Posts Tagged ‘‘The Naked Lunch’’

On the Selection of a Female Dr. Who

August 6, 2017

The week before last, the BBC finally broke the tension and speculation surrounding the identity of the actor, who is going to play the next Doctor. They announced that the 13th Dr would be played by Jodie Whitaker, an actress, who has appeared in a number of crime dramas. Like many people, I was shocked by this radical departure from tradition, but not actually surprised. The Doctor has been male for the past fifty years, but thirty years ago the Beeb announced that it was considering making the next Doctor a woman as Tom Baker was leaving the role and preparing to hand it on to the next actor. In fact, the announcement was joke dreamed up by the Baker and one of the producers and writing team, and the role went to Peter Davison. The announcement of a possible female Doctor resulted in a few jokes, such as ‘the most painful regeneration of them all’. One of the British SF media magazines – I can’t remember whether it was Starburst or Dr. Who Magazine, then went on to make a serious point, that nothing was known about the Time Lord family, and so it was quite plausible that this alien race could change their genders during regeneration.

I can also remember Mike telling me at the time that there was also a feminist group in the European parliament, who wanted a female Doctor, who would have a male assistant, which she would patronise, in a reverse of the usual situation. The role of women in Dr. Who has been somewhat contentious down the years. Critics, like the Times journalist Caitlin Moran, the author of How To Be A Woman, have criticised the show’s portrayal of women in the Doctor’s companions. She claimed a few years ago on a TV segment about the show that they usually were there to say, ‘But Doctor, I don’t understand’. Others have also made the point that their role tended to be stereotypically passive and traditional. They were to scream when threatened by the monster, and be rescued by the Doctor. It’s quite a controversial statement, though I do remember seeing one of the team behind the Classic Dr. Who saying that there was some truth in it. They had tried to make the Doctor’s female companions less stereotypical, and stronger. So you had Zoe, one of Patrick Troughton’s companions, who was a computer scientist from the future. Romana was a Time Lady, who had majored in psychology at the Academy. In her first appearance in the Tom Baker serial, ‘The Ribos Operation’, it was made clear that she was actually more intelligent than the Doctor, who had scraped through his degree after he retook his exam. Sarah Jane Smith was a feisty female journalist, who was fully prepared to talk back to the Doctor, representing the new generation of independent young women that came in with ‘Women’s Lib’ in the ’70s. And the strongest female companion of them all has to be Leela, a female warrior of the Sevateem, a primitive tribe descended from a group of astronauts sent to investigate a jungle world. Leela mostly wore only a leather bikini, but she was skilled with the knife and the deadly Janus Thorn, a poisonous plant, whose venom killed within minutes. Leela was quite capable of defending herself and protecting the Doctor. In the serial ‘The Invisible Enemy’, for much of the story she is the active member of the team, after she proves immune to the sentient virus that infects and paralyses the Doctor. There were also attempts to introduce strong female villains, such as the Rani, a renegade Time Lady of the same stripe as the Master, but who specialised in genetic engineering and biological transformation rather than mechanical engineering. But the producer or writer conceded that as time went on, these strong female characters tended to become weaker and more stereotypical, so that they ended up screaming and waiting to be rescued by the Doctor.

The stereotypical role of the female companions has become more outdated as traditional gender roles in society have changed, and Science Fiction as a genre began exploring and challenging issues of gender and sexuality. There’s a tradition of feminist SF, which has been present from the emergence of the genre in the late 19th century, but which became more prominent with the rise of the modern feminist movement in the 1960s. A few years an anthology of female utopias, created by late 19th and early 20th century female writers, Herland, was published. It took its title from that of a female utopia described by an early American feminist and campaigner for women’s suffrage. Feminist SF writers include Joanna Russ, Ursula K. Le Guin, best known for her ‘Earthsea’ fantasy novels, and Sheri S. Tepper. Russ is an American academic, and the author of The Female Man. She considers that the rise of the women’s movement is a far more revolutionary and profound social change than space travel and the other technological conventions of Science Fiction. And many of these SF authors, both female and male, have created worlds and species, in which the genders are fluid.

