Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Pop Between Realities, Home in Time For Tea 20 (Mary Whitehouse)

Photoshopped? Oh, probably.
It is, above all else, a profoundly stupid way to go down. Philip Hinchcliffe, after three years of making an enormously compelling case for why he is the best producer of Doctor Who since Verity Lambert, is given the sack in order to appease Mary Whitehouse. Three years of dark fairytale postmodernism with a flare for the cynically epic come to a close because of the incessant complaints of a crazy woman. Not with a bang but a whimper.

There's an odd justice to it, though. If the one aesthetic crime we can firmly get to stick to the Hinchcliffe era is hubris, there becomes a poetic justice to the era being taken down by a deluded fool with the visual literacy of a donut. It's oddly fitting that a show that is at times so cavalier about the material consequences of what it does should go down to a hack that should have been trivial to refute. Doubly so for it to happen under Robert Holmes, who isn't sacked here, but whose hatred for the banal evils of the world makes the show getting brought down by Whitehouse on his watch a particularly savage irony.

Let's discuss some facts then. One of those people who spent almost her entire working life as an old lady, Whitehouse, starting in 1964, was a high profile campaigner in the UK on the issue of excessive sex, violence, and moral depravity on television. An outspoken and evangelical Christian, her initial battle of choice was with Hugh Greene, the Director General of the BBC when Doctor Who was created. It was under Greene that the BBC took its most concrete and visible steps to be a channel not about imposing the ideology and worldview of "establishment" Britain but about creating programming that appealed to all of Britain. Most concretely, this manifested in the production of things like Z-Cars or Cathy Come Home. And Whitehouse hated it. She believed that Greene was "responsible for the moral collapse" of the UK, that he spread "the propaganda of disbelief, doubt, and dirt... promiscuity, infidelity, and drinking," and that the correct role of the BBC was to "encourage and sustain faith in God and bring Him back to the hearts of our family and national life." 

It is possible, and many have done this, to look at the nature of this argument as an art versus commerce debate. This does not even involve ignoring the obvious theocratic implications - the UK is, after all, technically a theocracy, though it manages its condition well through a longterm regimen of secular democracy and keeps acute attacks to a minimum. 

(Because someone is going to comment, the titular head of state is also the titular head of the church. The line between it and destructive theocracy is, in the case of the UK, one of active and continual choice not to do anything unseemly with the fact that they are ruled by a monarch who is also the head of the church. I don't even note this as a fault in the nature of British government - clearly they do just fine with this setup. Complain all you want about the fundamentals, the thing works. In practice, the US has more of a problem with theocratic lunatics than the UK does, so it's not like fundamental separation of church and state is a panacea or even, for that matter, particularly effective. My point here is really just for American readers - not that there are any the day before Thanksgiving, making this a dumb day for a major post, but oh well - the claim that the correct role of the BBC is to bring God back into national life has a different relationship with the structure and principles of British government than it would with the structure and principles of the US government. You're not arguing against the grain of the Constitution there, in no small part because the UK doesn't have one of those.)

(Oh, and for the UK readers, Thanksgiving is what we have as our autumnal holiday because we just can't look ourselves in the mirror if we're calling something "October Bank Holiday." We're not sure if we envy or pity you for being able to.)

Art, after all, in its more Enlightenment-infused senses has always been about the divine, with art being a tool that reveals aspects of the divine to humans. Even in the more secular versions of Enlightenment thought this tends to be fairly close to what art gets valued for, or at least, it seems to be, because let's face it, secular versions of Enlightenment thought are not the place most people go for aesthetic advice, and there's a reason for that. From this viewpoint, the problem with Greene's BBC is that he is turning away from the  production of art and towards mass-market commodities. This is the view that you get if you start pairing Greene off against the so-called Reithian model of the BBC. Wikipedia - I'll admit openly that's what I'm using here - lists the Reithian model as valuing "an equal consideration of all viewpoints, probity, universality and a commitment to public service."

There is a philosophical landmine here that we are going to have to pause on for a moment. Because that list of four values does not cohere. "Equal consideration of all viewpoints" and "probity" are necessarily in opposition. If you hold to a specific moral code, you necessarily consider some viewpoints - namely those antithetical to that moral code - as unequal in stature. That's not equal consideration. Liberal democracy does not hold totalitarianism in equal consideration, at least not unless you dress it up in the rhetoric of self-advancement. There is no such thing as complete cosmopolitanism. And this point underlies the fundamental difference between two visions of liberalism that have been quietly and at times loudly coming into conflict throughout the period this blog has been tracking. And, for that matter, two visions that are still pretty much the big headline because philosophical shifts take place over decades and we're still playing this game. To wit, look at what's going on in the streets of New York, Oakland, London, in Tahir Square, in college campuses across America, and thousands of other places. Yes, this is one of those "let's describe big political realignments" posts that always attract so many comments. 

