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A Female Dr Who as a Lens on Gender Cultism
There's been a lot of hoo-hah recently over gender-swapped characters on TV and in the movies. This, I think, allows daylight into the mindset of modern feminism and allows us to see what its become. What's revealed isn't pretty, but if you've been paying any attention in the last ten years, you knew that already. Now, I can already hear people objecting #NotAllFeminists, and as always I concede it's a fair point. However, those who keep the "true faith" have to admit they're in something of a powerless minority these days. But rather than argue as to whether the "bad" style of feminism should be called "third wave" or "intersectional" or something else, I'm just going to call it "the cult" (I did consider "the sisterhood" but then I'd be going full 80s goth, and you never go full 80s goth).
It must be said that a lot of the outrage over this issue, on both sides, is as fake as WWE wrestling. These days there's a standard playbook to such things. A new movie comes out, or a character is cast for a show, and if there's a whiff of race or gender to the thing, then the SJW left and the alt-right glom onto it. The aim of the game for both sides is to gain attention and followers by creating as much stink as possible. For anyone not committed to (i.e. brainwashed by) one side or the other the fraudulent nature of the game is surely evident.
The trend began in 2016 with Sony Pictures unfortunate reboot of the "Ghostbusters" franchise. This was an idea that absolutely could have worked, but it had to be well handled. Handling it poorly was going to cast a long shadow over the whole idea of gender-swapping characters. But the odds were always against it being well handled in the era of the Culture Wars. Before it even hit the cinemas "Ghostbusters" had alienated a lot of the fans of the original, in fact that seemed to be the deliberate policy. The film was swiftly mired in a battle over gender politics, and wound up making a loss.
I'm going to take a little time-out here to discuss the fact that Ghostbusters has been a failure. There's a lot of people who still refuse to admit this, and accuse you of being a sexist if you say so. Yes, Ghostbusters has taken more than its production cost, but not all of that money goes to Sony pictures. Half to two-thirds of the takings go to the cinemas showing the movies, so Sony's return is much lower. Then there's the matter of the advertising budget, which for Ghostbusters is believed to be very high. So the Ghostbusters remake has been a failure. It's not a "King Arthur" or "Ghost in the Shell" scale disaster, both of which have lost tens of millions for Warner Brothers and Paramount, but its still a flop. And the "King Arthur" and "Ghost in the Shell" movies didn't have the same momentum behind them. "Ghost in the Shell" was a very intellectual anime that few people in western markets have even seen. Yes, it's a cult classic, but it doesn't have the consumer loyalty of Transformers, Power Rangers or Ghostbusters. Spending $100 million dollars making a live-action remake for western markets was risky at best. Similarly "King Arthur" is not a character or a tale with enough pull on their own to get people into cinemas. Few are. I think the expectation with King Arthur was that the Game of Thrones fandom would show up; Unfortunately they didn't. But Ghostbusters had everything going for it, it should have been a smash hit.
I do believe that an all-female Ghostbusters could have been a massive success. However, you cannot make a show like that in the modern age without addressing the fact that it risks being hijacked by a widespread ideology of hate that targets men. You only need to spend some time on social media to see how powerful and widespread this ideology has become. This is an ideology that speaks of 'toxic masculinity' and 'patriarchy', declaring men to be pretty much monsters, and presenting women as saintly, but completely weak. This is the standard model of fascist cults: tell a demographic group that they are under threat from another demographic group, and are completely helpless without you to champion them. The alt-right presents a similar argument to the west's increasingly radicalized whites: these days Muslims tend to be the threat (though Jews are still targeted for this often enough) and your only hope of salvation is usually declared to be the likes of Trump and Marine Le Pen.
Ghostbusters flopped for many reasons. The trailers were terrible, and the casting choices and characterizations were stereotypical. But it can't have helped that the marketing department were prepared to get down in the mud with the trolls and adopt an anti-male and anti-fan stance which instantly cut the number of people likely to see the movie. We can argue endlessly as to whether this was because they 'took the bait' of online trolling, or whether they initiated it themselves as a means to silence critics, by claiming anyone who said a word against the movie was a racist, sexist 'bro', but all that really matters are the results.
