesser, more competent or incompetent fan person and reader.

There is no such thing as a privileged, universally true point of view. My own reading is counting as much as that of the person next door.
 
 
Current Mood: busybusy
 
 
 
Cavendishcavendish on September 6th, 2007 04:19 pm (UTC)
Let me put it this: ;-)

Firstly, I've got no bloody idea what you are talking about. This is neither good nor bad, it simply relates to the fact that although this article seems to hit a general note, it also sounds like a comment on a quite real debate without actually saying so.

So all I am saying is probably missing the point, but anyhow:

>There is no such thing as a privileged, universally true point of view. My own reading is counting as much as that of the person next door.

I heartily disagree. If that were true, it would render any attempt to find out what makes, i.e. a TV show, a novel, a piece of art; good, well told, racist, our what have you, meaningless. Even in art discussion, there might be, no, there need to be objective standards.

There may be different interpretations, readings of things, but we may well say that some come closer to an understanding of a piece of art then others.

This is also to say that cultural lenses may well blind us. And yes, sometimes opinions are "evil", though, agreed, not very often.

Consider e.g Harry Potter. One might claim that there are overcome pov's of marriage, gender relations or military valor in it. My own cultural lens, i.e me having studies WWI poetry, may make me look at it this way, i.e. make me aware of this more strongly than it might do for some other person. Still I believe that I could offer consistent proof for my theory. One may of course discuss, if my "proof" is valid or not; but at the end of such a discourse there may be an objective judgment of the thing and one may find also, that other opinions have been, well, wrong.

There are of cause in betweens, uncertainties, debatale pov's. Also believes may change. Still, if we do not strive at some kind of objectivity, if we do not believe in our opinions to be true, don't we then loose something? We may of course be wrong, but how could we even believe in being wrong if there is no "true" interpretation of sorts.

>To actively inform oneself about other people's findings, to acknowledge, respect and - where necessary – also to adopt or vehemently question, depending on case?

So not think I did nor read this passage ;-). But to questions something vehemently may eventually lead to the conclusion that the pov being questioned was actually really wrong, even if the other part does not agree. And I think that does not oppose the idea of "respect and acceptance"

>refuse to feel guilty about not seeing for what I cannot possibly see from my own subjective perspective

Again I think there is a necessary distinction: If you are right, why should you feel guilty?
And even if you are wrong, why feel guilty at all? (as long as that what you are saying is not morally wrong. We do agree, that there are things that objectively are morally wrong, do we?). One does not have to feel gulity to be wrong. (Stupid, maybe, though ;-) )
And of course one must give otheres a chance to prove you are a fool, but it their proof does not hold, well, then, you are not.

There is no, nay, there can never be a majority vote on what it right, actually.

Well, I reckon this was my usual anti-credo, but anyhow ;-)

Oh, and btw: what are "frelling things"? My dictionary does not know such word, and, frankly speaking, neither do I. ;-)

Bimo: DRD_bewarebimo on September 6th, 2007 05:12 pm (UTC)
To cut a rather long reply short: You can think of this entry as a somewhat too vehement counter reaction to a larger debate currently going in certain sections of DW fandom ;-)

An extremely simplified and broken-down version, highlighting just one particular aspect:

One of the larger discussion's angles is spinning around the implicit notion that anyone who doesn't instantly recognize Martha's portrayal as being racist, is either a complete ignorant or even subconsciously holding racist views her- or himself.

Argue against this, and no matter how valid your points, no matter how careful you phrase, no matter how non-racist you actually are, within the frame of this very discussion, you'll always automatically subject yourself to the danger of being taken as racist, because of the original premise.

And this is exactly the type of argumentative trick which drives me nuts, because it causes quite a lot of people to shy away from publicly disagreeing with the original poster.

Oh, and did I ever mention how much I hate social pressuring? ;-)



Cavendishcavendish on September 6th, 2007 05:37 pm (UTC)
Well, I knew as much, sorry. ;-) But since your posting took a more general stance, which indeed interested me much more than the fandom discussion as such, I wanted to comment on this. (See beginning of my post; me being somewhat ironic there; though, hopefully, not unfriendly ;-) )

>Argue against this, and no matter how valid your points, no matter how careful you phrase, no matter how non-racist you actually are, within the frame of this very discussion, you'll always automatically subject yourself to the danger of being taken as racist, because of the original premise.