In Le Guin’s The Word for World Is Forest, conditions on the planet on which the book is set are so harsh, that little time is available for procreation. The people there are neuter for most of the time. However, they have a breeding season, during which they may become male or female. However, the adoption of a particular gender doesn’t necessarily recur, so that a person, who is female one season may be the male in the following season, and vice versa. Michael Moorcock also experimented with gender identity in some of his books. The Eternal Champion may be male or female, depending on incarnation. And at the end of the Jerry Cornelius book, The Final Programme, Cornelius is transformed into a beautiful hermaphrodite, which leads humanity to its destruction.

Other SF writers have envisoned futures, where humans are able to transform the bodies in a variety of ways, according to taste, including switching genders. In Gregory Benford’s ‘Galactic Centre’ novel, Across the Sea of Suns, the crew of an Earth ship sent to investigate the centre of the Galaxy following the attack of the Mechs, a hostile galaxy-spanning machine civilisation, devise special pods, which can remake and refresh the crew. This includes changing gender. And Ian M. Banks ‘Culture’ novels are also set in a future, where humans are able to use technology to switch genders easily. In Alastair Reynolds’ Chasm City, the bored, immortal rich of the titular city on a world orbiting Epsilon Eridani, are able to use nanotechnology and genetic manipulation to change their appearance, often into outlandish forms. One character, a woman, is called ‘Zebra’, because she has covered her self in black and white stripes, and sculpted her hair into a mane that runs down her back. She tells the hero, Tanner Mirabel, that this is only her latest appearance, and that she will probably change it and move on to another in the future. She also states that she hasn’t always been female either.

In the 1990s there was a particularly strong demand for Science Fiction to challenge gender stereotypes. This was a reaction to the traditional image of the genre as dominated by White males, and focused on issues of surrounding technology and hard science. Thus one of the American SF societies launched the Arthur C. Clarke award for Science Fiction that challenged traditional stereotypes. There has also been a demand for a better representation of women amongst the genre’s writers. The anthology of ‘Dieselpunk’ stories therefore has roughly as many women writers as men.

The exploration of gender roles has also included explorations of sexuality, including same sex attraction. Gay fans of Star Trek in the 1980s hoped that the new series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, would include a gay character, a wish echoed by David Gerrold, one of the writers of the Classic Trek series. They were disappointed when the series did feature a story, where Riker becomes romantically involved with a member of the Jnai, an alien race, who have evolved beyond gender, but where it re-emerges occasionally amongst a persecuted culture of throwbacks. Riker becomes attracted to one of these throwbacks, a female, and attempts to rescue her after she is arrested. However, he arrives too late. The corrective treatment meted out to such people has worked, and she is now as sexless as the rest of them.

Gay fans of the series felt that they had been cheated. Instead of a forthright endorsement of homosexuality, they’d been given a kind of half-hearted nod. The issue of gay rights was there, but so heavily disguised that it may as well not have been there at all. They also objected to it on the grounds thta it seemed to reinforce the prejudiced view of opponents of gay rights, who declare that it is about removing gender altogether. This prejudiced was clearly expressed by the conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones, a couple of years ago on his show, Infowars. Jones ranted that gay rights was a ‘transhumanist space cult’ intent on creating a race of genderless, cyborg people.

Er, not quite.

Gay characters and the exploration of alternative sexuality have been part of Science Fiction since William S. Burroughs’ books The Naked Lunch, and Samuel R. Delaney, a Black American writer, who also uses his novels to explore racial issues. Gay characters and issues of gender and sexuality have also been a strong element in the modern Dr. Who series. Captain Jack Harkness, a time traveller from the future, who became the lead character in the spinoff series Torchwood, is bisexual, and Ianto in the second series of that show was gay. This is probably mainly due to the series having a strong gay following, and that the writer behind its revival, Russell T. Davis, is also gay. For those, who can remember that far back, he was the creator of the gay series, Queer As Folk on Channel 4 in the 1990s.