The failure of Ghostbusters was, of course, interpreted by the 'progressive' elite as proof that the cinema-going public were sexists who couldn't stand a movie with a female lead. This is the standard excuse for failure these days, as we see in the reaction to Hilary Clinton's election loss to Donald Trump. However, "Wonder Woman" has utterly disproved this line of argument. No one can claim anymore that Ghostbusters failed because audiences won't turn out for a female led movie. Indeed, we already knew that from the early installments of the Alien franchise, or Kill Bill, or the Xena TV series, etc, etc.
But anyways, the point of this post is not how an all-female Ghostbusters could have been a success. The point of this post is to discuss the increasingly strange way that male characters who are gender-swapped to female are actually preferred these days to genuine female characters. For all the talk about the need for 'strong female characters', no-one actually seems to give much of a damn about them. What they really like is seeing male characters eliminated and replaced by female ones. Now let me be clear, sometimes this can very much work, and one or two instances of it on their own aren't significant in any way. But when it becomes a trend it's reflecting something that's going on in society.
The ultimate expression of this trend, for me, is the recent announcement that the next Dr Who will be female. This comes after the series (seemingly very successfully) swapped the doctor's old friend and nemesis, "The Master" to be female for a while. Now, most of the objections to gender-swapping the Doctor have no weight, the doctor is an alien, and therefore different rules apply. I have no problem with a female doctor per-se, for me the new series has done far more damage to the character of the Doctor by making him half-human, toning down his pacifism, and giving him love interests. The Doctor has lost a lot of his air of mystery and otherworldliness that made him such an iconic character. Allowing him to shift between genders actually reintroduces a degree of 'differentness' (yes, it's a word now, I just coined it) about him. (Admittedly, I've not seen recent iterations of the series after Eccleston, as I no longer watch TV at all).
One objection worth mentioning, because it does have some weight, is that Dr Who was one of the few onscreen male characters who used his wits rather than his fists or superpowers. He was also one of the few positive portrayals of a male 'nerd' character. It can be argued that positive portrayals of geeks, nerds, whatever you want to call us, have become more common now, but I'm not sure I agree. Most of the examples I can think of are somewhat problematic. Mission Impossible's Luther Stickell is a breath of fresh air precisely because he's so un-nerdy. Tony Stark is a great character, but he's not a positive portrayal. I guess there's always Sherlock Holmes, and arguably Doctor Strange. However, the Doctor's sex-change is presumably only going to be for one regeneration, so it's no great loss in the long term. Also we should remember that the doctor was off our screens for a long time without any measurable societal ill-effects, which raises some questions about the whole 'role model' argument.
However, the announcement of a female doctor has resulted in some very strange jubilation from people online. What's odd about this is that the series has established female characters that it's utterly ignored and no-one cares. I think this, and other things I see in the media, reveal we are now in a situation where female characters are no longer wanted or celebrated. Instead, the major cause of celebration is the removal of positive male characters from our screens.
There's two Time-Ladies languishing in the abyss of Whovian history, Romana and The Rani. The Rani, for me, was always a character whom I wanted more done with. The Doctor, The Master and The Rani were all in the same class at Time Lord Hogwarts and it's strongly implied that they were a 'gang' together (okay, it's not canon that The Rani was in the same class as The Doctor and The Master, but come on, you know it's true). This raises some pretty interesting questions about why all three of these people were so exceptional, how they could have been friends given their violently different ethics, and/or what 'went wrong' to turn the Rani and the Master bad. (Admittedly, from what I understand of the shows recent story arc, which I've not seen, they've already shot their bolt on this).