The first of these two ideologies is Enlightenment liberalism. In this model, the application of human reason leads towards truth. Diversity of viewpoints is valued because of the belief that when the ideas argue against each other the right one will rise to the top. Democracy works because it will produce the best solution - the aggregate power of human reason is viewed as the best decision-making process available. So long as every viewpoint gets a chance to be heard, the right one will, seemingly inevitably, win out.

Postmodern liberalism, on the other hand, rejects this idea. At its most basic level, it rejects the sort of hyper-sanitized purity of it. Democracy doesn't work because it picks the right option, it works because anything else is even crueler. (Which is, of course, basically the content of Churchill's famous line about democracy being the worst system of government. The transition from Enlightenment era to postmodernism was not a lightswitch event any more than the transition to science was. For one thing, you had to go through modernism.) Moral rightness does not inherently rise to the top, and it certainly doesn't with anything near the effectiveness that money and power do. 

And so Enlightenment liberalism tends to mistake the desires of those with enough money and power to win elections for an inherent moral authority. The positions that are given "equal time" are really just sanctioned oppositions - there to be argued down and kept on the margins. Ultimately only those with access to the tools of reason - which, mysteriously, always keep being the tools of the upper class - wield actual power. This is the end problem with Reithianism - in the end, it sustains social inequity by continually making class judgments.

The response is Greene's BBC. And this is where the art vs. commerce angle falls down on this debate. Because, in hindsight, we realize that Greene's BBC was putting out some of the best art ever to be made for television, and thus criticizing him for embracing commerce over art is nonsense. Yes, he did embrace commerce in ways previous heads hadn't, but he did so in a way that did not oppose it to art. Another way to look at this is to say that what Greene did was move the BBC towards a more postmodern sort of liberalism. He actually took seriously the idea that the BBC should equally consider all viewpoints and made television that came from multiple viewpoints. That's the whole idea of social realism - that it gives the audience viewpoints they wouldn't be exposed to and shows them aspects of the world they didn't know about. Television, under Greene, isn't a device to show The Truth but rather a device to show more information, more perspectives, more things. 

There is still an embrace of cosmopolitanism here, but there's a fundamental difference in goals. Enlightenment liberalism embraces cosmopolitanism because it believes that a single "best view" will bubble up to the top. Postmodern liberalism embraces it because it believes that given a sufficient critical mass of views the worst views will wither and die, and that this is about the best you can hope for in terms of social progress. It recognizes that progress is not about approaching a defined goal of the future but about cleaning up the reiterated fossils littering the present. That the march of history is not about the oncoming rush of the future but about the steady killing of the past. The production of new ideas and new perspectives is the material fuel that enables this, and is thus valuable. Postmodern liberalism values cosmopolitanism because cosmopolitanism breeds the conditions in which decaying ideologies are sped to their deaths.

This finally brings us around to the earlier point I made about this being the start of the Long 1980s. It's not a big spoiler that the 1980s, in both the US and UK, were dominated by conservative politics. But there's a particular model of conservatism that we see here - one that's still enormously powerful and is still recognizable as what things like the Occupy movement are reacting against. And what's particularly insidious about this sort of conservatism is that it is in many ways the logical endpoint of Enlightenment liberalism.

In America this fact has become completely explicit, with the right wing clinging to the Constitution in a large part because they want to pretend that no significant developments in moral or political philosophy have happened since 1787. The Enlightenment is, in this context, unambiguously treated as the last word on politics. (There is, of course, an odd fundamentalism to this - a decaying ideology reverting to its original form in a last, choking stab at purity of reiteration.) But more broadly, the right wing trades on an Enlightenment model of individual liberty. And for a variety of reasons, the most obvious ones being that the Enlightenment model of individual liberty was created by rich white men who naively assumed everyone else was basically like them, this model itself is corrupt. It's not a matter of misusing the model. Rather, it's one of utter fealty to the model having catastrophic results. Libertarianism is little more than a proof by contradiction starting with the premises of Enlightenment liberalism in which everybody forgot what to do after you find the contradiction.

It should be no surprise that Whitehouse was, in the end, an ally of the Thatcher government. They shared, after all, a commitment to Enlightenment liberalism. The evangelical Christians that took Whitehouse seriously were part of Thatcher's base. They were not allies as such - in truth, Thatcher's ideology was always more economic than social. But they shared a hatred for postmodern liberalism, and a reliance on the idea of the "silent majority." 

There are few concepts more insidious than that of the "silent majority." This is true for one very simple reason, which is that silence is already antithetical to postmodern liberalism. If social progress is understood as the demolition of the past via the continual acceleration of new forms of thought then there is nothing more toxic to that than the idea of people who simply refuse to play with the creation and engagement of new forms of thought. Silence, in the context of the silent majority, is nothing more than a refusal to play - a complete rejection of the idea that you can be challenged. If there is one point of view postmodernism is very, very clear on, it is that you should make a lot of noise. Preferably obnoxious noise. 