Well, but there I wanted to make my point: Somebody has to be right on this point, by objective standards, and this may well not be the majority. But there is, do be sure, a valid position to be achieved there by careful analysis of the show.

> Oh, and did I ever mention how much I hate social pressuring? ;-)

Even more so the believe that there is a truth to be found (which the majority does not need to share) is, imho, very important :-).

This is, in the end, the idea why I thought discussing the general level (keeping the fandom discussion in mind, though) might be quite iteresting ;-)
galadhir on September 6th, 2007 07:35 pm (UTC)
*g* Well, for a start I will always assume my position is right - because why would I bother holding it if I didn't? If people come up with good reasons for me to re-evaluate my position, I will do so, and decide whether the strength of the evidence means I need to change my mind or not. But I reserve my right to keep saying (or thinking, if talking is too much trouble) the unpopular thing, if I'm sure it's right.

Hence why I got into so much trouble in PotC :)

I love Dr.Who too. I don't at all think it's perfect, and some of the stories are cheesy and make no sense. But it always entertains me and gives me something to enjoy.

I don't see what's racist about Martha - who seems to me to be an awesome character, and who I like much more than Rose. I think that it probably wasn't wise of the show to make her the 'you can never match up to Rose' companion, because some people will take that to be because she's black. But people aren't going 'OMG how homophobic!' because the Doctor doesn't want anything to do with Jack any more. Both Martha and Jack are in the same position of loving the Doctor more than he loves them - and both have to walk away in the end.

So I'd need to see better arguments to buy that as racist. I think it's just an interesting plot move. And Martha is awesome for *not putting up with it and walking away.* She's worth more and she knows it.

(Not so secret Martha fangirl :) )
Bimo: Fivey_bookishbimo on September 8th, 2007 04:07 pm (UTC)
I don't see what's racist about Martha - who seems to me to be an awesome character

The same goes for me as well, mostly because I think that her overall portrayal as an intelligent and outstandingly capable woman with a wonderful personality and a good sense for her own value, should outweigh all eventually problematic aspects by far.

Right from her first appearance in "Smith and Jones" Martha always came across as a strong and well-developed character in her own right. Also, the many occasions where she was being treated unfairly by either the Doctor or guest character of the week never left any doubts as to whom the viewer should root for, because the respective scenes had been written in a very clear, straightforward way.
wee_warrior on September 6th, 2007 07:51 pm (UTC)
I'm beginning to find this discussion very interesting...

I think the question is, ultimately, can you still enjoy a show when you know that it has flaws, that it has sexist or racist elements, either because the creators were ignorant that there were sensitive points or because a lot of fictional elements are still simply sexist, racist or discriminating in any other way? Is it possible to be aware of these problems, but still enjoy the show - or book or whatever else it is - on another level?

For Doctor Who I can answer this question with "yes;" I adore Martha, and while I feel somewhat irritated with certain aspects of her storyline, specifically the huge importance of her crush, from a feminist point of view, it doesn't diminish that.
I honestly admit, I wouldn't have noticed the racist undertones if other fans hadn't pointed them out, so I appreciate that this happened, but instead of turning me off the show, it rather makes me ask questions about media in general - how racist are contemporary shows still? Is DW really bad in this respect, or is it only occasionally bad? How representative is it? But that's purely analytical, it doesn't really have much to do with how I feel about the show.

I suspect there are individual levels which prompt us to either stick with or give up a show - or give up loving/liking it, if you will.

To choose two other examples, I've stopped watching Supernatural in part because I found it too sexist, and also somewhat racist, and that was enhanced by the fact that both were obviously unintentional. I do, however, watch Heroes, which does have problems on both accounts - like with DW, I notice the gender problems more readily, but I think both can be detected, if you look carefully.
However, what I get out of the show still trumps the negative feelings. I think the writers are consciously trying to work on some of these problems - while being cheerfully oblivious where others are concerned - and I also feel, somewhat cynically, that if I want to watch contemporary shows (I'm mostly talking US and Brit shows here, because that's what I watch) at all, I have to deal with the fact that these issues are still around in some way or form, be that maid costumes or cheerleading uniforms. It just works better for me with Heroes than with SPN.
And there are enough people for whom it is exactly the other way round, who make very valid points for that, without ignoring that their favourite has problems, or even that liking it might be somewhat problematic, which gets us back to the question whether you still can - or are allowed to -like a show you know is flawed? The one thing I know is that it shouldn't be your flist who decides that. [sorry if this got too rambly, btw.]
Bimo: Fivey_bookishbimo on September 7th, 2007 06:27 am (UTC)
[sorry if this got too rambly, btw.]