The new series has created a lot of new female characters, but as I understand it (and I admit I'm not up to speed) most of these are love interests for the doctor. He now has a wife and has been romantically entangled with 'companion' characters like Rose Tyler. Even 'Missy' seemed to have the hots for him on some level, from what I've seen. All the female characters seem to be about The Doctor, they're wives or girlfriends or in one case a daughter (he did have a granddaughter in the first episode, so that's not unreasonable). This is arguably a little dodgy (he's 900 years old, some of these women are one thirtieth his age!), but my point here doesn't concern the writing of the series, it concerns the reaction to it. The series did bring back one classic female character: Sarah Jane. She had her own series that did very well with its target demographic, and it seemingly had a pretty diverse cast. But I don't recall ever seeing much excitement about it online from the usual suspects. Strange that.
If people were really interested in representation of female characters, then surely they'd be crying out to see Romana and the Rani back? Romana could stand up her own series, much like Torchwood or the Sarah Jane Adventures. The Rani could really be made into something interesting, a genuine third force in Time Lord cosmopolitics. But no, no-one cares about them, instead they'd rather see the replacement of existing male characters. When Battlestar Galactica did this with Starbuck it was radical, but Battlestar was a little lacking in female characters, it didn't have a bunch in the drawer that it was refusing to bring out.
And there's another aspect to all this that points toward a dishonest dynamic here. Whenever there's on online bunfight over this situation, let's call it 'femwashing', those defending the practice frequently claim that "It's time we had a strong female character", as though we haven't had such characters before. What's going on here, do they not know? If so, that's a little odd, isn't it? I mean these people are claiming to be campaigning for female characters in fiction, but they seem very ignorant of those that have gone before. I grew up with Jane Marple, Jessica Fletcher, Lynda Carter's Wonder Woman, Charlie's Angels, Cagney and Lacey, The Bionic Woman, and Velma from Scooby Do (she does most of the work, and is arguably the truly heroic character. Shaggy and Scoobs aren't role models). There were also plenty of female kick-ass female sidekick characters, Cally, SooLin, Jenna and Daena in Blakes 7, (Daena being a rare woman-of-color). Dr Who had strong women in the first Romana and Lela (Lela was a truely feminist character, but was of course derided by feminists (okay, okay, *some* feminists) for her sex appeal, never mind the fact that she was fearless and openly the muscle in the team. The first Romana was another strong woman, although I admit I had something of a crush on Lala Ward, it was Mary Tamm's incarnation that was the stronger character). Captain Scarlet had Angel Squadron, an entire wing of female fighter pilots. We also had a lot more instances of man/woman teams (sometimes husband and wife) like Dempsey and Makepeace, and my favorite in this genre, Sapphire and Steel. Mulder and Scully seems to be the swansong of this, but likely there's shows I just don't know about (The Doctor and his companions aren't an instance of this, because of the power dynamic that comes with being a 900 year old godlike alien). There were also some great Villainesses, among whom Jacqueline Pearce's Supreme Commander Servalan stands, well, supreme. Since 'my time' we've had Janeway, Ivanova, Scully, Kira, Xena, Ripley, Sarah Connor, Buffy, Katniss, Hermeonie, Seven of Nine, Seamus Aran, Lara Croft, etc, etc, etc.
Why then are we still seeing people saying "it's time we had a strong female character" as though none of these existed? The short answer is because these people don't have any interest in the cultural forms where these characters exist. Anything with a whiff of gender about it attracts people from both sides of the Culture wars who are ignorant of the things they are commenting on. Now at this point, dear reader, you may be wondering where my evidence for all this is. Fortunately someone has done the work of collecting many of these weird and wonderful tweets together for me, and has added their own cherry on the cake. Here.
First off, we get a wonderfully honest admission that the commenter knows nothing about Dr Who and is only interested "for the male tears". Then we get a string of gems like:
I wish I could go back in time and tell my young nerd self that she's not going to have to pretend to be the boys forever.
This woman's "young nerd self" is completely ignorant of all the female characters that I've listed above. I call fraud.
They should remake '12 Angry Men' with an all female cast without changing the title and watch in glee as men's heads explode.
Hmm, "12 Angry Women"? Fuck, I'd buy that for a dollar! But Hollywood will ruin it of course. Note that the agenda here is not to increase women's representation, but just to upset men. Judging from the name the poster is a man. There's a lot of that about these days.
Best of all...
