Posts Tagged ‘Ward Moore’

Dr. Who Meets Rosa Parks and the Beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement

October 21, 2018

In this evening’s edition of Dr. Who, ‘Rosa’ The Timelady and her friends travel back to 1950’s America and meet Rosa Parks. Parks was the woman of colour, whose refusal to move from her seat for a White person on America’s segregated buses started the famous bus boycott and mobilized Black America. It was the spark that launched the mass Civil Rights movement.

The blurb for it in the Radio Times reads

The Doctor and her friends travel to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955. There they meet someone trying to rewrite the history of the black civil rights movements. (p. 64).

There’s another piece about it on page 62, which adds some more details about the episode.

The Doctor and her friends land in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955 hours before seamstress Rosa Parks lights a fire under the civil rights movement by refusing to give up her seat on a bus for a white person.

It is, of course, one of the great turning points in history, where the actions of just one person triggered a convulsive change for good. But someone wants to stop it, someone wants to alter time to keep things, bad things, just as they are. So the gang must paly their part to ensure events remain exactly as they should be to allow Rosa (Vinette Robinson) her defining moment.

It’s an odd episode, co-written by Majorie Blackman and Chris Chibnall, that’s preachy and teachy, giving itself the had task of explaining segregation, racism and the Montgomery bus boycott to a young audience. So it loses its way as a bit of teatime fun and becomes more of a lecture.

The reactionary Right has been out in force and in full cry against this series of Dr. Who from before it was even aired. The decision to have the Doctor regenerate as a woman resulted in Rebel Media, a far-right Canadian broadcaster, posting a video on the internight declaring that ‘Feminism Has Ruined Dr. Who’. This was by Jack Buckby, a self-declared activist for traditional British values, who used to be a member of the BNP. Hope Not Hate, the anti-racist, anti-religious extremism organization have published articles about him, including a pic of Buckby grinning with his Fuehrer, Nick Griffin. There’s absolutely no reason for any decent person to take anything he says remotely seriously.

Despite the denunciations of the racists, there isn’t anything particularly radical going on here. Star Trek explicitly tackled racism from the very beginning. The kiss between Kirk and Uhura in the episode ‘Plato’s Stephchildren’, was the first interracial smooch on American TV. It was so radical, that I think that part of the episode may even have been removed when it was broadcast in the Deep South in case it caused a massive outrage. In one episode of Deep Space Nine in the 1990s, Sisko and his family found themselves in a holographic recreation of Las Vegas. This caused him problems with his conscience, as in the period recreated – the 1960s – Blacks weren’t allowed in the casinos except as entertainers. The conflict is resolved by his wife pointing out to him that this isn’t really Vegas, but Vegas as it should have been. Back to the Classic series, there was also an episode where the crew of the Enterprise discovered a planet, where a rogue federation anthropologist had remodeled its culture on Nazi Germany. The planet was a fully-fledged Nazi dictatorship, with a bitter, racial hatred of a neighbouring world and its people. Kirk, Spock and the others then try to defeat the planet and its leader before they launch a devastating missile at the peaceful, unaggressive other world. The episode was an explicitly anti-Nazi statement, but naturally some viewers were still shocked by Kirk donning Nazi uniform as he disguises himself as one of them in his efforts to bring it down.

Dr. Who also started out partly as a programme to teach children about history, and so the Doctor travelled back in time with his companions to particular periods to meet some of the great figures of the past, in stories like ‘The Crusades’ and ‘The Aztecs’. In the Peter Davison story in the 1980s, ‘The King’s Demons’, the Doctor and his companions travelled back to the 13th century to meet King John on the eve of Magna Carta. He finds that the Master is trying to interfere in history so that the Great Charter is never passed. He describes it as minor mischief-making by the renegade Time Lord, who is trying to destabilize the galaxy’s major civilisations.

It also reminds me somewhat of Ward Moore’s SF classic, Bring the Jubilee, in which a group of modern Confederate nationalists travel back to the 19th century to try and help the South win the American Civil War.

I think, however, this will be the first time that Dr. Who has devoted an entire episode to the issue of anti-Black racism. In some ways, this is really just the series going back to do something like ‘The King’s Demons’ and the earlier historical episodes, but this time taking an episode from Black history as a natural result of Britain’s population having become far more diverse since the early 60s when the series was launched. Majorie Blackman is Black, and a prize-winning children’s author, so I’m not surprised that she was asked to write for the series. I’ve also no doubt that this episode was created because October is Black History month.

