Saturday, November 11, 2006

Christmas Doesn't Come Early This Year

This year's first 'political correctness brigade bans Christmas' story is pretty feeble even by the standards of the World's Greatest Newspaper. It seems that the Royal Mail has published its annual collection of Christmas stamps. This year's stamps depict Father Christmas, a Reindeer, a Snowman, and, sensationally, a Christmas tree. You might think that these images are a little unimaginative, but to the trained eye they betray the the machinations of the Political Correctness Brigade.

CHRIST IS DUMPED FROM CHRISTMAS STAMPS
Royal Mail under fire for using 'faith free' designs.

Bungling mail chiefs were yesterday accused of taking the Christ out of Christmas.

They unveiled this year's festive stamps – which ignore the season's holy background.

Furious Christian politicians joined the Church of England to condemn the Royal Mail over its faith-free designs....

Last night critics accused the Royal Mail of snubbing Britain's Christians heritage in a politically-correct bid to avoid offending other religions....

This is in all respects a typical piece of Daily Express reporting. Note the quotation marks around the phrase 'faith free' in the headline. In fact, none of the furious politicians or members of the Church of England who are quoted in the story actually use this phrase. None of them mentions 'political correctness', either.1 The Royal Mail has, as a matter of fact, put non-religious pictures on its stamps for 16 of the last 40 Christmases. Its current policy is to use religious and secular pictures in alternate years. Nothing has been 'axed', 'dumped' or 'banned.' No-one is offended by Reindeer. No-one is furious about anything. There is no story here.

As we've seen, the Daily Express has recently developed a comic obsession with the fact that some Muslim women dress like Muslim women. There have been at least ten separate Ban the Veil headlines over the last month – two new ones in the last seven days. They draw a link between this story and a quite separate case about companies that have dress-codes which prohibit jewelry declining to make exceptions for Christians who want to wear crosses. On October 31st and November 2nd they ran two identical stories about the Duchess of Cornwall not having a poppy on her lapel. Both versions of the story were given a religious twist: first Islamic Camilla dumps poppy and then Camilla Hides Poppy: She is wearing one, but you can't see it under Islamic scarf. (So far as I know, Poppies are worn to mark the end of the First World War. 'In Flanders fields', and all that. Armistice day is next Saturday, November 11th. Remembrance Sunday is on the 12th. People were expressing outrage about Mrs. Windsor's choice of accessory on October 30th. Did someone declare the whole of October and November 'Poppy Months' without telling me?) On October 26th, they regurgitated an old, old story about how Prince Charles wants to unilaterally re-write the British Constitution and take the title 'Defender of Faiths' rather than 'Defender of the Faith' should he ever happen to be King. This also got en-meshed in the Cross vs Crescent narrative:

A royal courtier said the Prince had become even more determined to get his way following the controversies over Muslim veils and Christian crosses in recent weeks.... Stephen Green national director of Christian Voice, said: 'Prince Charles cannot start rewriting the constitution on a whim to include other faiths because the job description is that he is a Christian, so he cannot then say that he is also the Defender Of Islam, for example, which is diametrically opposed to Christianity.'

If the church of England was really furious about snowmen it would be quite a good story because no-one has ever seen furious Anglicans before. In fact the two C of E quotes that the Express comes up with are not so much furious as mildly peeved. The first is from one of those un-named 'spokesman' that the Express is always talking to. He quite liked last years stamps and 'regrets' the post office's choice for this year. The second is from someone called Dr. Christina Baxter who sits on the General Synod. She also 'regrets' what has happened, presumably because, once Christ has been banned, all her friends will have to call her Tina. The rest of the piece is bulked out with quotes from David Burrows MP who is a member of the Conservative Christian Fellowship, and Stephen Crabb MP, who by contrast is a member of the Conservative Christian Fellowship. Mr. Burrows wonders why 'a country with a Christian heritage doesn't celebrate Christmas in a straightforward way?' Note the tactic: we've managed to go from 'not putting babyjesus on the postage stamps' to 'not celebrating Christmas' which then mutates into a sub-headline 'Why can't this country celebrate its Christianity?' printed in quotation marks, even though no-one said any such thing.

But the Christian who is most furious of all is Stephen Green, who claims to be 'deeply offended' by Christmas Trees and Reindeer. He's the same chap who was worried about Charles becoming defender of faith-in-the-plural. His organization, Christian Voice, is a group of anti-gay, pro-death penalty, theocratic fruitcakes, best known for completely missing the point of Jerry Springer: the Opera. Their views on Islam are a rather more extreme version of Vlad the Impaler's:

A mosque is regarded as an abomination in the sight of Almighty God....When Muslims go into a mosque and bow down before their false god, 'Allah' ('the god' in Arabic) they are engaging in idol worship without realizing it. It is only necessary to look at the symbol of Islam, the crescent moon, to realize the identity of the real spirit behind Islam.2

So what the Daily Express describes as 'the church of England and politicians' turns out to be a small sub-set of the Conservative Party and a rabidly anti-Muslim Christian supremacist sect that no other paper would give half a column-inch to.

So: why has the world's greatest newspaper suddenly turned religious on us? Has the publisher of Spunk Loving Sluts given his life to Jesus? Of course not. There is nothing remotely Christian about the rest of the paper. It publishes a daily poem; but not a daily prayer or a daily scripture. It gives away free children's books, but not Bibles or tracts. It writes about homeopathy but not faith-healing. It urges us to wear our poppies with pride, but it doesn't print articles telling us that we ought to go to church. When it talks about 'Christianity', it is talking about badges: a cross round your neck; babyjesus on your stamps; the Queen as head of the Church; nativity cribs outside the town hall and hot cross buns on the menu.

What does it mean to wear this badge? Curiously enough, on the same day that no-body at all was getting angry about snowmen a Tory councilor and prospective parliamentary candidate decided to nobly sacrifice her career by circulating a piece of light verse on the subject of immigration. A lot of commentators seem to think that she wrote the thing herself, but it's actually been in circulation for years. You know the one:

Kids need dentist? Wife need pills?
We get free! We got no bills!
Britain crazy! They pay all year,
To keep welfare running here.
We think UK darn good place.
Too darn good for white man race!
If they no like us, they can scram.
Got lots room in Pakistan!

The poem seems to be American in origin – it says 'darn' rather than 'damn' and 'welfare' rather than 'social' or 'benefit'. The last line was originally 'If no like us, they can go/lots of room in Mexico'. Never mind that the comic pidgin bears no relation to any speech pattern ever associated with an Indian. Never mind that, far from being lazy, the usual British stereotype of a Pakistani is someone who is obsessively industrious – who runs a 24 hour corner shop and wants his children to grow up to be lawyers and doctors. Someone took a poem about lazy, feckless, welfare-dependent Mexicans and changed it to lazy, feckless, welfare-dependent Pakistanis, without thinking for five minutes about whether the slur matched the new target. British xenophobia – the same xenophobia which used to say that dark skinned people 'came over here and took our jobs' now says that all dark skinned people are social-security scroungers; and when it thinks of 'dark skinned people', it automatically thinks of Muslims - Pakistanis.

Ms Blande couldn't understand why anyone thought that the poem was racist. Writers to the Daily Mail website felt that Cameron's decision to kick her out of the party was 'PC gone mad' and evidence that 'the Tories have gone PC mad.' And certainly, views scarcely less extreme than those in the poem are expressed in the Mail and the Sun every week.

So: is the Daily Express using 'Christian' as a euphemism for 'White Man Race' and 'Muslim' as code for the dark men who are going to out-reproduce us and take away our lebensraum? ('We have hobby/It called breeding/Welfare pay for baby feeding.') I actually think that they are being rather cleverer than this.

There is no doubt that 'religion' is one of the things which makes a community hang together. It is highly probable that the reason that there is an identifiable Asian Community in the UK is because many Asians are Muslims. We're used to the fact that there are groups of people and areas of London which are Very, Very, English, but also identifiably Jewish. People in New York or Liverpool seem to be able to maintain a sense that they are also Irish over many generations – presumably because their Catholicism binds them together and signifies their difference from the host community. (Do protestant emigrants maintain such a nostalgia for the Old Country?) In this sense, England hasn't had a religion for more than 50 years. Individual English people have been religious, of course, but only in the sense that 'religion' has been one of their beliefs and hobbies. They haven't seen themselves as 'Members of the Methodist Community' any more than as 'Members of the Line Dancing Community.' Increasingly, although he writes 'Christian' on the census forms, the English chap has no religion at all. This may be part of the reason that we don't have a clear national identity. On the other hand it may be the reason we are quite good at embracing multi-culturalism. Not having a religion or culture of our own, don't you know, we can afford to be patronizingly tolerant of the quaint exotic foreigner who does.

White thugs may paint the Cross of Saint George on their bottoms during important football matches, but they don't think of it as a religious symbol. They don't pay lip-service to the Bible or think that attendance at Matins is necessary proof that you are a true Brit. But it is often said that many young Asians who are not especially pious think that going to Friday prayers and fasting during Ramadan are important signifiers of Who They Are.

So. I think that the Express is engaged in a pretty transparent attempt to radicalize the White community. It is systematically running news stories which conflate Christianity with Englishness;and that equate Islam with foreign-ness. If the English can be persuaded to use Bibles, Stamps, Prince Charles, Silver Crosses and very occasional church-going as signifiers of national identity, then they will start to perceive themselves as part of White Community. If they perceive themselves as part of a Community, then they will also perceive themselves as different from members of the Veil-Wearing Community. If 'England' is defined as 'a Christian Country' and dark skinned people are defined as 'Muslims', then dark-skinned people are outsiders, full stop. Remember that multi-culturalism is now a dirty word. Once, we would have said: 'You eat your Muslim curries and we'll eat our Christian HP sauce; we'll have our Christian Baby Jesus and you have your Islamic snowmen and I'm sure we'll get on fine.' But now, we want to wear our Christian crosses, but we don't want you to wear your Muslim hats. If you come into our country, you should adopt our customs. Add to this the fantasy that sinister forces in the government want to ban Christianity but encourage Islam, and you are only one coffee morning away from Church of England suicide bombers. The message is not "Live and Let Live" but "Live our way or get lost."