WE HAVE TAKEN YOUR GHOSTBUSTERS AND STAR WARS AND SUPERHEROES AND DOCTOR WHO NOTHING IS SACRED WE WILL DEFILE IT ALL WITH OUR WOMANLY HANDS
I think the last one may be tongue-in-cheek (all caps, really?) but I think that if you read these, and if you've seen any of the rest of the debate, you know what the agenda is. No one really cares about a female Doctor Who, they just like to strike at their designated enemy. For some people that's gays, jews, blacks, whites, straights, muslims, or whomever. For these people it's men. And all their high talk about "my politics" is nothing but a fig-leaf covering hatred and tribalism. But still, there's something odd in the way that no-one seems at all aware of the previous female characters that have existed. I think this is due to a kind of blindness that comes from a certain type of ideological programming.
I've seen this phenomenon outside of fights over characters in movies, though the event did happen at a sci-fi convention, back when I went to those. Someone, arguing that women are a completely oppressed class, challenged me to name any women in power positions. At the time the world was full of powerful women: Helle-Thorning Schmidt was Prime Minister of Denmark, Christina Fernandez was President of Argentina, Dilma Rouseff in Brazil, Park Geun-hye in South Korea, I think Julia Gillard was President of Australia at the time, and Yingluck Shinawatra in Thailand. Anyways, I started with the obvious one: Angela Merkel. She didn't know who that was. Things went rapidly downhill from there.
Cults seek to impose a worldview of utter helplessness on the believer. They must believe that external enemies threaten them and that they are unable to survive or progress without cult support. They must be made to believe that mainstream society is utterly hostile to them. Thus if your cult is based around gender the believer cannot be allowed to think that there's people of their gender succeeding in society, as that would imply that society is not totally hostile and that you can get by without the cult. A cult believer cannot hold the idea in their head that such people exist, they will always find ways to discount and erase them. Thus they won't celebrate the past successes of those they claim to be fighting for, or will do so briefly and then forget about them. Just as we have always been at war with Oceania, so the glass ceiling is always being smashed for the first time, no matter how many times you've seen it smashed before.
This worldview then will not recognize existing female characters, as everyone knows the patriarchy doesn't allow them, thus any apparent instances must be fakes or collaborators with the enemy. What they will celebrate is anything that smacks of striking at the enemy. Thus gender-swaps of male characters, even if they are short term, will be celebrated over the creation or return of outright female characters (with one startling type of exception, which I'll get to below). In the end this means that such people are actually working against their own stated goals.
Imagine that, instead of rebooting an old all-boy franchise, Sony Pictures had tried to create something new with female leads. This instantly wouldn't have the fan backlash that reboots like Ghostbusters get. True it would have to build up it's own fanbase, but the claim that there's any advantage to using an existing franchise with an existing fanbase goes out of the window if you're going to do everything you can to antagonize that fanbase. Everything had to build up it's own fanbase once upon a time, and shows like Xena and Buffy and Wonder Woman demonstrate that if the show or movie is good then people will turn out for it, regardless of the gender of the lead. But this is not what gets cheers from the online gender-studies crowd, and as the internet tends to amplify the voice of crazies and extremists, so movie and TV studios are listening too much to them and too little to the paying public. Thus those female characters who are not created from existing male characters like Eve from Adam's rib but who are their own women, go unwritten, unfilmed and untelevised. Instead a male character is swapped, to great applause, and then swapped back, achieving very little in the long term. A female Bond means another show featuring a female character doesn't get green-lit, then Bond reverts to male when the box-office disappoints. Thus a female Doctor isn't the win for women that she's claimed to be, because the character is running on a timer. At some point we all know that she's going to revert to male (unless the series is really going to stick to thirteen regenerations and end it here, which I bet they won't). So the new portrayal is a long-term win for trans people, because the Doctor will always be, in some sense, trans after this. However he won't be female. Just as happened with Missy there will come a day when the Doctor regenerates back.