There’s a sort of inevitability to the news that the next Doctor would be female, as the new Dr. Who series has also experimented with issues of gender roles. In the episode, ‘The Doctor’s Wife’, Matt Smith’s Doctor revealed that the Time Lords changed their gender, when explaining that another Time Lord he knew always retained the tattoo of a serpent on their arm throughout their regenerations, even when they were female. In the series before last, a Time Lord general shot by Peter Capaldi’s Doctor regenerates as female. And then, of course, there’s Missy, who is the female incarnation of the Master. My guess is that these changes were partly used to gauge how the audience would respond to a new Doctor. Once it was shown that most accepted the idea that Time Lords could regenerate as the opposite sex, then the way was clear for a female Doctor.

The show has also several times had strong female leads, while the Doctor has been more passive. Thus, in the last episode of the First Series, ‘Bad Wolf’, Rose Tiler becomes virtually a goddess, mistress of space and time, after peering into the heart of the TARDIS, saving Earth and Christopher Ecclestone’s Doctor from the Daleks. Catherine Tate’s character similarly rescued David Tennant’s Doctor from Davros and his Daleks after she gained all his knowledge as a Time Lord. And in one of the stories featuring the revived Zygons, it seemed to me that apart from the Doctor, all the characters in positions of authority – the heads of UNIT, scientists and so on, were all female.

The programme has also experimented with male gender roles. In one story about a year or so ago, one of the characters is a man, who has an alternative identity as a superhero following his childhood encounter with an alien device that can grant people’s deepest wishes. In his normal life, he’s a childminder.

It’s been said that there’s a division between TV and film SF, and literary Science Fiction, with the audience for TV and film uninterested in science fiction literature. I don’t believe that’s entirely the case, and the audiences for the various media clearly overlap. And literary SF has had an influence on Doctor Who. In the 1980s the BBC tried to recruit SF writers to give the series a great connection with SF literature. And several of the stories in recent Dr. Who series have shown the influence of literary SF. For example, in the last series, Earth suddenly became a forest planet, as the trees grew and spread everywhere. This, it was revealed, was to save humanity from some cosmic disaster. This looks quite similar to a book by Sheri S. Tepper, in which trees come to life to save people from danger and disaster. And to me, the name of space station in the last series’ story, ‘Breath’, Chasm Forge, sounds a bit too close to ‘Chasm City’ to be entirely coincidental, although the two stories are very different.

I also think that there have been social and political considerations that may have influenced the decision to make the next Doctor female. As well as the general demand within SF fandom for more women writers and female-centred stories, I got the impression that the audience for SF on TV may have slightly more women than men. This is not to say that the numbers of men watching SF is small – it isn’t – but that the fan organisations may have a very large female membership. I certainly got that impression from Star Trek. If that’s also the case with Dr. Who, then the series’ writers and producers would also want to cater for that audience.

I also think that there’s probably pressure too to create a female character, who would act as a role model and encourage more girls to enter science, particularly male-dominated subjects like Maths, physics and engineering. There have been initiatives to do this before, but they’ve had limited effect. You may remember the video one governmental organisation made a few years ago. Entitled Science: It’s a Girl Thing, this featured attractive young women in lab coats tapping away to a pop tune. Many women, including female scientists, felt it was patronising and demeaning. As the Doctor is very much the hero as scientist, who solves problems through his superior Time Lord scientific knowledge, I think those concerned to see greater representation of women in the sciences would welcome the Doctor’s transformation into a woman.

I have to say that, provided the transition is done well, I don’t think a female Doctor will harm the series. As I said, the rumour that there might be a female Doctor along the way has been around since the last Tom Baker series back in 1980s or thereabouts. If done badly, it could easily reduce the series to farce or pantomime by being just that little bit too incredible, or just plain weird. But the idea of gender-swapping Time Lords/Ladies hasn’t been so far, and from previous experience I think it will be done properly. The series might lose some viewers, but I think many of the real, hard-core Whovians, like Mike, won’t be bothered at all. I hope so in any case, will watch the new series with interest.