Again, then, no surprise that Whitehouse's arguments, based as they were on appeals to this silent majority, were appallingly incompetent. She had been targeting Doctor Who since about Genesis of the Daleks, with her most famed line being a description of the show as "teatime brutality for tots." But the fuss she raised that ended up bringing Hinchcliffe down was due to the episode three cliffhanger of The Deadly Assassin, in which Goth drowns the Doctor. The director, David Maloney (who, sadly, never returns to the series following Talons of Weng-Chiang, having been working on it off and on since The Mind Robber), opted to do that cliffhanger with a freeze frame on the Doctor's submerged head. And Whitehouse flipped out, claiming that children would think the Doctor's head was underwater for the whole week and would be terrified by not knowing if he survived, while simultaneously claiming, in what seems like something of a contradiction, that they would all try to drown their brothers. Which, I mean, you can kind of get some way of connecting those, I suppose, in which the show is teaching kids that you can hold your breath for a week, but, um, seriously? 

I took a shot at this kind of thinking way back in the Hartnell era, but let's be clearer here. Even if one grants some set of claims about the harmful effects of violence in the media on children - and notably, these claims have generally failed to survive any scholarly scrutiny - this position is indefensible for the simple reason that it is based on normalizing bad readings and sloppy thought. The failure to understand freeze frame only makes sense if you assume viewers who do not think at all about the technical properties of the medium at all in watching it. It relies on a naively immersive model of media in which television is a literal representation of things. 

But look, we know it isn't. We know that camera angles and editing are part of how storytelling works. We know, in fact, that it's impossible to make sense of drama if you don't understand the conventions of visual storytelling. To say that a freeze frame suggests the Doctor's head being held underwater for a full week would require thinking that narrative time and audience time pass at the same rate - an assumption that can't even be taken seriously. It requires that you think of a cliffhanger as a genuine source of danger for the character, and thus to think of Doctor Who not as a television show that exists in a real cultural context but as, to borrow a term from Gayatri Spivak, gossip about imaginary people - a look into the lives of people that could, in fact, simply die at any moment. It requires that the audience watch Doctor Who as found footage of real life as opposed to as a story.

And these are not subtle, advanced issues. The "kids don't understand any of that" argument doesn't wash. These are fundamental aspects of how the medium works. This is stuff you learn not as a value-added extra after learning basic visual literacy. This is the stuff you learn instinctively. As I understand it (and I should note that developmental psychology is not my field), it's actually older people who have the most trouble with new-ish techniques like freeze frame because they've already learned visual literacy and don't do as well with new tricks being added. Kids, as I understand it, pick this stuff up fine. Most people do. It's only when they're misled by morons like John Byrne or Mary Whitehouse that the sense of functional visual literacy they develop by reading/watching is overwritten by idiotic aesthetics of "immersion" and "realism." Even if the episode three cliffhanger of The Deadly Assassin were a terrible thing that would deform children for years, it sure as hell wasn't for the reasons Mary Whitehouse said it was.

And this, more even than the censorship, is what I, at least, find so horrific about Whitehouse's arguments. It's not merely that they attack a show I love that provides what I think is a real social good. (Though I think in the end Whitehouse was either implicitly or explicitly aware of the degree to which the show's ideology was opposed to hers. Simply put, it's difficult to believe the idea of someone who watches and pays attention to a lot of Doctor Who ever agreeing with Whitehouse.) It's the fact that she's doing it by mainstreaming visual illiteracy. It's the fact that on the way to "censor the violence" she insists on stopping off at actually and overtly endorsing uncritical and bad reading. If she had the integrity to actually accuse Doctor Who of being left-leaning postmodernist with Marxist influences, that would be one thing. Instead she just engaged in the narrative equivalent of climate change denial, peddling incompetent practices as something that should be taken seriously.

But, of course, the silent majority is absolved of all responsibility for this. Being silent, their views must be respected without argument, for no argument is possible. You can, of course, try to argue. Every viewpoint must be given fair representation, after all. But the opposition viewpoints are minority viewpoints. They occupy defined roles on the margins, existing only to be rejected in favor of the enlightenment of the majority, which need not argue when it can simply win elections. It doesn't matter how clever you are or how good your argument is, because in the end, you're talking to a brick wall.

This viewpoint was toxic enough when it was used to justify tuning out the counterculture in 1968. But in the 1980s it finds itself wedded to existing structures of power in the worst ways possible. This was, as is becoming increasingly clear, the real horrific legacy of the 1980s - the way in which neoliberal economic policies created the conditions for a media that actively propped up particular forms of ignorance when they benefitted those with power. 