This is why the Express matters. It isn't a lunatic ranting at a bus-stop: it's read every day by more people than read the Guardian and the Independent put together. And the slogans on the front page are seen by practically every adult in the UK.

Feminists often say that the open display of pornographic images on magazine covers and newspaper front pages degrades the whole of society. People should be allowed to buy porn if they want it, but only in brown-paper wrappers. I think that we have reached a similar point here. I despise what the British National Party says, but would defend to the point of writing a stiff letter to the Guardian their right to say it. But I draw the line at having Cross v Crescent propaganda openly displayed every day in every shop in the country.










1The article is also noteworthy for including a new mutation of the phrase 'political correctness'. It appears that one unspecified person has asked another unspecified person in an unspecified place not to put up any Christmas lights because they might fall off the ladder. But this has morphed into; 'Other traditions to be axed in Britain under political correctness include Christmas lights – banned by some health and safety official worried about people injuring themselves while putting them up'. So it appears that now 'health and safety' and 'political correctness' can be used interchangeably: the Mail has even taken to talking about the 'health and safety' brigade. The significance of the use of the of the future tense is left as an exercise for the reader.

2Is it logically possible to worship an idol without realizing it? I would have thought that it was the kind of sin which is all in the intention. I assume that everybody apart from Mr. Green already knows that Arabic-speaking Christians refer to God as 'Allah' because, er, that's what the word means.

59 comments:

Helen Louise said...

I must say, since you took up the subject I've found it a good deal more enjoyable reading the Daily Express.

As someone whose Christianity is dubious but considers it a lot more than a simple matter of heritage, I find the Daily Express's obsession with Christians being persecuted by the PC brigade more than a little concerning. I did rather like the "Judge bans veil" story, purely because they unintentionally destroyed the myth of the veil being solely used as a tool of female oppression (keeping the wenches at home) by mentioning said veil-wearer was a lawyer.

Incidentally, do you ever read the letters to Ceefax? Most of the writers are under the impression they represent public opinion.

Andrew Stevens said...

I don't know, Mr. Rilstone. At the risk of engaging in a slippery slope fallacy, it seems to me that a wish to censor what passes for the thoughts of the Daily Express does put one on a very slippery slope. I do take your point: I'm sure there are weak-minded people who may come to unthinkingly agree with the Express's stands, but personally, I've always thought that the efficacy of propaganda is quite overrated. John Kenneth Galbraith's theory that modern companies "create" consumer wants through advertising, for example, turns out to be false upon any kind of empirical observation. (This was the problem with most of Galbraith's economic theories, actually.) It is true, of course, that advertising can convince people to buy Coke rather than Pepsi, but no amount of advertising will convince me to buy tampons.

Porlock Junior said...

A fine piece, as expected; and it's always comforting to see a newspaper adhering in these difficult times to its traditonal standards.
(Ohmigosh (gotta talk like an American here, darn it) I put four words into Google and there it is: http://opal.ukc.ac.uk/cartoonx-cgi/ccc.py?mode=single&start=39&search=carl%20giles
) But I have to dissent on some points of USA stereotype.

The lazy freeloading ------s are always good for an attack for any value of ------ that isn't Us. No doubt the British pattern for South Asians is the hyper-achieving type; and in fact our much-resented overachievers, formerly Jews, are now East Asians with South coming up fast. But anyone who plays the freeloader card on Mexicans is laughably out of date (at best). The people who line certain streets of San Rafael (the metropolitan center of the county north of San Francisco, pronounced as Rafell) are not waiting for a handout but for a piece of undocumented untaxed ill-paid work. And the locals know it and don't like it.

Right, everybody knows it and they still invoke the lazy-bastard thing when they want to. So how much change is it really, when this is carried across the Atlantic?

Then there's the comic pidgin which bears little resemblance to anything spoken anywhere. Might as well cross the wide ocean without change, because it sure isn't Mexican. "Too da-n good for white man race" has a rather pleasant ring of West Indian, I think. It would almost be poetic if it *stuck* to that stereotype -- but then I always did like Belafonte. The random misch-masch of bad pidgin doesn't speak well of the mind of the author, but then, well, ummm...

ts said...

but no amount of advertising will convince me to buy tampons

Galbraith didn't say that advertising can create any want, you silly git.

Andrew Rilstone said...

Mr. TS has just posted five different messages, all of them using insulting language.

I have switched "no anonymous messages" back on, and if TS insults anyone else, I will delete all his prevoius message.

Please do not feed the troll.

Gavin Burrows said...

The rest of the piece is bulked out with quotes from David Burrows MP who is a member of the Conservative Christian Fellowship…

No relation, I’d like to point out.

(Side question: If these people were really the diehard Protestants they claim, surely they should be arguing that Christmas should be banned altogether. If they’re going to be barmy they should at least be consistently barmy.)

There is no doubt that 'religion' is one of the things which makes a community hang together. It is highly probable that the reason that there is an identifiable Asian Community in the UK is because many Asians are Muslims. We're used to the fact that there are groups of people and areas of London which are Very, Very, English, but also identifiably Jewish.

I don’t really buy this.

‘Religion’ (at least in the sense it’s being used here) can make for a good statement of identity because it can so easily be used to bypass rationality. If you question my need to answer the Friday call to prayer or climb an exceedingly precarious ladder in order to put a 40ft luminous snowman outside my house, you are questioning who I am.

But the real thing that makes a community hang together is something outside of it for it to set itself against. This is the reason why Muslim or Jewish areas function so well, because most areas of London are nothing like that. We used to be British because we eat chips instead of frogs legs, saw cyclists as something to run over and never wore stripy jerseys. Nowadays there’s too much Brie in the supermarkets and we need others to be the other.

So. I think that the Express is engaged in a pretty transparent attempt to radicalize the White community. It is systematically running news stories which conflate Christianity with Englishness;and that equate Islam with foreign-ness.

This is the bit I really don’t buy. In fact, I’m tempted to remind you I’m supposed to be the tubthumping fanatical lefty around here. I see the Express as far more reflective of a readership, constantly firing off shots they hope will strike enough of a chord that lots of people will write in in frothing agreement and hopefully even switch over from the Mail. The idea that it has an agenda which its imposing on some malleable readership seems a smidgen conspiratorial to me.

Feminists often say that the open display of pornographic images on magazine covers and newspaper front pages degrades the whole of society.

Some feminists say this, yes. Others disagree. Personally, I side with the nay-sayers.

But I draw the line at having Cross v Crescent propaganda openly displayed every day in every shop in the country.

Something I found more sinister was the Islamic fundamentalist nut who got done recently for calling for soldiers and Christians to get the chop. Of course this was a completely ludicrous thing to say. But I completely fail to see how it could have anything to do with racial hatred (the charge he was done under), let alone incitement to murder (a charge leveled which the jury couldn’t agree over). Is anyone really suggesting someone one step up from a loony in a bus shelter is able to influence anyone else to the point of murder? And if they think so, how come they took no action at the time but only much later?

Freedom of speech is already a pretty unequal game, in the sense that the Express can get its headlines into every newsagents in the country and I can stand outside their offices shouting, provided I don’t mind everyone thinking I’m a loony. But to those in power it doesn’t seem quite unbalanced enough…

Andrew Stevens said...

Here, Mr. T.S. is correct. My writing was rather sloppy. It is absolutely true that Galbraith never said advertising was 100% effective. In fact, I only meant that example as a flip way to show the limitations of propaganda. I did not mean to imply that Mr. Galbraith would disagree with me and claim that advertising could accomplish such a feat.

Gavin Burrows said...

Well, except it was rather obvious you were making your point via a combination of humour and hyperbole. I doubt anyone, including Mr TS, genuinely took you so literally. (If anyone genuinely did, please raise your cyber-assisted hand now.)

Then again, the world would be a fairer place if “silly git” counted as severe abuse on an internet discussion…

Andrew Stevens said...

Mr. Burrows: Well, I'm glad you thought so. And I'm certainly not offended at being called a "silly git" or any of the other insults he threw at me.

Mr. Rilstone: My wife has just informed me that the phrase "please do not feed the troll" is actually a request not to respond in any way. I had interpreted it to mean "don't start slinging insults back at him" (something I wouldn't dream of doing anyway). My apologies for my misunderstanding and I promise that I will no longer respond in any way to posts such as that, even if I believe they raise a good point which should be answered. I certainly don't wish to be any part of making this blog unpleasant to read.

Andrew Rilstone said...

I felt that "silly git", "idiot", "liar" and "hypocrite" in five consecutive posts probably needed to be sat on.

culfy said...

I don't know, Mr. Rilstone. At the risk of engaging in a slippery slope fallacy, it seems to me that a wish to censor what passes for the thoughts of the Daily Express does put one on a very slippery slope. I do take your point: I'm sure there are weak-minded people who may come to unthinkingly agree with the Express's stands, but personally, I've always thought that the efficacy of propaganda is quite overrated.

Erm, well!

The lovely young lady who consents to be known as my fiancee is well used to me shouting off rants at a moments notice (One of my hobbies is to watch the Ceefax letters and subject each one to a five minute rant). One of the subjects I ranted about this year was the stupidity of the Express and it's "Rainbow sheep" article.

About two weeks ago, my girlfriend put a comment on her blog about how "we're not allowed to say black sheep" any more, after it turned out a friend at work had told her this. Equally, I know many people who have also said that "you can't sing baa baa black sheep" anymore, just because they're read it on the Express headlines.

I'm sure, if push came to shove, Andrew would not actually censor the Experss. However, surely there is a point to be made for some form of journalistic integrity. If the BBC, had led the six o'clock news with the story "All Torys Everywhere Want to Force All Pakistanis to leave" and showed as its evidence the poem Andrew mentioned; I'm pretty sure it would not survive its next licence charter renewal.