No need to apologize!

I positively encourage long, intelligent, rambling comments in my LJ and will write a proper reply sometime this weekend :-)
Bimo: Obi_povbimo on September 9th, 2007 07:36 am (UTC)
I suspect there are individual levels which prompt us to either stick with or give up a show - or give up loving/liking it, if you will.

I'd definitely agree with you, here.

Looking at the number of 'To watch or not to watch?' decisions I've made over the last couple years, I find that my own verdicts were rather subjective and often depended as much on my own personal preferences and individual sensitivities as they depended on the respective source material's actual content.

Like you, I don't have any clear policies on how to react to problematic depictions of race, gender and violence, but instead judge on a case to case basis. The results of this usually are rather improvised, and also quite flexible.

Just to give you an example: Regardless how much I love Pirates of the Caribbean, up to this very day I have strictly refused to buy PotC: Dead Man's Chest on DVD, because the unreflected, just for fun employ of racial stereotypes going on in that movie both shocked and outraged me. Active participation in PotC fandom, however, is an entirely different matter, because despite all its occasional clashes and rifts, I still find PotC one of the friendliest, most humanist and intelligent fandoms I have ever encountered. As the source's problems apparently do not bleed into the fannish output, I can "justify" my enjoyment.

The underlying ethical dilemma, "whether you still can - or are allowed to -like a show you know is flawed?", of course, is getting gracefully evaded by this approach .

Personally, I always try to quieten my conscience by telling myself that for as long as I am willing to analyze, listen, admit and openly speak out, my love for the source will be alright.
AstroGirl: Ponderingastrogirl2 on September 6th, 2007 11:07 pm (UTC)
Erm, I rambled. There are Doctor Who spoilers in the 2nd paragraph. Sorry.
Oh, I'm quite sure, intellectually, that my perspectives on things are just as valid as any, and probably more so than some. Emotionally is another matter, and that becomes a weird sticking point.

In the case of the Great Whovian Racism Debate, I think that when people talk about how, for instance, you have the two black characters -- Martha and Mickey -- being implicitly described as not as good as the (white) person their respective love-interests are hung up on, they have a valid and interesting point there, something that, while unintentional, is potentially a little disturbing and ought to be looked at, ought to be the sort of thing the writers are aware of. But I also think that putting a microscope on that one point, while I can understand people tripping over it, misses the larger context which, IMHO, is on balance rather more anti-racist than otherwise. Because Martha, as has been frequently noted, is awesome. And I think the show itself undermines the "Martha is second-best" thing (which, I agree, should never have been brought up in the first place -- stupid shipping). She even realizes it, in the end: she's not second-best. She saved the world! And the Doctor is suitably appreciative. Martha and Mickey, IMHO, are two of the best companions Doctor Who has ever had. They get excellent character development and, in the end, when each of them leaves it's in a way that makes them seem strong, heroic, independent. These are people who are too self-determined to be willing to keep on following someone else around like a puppy for the rest of their life, hoping for more love and attention than they're getting. They go off to do their own great things, instead. Jack sort of does this, too, although in his case it does feel rather more like "Sorry, gotta get back to my own spinoff!" than anything else. But between them, the minority characters, in my opinion, kinda make the white chick look bad. Those are great, positive portrayals, and I think ultimately that aspect of things is stronger and clearer and more obvious than the unfortunate counter-message that's sent by a few stupid lines inserted because RTD expected us to be missing Rose.

So I can make that argument, I think reasonably and intelligently. But I haven't before now, and I think it's because if someone makes an accusation of racism against something, and you recognize that there's a degree of validity to that, it feels wrong, or at least socially unacceptable to respond with, "Yes, but..." I think it's a White Liberal Guilt thing, something that sits in the back of my head and tells me that I have no moral right to my own opinion on this sort of topic. Which is bullshit, but there it is. It seems to be conditioned in, sort of.