This is where Whitehouse and Thatcher's ideologies part ways. There is no serious way to think that Thatcher's government, profoundly media-savvy as it was, actually believed the incompetent critiques offered by Whitehouse. They were not stupid people. And there's ample evidence that Thatcher had little actual fondness for Whitehouse and her views. Unlike Whitehouse, Thatcher was invested in art vs. commerce debate. Also unlike Whitehouse, Thatcher recognized Hugh Greene's BBC as art, and much preferred to see it replaced with commerce, because commerce would, in the end, reliably reinforce her ideological positions. But Whitehouse was useful in that she could draw crowds, and thus corral the silent majority, which was a useful 10% or so of the population to have on your side. And as long as she corralled it at mutual enemies like the BBC, Thatcher's government was happy to have Whitehouse around even if her actual views were nonsense.

(I'd treat Whitehouse as a victim in all of this, but I can't bring myself to. She was a bigot and an idiot who understood nothing about television and wasn't going to let that get in the way of her crusade. She and Thatcher share their commitment to Enlightenment liberalism. Hers was, in the end, less devastatingly effective than Thatcher's, and so Thatcher won. As she usually did, unfortunately.) 

The real point is that there's an ugly logic to this that is chillingly familiar. The use of power to sidestep the messy materialism of the battle of ideas, treating the fact of victory as an argument for the legitimacy of the victory. Which brings us back to that most inseparable of concepts for me with Doctor Who: bullying.

There are moments in life where you have a sudden and striking realization of just how fucked up a person you are. I had one about a month ago. I was driving past my old middle school - the school I was attending the year I got chicken pox and The Talons of Weng-Chiang. Somewhere in the decades since I left there, an annual tradition of a scarecrow competition began - in Halloween, some class or another within the school makes big, colorful scarecrows and sets them up on the front lawn of the school. The scarecrows are generally in the form of recognizable pop culture icons - Spongebob or Spiderman or the like. And this year, there was a Dalek. And I found myself choking up at the sight of it not just the first time I drove past, but every time I drove past. It was a flawless impression of the presumptuous pathos with which adults view "It Gets Better" ads. (Those being bullied tend to view them with an air of "so stop screwing around with the webcam and make it better, jackass.") 

I talked last time about the degree to which being an American Doctor Who fan in middle school in 1993 was a miserable experience. And we'll eventually get to 1993 and play that story out right alongside the Doctor Who I was reading. But I should perhaps stress the depth of the crap that was waded through. On two separate occasions people stole Doctor Who books from me, destroyed them. Once the torn up remains were shoved in my desk, the other time I got to see them kicking the book around the hall. The defense was predictable - that these people, who had been mocking me for liking this weird Doctor Who thing they'd never heard of for months, were somehow unaware that the Doctor Who books they were destroying were mine. Because, I mean, there were lots of other people with them.

My middle school had, while I was there, an overt policy called "restitution" in which, instead of handling misbehavior punitively, decided that the two sides of a dispute should come to a mutual understanding and that someone who does something to hurt somebody else shouldn't be punished but should have to make it better. 

It was a disgusting system that served bullies above all else. For one thing, it was toothless - even if the school had the authority to, say, make students replace the destroyed books, importing obscure sci-fi books from the UK wasn't something anybody in Newtown knew how to do in 1993 besides my mother. In practice, nobody even tried to make them offer restitution in such an actually meaningful sense. Why would they when they could have us both apologize regardless of what actually happened.

But even if they had, the idea that bullying can be undone is farcical. Even if the immediate damage is subsequently undone, the real damage of bullying is the longer term knowledge that people are going to hit you. They're going to hit you because they don't understand you or because they view your intelligence as a threat. And no restitution undoes that lesson. 

And so I choked up at the sight of a Dalek scarecrow outside my old school. Because the idea that over the course of nearly twenty years my popular culture actually won so that it's possible to have a team of four middle schoolers who build a Dalek in art class and don't get the shit kicked out of them for it is... somehow just too much for me. I am utterly overwhelmed by it. 

So for a fucked up lunatic like me, it's impossible, in 2011, not to see the vicious extent to which the ideological legacy of the 1980s is one of bullying. There's no other explanation for a story like this, about a bank specializing in foreclosures holding a halloween party in which their employees freely mocked the people they were busily throwing out of their homes. There's no other way to read a description of police pinning nonviolent student protesters to the ground and forcing pepper spray down their throats. There's no other way to read yearlong jail sentences for stealing bottled water during the London riots while ignoring the poverty that led to the riots. In every case there's that familiar overexertion of power - the need to demonstrate it for its own sake. And of course there is. Why settle for the banality of evil when you can have the probity of evil. The decent, hardworking middle-American cops of New York City can be trusted to beat socialist hippie dirtbags just like they deserve. 

And, of course, bullying is in its own ways intertwined with the excessive brutality of fan politics, within which there are too many stories of unconscionable acts of sheer nastiness to even sort through effectively. And this is a legacy that spills into the modern show, from the utter hate-fests that review threads on forums turn into right up to the DWM-published fan who was tweeting earlier this week about the inherent worthlessness of a PhD in media studies and how you should beware Doctor Who fans who have them. (Wonder who he was talking about.) None of this is new, of course - I'm not saying that bullying was invented in the 1980s. Rather I am saying that it is impossible to understand the 1980s without understanding the way in which bullying works.