Andrew Rilstone said...

It depends what you mean by "censor". I don't think that the Daily Express should have its printing presses smashed and I don't think that the editor should be slung into jail. I do think that, in any civilized society, some criminal penalty should have attached itself to some of the things which Nick Griffin said. I think that, if someone wants to into a sleazy little bookshop in Soho called "Ludicrous Prejudices R Us" and purchase a little mimeographed magazine about how the Islamicist hoards are taking away our HP Sauce and murdered Princess Diana, then you should probably be allowed to do so, and all your friends should be allowed to stop talking to you. I think that the first step is to see how the Incitement to Religious Hatred Bill pans out: I have entirely changed my mind about this since studying the Express. Like all people who eat sandals for breakfast, I used to think that it was shocking that David Blunkett was going to stop us from telling religious jokes. I still think that the existance of David Blunkett is shocking, but I accept that organisations like the Daily Express and the British National Party dress up attacks on people with dark coloured skins as attacks on Islam, and the law needs to be changed to stop them doing so. (At present, it is a worse crime to say "Kill Tony Blair because he is a white man" than it is to say "Kill Tony Blair because he is a git"; but it isn't a worse offence to say "Kill Tony Blair becasue he is a Christian" than "because he is a lying toe-rag". This makes little sense.) But all I want at present is newsagents to stop treating the Express as if it were a newspaper -- to start stacking it with "Fundementalists Today", "Christian Israelites Weekly", "UFO Spotters Gazette" and other extremist special interest magazines. I don't think that this amounts to "censorship", any more than it amounts to "censorship" that W.H Smug doesn't have a copy of this months "Jack Kirby Collector" on display.




Whenever there is a murder, I mean, whenever there is a murder, the Daily Excess and the Hate Mail run the headline "String Him Up." I assume that what they mean by this is "We believe that the next Conservative government should introduce legislation to repeal the human rights act, withdraw from the European Union and cecede from the European Court of Human Rights. Having done this, it should introduce legilsation into parliament to restore the death penalty. Once this has been passed by the Commons, the Lords and given Royal Assent, we think that the person who committed this crime should be arrested, charged, tried, and if convicted, sentenced to death, and, if his appeal is rejected and the Home Secretary declines to give clemency, he should be executed." I take it that the Muslim chappy who was carrying the sandwich board saying "Behead those who insult the prophet" meant it in exactly the same sense.

Andrew Stevens said...

I don't know. Perhaps it's the kneejerk libertarian in me, but I've always been proud of the fact that, here in the U.S., when the Ku Klux Klan gets cited for demonstrating, the ACLU will send out a lawyer (usually a Jewish one) to defend them. I should point out that I can't recall the last time the Klan demonstrated anywhere. They used to do so back in the '80s, though.

We certainly don't have any criminal penalties attached to anything Nick Griffin might have said. It would violate the First Amendment. Of course, I suppose one could question whether the U.S. is a "civilized society."

Having said that, there's nothing wrong with wanting newsvendors to treat the Daily Express like we in the U.S. treat the National Enquirer rather than like a real newspaper.

Culfy: I certainly don't deny that people are vulnerable to misinformation and hoaxes. I'd like to carefully distinguish here between propaganda about fact and propaganda about prejudice. I have no doubts that a newspaper could convince a great many people of all sorts of factual distortions and lies. But you can rant all you want about the inferiority of, say, Muslims and the only people you're going to convince are the ones who were inclined to agree with you anyway. However, I do grant the possibility, with a media monopoly, that if you told enough factual lies you might be able to create your own prejudices.

Gavin Burrows said...

Andrew Rilstone said...
I still think that the existance of David Blunkett is shocking, but I accept that organisations like the Daily Express and the British National Party dress up attacks on people with dark coloured skins as attacks on Islam, and the law needs to be changed to stop them doing so.


I yesterday read in the Guardian that at Nick Griffin’s trial he claimed he wasn’t a ‘racist’ but a ‘religionist’, perhaps on the grounds that it can’t be against the law if he just made the word up.

Nevertheless while (as my choice of newspaper might suggest) I’m not one of the BNP’s more active supporters, I’d suggest that such a law would be much more likely to be enacted against the BNP than the Express. If they tried the second one it might not look very good on the front of the Daily Express. When laws are applied, they’re applied by people. And people are just as likely to act as bullies, picking on the little guy while leaving the big guy alone, when enacting laws as at any other time.

I’d also mention I suspect the function of the BNP in wider society allows the Express et al to position themselves as relative moderates. “I’m not in the BNP or anything, but these scrounging veil-wearing asylum seekers do all smell of curry” etc.

I don't think that this amounts to "censorship", any more than it amounts to "censorship" that W.H Smug doesn't have a copy of this months "Jack Kirby Collector" on display.

They don’t? Censorship!

Andrew Stevens said...
I'd like to carefully distinguish here between propaganda about fact and propaganda about prejudice. I have no doubts that a newspaper could convince a great many people of all sorts of factual distortions and lies. But you can rant all you want about the inferiority of, say, Muslims and the only people you're going to convince are the ones who were inclined to agree with you anyway.


I suspect the neat distinction between the two things exists in theory but starts to dissolve as soon as you move towards reality. Suppose any murder… any random murder… by a black or Asian person made the front cover under the header ‘Muslim killer’, but any murder by a white person either wasn’t reported or got mentioned in passing at the bottom of the financial page, under the small-type heading ‘crazy person’. Nothing factually incorrect going on, but what’s the inference most people will draw?

I don’t believe there’s an absolute right to freedom of speech because I don’t believe there’s an absolute separation between speech and action.

But you can rant all you want about the inferiority of, say, Muslims and the only people you're going to convince are the ones who were inclined to agree with you anyway.

I do almost agree with this part of what you say. But I’d mention that even when a fire’s already alight it still needs feeding.

Phil Masters said...

Just to clarify - when I compared the Express to a loonie in the street, I wasn't saying that it was no more dangerous. (Yes, it's probably in a position to do non-trivial amounts of harm.) I simply meant that looking at it seemed about as much fun as dealing with such a loonie, in a way that isn't so true of the Sun or the Mail, and hence that I really couldn't understand why people bought it. Though, yes, I know that they do.

The biggest symptom of its outright lunacy is probably the Princess Diana Conspiracy fetish, which doesn't seem to fit with any idea that the Express is solely concerned with radicalising the white community, and which certainly doesn't seem to appear much in the other reactionary tabloids. So far as I can make out, that conspiracy theory involves a vast attack on the intelligence services, who the typical reactionary tabloid type surely thinks are Good Chaps who protect us from evil (brown) people, and who should probably be supported, whatever they do. The only reasons I can imagine for this obsession are (a) it's a vast and sensationalist conspiracy theory, which appeals to a certain class of reader regardless of politics, and which therefore might help sell some papers, or (b) someone in authority at the Express is a mad obsessive on this subject.

Whenever there is a murder, I mean, whenever there is a murder, the Daily Excess and the Hate Mail run the headline "String Him Up." I assume that what they mean by this is "We believe that the next Conservative government ... if his appeal is rejected and the Home Secretary declines to give clemency, he should be executed."

I dunno. I mean, I think if pushed, they would indeed say that all that would be a good idea, but at heart, they and their readers know it isn't going to happen. The meaning of a "String Him Up" headline, in some psycho-social sense, is surely "There's been another horrible murder! The world is a dreadful place! We don't like lots of people, including these murderers! Let's comfort ourselves by imaging them suffering and dying!"

I take it that the Muslim chappy who was carrying the sandwich board saying "Behead those who insult the prophet" meant it in exactly the same sense.

Again, I don't know - especially as the series of procedures required for those who "insult the prophet" to be beheaded legally would be so long and tortuous and implausible that I doubt any loudmouthed fundie could think it through, except perhaps in some handwaved form like "Muslim revolt, non-Muslims forced into acquiescence, caliphate established, bad people beheaded".

Rather, I think that board meant "I'm amazingly angry, possibly even homicidally so, and I think that violence is justified in this cause, and if you disagree with me I want to intimidate you quite seriously". Which may not be actual direct incitement to violence, but is arguably somewhere in the vicinity of "Shouting Fire! in a crowded theatre", which I understand is illegal even in the USA. Whether he was actually guilty of a crime is another matter - and if he was, to me, "incitement to murder" sounds like a better description than anything to do with "racial hatred" - but I can see some logic to the case.

Andrew Stevens said...

I suspect the neat distinction between the two things exists in theory but starts to dissolve as soon as you move towards reality. Suppose any murder… any random murder… by a black or Asian person made the front cover under the header ‘Muslim killer’, but any murder by a white person either wasn’t reported or got mentioned in passing at the bottom of the financial page, under the small-type heading ‘crazy person’. Nothing factually incorrect going on, but what’s the inference most people will draw?

Yes, that was the point of the final statement of my paragraph. That with enough factual lies, you can create your own prejudices. I do grant that. I also pointed out that it probably requires a media monopoly of some sort. Of course, I suppose it doesn't have to be an actual monopoly, just a monopoly of viewpoint. If all the papers are run by people who share the same viewpoint, they could probably accomplish such a thing.

I don’t believe there’s an absolute right to freedom of speech because I don’t believe there’s an absolute separation between speech and action.

I'd hesitate to endorse an absolute anything. In American jurisprudence, the famous example was Oliver Wendell Holmes's "you don't have the right to falsely shout 'Fire!' in a crowded theater." Having said that, it seems to me there's some rationalizing going on when people illegalize hate speech. It doesn't seem like the UK is actually rife with racially-motivated actual attacks which call out for an explanation (the U.S. certainly is not and vitriolic racists are allowed to say whatever they like), so what it really comes down to is wanting to see that bad racist punished.

