I think if we look back on the 2010s people will see how a fad swept popular culture in which any and all longstanding white male characters were recast as female and/or minority. The most recent sacred cow to go down in flames is The Doctor. The fact this comes on the heels of The Master (now Missy) reflects the faddish aspect of gender-reversals that we’re living in. There is no in-universe explanation for why both of them would flip over within a few years. The answer is purely a matter of politics and the surrounding marketing aspect.
People get a cheap high out of flipping a race or a gender, but that is ultimately all it is. It’s not really progressive. It’s a gimmick. The fact that all we’re doing now is dismantling franchises started 50+ years ago and rebuilding them with gender and ethnicity flips reflects a lack of creativity insofar as today’s culture finds it incapable to produce new franchises. It can only recycle old ones and vandalize them to the point where the original concept no longer shares much with the new. However, since the brand-name remains, it has a huge leg-up, as an incumbent, on anything truly new.
I have less of a problem with the creation of new heroes such as Ren and Jyn in Star Wars than I do with the “stick it to the man” glee with which old icons are transformed. The latter reflects a serious lack of respect for the original creations. At best, it changes the definition of a character to something akin to holding a political office. People mistakenly impart such a sense of grave importance to the race and ethnicity that they feel that to allow any of these characters to remain white and male is perpetuating some sort of past oppression. Well, if the franchise is so offensive in the first place, why are we perpetuating it in the first place? You can’t really have your cake and eat it too.
The proper way to add diversity is by creating characters that are analogous but stand on their own, side-by-side. Tarzan begat Sheena. He-Man begat She-Ra. Sueprman begat Supergirl. Batman begat Batgirl. I think there’s a sentiment that these female equivalents were second-rate tokens or also-rans. I don’t think that’s fair to say, although in all cases they DID come afterwards so one could construe them as spin-offs.
But now, instead we have, again, a “political office” aspect of these characters where only ONE icon is allowed to rule the roost and we must have this identity-politics battle in the court of social-networks to decide which group can lay claim to the throne for the next tenure.
I think part of this has to do with the diversity of entertainment choices we currently have. It’s information overload. In order to simplify things we need to have fewer active characters because the public simply can’t care about all of them at once. So to bring in diversity we need a revolving door of reboots and recastings.
The Doctor and his regenerations are indeed an exploration of identity. There are many arguments over who the definitive Doctor is, how he should act, regardless of regeneration, and which Doctors seemed “not quite right”. Whether the Doctor is young or old, dapper or awkward, some character traits that tended to carry through were an irreverence and eccentricity. In most of his regenerations he represented the model of a dapper Edwardian gentleman. Tom Pertwee portrayed him more as a dandy and Tom Baker as more discheveled, but somewhere between the two was the archetype. In the revised Doctor Who, in order to pander to younger audiences the Doctor became younger, more suitable for pinup status.
Like all things, you get older and you fall out of step with what the younger generation want. Before you know it you’ve started a blog where you can shake your fist at the world and tell them to get off of your lawn.
I do wonder sometimes whether all of this shifting has anything to do with the difficulty of today’s generation in establishing their own discrete identities at a meaningful level. I’ve heard it said that the equally disgusting (to me) fad of tattoos and piercings is their way of trying to establish a personal brand in a world where people are mostly anonymous and invisible as they walk around not talking to their neighbors and only living online. The young try to broadcast their individuality superfically. What bothers me is that this kind of thing is portrayed as socially progressive when it is, in the end, largely superficial. It’s paradoxical that the criticism against the criticism is that the gender shouldn’t matter, that The Doctor can still be The Doctor, and yet obviously it DOES matter otherwise some people would not be jumping for joy over this sort of thing. You can’t have it both ways.
I think at the end of the day really nothing is achieved by doing these sorts of gender and ethnicity flips. It provides a brief feel-good high for a certain demographic but then we go back to living in a world where everyone locks themselves in ideological silos and winds up elevating someone like Trump as leader of the free world.
The worst part is the shouting matches that inevitably erupt over these things. It’s the reason people are only allowed to view things like this in a positive light that empowers the alt-right on the basis that political correctness is about enforcing “right-think”.
We’ve become more engaged on the politics surrounding the racial or ethnic makeup of imaginary characters than we are with the breakup of the Larsen ice-shelf.
As much as I enjoy eating, drinking, and breathing entertainment, I am full aware that it is ultimately escapism from problems that feel too big to solve. At its best entertainment can indeed offer morality-plays that can in some cases nudge the public in a positive way, but most of what people fist-pump over these days is just about scoring notches on a racial/ethnic/sexuality scorecard. It’s just an empty opiate.
Not to completely overtake the blog with politics, but I have some very clear ideas about the ills of the world and I know what’s come out that addresses them compared to things that only provide a quick feel-good hit. I’ll be covering some of this heavier stuff over the course of the summer, so strap your seat-belts.