Let's start with a definition. At its most basic level, bullying is the use of power to cause harm when the power is not being used in accordance with the purpose (if any exists) for which it was granted. That doesn't mean that breaking up an illegal protest is bullying. It does mean that holding a nonviolent protester down and pepper-spraying them is. Let's further add a few clarifications. Bullying specifically means the use of force, whether social or physical. Inasmuch as it explains why the person being bullied deserves negative treatment, the explanation is generally based on who they are as opposed to what they've done - they're a nerd, or they're gay, not "they insulted me for being dumber than them" or "they triggered my own neuroses about anal penetration and that made me angry." And bullying carries with it the threat, implied or explicit, of future sanction. The nature of this last point varies heavily based on who's bullying. A sixth grader's threat of further sanction amounts to little more than "and I'll hit you tomorrow too." When you get into powerful political figures making bullying comments, on the other hand, the threat becomes much broader and more ambiguous. But it is still just as clearly received by its intended audience.

This, rather than the actual aggression, is the worst part of being bullied. In the moment, there is enough adrenaline to distract you from a proper consideration of how much this sucks. No. The single worst part are the long amounts of idle time you get to spend constantly formulating escape plans. What seat on the bus gives the driver the best view of you? Which piece of playground equipment is least likely to have anyone bother you? What do you say that gets him not to hit you? It's the way in which your world re-orders to be about avoiding getting hit. So that the existence of people who want to hurt you is just something you assume.

Then come the lessons. There is no reasoning to be done with the people who want you to suffer. That in the end, they want you to suffer because they can make you suffer, and because they can get away with it, so that means it's OK. Whether because the laws that govern it are soft enough to make it de facto legal - as bullying under restitution basically was - or because they have the ability to lie effectively. When raw wealth owns the entire media then it is far too easy to say that you didn't know who's Doctor Who book it was, or that people might think a cliffhanger lasts an entire week diegetically, or that the proposed health care bill contains death panels.

These are the legacies of the 1980s. An economic ideology that fostered profits above all else created a world in which power justifies its own use and the maxim that history is written by the victors becomes a moral principle instead of a cynical observation. Were these the legacies on display at the start? No. We'll get in time to the Winter of Discontent and the circumstances that brought Thatcher to power. But as Magnus Greel revealed to us, the future recurs as well. To go into the Long 1980s pretending that their consequences were other than what they were is foolish.

And this is what makes the Hinchcliffe era getting brought down in an early skirmish of that larger culture war so sickening. Whatever the flaws of the Hinchcliffe era - and there were some, and we identified many of them last entry - for it to be brought down by feckless bullies is just crushing.

But, of course, it's only the Hinchcliffe era that gets brought down. Doctor Who survives. Gravely wounded, yes. And arguably, as I've said, you can start tracing a direct narrative of Doctor Who's cancellation starting here - a chain of creative decisions and reactions against past creative decisions that ends with the show finally losing all support at the BBC. But then, other shows Whitehouse took on (Till Death Do Us Part) got cancelled outright under her assault. Doctor Who survives another twelve seasons, then comes back for another run of, to date, at least seven. Whitehouse lost. We won. The Dalek went up outside the middle school.

But how? This is, after all, the real question. Because one thing that quickly becomes clear when dealing with the conservative ideology that stemmed from the 1980s is that Enlightenment liberalism is completely unsuitable to the task. This is because, as I said, what rose in the 1980s was not, in fact, opposed to Enlightenment liberalism but was the logical conclusion of it. Like any ideology surviving past its time, it becomes malignant. New ways forward are necessary. Or, to put it another way, there's no way to fight back against bullies within their rules. That's the other big lesson. The rules are never going to help you. 

This is the other story of Doctor Who in the 80s. Not a replacement for the story of how a great show finally slips and lands in it, but a counterpart to it. A story about learning how to fight bullies. A story about surviving. If the first phase of this blog - the Long 1960s - was about the history of utopian ideology as told through a British science fiction series, then this is, at its heart, the history of the marginalized and the counterculture as told through one. This is a history of freaks and weirdos of various sorts, whether self-identified or mockingly identified by the people who hate them: Punks, homosexuals, goths, fanboys, women, racial minorities, and nerds, to name just a few. It's a history of how marginal culture works, and of how it finds ways of wielding power. And of how marginal culture gets steamrolled, kicked, and beaten down.