It was also Oliver Wendell Holmes who said, "If there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other it is the principle of free thought, not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate." (I can actually use that quote in a British blog without being accused of trying to score cheap points.) Do I believe that in 200 years, we're all going to agree with these racists? Not even remotely. But 200 years ago, nasty atheists like me were the ones on the block and it was also rationalized that the speech of atheists became "actions" since it led people into immorality and wickedness. I don't think we need punishment for people with wrong ideas; ideas like that are best fought with the truth.

I'm not necessarily arguing that you're wrong. I'm arguing that we should be very careful. In general, I just don't believe it ought to be the business of government to criminalize opinions and arguments, even if they are vile or ludicrous. Libel, death threats, using one's speech to intentionally cause a dangerous situation, all of these are fine.

And, of course, in the case of Nick Griffin, it was just tactically unwise. He wasn't punished anyway and just became a rather repellent martyr for free speech. A similar thing happened here in the United States with Larry Flynt, publisher of Hustler. The best thing to do, in my opinion? Just ignore him and speak the truth. Whether I hold this opinion because I grew up in a country where freedom of speech is very close to our highest cultural value, I can't say.

Andrew Stevens said...

Oh, another quick thought. It's true that in the U.S., nobody would think to punish Nick Griffin for his speeches, but you also wouldn't find a single newspaper trying to make a case for "banning the veil." Even our radical right would reflexively reject such a suggestion.

Gavin Burrows said...

Phil Masters said...
The meaning of a "String Him Up" headline, in some psycho-social sense, is surely "There's been another horrible murder! The world is a dreadful place! We don't like lots of people, including these murderers! Let's comfort ourselves by imaging them suffering and dying!"


True. It’s sub-rational. I think it’s really “the unclean has happened so there must now be a ritual cleansing”. It doesn’t really matter if the cleansing cleans up the unclean or is even particularly associated with the original unclean act, it’s making yourself feel better turned into a kind of moral imperative. This argument got at it’s most blatant just after S11. Invading Iraq as a response to S11 is like being happy-slapped on the street, so as a response you go home and kick the cat. But many people actively refused to even try to find such a link, just mentioning the previous outrage was supposed to auto-justify the subsequent one. (I’m trying to isolate the sentiment rather than critique the Iraq war, a point which is today the ‘moot’ side of ‘won’.)

…to me, "incitement to murder" sounds like a better description than anything to do with "racial hatred" - but I can see some logic to the case.

Well yes, the charge he was prosecuted under is just plain wrong in any logical sense. It kind of worries me that it’s now acceptable to say well, we don’t really like this guy, but to charge him under the only logical item seems a bit of a tall order, so let’s pick a random but smaller law people are likely to make less fuss over. I don’t believe the conclusion of the famous Al Capone story is that the authorities should be free to prosecute anyone for tax evasion, whether they’d tried avoiding tax or not.

But I really can’t see any logical consistency to the case. Did anyone anywhere behead a Danish cartoonist and say in their defence “well some guy in London held a placard saying it was okay?” The demonstration itself seems to have passed peacefully, for all the abject rubbish ranted on it.

This may be treading old ground, but I really can’t see why this guy was prosecuted for incitement and Tony Blair wasn’t. Except that Blair’s the head of a state. In which case Saddam Hussein shouldn’t have been on trial either. We don’t generally prosecute twats who mouth off in pubs for attempted murder.

Andrew Stevens said...
If all the papers are run by people who share the same viewpoint, they could probably accomplish such a thing.


All the mainstream press seem to me to pretty much share the same general viewpoints. We don’t tend to think about what they agree on, because of their tendency to focus on the bits they disagree over. This has been the case ever since the ‘Express Agrees Absolutely with the Mail’ headline did not translate into increased sales.

It doesn't seem like the UK is actually rife with racially-motivated actual attacks which call out for an explanation (the U.S. certainly is not and vitriolic racists are allowed to say whatever they like), so what it really comes down to is wanting to see that bad racist punished.

Without getting into some semantic debate over the meaning of ‘rife’, racial assaults on ‘Muslims’ happen far more often than the reverse. How directly associated the BNP are with them these days, now they’re striving for electoral respectability, I don’t know. But they happen. There is more to it in this case than the desire for ritual cleansing I described earlier.

I don't think we need punishment for people with wrong ideas; ideas like that are best fought with the truth.

I think we might all agree racism is a wrong idea, and has no real rational foundation outside of maybe a narrow sense of self-interest. I don’t see it withering and dying for being confronted by the truth too often. The idea that wrong ideas are best fought by right ideas alone seems to me a wrong idea in the factual sense of the word. I simply don’t see it happening.

I'm arguing that we should be very careful. In general, I just don't believe it ought to be the business of government to criminalize opinions and arguments, even if they are vile or ludicrous.

Here we agree. There’s a devil vs deep blue sea element. Whenever such laws have been passed, however narrow their intention, there’s always been a high degree of mission creep.

Having inadvertently quoted one line from Andrew No. 2 twice, can I call myself a “silly git” here without someone sitting on me?

Gavin Burrows said...

We don’t generally prosecute twats who mouth off in pubs for attempted murder.,

Err... to rearrange this puzzle into something that makes sense try inserting that line after the previous paragraph.

(Can I now have a dispensation to call myself an 'idiot'>)

Gavin Burrows said...

We don’t generally prosecute twats who mouth off in pubs for attempted murder.,

Err... to rearrange this puzzle into something that makes sense try inserting that line after the previous paragraph.

(Can I now have a dispensation to call myself an 'idiot'>)

Mike Taylor said...

Andrew Stevens asserted "You can rant all you want about the inferiority of, say, Muslims and the only people you're going to convince are the ones who were inclined to agree with you anyway."

I would love to believe that, but I don't think history supports it at all. It's not so long ago that everyone was, by modern standards, racist. I don't believe that some radical change in human nature has occured since my parents' generation and mine; so all I can conclude is that we're more affected than we like to think by the "background radiation" of ideas that we grow up with.

Phil Masters said...

We don’t generally prosecute twats who mouth off in pubs for attempted murder.

Not usually as such, no, but that's as much to do with sheer hassle and police priorities as anything. If they persist in screaming and shouting while a copper's trying to persuade them to calm down, they can ultimately be arrested for something.

Which is merely to say that law enforcement isn't a mechanistic thing, and has to depend a lot more than one might like on the priorities of the people running the system. The Muslim with the placard was, very probably, guilty of something; the decision to prosecute him may have been questionable, but that's another matter.

Except that Blair’s the head of a state.

Umm, no he isn't.

Gavin Burrows said...


Phil Masters said:
If they persist in screaming and shouting while a copper's trying to persuade them to calm down, they can ultimately be arrested for something.


Well you’ve probably hit on a foolproof recipe for arrest there, yes. Don’t try that one at home, kids! My point is I don’t believe even the most draconian or vindictive copper would see a drunk shouting “he dissed my pint, I’ll kill ‘im!” and straight away file a charge for attempted murder. Breach of the peace, drunk and disorderly, at it’s worst maybe assaulting a police officer. People say all sorts of absurd things once they let themselves get hot and bothered. I don’t believe a twat with a placard is any worse than a twat in a pub.


Mike Taylor said...
…all I can conclude is that we're more affected than we like to think by the "background radiation" of ideas that we grow up with.


Yes, but who or what sets this ‘background radiation’? Of course, a daily diet of Express headlines about veil-wearing terrorists makes certain thoughts thinkable, if you already have a predisposition towards them. But I felt in Andrew’s original post he was slipping into the notion that Express headlines had some deterministic shaping effect on their readership. I don’t believe that, for example, if the Sun started arguing that full-chested blondes were a danger to the fabric of our nation and should be shunned, that their readership would automatically follow them down this avenue. Background radiation is shaped by broader, deeper and often darker forces.

(Note to lurking trolls, I do not imagine that the Sun is seriously contemplating such a shift, any more than I imagine the Express actually had a ‘we agree with the Mail’ headline. These are in fact examples of Making Your Point By Hyperbole, which is all the rage nowadays.)

PS Anyone seen today’s Express headline? It’s a beaut!

Andrew Stevens said...

Mike Taylor,

To a large degree, I concede your point. The intellectual climate in which one lives has a great deal to do with forming one's beliefs. However, I think you'd be hard-pressed to argue that Britain has an intellectual climate in which "Muslims are inferior" is the dominant belief. I'm arguing that the average British person is inoculated against such a belief.

I know that in the U.S., after September 11th, there was a lot of hysteria about how people were going to start randomly attacking Muslims now, so there were repeated and persistent calls by people of both parties not to blame American Muslims. There was exactly one incident and the man it was directed at turned out to be a Sikh. (The idiots who attacked him were misled by his turban.) Of course, the U.S. has many fewer Muslims as a percentage of the population, I assume.

Gavin Burrows said...

I can’t get anything right today!!!, it was in fact
the Daily Mail
I expect I’ll get the link coding wrong too.

(I esp. like the bit about the Centre for Policy Studies being “centre right”.)

Phil Masters said...

Yes, but who or what sets this ‘background radiation’?

Would saying "it's complicated" be an unpopular answer there?

This is one area where I do feel a huge sense of uncertainty. On the one hand, if preaching and propaganda and advertising didn't work, well, we'd have an awful lot of successful politicians, missionaries, and advertising executives to explain. On the other hand, human beings have an amazing ability to ignore what's right in front of them, and that seems to include attempts at manipulating them, sometimes.

Does anyone know anything about the truth or falsehood of the old story that a survey of Sun readers, at the height of their most rabidly Thatcherite pro-Tory phase, discovered that many or most of their readers thought it was a Labour paper? It's too good to discard, but it has a slight taste of the urban legend, and may just be too good, period.

"Background radiation" may be the metaphor of preference. I remember a comment that the problem with American right-wing shock jocks wasn't that many people took them seriously; it was that they made various marginally less right-wing individuals look sane and moderate, and hence electable. Maybe, even while the readers thought it was a Labour paper, the Sun was shifting their assumptions steadily rightward. On the other hand, if a paper thinks it can really make a big immediate change, it may be sadly disappointed. The Express may make things marginally worse for non-white Britons over time, but (for example) it'll never get anywhere with the Di-wuz-murdered thing.

