We've been watching a lot of new-millennium Doctor Who recently. Hey, this stuff is pretty frequently brilliant, you know? The Baronette, for reasons of a) employment and b) general good sense has been sticking to just Who proper, while out-of-work, no-sense me has been indulging additionally in the spinoffs--the self-consciously "adult" Torchwood and the for-kids Sarah Jane Adventures (RIP). At this point I've only made it through the first seasons of each, though we're on the third season of for-adults-really-but-kids-have-always-loved-it Who.
Anyway, the Whoniverse as a whole has always been pretty gentle. Torchwood pushes at that quite a bit (and often tries way too hard while it's at it), but there are far worse shows to grow up on than these. It's often violent and kid-scary (and, occasionally, verges on adult-scary), but the Doctor makes a point of never carrying weapons, and he respects life unless it unacceptably threatens other life, and occasionally drops some nice slogans.* And the whole thing has been pretty remarkably good in terms of women (regularly creating strong female characters who can think, frequently passing the Bechdel test without cheating, etc.), and race (though there are some slightly troubling patterns with its black characters, overall it's not too shabby--and it has a lot of them, relatively), and sexuality. In general, it is very seldom that I cringe while watching it, and when I do it's usually fairly minor things. Much better than you might expect from state TV**, in other words.
*Dalek Emperor: "What are you, Doctor? Killer or coward?"
The Doctor: "Coward. Every time."
That episode also contains the amazing line "You are tiny. I can see the whole of time and space, every single atom of your existence, and I divide them." Delivered brilliantly by the brilliant Billie Piper as the brilliant Rose Tyler.
**And there's a pair of words to chill the blood, am I right?
All of which makes it all the more...weird, when something goes icky. Like in the Torchwood episode where some startlingly vehement, and yet disturbingly casual, transphobia was put into the mouth of, of all characters, Captain Jack, the pansexual anything-goes-including-aliens open-minded man of the 51st century (though apparently I was the only person in the world bothered by that line--and no, I'm not linking to that After Elton post because I like it, but only because it starts with the quote I'm talking about).
Or like in the Sarah Jane Adventures episode I watched this morning that suddenly spewed out a prison rape joke:
It's the kind of thing that should be unbelievable. Sarah Jane is one of the gentlest characters in the entire gentle world of Doctor Who. It's in the middle of an episode with a decent, if a bit ham-handed, message about how awful it is to train young children for violence. And yet right here in the middle of this show for children, the threat of imprisonment and violence is treated lightly, as if it were funny. Unfortunately, it's not unbelievable. Because, you see, we all have to be trained from a very young age to lack all empathy, to separate humanity into good and bad, and to think that punishing the bad part is not only acceptable, but good, and not only good, but funny. What better way than by casually sticking this kind of thing into a show purportedly against violence?
I'm not saying that the episode's writer, Phil Gladwin, plotted and schemed his way to to sticking this line in. But as far as I can tell there's only two kinds of minds that could think a line like that is appropriate in any context, or, for the love of god, necessary in a fucking children's show*. The first is the kind that does have a deliberate interest in training empathy out of children so as to maintain the status quo. The second is the kind that has been so socialized that it does this unconsciously. In some ways it's almost worse that Gladwin is far more likely to be the second kind. It's in this way that this murderous culture of ours maintains itself.
*And I am most emphatically not one to be all "but think of the children." I think children can be trusted to handle far more than we usually let them. And I don't think they should be protected from information and knowledge about either sex or violence, since those are both integral parts of the reality they live in (one a much much better part than the other, of course). But it's exactly these kinds of messages that slip past the conscious level and become a sort of background radiation of what-we-think-is-acceptable, until it gets to the point where we have a whole society of what used to be human beings who can't be bothered to stop laughing uproariously at goddamn prison rape, let alone do anything to stop it.
A year and a half before that episode originally aired, there had apparently been a minor controversy about a Who episode that had a brief, throwaway, fairly subtle joke about oral sex between consenting adults. To my knowledge (and to google's, as far as I can tell), there was no such outcry about this.
To anyone who doesn't understand, or doesn't believe in, the concept of the rape culture: voilà.