Here, then, is our first tool. Because even after everything that could be found to criticize about The Talons of Weng-Chiang, watching it some part of me, fresh from choking up at a paper mache Dalek, was busy bringing an eighteen-year long wait to a delightful end. For all the deep-seated cynicism of that story, there is also a sense of manic glee to it. A telltale whiff of mercury, if you will. A refusal to slow down or to allow boredom to happen. A driving mania. It is giddily, madly, delightfully fun to watch. It's screamingly obvious why it's been ripped off so many times. It's funny, it's exciting, it has a wonderful and friendly clever wizard who runs about being brilliant. It is so blessedly fun to watch, and fun to love. This in and of itself has power. Once one accepts a position on the margins, one of the most savagely effective moves one can make is to have the unmitigated gall to enjoy yourself there - to act as though one would rather be there.

And then there is also the same thing we began the Hinchcliffe era looking at. Fear. As I have said before, there are few purposes more fundamental to children's fiction than completely screwing up children for life. The best children's fiction disturbs and unnerves. And for all its flaws, The Talons of Weng-Chiang does. Heck, the cackling, snorting madness of Mr. Sin is unnerving even as an adult. But it is, oddly, its ending that is the most satisfying in this regard. The climax of the story is a straight lift from the first episode of The Ark in Space - an attempt to hide as something shoots laser beams at you. It's an odd sort of symbolic unity for the Hinchcliffe era, with the first and last episodes shown each using the same plot point - a reminder that, in this regard, the era put its best foot forward, establishing from the start the thing that would really shape its legacy - a sense of giddy, terrified suspense that guaranteed that it could not be forgotten, not completely. And if something can be remembered...

History repeats itself. And now the dizzying, endlessly complex horror of the Hinchcliffe era is history, freed to happen again and again. Held in the memory of a generation of freaks, waiting patiently for their time to come. 

65 comments:

  1. This is a wonderful post. I'd not been looking forward to your Whitehouse one, but you've done a grand job knitting the personal, political and philosophical together. I write my comments mostly when I'm supposed to be working. Every one almost, including this one, has been typed with frequent glances over my shoulder, nerves tensed to clear the screen. I do remember when being a Doctor Who fan was shameful, and part of me still thinks it is. It's odd that I'm quite proud of my horror obsession, so it's not that I feel guilty for not having more mature tastes. It must be the quiet legacy of bullying, or the fear of being bullied.

    Just a couple of points, between now and a chat in the manager's office: I watch Doctor Who fairly intently and I'm involved in Conservative politics. It is so fucked up to think that a distinct climate of bullying was manufactured by political events and leaders in the 80s. In my local Conservative branch are a Wiccan hedge and two gay married couples. But it is a familiar old joke that it is harder to come out as a Tory among activist pagans and queers than it is to be queer or pagan in the Tory party. We only know what we know I suppose, but I've met some vicious Marxist bullies in my time, and progressives with a staggering sense of self-entitlement. And all of them utterly despise Thatcher and will party on her grave etc.

    As a horror fan, I don't mind Whitehouse. You don't need to see Cannibal Holocaust to know what it's all about. I loved it before even seeing it, and I still do. She never saw the Romans in Britain, famously, for the perfectly sensible reason that she didn't want to corrupt her mind with those corrupt images. The point is: it's possible to love and be attuned to art without ever encountering it fully. In the pre DVD and Internet years, that's what most of us had to do. We picked up hints of it and fleshed out the rest in our minds, often with uncanny accuracy. I figure it's the same with art we fear and despise. But don't underestimate the disdain and loathing with which people of Whitehouse's views and sensibilities were and are treated. They feel beleaguered, and not unreasonably. To me the fact that they would probably just want to beleaguer others is beside the point. I went to school with a Mormon and a member of the Exclusive Breathren, and they were both made to suffer and feel ridiculous on occasions.

    And I know I'm missing the point, but I've never met a more cliquish and unfriendly bunch than the self-acknowledged freaks, punks and weirdos of this world. Do outsiders form little self-supporting groups outside the movies? Reality is more like Welcome to the Dollhouse, it seems to me, with mutually and internally antagonistic in groups.

    Every educated Nasties fan these days knows they watch these movies because of their class politics and their problematising of the etc., but no one ever confesses that they watch the cruelty and the crudity out of morbidity or ghoulishness. Doctor Who in this period is also all about leering at monsters and thinking about hideous greeny brown slimy things. This can cruden the sensibilities too, and look at what Hinchcliffe went on to make: Target - dour, witless, charmless, violent.

    Of course the 80s saw a lot of feminist anger, against portrayals of violence, especially against women, and of course against other women, like Thatcher, or Whitehouse. The BFI has just released Voice Over, a fine film about an unstable DJ and his weird relationship with women. Extraordinary to find out how it was pilloried by feminist activists, not all of whom even seem to have seen it. Silliness and philistinism are by no means confined to Enlightenment Liberals.

    I would point out that there is a third way, aside from post modernism, modernism or liberalism, marked out by Heidegger, but before I get the chance to explain - here comes my manager.

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  2. A Wiccan hedge-witch, I meant to say. And I know the above is pretty ill thought-though but I'm nervy and pressed for deadlines. How very 80s.

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  3. Lovely essay.