Why then would people celebrate the gender-swapping of a major male character, while erasing and ignoring existing female characters? The answer can be found in the one recent event where a proposed gender-swap got a negative response from the usual suspects. A proposal to gender-swap "Lord of the Flies" was met with staunch feminist disapproval. "Lord of the Flies", we were told, "is all about toxic masculinity". Women, it was claimed, wouldn't behave like that. Well, I always understood Lord of the Flies as being about about civilization's collapse into barbarism, and I think you could gender-swap it just fine (whether I would choose two male writers to screenwrite it is another matter). The collapse would be different, but it would still happen, or rather, could still happen. After all, for all we know a different set of boys would have produced a different result, and different sets of girls would succeed or fail differently. But much of modern feminism seems to have capitulated utterly to Victorian ideas of gender essentialism, in which "women are women and men are men", and where all women are essentially alike, and would behave in a predictable 'feminine' manner. This would make me think that most feminists have not encountered sociopaths, had I not already observed that they have as many of them in their ranks as any group. But the point here is that "Lord of the Flies" portrays its characters in a negative light, and thus the reaction is to keep them male. So we see that it's only the feminizing of a positive male character that is celebrated, because this removes a positive depiction of men and thus strengthens the cult's portrayal of men as an evil external enemy.
We've seen this dynamic in the political world. A while ago we had people telling us that the coming crop of female would leaders were going to be different to the men. I remember people talking about an 'enlightened femocracy' when Clinton and May were running for office. You'd think, reading the blogposts and op-ed pieces that we'd never had female rulers/leaders before. You'd also think that men and women were different species, nothing alike, and that men were hopelessly flawed and full of negative emotion, while women were rational and enlightened (basically 19th century sexism with the polarity reversed). Well, Clinton is gone, but May is leader of my country, and femocracy is not proving to be all it was advertised as. To be honest, sane people already knew that from Margaret Thatcher, but the erasure system is in effect, and in a few years May and Thatcher will be forgotten again, and a new crop of female leaders will be breathlessly hailed as something unprecedented. Interestingly I now find that those blogposts and op-eds seem to have vanished, but what I do find when I google "May Clinton femocracy" is a lot of angry posts commenting on them, arguing that women are no better or worse than men, and that its sexist to say they are (with this I totally agree). All these posts are written by women. Times are bad when you have to fight for equality by laying out the argument that you're as fickle and flawed as men.
So, looking forwards, where will this go? Unfortunately I think this may mean that we have a fallow period for decent female characters in fiction. They will be blocked-out by gender-swapped male characters who will then revert to male, leaving nothing behind. I think this will happen because the online crowd will keep cheering gender-swaps, for the reasons stated above, and the producers will try to give the public what they want on the basis of what they hear online. This is a bad result for 'strong female characters' in fiction, but as I stated above with regards to the male Dr Who, I'm no longer as convinced by the argument that fictional role models have any long-term impact on a person's development as I was. Let's be honest, there's bigger issues in the world. However, this suits the cult just fine: if your powerbase depends on the claim that society is a 'patriarchy', the last thing you want is any progress on that front, in fact it works to your interest to have things get worse.
But ultimately feminism good or bad isn't that important any more. These are its dying days. People always think I'm ranting against it, in the same way that a drunk driver thinks that your calls for him to slow down are criticism of his driving. The final crash is coming, and the time for the driver to change course is sadly some distance behind us. This will mean an ugly future, but to be honest the future looks likely to be ugly in a lot of ways that are vastly more important than mere gender politics. What's important out of all this is to analyze the workings of the cult. Because in the end this isn't about feminism, this is about systems of control. The system used by "the cult", is one that I've described to people time and time again. It's one that can be found in the pages of George Orwell's 1984. You designate some group as a hate object, what I call a "Goldstein" (referencing Orwell). You convince people that the Goldstein is an all-encompassing threat that only you, your organization, or your movement can defend them from. You encourage them to experience feelings of strength through expressions of hatred for the Goldstein, while all the time undermining their belief in themselves as an independent actor. This system can be seen in operation all across the political spectrum, but you don't want to get too close to some of the groups that are using it. The neverending bunfights of the Culture Wars are one place where the technique can be observed in relative safety.