Analyzing popular culture in academic essays and documentaries is nothing new and neither is examining themes in Science Fiction, but two recent news stories have stood out to me as potentially over-thinking some of our popular Sci Fi classics. One is the article from the last week in May about a new Australian book about racism in the show Doctor Who called simply enough, Doctor Who and Race. The other is a news story from today about an Australian documentary called Spook Central that explores the hidden themes in the film Ghostbusters. Both have some good points, but from what I have read about them on line and have seen in the documentary’s trailer, both also veer off the mark in many ways.
The documentary has some far-reaching claims. That Ghostbusters is all about gluttony, reproduction, the evils of smoking and sex. Gluttony and sex yes. Non-smoking? A bit of a stretch. And reproduction? I think that might be a bit hard to prove as well, but I sure would enjoy watching the film so the producers could convince me. It looks to be an interesting documentary. A bit nut ball in places, but overall, just a fun and symbolic look at one of the world’s best Sci Fi/Horror comedies of all time.
The claims against the BBC’s Doctor Who are a bit more muddled and not so cut and dried. There most definitely are the obviously racist episodes where primitive people were labeled savages and the stereotypical portrayals of Caucasian actors in Asian roles in episodes like The Talons of Weng Chiang. But it does get murkier in New Who. Black characters are often not treated so well. Mickey gets harassed unmercifully by Nine and Martha is treated abominably by Ten and not just when she is put into a stereotypical maid uniform in the early 1900’s. Indian characters also hardly ever fair well in New Who. Do I think any of these instances are deliberate? No, but I do think they bear looking at. However, this book allegedly claims that Five playing cricket is too White-centric and that the show is “thunderingly racist” for never having cast a black or Asian actor as the Doctor. The cricket thing feels like a bit of academic grasping to me, and the casting of a non-white actor maybe just hasn’t had its day, yet. Maybe that is racist. I don’t know. What I do know is that there could be a case made for latent racism in the show which may just reflect the latent racism in our societies at large. I would have to read the book to truly know how I feel about it, though.
One thing is for certain, I would like to watch this documentary, Spook Central as I would also like to get my hands on a copy of Doctor Who and Race to read whether they are truly way off base in most of their claims. There seem to be shreds of important things to say in both of them and the film looks like an awful lot of fun even when it gets it so, if not wrong, well…weird. Looks like Australian media researchers are going deep, and in the case of this book, dealing with very serious subjects at times, but without further personal exposure, I can’t truly tell how much they may be over thinking the issues. If online sources are to be believed, quite a lot. My guess would be that this is a correct assumption. Is that bad? In the case of the documentary, probably not as it seems to be all in good fun (although I could be misreading the tone of the piece), but in the case of the book and the BBC’s defense of their show, it could be, if not damaging, quite divisive. Here’s to hoping it simply opens up an important dialogue at the BBC examining whether they should do anything differently or not.
Here is the trailer for Spook Central the documentary about Ghostbusters, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sdueGUDmr0o
And a short article and opinion piece also about the documentary and whether it is a hoax, http://insidemovies.ew.com/2013/06/10/ghostbusters-spook-central-bill-murray/
Here is an article about the Doctor Who and Race book and its claims, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2330872/Discriminate-Discriminate-Doctor-Who-branded-thunderingly-racist-academics–conquers-Daleks-slavery–likes-cricket.html
And here is the official web site for the book which has yet to be published, http://doctorwhoandrace.com/