    Re: Theocracy - it is, of course, more complicated.

    There is a Church of England, which is the established (state) church of England. The Queen is not the Head of the Church but she is, technically, its Supreme Governor. In practice this means that the Prime Minister can veto senior appointments.

    What is the Scottish equivalent of the Church of England? The Church of Scotland is the national church but it is explicitly independent from the state. The Queen is not its Supreme Governor.

    Theologically, the equivalent in Scotland of the Church of England is the Scottish Episcopal Church. Historically, this church has been marginalised because (1) it was seen as too English and (2) it sided with the Jacobites against the Hanoverians (this is far too simplistic a statement, but...) It is totally independent of the British state and for this reason the Episcopal Church in the USA claims descent from the Scottish Episcopal Church rather than from the Church of England.

    The Church of Ireland was disestablished in 1871.

    The Welsh part of the Church of England was disestablished and lost much of its wealth (and became an independent church known as the Church In Wales) in 1920.

    But, anyway, Mary Whitehouse was a very English bigot, and the Enlightenment was very Scottish.

    And the only people who campaign for an October Bank Holiday want to call it Trafalgar Day (to celebrate British victory over the French and Spanish) and to abolish the May Day Bank Holiday. See this Daily Mail article:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1362640/May-Day-Bank-holiday-replaced-St-Georges-Trafalgar-Day-bid-boost-tourism.html

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  4. Nitpick: The UK does, of course, have a constitution. It's not all written down in one handy document, nor is it fetishised in public discourse, but it nonetheless exists.

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  5. In the same sense, though, (re Nitpick), the constitution of the U.S.A consists of much more than simply the written Constitution document + amendments.

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  6. There is a Church of England, which is the established (state) church of England. The Queen is not the Head of the Church but she is, technically, its Supreme Governor. In practice this means that the Prime Minister can veto senior appointments.

    Though the Prime Minister can't do that because he or she is the 'Head' of the Church, simply because pretty much all powers of the Crown, including those which come from being supreme governor of the Church of England, are these days exercised by 'the Crown in Parliament'; ie, the Prime Minister. The one exception that comes to mind being the power of the Crown to ask someone to form a government: and that did actually come up in the seventies (though they managed to sidestep it last year).

    The actual Head of the Church is Jesus Christ. I'm not sure whether He could veto the appointment of bishops, or whether if He did the decision would be subject to judicial review.

    The amusing thing, of course, is that a nation with enforced secularity has a holiday called 'Thanksgiving'. Who, exactly, is that they think they are thanking?

    Oh, and Iain: the fun thing about the British constitution is that not only is it not written down, but a lot of it only exists if you believe in the Declarative Theory of Constitutional Law. Which is a fun thing to believe in, of course. So let's say we do.

    (Not that this is very different to the United States: it would be almost impossible for someone simply reading the US Constitution to come up with the same interpretations of it currently in use, especially as the Supreme Court has, I understand, reversed itself several times; so in order to fetishise things like the First Amendment in the mad way Americans do you simply have to believe in the declarative theory because there's no other way to pretend that a rule clearly intended just to stop Congress from shutting up pamphleteers who disagreed with its decisions could really mean that pornography is protected speech.)

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  7. "The actual Head of the Church is Jesus Christ. I'm not sure whether He could veto the appointment of bishops, or whether if He did the decision would be subject to judicial review."

    To quote from Yes, Prime Minister: "We cannot leave the appointment of Bishops to the Holy Ghost, because no one is confident that the Holy Ghost would understand what makes a good Church of England bishop."

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  8. On reflection, I think Phil's "theocracy" crack is arse-about-face, even leaving aside the different situations in the different nations of the UK. In England, the monarch is the head of the established church. This is because Henry VIII disagreed with the Church and decided to take it over in order that it would do as he wanted. (Terribly simplistic, I know, but bear with me.) So England is a constitutional monarchy in which the church is subject to the Crown. If it were a theocracy, the Crown would be subject to the church.

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  9. I think theocracy is really defined more by the equivalence of church and Crown than by a subject/ruler relationship between them. But I'm not sure the arse-face sequencing of what is, as you noted, a joke is really a particularly relevant feature in the first place. ;)

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  10. I didn't intend to derail Phil's look at the theoretical background to conservative social values with my comments on the established church. Anyway...

    From a quick look around the internet, Whitehouse's complaints about "Till Death Us Do Part" included:

    "I doubt if many people would use 121 bloodies in half-an-hour." and "Bad language coarsens the whole quality of our life. It normalises harsh, often indecent language, which despoils our communication."

    Are her views on the political and social content of the programme known? As Phil indicates, she wasn't much bothered about these aspects in Doctor Who, and the Hinchcliffe era that Whitehouse so criticised was not so explicitly political as, say, under Letts.

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  11. Of course without Mary Whitehouse we wouldn't have had The Mary Whitehouse Experience, and therefore "History Today".