More Tory Madness at the Polls: Theresa May Most Popular Leader Since Churchill

April 29, 2017

What are they on?
Or to put it another way, how stupid and gullible do they think the British public is?

I’ve blogged today about the unreliability of the polls. These supposedly show that May has a 16 per cent lead over Jeremy Corbyn, who is, as the Tories and the Blairites are constantly screaming, supposedly unelectable. But those same polls, as Mike has said on his blog, show that the Tory lead apparently fell by eight points in just one week. And the I newspaper also claimed in an article this past week, that while May was in an overall lead, Labour was far more popular with young people.

All this is I can believe. I also mentioned in my last article about the polls a piece by Guy Debord’s Cat, where he argued that polling isn’t designed to provide an objective description of how popular our leaders are, or who really thinks what about a particular issue. They’re carefully manufactured by the polling companies – largely Tory – and the media – also largely Tory – to show the results they want, in the hope of influencing the electorate, thus showing the power of the press as opinion formers.

Hence the constant refrain from the Blairites, the Tories and their lickspittles in the press that Jeremy Corbyn is supposedly massively unpopular with suitable polling figures trotted out to show this. Supposedly. In fact, the media and Corbyn’s opponents within and outside the Labour party are absolutely terrified of him being popular. If – terrible thought! – Corbyn actually wins the election, it will put an end to nearly forty years of Thatcherism in one form or another. The rich might have to start paying their fair share of the public purse again, while the poor might start seeing improvements to wages, services and proper welfare provision. One that provides them with the maintenance they need and treats them with the respect and dignity they deserve. And it will stop the privatisation of the NHS, which UNUM, Branson, BUPA, Circle Health and the other private healthcare providers angling to get some of the market occupied by the NHS are so keen on.

Now I’m prepared to accept that May probably is in the lead over Corbyn in terms of personal popularity, because of the relentless campaign by the mainstream media to promote her. That lead, however, needs to be heavily qualified. Richard Seymour in his book Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics has pointed out that the ‘Project Fear’ the mainstream media has launched against Corbyn in the hope of terrifying people into not voting for him has backfired. People are reacting against the media’s demonization and constant lying. And so far from making Corbyn unpopular, he’s become more so with people expressing their support for the Labour leader, and getting news and information about him, not from the papers, TV or radio, but from social media on the Net. This is being done spontaneously by ordinary people not connected to the Labour party.

But this is one claim about May’s popularity I find extremely difficult to believe.

According to Have I Got News For You, who announced this straight-faced, Theresa May is the most popular British Prime Minister since the War.

As the little lad used to say on Different Strokes way back in the ’80s: ‘What you talkin’ about, Willis?’

So we’re being asked to believe that Theresa May, who doesn’t want to appear in the leader debates, says she doesn’t want to talk to the press, and makes very few public appearances, and when she does, they’re very carefully stage-managed, is more popular than, well, great British Prime Ministers like Clement Atlee, Harold MacMillan, Harold Wilson or even Tony Blair and Maggie Thatcher? Thatcher was a disaster for this country, but she was massively popular. She was also was massively unpopular, to the point where she was supposedly the most popular and unpopular British Prime Minister since the War. She’s still the great, molten idol of the Tories and Blairite Labour. The first thing Blair did was have her round No. 10 for tea after he won the election.

Thatcher was so strident and strong that she got the nickname ‘the Iron Lady’. May, by contrast, is very definitely weak and wobbly, as Mike’s pointed out, despite all the cries by the Tories and the press that she’s ‘strong’ and ‘stable’.

So the question has to be asked: do the Tories and the press really think that we’re all that stupid to believe this rubbish?

Or, alternatively, have they been drinking too much, or partaking of Jazz cigarettes or other illicit recreational substances? I mentioned in an earlier post that the mugwumps about which May was asked, apart from being an Algonkin word meaning ‘great chief’, were also the strange lizard creatures in David Cronenberg’s film version of The Naked Lunch. Very roughly based on the novel by William S. Burroughs, this is about a pest control man, who suffers massive, very weird hallucinations after he becomes addicted to the poisons he uses to exterminate the bugs and other vermin. The mugwumps in the movie are just some of the bizarre creatures he sees.