By the way, I disagree strongly with the person above who suggested there needs to be one objectively correct interpretation. This is true in science, where there are physical truths to discover, but one of the great things about decent art of any kind is that it can work on multiple levels and create different responses in different people. This is a feature, not a bug.

Um. Whew. OK, shutting up now. :)
Cavendishcavendish on September 9th, 2007 03:05 pm (UTC)
Re: Erm, I rambled. There are Doctor Who spoilers in the 2nd paragraph. Sorry.
>By the way, I disagree strongly with the person above who suggested there needs to be one objectively correct interpretation.

Hmm, did I really suggest this? I think I would disagree there myself. ;-) But I think there are interpretations that are more ore less valid. There are misreadings. And literary (or media) scholarship has offered us (more or less objective) tools to deal with pieces of art and evaluate them.

The question if something is racist, e.g., is not a matter of opinion or feeling, it is a conclusion to be gained by thorough analysis of scenes, references, scrips, etc.

>This is true in science, where there are physical truths to discover, but one of the great things about decent art of any kind is that it can work on multiple levels and create different responses in different people. This is a feature, not a bug.

And I do value / love art for that quality. Imho, this does by no means contradict the idea of a "correct" interpretation of a piece of art.
Take, e.g., Turners "Rain Steam and Speed" (just because it is so well known): You can love it for the sheer force, you could admire the coloring, you could refer to the modernity of the thing. On the other hand you cold criticize this idealization of modern industry as apposed to virtues of nature or what have you. All this could be valid interpretations. They do not exclude each other. (They would need to be based on analysis though, which the above steatmes clearly aren't ;-).)

On the other hand if someone where to say that the picture is peacefully, calm, or, artistically speaking, not revolutionary for its time, he could be proven wrong.

If he would say that the painting discriminated or misrepresented the worker of that time he would have at least to offer consistent proof for that, if possible from the piece itself, or, if necessary and as a addition, from other sources. If he could not prove his point, or if his arguments are faulty, his interpretation must be considered wrong.

One can not say that a persons initial response to a piece of art (on an emotional level) is right or wrong, it simply is, and it is different from person to person.

But interpreting art is, imho, a different matter altogether.

Bimo: Hamster_teabimo on September 11th, 2007 07:46 am (UTC)
Re: Erm, I rambled. There are Doctor Who spoilers in the 2nd paragraph. Sorry.
First of all, sorry for taking so long to get back to you. I'm afraid, I'm giving the definition of "weekend" a whole new expanded meaning ;-)

Your Whovian thoughts about Martha and Mickey, and the wonderfully strong, competent and positive impression these two have left are very close two my own, especially with regard to Mickey, who, over the course of two seasons evolved from being a rather stereotype comic relief character (the undesirable, dorky and timid 'soon to be discarded' boyfriend) to hero. Btw., I always wonder whether my impression that S2 Mickey had been deliberately characterized as being much more of a team player than the Doctor and Rose ever were, is also shared by other viewers.

if someone makes an accusation of racism against something, and you recognize that there's a degree of validity to that, it feels wrong, or at least socially unacceptable to respond with, "Yes, but..." I think it's a White Liberal Guilt thing, something that sits in the back of my head

I so know the feeling, albeit in a slightly different context. Being German, it is not so much racism against people of colour that I am painfully aware of, but rather the horrors of historical and present day fascism in general.
AstroGirl: Shades of Greyastrogirl2 on September 11th, 2007 01:43 pm (UTC)
Re: Erm, I rambled. There are Doctor Who spoilers in the 2nd paragraph. Sorry.
First of all, sorry for taking so long to get back to you.

Hey, no problem! Wish I had more to reply with, but I think I'm kind of rambled out at this point. :) It was definitely interesting reading all the intelligent discussion above, though. I agree with you wholeheartedly on pretty much off of it, actually.

Being German, it is not so much racism against people of colour that I am painfully aware of, but rather the horrors of historical and present day fascism in general.

Oh, yeah, I can very much see that... I had a friend in high school who was of German descent, and once we had a concentration camp survivor come to speak at our school. He was an amazingly affecting speaker, and I remember afterwards, she told me how hard that was for her to sit through, how much guilt she felt. The holocaust happened decades before she was born, and I don't know if she'd ever even been to Germany... but her feelings were so obviously real, they were written all over her. It's amazing how much our ancestors can haunt us.