Andrew Rilstone said...

The biggest symptom of its outright lunacy is probably the Princess Diana Conspiracy fetish, which doesn't seem to fit with any idea that the Express is solely concerned with radicalising the white community, and which certainly doesn't seem to appear much in the other reactionary tabloids. So far as I can make out, that conspiracy theory involves a vast attack on the intelligence services, who the typical reactionary tabloid type surely thinks are Good Chaps who protect us from evil (brown) people, and who should probably be supported, whatever they do....

No. MI5 is controlled by the State, and the State, on Planet Daily Express is a Bad Thing. It's the State that comes and takes away your rabbit hutch while you are on holiday and gives it to John Prescott. It's the State which has spy-in-the-sky sattelites because it hates Motorists so mucn. Tax is the same thing as Theft.

Of course, The State is controlled by The Government, who are controlled by the Political Correctness Brigade who are controlled by the Tartan Army who hate England and are committed to banning everything English -- Jesus, H.P Sauce, Christmas Tress etc. So it is not hard to see why MI5 made an "attack to destroy" on England's Rose.

I wish I was joking.

Phil Masters said...

Okay... I bow to your greater familiarity with the material.

Just out of curiosity, I take it that the police (sorry, boys in blue) aren't classed as agents of the evil State in the same way, except when enforcing speed limits? (Ditto the armed forces, for that matter.) I was assuming that the intelligence services would logically benefit from the Laura Norder clause of Express-think, but I guess they don't have the same traditional status as the police.

Andrew Stevens said...

People are amused by conspiracy theories and I think that's really the only reason. The evidence against Oswald, for example, is just overwhelming. Yet there are people who have studied every last detail of the Kennedy assassination and still insist he was innocent. They didn't reach this view by actually looking at the evidence. They looked at the evidence in order to support their view. It's just a game to them to figure out how everything fits into their conspiracy theory. Don't get me wrong; these people genuinely believe what they say they believe, because they have gotten into the game so deeply they've forgotten it's only a game. When I was a kid, people used to say this would happen to you if you played too much Dungeons and Dragons. They appear to have been wrong, but it may just be because of the dice. Diceless role-playing might be much more dangerous.

Jallan said...

I cannot find a reference now, but I recall reading some years ago about a test made about public susceptability to the media involving people being paid to listen to a radio talk and then answering questions on their responses to the topic.

There were actually two talks about being able to get by with less sleep and each person listened to one or the other. One of the talks was rather moderate ... suggesting methods of cutting one's sleep time down each day by an hour or two. The other talk, which was rather obviously crank, suggested that one could throught self training easily get by on only two or three hours of sleep per day.

The questionaire responses showed that this second, crank talk, convinced far more people that people could indeed get by with less sleep, even though most of the responders believed that two or three hours only was absurd.

I suppose such responses occur because most of us are open minded enough on topics we don't know much about to believe that there is likely something in what other people we're told, some truth at the bottom of it. The big lie may not actually be believed, but one may be more disposed to believe some of the little lies cited to support the big lie.

Gavin Burrows said...

Phil Masters said...
“Yes, but who or what sets this ‘background radiation’?”

Would saying "it's complicated" be an unpopular answer there?


Well it probably won’t win you a standing ovation, but it has the sting of truth to it.

I’d compare it to how a drug works. For a drug to affect you, you have to have the right receptors in your head. People who don’t have those receptors don’t get the effect. Hence I don’t imagine that if the Sun were to start railing against busty blondes its readership would follow them.

To choose an obvious example, in the Olden Days racial minorities were smaller in Britain and less integrated. Proclamations about them being ‘not like us’ therefore fell on greener ground. As numbers increased and, with them, integration the ‘not like us’ receptors would get dimmer and dimmer. Proclamations nowadays have had to retreat into code words like ‘bogus asylum seeker’ or ‘Muslim’.

Of course most of this is far less obvious than my example, and gets murky and shifting. (You might even argue with some credibility racism had more been ring-fenced than had actually diminished.) Life doesn’t owe us an obligation to be simple or clearcut.

Andrew said:
No. MI5 is controlled by the State, and the State, on Planet Daily Express is a Bad Thing. It's the State that comes and takes away your rabbit hutch while you are on holiday and gives it to John Prescott. It's the State which has spy-in-the-sky sattelites because it hates Motorists so much. Tax is the same thing as Theft.

Then Phil:
Just out of curiosity, I take it that the police (sorry, boys in blue) aren't classed as agents of the evil State in the same way, except when enforcing speed limits?


So that’s where my rabbit hutch went!

As said before, I picture the Express as trying to second-guess its readers’ prejudices far more than it tries to manipulate them into a specific political agenda. If Andrew’s analysis was right, they’d have some bizarre twist on an anarchist agenda, wouldn’t they? (Perhaps the Crusader on their masthead could grow a Mohawk or something.)

What they’re really rallying against are Vested Interests, because their readership perceives them as having had an unfair advantage in life. But the code-word for Vested Interests can change from day to day, and even contradict the one used yesterday. One day the police do something like forcibly prevent anti-war protestors attending a demonstration (the subject of a recent court case), and are of course preserving our democracy. But the next day they wake up and, for some mysterious reason over their morning coffee, decide to enforce speed limits. Then of course they represent Vested Interests, preventing us using our cars which we worked so hard to pay for.

These contradictions might be a problem were they trying to draft legislation. But they’re not. They’re trying to outsell the Mail.

SK said...

I have heard it (convincingly) argued that the point of the First Amendment (which, it should be remembered, is not a Inviolable Principle of Correct Government but an idea some people had when they were starting a country a relatively short time ago, in historical terms, and therefore should not be used as an automatic argument-winner in any case: saying 'it's against the first amendment' might mean that 'it' is wrong, but equally it might mean that the first amendment is a bad idea) was to prevent the government from silencing its critics; that is, to make it impossible for the government to stop people from saying 'the government is wrong'.

It was not, originally, intended to mean that anybody could say anything. It was interpreted that way only later.

I am not a scholar of the history of the eighteenth century, so I don't know how reliable this argument is. If anyone else who has greater knowledge of the events in the Colonies at that time could shed more light on it I would be grateful.

Andrew Stevens said...

SK:

This one I can answer for you. Your argument about the First Amendment as "argument-winner" is, of course, correct, but here in America, we do have unusual reverence for James Madison and Thomas Jefferson. I'm not saying it's rational. I'm just reporting the facts.

The First Amendment banned the federal government from passing any law restricting freedom of speech. Period. I believe this is indisputable. The Amendment's plain languge says "Congress shall pass no law. . ." However, it was never the intent of the people who wrote that Amendment to apply that principle to the state governments. That came later. So what you say is both true and false. It was not the intent to legalize any and all speech, but it was the intent to stop the federal government from banning any speech.

I hope that clears it up for you.

Andrew Stevens said...

By the way, my own opinion is that applying the First Amendment to the states (via a strained interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment) was a bad idea and has caused virtually everybody to make up stories (like the one relayed by SK) to try to explain what the Amendment "really" means, so they can ban the speech they don't like. Since all of these stories are false, they are also all implausible and have made a lot of Constitutional jurisprudence look really foolish, as judges go into contortions to explain why "no law" does not actually mean "no law." If we had stuck to the original plan and let the states allow or disallow speech in line with their constituents' desires, these sorts of arguments would be much easier and we wouldn't have to have stupid debates about whether pornography is speech or not or whether vile racist statements are actually incitements to violence (and whether those should be prohibited or not) or whether flag-burning is speech, etc., etc.

Gavin Burrows said...

Andrew Stevens said...
… it was never the intent of the people who wrote that Amendment to apply that principle to the state governments.


My first, perhaps cynical, assumption was that the Amendment was therefore being sold to the state governments rather than “the people”. You’ll be under a federal gov but don’t worry, because we promise to be nice.

Mike Taylor said...

I know this is off-topic, but can I just say: Gosh, what a thoughtful, literate bunch you all are on here. I think that this blog, and its comments, persuade me to change my mind on complex issues more often than any other venue I know. Please, give yourselves all a pat on the back. Seriously.

Andrew Stevens said...

Well, I hate to bring this up on a British blog, but the Bill of Rights (the first Four Amendments, anyway) was really all about forbidding the federal government to do things that the British did to them just prior to the Revolution. Thus, the First Amendment because the British went after pamphleteers, the Second Amendment because (right before the Revolution) the British attempted to seize munitions, the Third Amendment to prevent involuntary quartering of troops, and the Fourth Amendment immunity to warrantless searches and seizures. (The rest of the Bill of Rights were actually copying Magna Carta style rights though.)

Thus, it's probably true, as SK said, that political speech was what they were really trying to protect and it's certainly true, as Gavin Burrows says, that a lot of the Constitution was written to guarantee the state governments that the federal government wouldn't strip them of all their power. Moreover, the states wanted some assurances that if the federal government got too big for its britches, they'd be able to revolt and overthrow it. (Yes, that really is what the Second Amendment is all about, foreign as that might seem to us in the 21st century.)

Gavin's "cynical" assumption is unquestionably right. The Constitution had to be sold to the state legislatures, not to the people as a whole. (The U.S. government was established via ratification by the state legislatures, not by referendum.) However, it was just as true then as it is now that while there were some corrupt legislators, there were also plenty of honest legislators who genuinely cared about the rights of the people. So ultimately, I'm not sure the difference means as much as many cynics would suppose. (I am not a cynic, generally, and I know that makes me unhip, but I think the majority of people are decent and just, even politicians.)

Gavin Burrows said...

Andrew Stevens said...
Gavin's "cynical" assumption is unquestionably right.