Boris Johnson this week called Corbyn a ‘mutton-headed mugwump’, and now the Tory press reckons she’s the most popular Prime Minister since Churchill. Whether or not illegal substances are involved, someone’s clearly tripping.


Theresa May and Mugwump celebrate her lead in the polls. Don’t have nightmares.

Weak and Wobby May Gets Hit with the Mugwumps

April 29, 2017

Which can be very painful, and requires careful treatment.

Mike yesterday put up a piece describing the way the ‘strong and stable’ Tories, led by weak and wobbly Theresa May were disintegrating before our very eyes. This features some cool video and sound clips clearly showing May looking and sounding lost. Literally, in one case, where she really doesn’t know where she is.

Boris Johnson had attacked Jeremy Corbyn as a ‘mutton-headed mugwump’. So when May appeared on his show, Chris Doidge of Radio Derby asked her if she knew what it was. Listen to it. She doesn’t answer him, but immediately answers a completely different question, about how the Tories represent ‘strong and stable leadership’. Thus giving those trying Mike’s Tory election drinking game their first sup of booze of the day.

Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable defines the term as

An Algonkin word meaning a chief; in Eliot’s Indian Bible the word “centurion” in Acts is rendered mugwump. It is now applied in the USA to independent members of the Republican party, those who refuse to follow the dictates of a Caucus, and all political Pharisees whose party vote cannot be relief upon. It is also used in the sense of “big shot” or “boss”.

Johnson was probably thinking of this definition to insult Corbyn by reminding him of the way many members of his party had conspired against him. But it’s also something of a Tory own goal, as there’s clearly opposition to her in her own party. Otherwise, why would the Sun have put such bug-eyed headlines as ‘Crush the Saboteurs’ on their front page?

Of course, in the David Cronenberg’s 1991 film of William S. Burrough’s novel, The Naked Lunch, the mugwumps are the weird lizard-like creatures the hero sees, thanks to the hallucinatory effects of the pest poison to which he has become addicted.

A mugwump and friend discuss May’s strong and stable Tory leadership.

Ah, but who knows what rarified pleasures go on behind the closed doors of the Bullingdon Club!

Then there’s the clip of her appealing to people to come to ‘this particular town’. As one of the Tweeters Mike quotes points out, she doesn’t know where she, and isn’t pleased to be there. Another Tweeter also points out that she looks to the right and down, which is a classic ‘tell’ of liars.

Thursday she turned up in Leeds to give a speech at a workplace. Another Tweeter stated that the clip of that, too, is deceptive. She gave her talk after work, to an audience that as exclusively invited. Far from being a great popular speaker, like Corbyn, it’s all very carefully stage-managed.

There’s a comparison to be made there with Stalin and Mussolini. Stalin also wasn’t a great public speaker, contrary to the impression that mad dictators bent on genocide are always great orators. He used to give his speeches at the annual May Day parades via gramophone records, with a very carefully vetted audience as far away from him as possible.

As for il Duce, the old thug was surrounded wherever he went with members of his secret police in plain clothes. Thus he was always guaranteed an appreciative audience to the exclusion of any real members of the public, who may have wanted to see him. At one public gathering, he asked all the plain clothes thugs to take a step back so that he could see the genuine public. Well, they did, and he didn’t: the crowd was entirely made up of secret policemen, like one of the jokes from G.K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday.

And Nero also surrounded himself with a sycophantic claque of followers, whenever he fancied himself as the great lyric poet at the theatre. He’s infamous for fiddling while Rome burns. Which is a fair analogy for May’s performance in Britain under Tory leadership. She’s also warbling on to a hand-picked claque, posturing as the great orator, while the country collapses in poverty thanks to her party’s massive economic mismanagement and determination to grind working people down through welfare cuts, wage freezes and the privatisation of the NHS.