It’ll be interesting to see how this episode turns out. It sounds terribly worthy and not as much fun as the other shows. Which was one of the points one of the right-wing detractors of the new series raised in one of his videos attacking it. He quoted Blackman herself as saying that the programme would be ‘educative’ as well as fun. My experience of some of the anti-racist children’s literature recommended for schools during the 1980s is that they were unrelievedly grim, and were also racist in their own way. They seemed to see Whites as being essentially racist, and teach that Blacks could only expect racism and maltreatment from them. I’m sure this episode of Dr. Who will be far different in that respect, as society has become more tolerant.

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Science Fiction Becomes Chilling Science Fact: Plans for Autonomous Drones

May 7, 2018

Last week, the I carried a story reporting the debate over the development of truly autonomous military drones. At the moment these killing machines require a human operator, but there are plans to give them AI and autonomy, so that they can fly and kill independently. I’m afraid I didn’t read the article, so can’t really tell you much about it, except what leapt out at me.

And what did leap out of me was that this is very dangerous. The I itself reported that there was a controversy over the proposals. Some scientists and other people have argued that it’s dangerous to remove humans from war, and leave to it cold, dispassionate machines. This is a valid point. A decade or so ago, one tech company announced it was planning to build war robots to be used in combat. There was immediately a storm of protest as people feared the consequences of sending robots out to kill. The fear is that these machines would continue killing in situations where a humane response is required.

whistleblowers on the American drone programme have also talked about its dehumanising effects. The human operator is miles, perhaps even an entire continent away from the drone itself, and this creates a sense of unreality about the mission. The deaths are only seen on a screen, and so the operator can forget that he is actually killing real human being. After one trainee drone operator continued killing long after he had completed his mission, he was reportedly hauled from his chair by the instructor, who told him sternly, ‘This is not a video game’. Similarly soldiers and pilots in combat may also become dehumanised and enjoy killing. One of the volumes I read against the Iraq War included a letter from a veteran American Air Force pilot to his son, entitled ‘Don’t Lose Your Humanity’. The father was concerned that this would happen to his lad, after seeing it happen to some of the men he’d served with. He wrote of a case where a man continued to shoot at the enemy from his plane, simply because he enjoyed the chaos and carnage he was creating.

Already humans can lose their own moral compass while controlling these machines, but the situation could become much worse if these machines became completely autonomous. They could continue to kill regardless of circumstance or morality, simply through the requirement to obey their programming.

There is also another danger: that the rise of these machines will eventually lead to the extinction and enslavement of the human race. The idea of the robot’s revolt has haunted Science Fiction since Mary Shelley first wrote Frankenstein at the beginning of the 19th century. It’s one of the clich├ęd themes of SF, but some scientists fear it the danger is all too real. Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal, included it among the dangers to the survival of humanity in his book, Our Final Minute?, in the 1990s. Kevin Warwick, professor of robotics at Reading University and former cyborg, also sees it as a real possibility. His 1990s book, March of the Machines, opens with a chilling description of a world ruled by robots. Humanity has been decimated. The few survivors are enslaved, and used by the machines to hunt down the remaining free humans living wild in places which are inaccessible to the robots. Warwick was deeply troubled by the prospect of the machines eventually taking over and leaving humanity far behind. He turned to cyborgisation as a possible solution to the problem and a way for humanity to retain its superiority and survival against its creations.

These plans for the drones also remind very strongly of an SF story I read way back when I was a teenager, ‘Flying Dutchman’, by Ward Moore, in Tony Boardman, ed., Science Fiction Stories, illustrated by David Mitchell, Paul Desmond, and Graham Townsend (London: Octopus 1979). In this story, a bomber comes back to base to be refuelled and loaded up once again with bombs, to fly away again on another mission. This is all done automatically. There are no humans whatever in the story. It is implied that humanity has finally killed itself, leaving just its machines continuing to function, flying and bombing in an endless cycle, forever.

Many of the other stories in the volume were first published in the SF pulp magazines. I don’t know when Moore’s story was written, but the use of bombers, rather than missiles, suggests it was around the time of the Second World War or perhaps the Korean. Not that bombers have been entirely superseded by modern missiles and combat aircraft. The Americans used the old B54s against the Serbs during the war in Yugoslavia. These plans to create autonomous drones brings the world of Moore’s story closer to horrifying reality.

SF has often been the literature of warning. Quite often its predictions are hilariously wrong. But this is one instance where we need to pay very serious attention indeed.