Blimey! I suppose it had to happen one day…

Well, I hate to bring this up on a British blog, but the Bill of Rights (the first Four Amendments, anyway) was really all about forbidding the federal government to do things that the British did to them just prior to the Revolution.

Nothing about not eating soggy chips or painting different halves of the drainpipe different colours? Seriously, bring it up, it was interesting to read.

.I am not a cynic, generally, and I know that makes me unhip, but I think the majority of people are decent and just, even politicians. .

I’m not sure I’m universally regarded as ‘hip’ (boney maybe), but I am a cynic. One of my drunken Saturday night rants is how, in the original Greek sense, cynicism meant we settled for a poor existence where we could have a marvelous one. (Whereas idealism, in the Greek sense, meant in this world at least we had to settle for a poor one, but I digress.)

I don’t agree with the “decent and just” notion, not because I believe the opposite, but because I don’t think people have an ‘essential self’. I think people have a complicated and varied nature that can change with circumstances.

Andrew Stevens said...

"The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds, and the pessimist fears this is true." -James Branch Cabell

We probably don't disagree on human nature too much, Gavin though I'm not sure I'd deny an "essential self." Almost everybody I meet has a great deal of consistency to their personality, barring perhaps traumatic shifts such as insanity, profound grief (or other trauma), or revelatory redemption (not necessarily religious). It is impossible to imagine my older brother (one of the most gentle men I've ever known) suddenly deciding to beat his wife, for example. If he did, I would regard that as sufficient evidence that he had gone insane.

But, sure, anybody's capable of doing good things or evil things. Experiments show that most people will consent to doing things they know are wrong if they are ordered to do so by a trusted authority. While everybody likes to think they'd be one, heroes are very rare. In keeping with (some parts of) this blog, that's why I'm such a big fan of Doctor Who. The Doctor is a terrific fictional hero because he has the courage to say "what you are doing is wrong." Maybe I'm naive, but I genuinely believe there are some people like that though I wish there were more of them.

Andrew Rilstone said...

Just out of curiosity, I take it that the police (sorry, boys in blue) aren't classed as agents of the evil State in the same way, except when enforcing speed limits? (Ditto the armed forces, for that matter.) I was assuming that the intelligence services would logically benefit from the Laura Norder clause of Express-think, but I guess they don't have the same traditional status as the police.

Bobby-on-the-beat is the preferred term. B.O.Bs used to be a good thing because they arrested yobs, and were allowed to work on the basis of their own common sense rather than some undemocratic law that we never had a referendum on in the first place. However, nowadays, B.O.Bs spend nearly all their time in the police station filling out paper work; and the time the do spend on the streets is mainly taken up arresting golly-wog owners and enforcing other politically correct laws. Furthermore, white people are no longer allowed to join the police, unless they are ho mo sexual. So while individual B.O.Bs are still a good thing, the police force as a whole is controlled by the P.C.B and is a Bad Thing.


Have you noticed how Tony has adopted the Daily Express cosmology in which The Streets = Bad and The Home = Good.

Gavin Burrows said...

Andrew Stevens said...
We probably don't disagree on human nature too much, Gavin though I'm not sure I'd deny an "essential self." Almost everybody I meet has a great deal of consistency to their personality… It is impossible to imagine my older brother (one of the most gentle men I've ever known) suddenly deciding to beat his wife, for example.


I think of the ‘essential self’ as the notion of an irreducible core that isn’t dependent on your social context. The Robinson Crusoe syndrome, would your brother be the same if he was separated not only from his wife and this week’s episode of Torchwood but from everything he knows and dumped on a desert island somewhere?

The Doctor is a terrific fictional hero because he has the courage to say "what you are doing is wrong."

I think of the Doctor as a good character for a slightly different reason, because he’s willing to admit doing what’s right isn’t always obvious or easy and doesn’t always bring rewards.

Andrew Stevens said...

Gavin,

As I said, we probably don't disagree on human nature much. As long as you're not making a pure nurture case (i.e. that biology plays no role), we can agree that environment certainly does. I actually have no idea what effect dumping my brother on a deserted island would have (very quick death, I suspect). I'm not entirely sure where the thought experiment is going, other than making a general "environment makes a difference" argument, which almost nobody denies.

As for the Doctor, I think you might be laying too much onto the character. I can agree with the points about never expecting a reward and having difficulty doing the right thing (risking his life, for one thing). But the "not obvious" point seems to be stretching it. The average villain in Doctor Who is a ranting megalomaniac and there's rarely any real moral complexity (Genesis of the Daleks aside). I withdraw my objection if you're coming at it as an alternate media fan. I've never read any of the books or listened to the audios. It may very well be true in those and I don't actually want to engage in any kind of debate about whether the show ought to have had more moral complexity or not, since such arguments tend to be shadow-boxing over more fundamental philosophical disagreements.

SK said...

Might I respectfully suggest that even without considering 'alternative media' (and what p[recisely is so alternative abut 'books', possibly the least 'alternative' media in existance), over a TV history of twenty-six plus two years, shaped by many many different viewpoints, there is more than adequate evidence to support just about any interpretation of the Doctor that one might wish?

Or, in other words, you're both right and the entire discussion is rather pointless.

There is no 'essence of "Doctor Who"' -- or if there is, it is the very changability of it.

Gavin Burrows said...

Mr. Andrew Stevens-
You surmise correctly, sir. Of course I’m not making a ‘pure nurture’ case and would agree there’s a balance in play. My argument was really two-fold:
i) The popular perception is wrenched much too far over towards the ‘nature’ end of things. This may be partly because it’s comforting to believe you have an ‘irreducible core’, and would still be yourself even if washed up on a desert island or kidnapped and brainwashed by the SLA.
ii) Your belief that most people are fundamentally good seems to me contingent on an ‘essential self’, which for me means I can’t really go along with it. (Before we even start asking why there were death camps or John Nathan Turner.)

The average villain in Doctor Who is a ranting megalomaniac and there's rarely any real moral complexity (Genesis of the Daleks aside).

Well there’s a repeated emphasis on the problematic nature of using violence to achieve good, as I think we’ve debated on this blog before. And, while of course all monsters represent a darker side of the self (a Dalek is the ranting megalomaniac inside of me and you etc), there’s sometimes a sense in which the monster is a darker side of the Doctor. (The Queen Spider in Planet of the Spiders representing the Doctor’s egoism which he must conquer etc.) That’s something above the standard polar opposition between hero and villain.

But I’ll readily concede for my argument to really work you’d have to compare Doctor Who to its like – to an average popular Saturday teatime family viewing TV show, rather than the works of Dostoyevsky or something. As also previously discussed on this blog, as soon as the spin-off show Torchwood claimed adult status for itself all of that started looking paper-thin. It’s like looking through the same telescope, only the wrong way up.

I withdraw my objection if you're coming at it as an alternate media fan. I've never read any of the books or listened to the audios.

Me neither, pretty much for reasons given above.

Sk said:
There is no 'essence of "Doctor Who"' -- or if there is, it is the very changability of it.


The go-anywhere do-anything changeability of Doctor Who is of course a huge part of its appeal. (You’ve even got a built-in rationale that allows you to swap the lead actor round, Blake’s Seven would have killed for that one!) But (neatly linking the two subjects) I contend unlike a real person the Doctor does have an irreducible core. The Doctor played by Van Deisel, Robin Williams or Richard Gere would be a travesty. Of course over the history of the series it frequently became a travesty. But my solution to that is to do what I can to try and forget all about the dud episodes.

Andrew Stevens said...

Gavin, no arguments with you on Doctor Who. As for calling it alternative media, SK, I call it that only because Doctor Who began as a television show. So, the Lord of the Rings movies are the alternative media since they started as books.

However, perhaps we do differ on human nature. I have the contrary opinion: it seems to me that popular opinion is heavily skewed toward the nurture side of the debate. Of course, missing in the debate usually is exercise of free will. Both nature and nurture can be overcome or enhanced given enough effort (and the presence of enabling means). I also think you're rather overstating the case when it comes to the existence or non-existence of an essential self. Most people, after about the age of 25 or so, rarely change at all. I'll grant there are occasional traumatic exceptions, such as, as you say, SLA brainwashing. It seems odd to focus on those, however, rather than what we usually observe.

Andrew Stevens said...

Thinking about it, the public does believe that genetics is more "persistent" than environment is. I.e. they tend to believe that an unlucky early environment can be overcome in a way that unlucky genetics cannot be, though there's no good evidence for this belief. If that's part of what you meant by the public being skewed to the nature side of the debate, then I agree. This might be because some genetic attributes really are fixed (species, for example), which misleads people into believing that all genetic traits are equally fixed. I see no evidence to support this assertion however. It is certainly true that some people are born smarter, more beautiful, or more athletic than other people. This does not mean that one can't become smarter, more beautiful, or more athletic with the proper will and enabling means.

SK said...

But [...] I contend unlike a real person the Doctor does have an irreducible core. The Doctor played by Van Deisel, Robin Williams or Richard Gere would be a travesty. Of course over the history of the series it frequently became a travesty. But my solution to that is to do what I can to try and forget all about the dud episodes.

So you're not actually talking about Doctor Who, you're talking about 'the carefully-selected set of bits of Doctor Who that support my pre-existing theories of what it should be about, ignoring the bits that inconveniently disagree with me (which I shall label 'travesties' or 'duds' in order to avoid having to consider them)'.

Which is, you know, fine, but hardly a basis for telling someone else they've got the wrong idea aabut Doctor Who.

Gavin Burrows said...

Andrew Stevens said...
This does not mean that one can't become smarter, more beautiful, or more athletic with the proper will and enabling means. .


It’s never worked for me.

SK said...
Which is, you know, fine, but hardly a basis for telling someone else they've got the wrong idea aabut Doctor Who.


Wouldn’t having any idea about anything at all implicitly suggest you’re “telling someone else they’ve got the wrong idea”? Or, put another way, you’re saying “the whole point about what you think is that it’s just what you think”.

Which is… you know… true. Just not very illuminating.

SK said...

The problem isn't telling people that they've got the wrong idea. I am telling you that you both have the wrong idea about Doctor Who in thinking that something made up of so many viewpoints, stories and eras so essentially disparate and incoherent can be possibly distilled into any kind of overriding consistent principle.

The difference is that I am right (or if you prefer, have a basis for telling you than) and you both are wrong (or if you prefer, have no basis for your claims).

What you think is just what you think, and it's wrong. What I think is not just what I think: it also happens to be right, and I can back it up without having to ignore the bits that inconveniently disagree with me by calling them 'duds'.

Gavin Burrows said...

The difference is that I am right

And to think some people think of Dr Who fans as cranky, opinionated types lacking in social skills.

Post other comments of a similar nature if you prefer. I certainly shan't bother responding.

Have a nice life.

Andrew Stevens said...

I think S.K. expressed himself badly, Gavin. I think people of S.K.'s opinion have become exasperated with the "not Doctor Who" complaints, particularly common after Love and Monsters, and this has caused them to become intemperate in all such debates. I sympathize with them. I didn't care for Love and Monsters because I didn't think it was all that good; I reject the argument that it "wasn't Doctor Who." I also believe this has caused them to exaggerate the flexibility of the show, which they correctly identify as a key point.

Doctor Who is plainly not infinitely flexible though. You correctly pointed out that the Doctor has an essential self or core to his character, which I think S.K. would probably admit if he reflected more carefully. Producers have fiddled around with the edges of the character (and this has been done to the Doctor, I believe, more than literally any other character in the history of fiction), but the Doctor has always stood for justice. He has been shown to be deficient in his understanding of justice on occasion, but not once has he actually shown a failure of will to see justice be done. On certain rare occasions (Dalek, some sixth Doctor stories, perhaps Remembrance of the Daleks and Silver Nemesis), the Doctor's desire for justice has been too strong, i.e. insufficiently tempered with his usual virtues of mercy and compassion, but justice is very much at the heart of the character. If this were to be abandoned, I believe the show would have moved in an unprecedented direction. And I don't think I have to give up a single televised story (not sure about the novels or audios) to maintain this position. The only exceptions I am willing to make are the first three or four stories in history when the Doctor (already very concerned with justice, but not quite in the same way) is slowly convinced by Ian and Barbara that their ideas of justice are superior to the ones he had previously accepted. Due to the great variety of writers, producers, actors, directors, etc., it is perfectly true, as S.K. points out, that there hasn't been 100% consistency in this conception. Different writers had different concepts of justice. Nevertheless, I maintain that it is always there.

Gavin Burrows said:
It’s never worked for me.

We seem to have switched roles somewhere. Now I seem to be arguing for the flexibility of humans and you seem to be arguing against it. This seems to supports my original theory that we probably don't disagree very much. To give a different example of what I mean, I was born with a horrible temper. When I was a small child, I was known for my excessively violent temper tantrums which could be brought on by the slightest provocation. When I was in my early teens, I realized that I did not respect this about myself and the people around me didn't respect it either. I did not then, and do not now, particularly care if people like me (except for my wife, of course), but I have always cared if (good and wise) people respected me. Now, I rarely get angry at all and haven't lost my temper in at least fifteen years. Offending me is very hard work; one has to actively try in order to do so. I forgive people instantly and easily for small offenses (even if they do not ask for my forgiveness) and much more quickly than normal for large ones. I wasn't born this way; it wasn't my environment that made me this way; I built it through a process of teaching myself self-discipline. I am not praising myself here since Aristotle might remark that perhaps I overshot the golden mean and went too far in the opposite direction; sometimes I am inclined to this view. What I am saying is it's a mistake to think we're just stuck with the genetic hand we were dealt. I had a friend in elementary school who was a genius, one of the smartest people I have ever met, perhaps the smartest. Thirty years later, I have no real interest in his conversation because he had no desire to develop this gift and do the study and thinking necessary to become a top-notch thinker. I do not judge him for this; it's his talent and he has the right to do with it what he wills, but I think it's clear he's been intellectually surpassed by a great many people who were born with far less than his share of gifts. I'm sure there are ways in which he is still smarter than these people. He probably still learns more quickly and comprehends more easily, but in practical terms he isn't smarter in any significant way. For example, his life is a bit of a shambles because he never used his intellectual gifts to acquire or build any wisdom.

I'll give my athletic example, though I assume most non-Americans aren't familiar with Pete Rose. Rose, before he became known for gambling, was the least talented superstar baseball has ever seen. He wasn't fast, he couldn't throw, he was a mediocre fielder, he had no power, and he wasn't a good natural hitter. And he was a great player. For more than a decade, he was routinely one of the ten best players in the game. They called him "Charlie Hustle" because the man gave every ounce of his skill and strength to playing the game of baseball. He ran to first on routine ground balls like he was being chased by a leopard. He hustled on every single play and acted like his career was on the line on even the most routine of them. He was the human training film, the one man who played baseball the way it was meant to be played, and he was lionized for it before his fall from grace. Were natural athletes still more athletic than Pete Rose in some ways? Sure. But Rose was a greater player than an enormous number of people who had more natural ability.

Beauty is more difficult, of course, but we've all seen shows which do "makeovers" for people and we can all see what a difference they make. If you really care about being more attractive, you can become so. I grant there are limits to this, of course, but it's amazing what diet, exercise, and lots and lots of makeup can accomplish (not to mention plastic surgery, though that certainly falls under "enabling means" and I think its results are quite mixed - see Michael Jackson for a stunning example).

SK said...

Is it worth bothering?

Okay, once more.

This has nothing to do with Love and Monsters. I don't generally rate the Tennant stories, obviously apart from The Girl in the Fireplace, obviously, and that includes Love and Monsters. But it's pointless to argue whether they're 'real Doctor Who.' Of course they are. They went out at prime-time with the Doctor Who titles on them and seven million people watched them.

What I am fed up of -- and I think I got fed up of it in about 2001 -- is people claiming that there is any coherence in Doctor Who. Including in such matters as how many times the Doctor has regenerated. When the UNIT stories take place. How many hearts the Doctor has. The future. The past. Any particular trait of the character, beyond 'he's the guy whose name is on the titles' (which is why he doesn't generally do unjust things, not because he 'stands for justice' but because the production team know how far they can push before they lose audience sympathy*). Or anything else.

I've seen pointless arguments about what is the 'core' of Doctor Who rehashed again and again for nearly ten years, and they were well-established long before that. And THERE IS NO RIGHT ANSWER.

So stop with the pointlessness.

* Or, in the unfortunate case of Mr C. Baker, don't.

Gavin Burrows said...

Hi Andrew!

My general position on such things if someone doesn’t even know how to talk to people, I just lose all interest in what they’re saying. For example, nurture does not become more powerful than human nature by me calling you a “stupid ****ing Yank” or not, so in general I’d rather avoid calling you anything similar and restrict my argument to the arguments.

I have to admit I needed to look Love and Monsters up! It seems small surprise the Dr. Who fans would get irked by that episode, after all it was telling them to give up their nerdy hobby and start talking to girls! (Then again, it was a bit of a silly episode…)

In fact my reaction to Love and Monsters is probably a good indication of the way an audience works in such cases. I didn’t take to it much so I forgot about it. There’s only so much room in the average head, so I automatically stored more memories of Girl in the Fireplace. Of course this is an entirely subjective process, involving my brain building up a picture by dismissing all sorts of information as irrelevant just because it doesn’t want it in the frame. No-one ever said it wasn’t. An audience is something different to a video recorder.

Ironically in the circumstances, I probably do think “standing for justice” is too general a concept to claim a character has an essential core! Most modern heroes stand for justice in some way or other. (‘Justice’ being a modern concept. Most heroes in myth and legend just stand for the self, so only have to develop as a character.) But I’ve probably said enough about my perception of the ‘essential core’ already…
Producers have fiddled around with the edges of the character (and this has been done to the Doctor, I believe, more than literally any other character in the history of fiction)

I take it you don’t read many comics then!

Now I seem to be arguing for the flexibility of humans and you seem to be arguing against it.

Now I feel somewhat guilty as I was just making a flip comment! Blame the English sense of humour. (Or, if you prefer, the lack of one.)

Andrew Stevens said...

Gavin,

Well, I am inclined to agree with you now. I was giving Mr. S.K. the benefit of the doubt because I'm occasionally inclined to say things like "I'm right and you're wrong" in intemperate moments and I at least do not mean by that "I'm a very smart man and you're a worthless fool."

I disagree that justice is any sort of modern concept, by the way. The four cardinal virtues are usually translated into English as prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice, all four of which appear in Plato's Republic. When the Romans used the word iustitia, iustitiae, the evidence to me indicates that they meant justice in exactly the same way that we do. (Indeed, the Roman court system, flawed as it was, makes no sense without the concept.) There are many fewer modern concepts than people seem to believe. Whenever I get into philosophical debates, people are forever thinking that X is some new idea which we've only discovered in the last century or two. A cursory look at Aristotle will usually find him arguing for or against X. Almost all the debates we have in modern society are very old debates. In fact, I cannot think of an actual exception at the moment. Cultural relativism, which most people think of as a modern concept, goes back to Herodotus at the very least.

And you're right that I don't really read comics. But can you find a character who has changed his appearance and personality so radically and so many times? I'm not willing to allow a comics exception until a genuinely more malleable character is presented to me. None of those I can think of (Batman, Superman, Spiderman, et al.) qualify, though I grant Batman's character has been amazingly malleable.

Phil Masters said...

Thought in passing... The problem isn't in itself people looking for consistency in Dr Who[?] (or anything similar. Well, it shouldn't be. To pinch a Terry Pratchett joke, that sort of activity is probably a good thing, because if the sort of people who do it weren't diverted into something harmless like arguing about the Ice Warrior homeworld, they might do anything.

One may get irked by it, but the answer then is to walk away. Fan forums are really quite easy to avoid. The fact that some people stick around places where they get irked could be ascribed to masochism, but I think it's more that they identify themselves as fans of X, wish to pursue that as a hobby, and therefore find the irking behaviour incredibly annoying. Mastering the art of walking away is very important.

The other problem is that those who seek consistency in an inconsistent title sometimes more or less capture that title, enforcing increasingly introspective and self-reflexive habits on the writers and producers, until it gets into severe danger of disappearing up itself. This lasts until either the title dies a miserable death, or some new broom (whose initials may sometimes be RTD) comes along, says some rude and intemperate things about the old fans, and reboots the franchise. If the new broom is clever and lucky, the reboot works in a commercial sense, the title regains a mass audience, and a few old fans die of blood pressure problems.

Gavin Burrows said...

Andrew Stevens said...
I disagree that justice is any sort of modern concept, by the way… Whenever I get into philosophical debates, people are forever thinking that X is some new idea which we've only discovered in the last century or two. A cursory look at Aristotle will usually find him arguing for or against X.


I suspect a large part of this is that we tend to borrow old words for new concepts. ‘Democracy’ is based on a Greek word, but we don’t mean much the same thing by it. I don’t know about ‘justice’, and I’m too lazy to look it up!

I was thinking of something like Jason and the Golden Fleece, which is an epic journey/ pilgrimage without any particular notion of Jason serving a ‘greater good’. A lot of folk tales have an Obey The Rules motto (“don’t take the left-hand path” etc), because they come out of custom-based societies. That’s not the same thing as Justice.

And you're right that I don't really read comics. But can you find a character who has changed his appearance and personality so radically and so many times? I'm not willing to allow a comics exception until a genuinely more malleable character is presented to me. None of those I can think of (Batman, Superman, Spiderman, et al.) qualify, though I grant Batman's character has been amazingly malleable.

Pretty much all the ones you mention seem more changeable than the Doctor, to be honest. The Dick Sprang Batman of the early Sixties was contemporary with William Hartnell, but seems to have less in common with Frank Miller’s Dark Knight than Hartnell does with Peter Davidson. DC even changed not only the character but the actual identity of many heroes, eg some other guy became the Flash. The Flash to DC was some guy who ran fast to stop crime. Lawsuits were even based on this sort of notion!

Phil Masters, what can I say but I hear you! I personally like the fact that Dr. Who goes out at Saturday teatime, and my mates talk about it down the pub that night rather than just a few sad obsessives exchanging vitriolic ‘worst episode ever’ e-mails.

Perhaps I should emphasise that I was talking about thematic continuity rather than content continuity. If the Whoniverse isn’t some perfectly ordered sort of place where the Cybermen of this year are exactly the same Cybermen as of The Tenth Planet, with each and any alteration annotated and explained… well, catch me caring, frankly. I’d compare it to playing a game. If you don’t stick to the game-rules, you’re not playing the game. But if you just play a game that’s been played before, that’s not really playing any sort of a game.

Or, to push my metaphor to its limit, imagine a game which is just about its own game-rules rather than using those rules as a springboard or framework in order to play a game. Well, actually you don’t have to. Just read most fan-oriented fiction. Fans have a tendency to notice and catalogue everything except the point. The Whoniverse they want to see is essentially a variant of the suburbs they tend to live in – tidy, ordered, bereft of surprises.

Andrew Stevens said...

Correct me if I'm wrong here. Are you arguing that ancient societies always used justice deontologically and we always use it consequentially? Because I'm pretty sure that's false on at least the latter count. It's true that few ancient thinkers espoused a consequentialist ethics (except perhaps Epicurus), not because it never occurred to them, but because they didn't agree with it. My concept of justice is a deontological one; I absolutely do not equate it with "serving the greater good" and I don't think most people mean that. All the famous objections to utilitarianism strike most observers as unjust. (I.e. slicing up an unwilling healthy patient to harvest his organs for an ailing doctor who will go on to save hundreds of lives.) Fundamentally, justice is a fairness concept and it's universal. (See arguments between 2 year-olds.) Of course, the modern reworking of the term to mean "social justice" (a la Rawls) does indeed change the meaning of the word, but I am nearly 100% that this new definition has gained almost no traction except among its admirers.

I also disagree that the word democracy has changed that much. If one reads Plato's critique of democracy, it is crystal clear that the argument works (such as it does, I'm not saying I agree with it) against our modern conception equally as well as against the ancient Greek conception, so how much can the concept have changed? Of course they didn't mean universal suffrage, but neither do we. Children under 18 can't vote in this country. We do allow women and most alien residents to vote, unlike the Greeks, and, of course, we aren't a slaveholding society. Rejection of slavery is indeed a relatively modern idea, not really showing up until the 1st century A.D. (correct me if I'm wrong). I regard the rejection of slavery as the crowning glory of the Judeo-Christian tradition just as I regard the Enlightenment as the crowning glory of the Greco-Roman tradition. Now, I must confess that my Greek is not particularly good. I took one year of it in college and I can't read the simplest of Plato's Dialogues in Greek without a good dictionary by my side. I am therefore dependent on Greek translators who know the culture and language a lot better than I do. My Latin, however, is quite a bit better, though I don't claim fluency. There are genuine differences in thought between modern man and, say, Cicero, but not nearly as many as people seem to believe. Admittedly, I chose Cicero as an example because he's closer to a modern man than most other ancient Romans. But that's telling, I think. Cicero strikes us as modern because, by and large, he agrees with us in a way his countrymen did not. Cicero did not oppose slavery, for example, but he did argue that we should behave justly toward even the lowest of men and treated his own slaves more like employees. Needless to say, Cicero inspired great loyalty from his slaves and ex-slaves when he manumitted them. But Cicero's acceptance of many modern principles shows his countrymen were aware of the modern arguments and rejected them.

My point being that it is a mistake to assume that because an ancient society had some majority opinion that this therefore proves that they weren't aware of the opinion we moderns agree with. Perhaps in 5000 years, slavery will have been reinstituted with Aristotle's "natural" argument or St. Augustine's "conventional, but just" argument. Perhaps they will say that we ignorant savages were simply unaware of this perfectly good argument for slavery. (I assume, of course, that in my hypothetical future most of our writings, like most ancient writings, have been lost.)

I agree, of course, that the '60s Batman is very different from the Dark Knight conception so I agree that the character has changed more radically than the Doctor ever has. I argued that the edges of the Doctor's character have been fiddled with more than any other fictional character in history and I still maintain that, though I grant you may find an exception. Batman changed more radically; the Doctor has changed more often. I reject the Flash, though. When you change the person in the costume, you've created a brand new character, not changed the old one. Because comics don't have regeneration, that's usually how they justify radically changing the character (Batman aside).

On Doctor Who, I have little to disagree with either Mr. Masters or Mr. Burrows. I do plead that my own annoyance with the new show, such as it is (and actually I quite like the majority of it), is more understandable than British fans. Living in America, I do not gain the benefits of finally living in a society where one of my fondest affections suddenly has mass appeal. Most Americans have still never heard of the show. So when I get annoyed if RTD changes the show too radically (in my opinion), I cannot comfort myself by thinking about how my 10 year-old nephew now loves the show, because he doesn't. However, I view the matter philosophically. If the show departs too radically for my tastes, it doesn't diminish by one iota my love of old Hartnell, Pertwee, and Tom Baker episodes. Worse comes to worst, I'll just stop watching it. When I do have problems with the new show, I certainly don't go onto fan forums and complain about them. Quite frankly, I don't care that much, any more than I care about the Sherlock Holmes books not written by Arthur Conan Doyle that I have never read.

My own opinion? Almost all of RTD's changes have made the show less unique, more like every other show, and thus more likely to have mass appeal. This is great if what you want is commercial success. However I loved Doctor Who because it was unique. Bringing it back in its old form (and I would have brought it back full circle with an older Doctor and two young companions) would have been much bolder. I do not object at all to RTD's conception of the show. I do object to calling him "iconoclastic" or "innovative" as so many do. The original show was iconoclastic and innovative; RTD's version is much less so. Having said all that, I quite enjoy RTD's version. I wasn't nearly so big a fan of Girl in the Fireplace, but I was a huge fan of School Reunion and Father's Day.

Phil Masters said...

The Dick Sprang Batman of the early Sixties was contemporary with William Hartnell, but seems to have less in common with Frank Miller’s Dark Knight than Hartnell does with Peter Davidson.

There's an argument that one thing that made The Dark Knight Returns interesting was that Miller adopted features from several different incarnations of Batman. But whatever.

DC even changed not only the character but the actual identity of many heroes, eg some other guy became the Flash.

Fannish nitpick; yes, DC relaunched the title with a completely new character - but this was fairly soon explained in terms of parallel universes with different histories at the local level, later revised to a simpler multi-generational thing, and recently revised to something complicated again. In other words, the character didn't change; there were two completely distinct characters with the same name, but no pretensions of their being the same person.

In theory, the same thing applied to Batman, among others - but the two different Batmen were both Bruce Wayne... That character has indeed evolved considerably over time, without the Doctor's plot excuse of regeneration. But what perhaps makes him such a strong, almost archetypical figure is that the core myth has never changed much. The same goes for Superman, but not so much for other (less durable) DC superheroes. "Saw his parents killed in front of him as a child; swore revenge on all criminals; perfected himself to achieve this". "Last son of a doomed, super-advanced planet; sent to Earth by his parents; raised by good, rural folks, then travelled to the big city". If either character ever lost those cores, they'd be doomed.

Fans have a tendency to notice and catalogue everything except the point. The Whoniverse they want to see is essentially a variant of the suburbs they tend to live in – tidy, ordered, bereft of surprises.

The fanfic writers I encounter seem quite capable of living in city centres, actually. And don't underestimate the suburbs. To quote a mistier but no less archetypical figure, "It is my belief ... founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in
London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside."

Andrew Rilstone said...

Moved to a new thread.