    A generation of kids would then have been deprived of such marvellous put-downs as "See that Mary Whitehouse, complaining about the Telly? She's your girlfriend. You love her."

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  12. Or indeed the band and the porn mag.

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  13. I doubt she particularly noticed any social and political content to Doctor Who. She was just concerned about the astonishing levels of tea time violence. (*sarcasm*)

    On the Queen's role, very briefly, she does dissolve parliaments, request to form governments etc, on a routine basis and if there is a problem she will rely on the advice of elected ministers. She has a right to veto any bill preventing it becoming law, but if this was used arbitrarily what would happen next is anybody's guess.

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  14. "Bad language coarsens the whole quality of our life. It normalises harsh, often indecent language, which despoils our communication."

    Thus proving that she was occasionally right.

    (Her point there, as she articulated it, was that swearwords derive their power, both to shock and as a release of tension, form their taboo status. Remove the taboo, and the word no longer has any power, and saying it becomes mere punctuation, thus leading those who need to release tension to move to other, more forbidden words -- and eventually, when no words have the power to adequately vent their feelings, to lash out. This is evidently true, as a quite glance around the world will confirm.)

    What, I wonder, would be the description of Calvin's Geneva (either as it was, or as Calvin wished it were)?

    Anyway, it occurs to me that this might be a place to ask a question about American history, which is definitely not my specialist subject. Having recently become a fan of Nathaniel Hawthorne (most especially his wonderfully liminal prose, where the spiritual and physical worlds are constantly seeping over into one another -- something my brother suggests may be due to the drumlinic landscape which New England shares with the county Down, a geographic literary influence which appeals to me and may also to the author of these articles) I turned to wondering about the context of the original amendments to the American Constitution.

    Specifically, it seems to me that the other section of the first such amendment, the one about Congress not establishing any religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, can surely have been intended to avoid the newly-formed Federation from sending its wraparound-visored stormtroopers to interfere in the religious affairs of its constituent parts.

    I mean, you can see why they'd do that: if you're a community happily running along puritan lines, and you're entering an association with anabaptists and atheists (whose chief architects seem mainly to be deists), you want to put a clause in the articles of association to the effect that the baptists can't come along and force you to reorganise your society along their lines, or the atheists to make you all be secularist.

    From which it follows that the original intent must have been to devolve decisions about establishment of religion to the level of the individual state, province, county or even town. And that the central imposition of any particular religious ideology -- of which secularism is most certainly one -- directly contravenes this clause.

    But if I'm right about this historical context, that makes me wonder why neither side in the debate about, for example, praying in schools, to pick what seems to be the totemic issue, has made this point. because it seems to me that the only view consistent with the constitution would be for each community that runs its own schools to decide for themselves whether schoolteachers were allowed, not allowed, or required (as in the UK, at least de jure) to lead their pupils in prayer.

    But neither side does seem to make this case, that San Franciso and New York should be as free to prohibit praying in schools as Alabama should be to allow it. Instead they seem to all tacitly agree that the rule must be the same for the whole federal country, and argue about what the text of the amendment means on a countrywide basis -- when it seems to me that the whole point of the amendment is to say that such a thing should not be decided on a countrywide, one-size-fits-all basis.

    So have I missed something in the historical context? Or has the notion of 'federality' been so ingrained in the American psyche by this point that the idea of localism simply doesn't occur?

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  15. She has a right to veto any bill preventing it becoming law, but if this was used arbitrarily what would happen next is anybody's guess.

    "The Republic of Great Britain and Northern Ireland" would be a pretty good guess.

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  16. A religious person often adheres to ritual even when and especially when it seems empty and faith seems to have withered. A rote objection to swearing is a way of containing the problem, taking away the bottle as a precursor to addressing the reasons for drinking. Besides, every teacher knows that by pulling up children for trivial infringements of absurd rules, you distract them from major infractions and waste their insurgent energies on harmless displays of non-conformity. And Dan, isn't it astonishing, viewed in 2011, the level of tea-time violence? It astonishes me. Are we a less coarse society now or just more precious and repressed? Compare Fawlty Towers to any current sitcom. Cleese's performance crackles like something that might actually electrocute. Baker's performance is notable for its sudden outbursts of anger and aggression, mostly verbal, that these days I think have the power to shock.

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  17. On the Queen's role, very briefly, she does dissolve parliaments, request to form governments etc, on a routine basis

    No: Her Majesty doesn't dissolve parliaments, the Prime Minister does it in Her Majesty's name. She signs the bit of paper, but it's not her decision, therefore not in any real sense her power. It's the same as conferring honours, going to war, etc: all things done in the Queen's name, but not in any sense her power. You can tell: basically anything that is called the Royal Prerogative is not her prerogative.

    (I think the choosing of privy councillors may still remain in her control. But don't quote me on that.)

    Asking someone to form a government on the other hand is her power, because the Prime Minister can't ask her to do it for the very simple reason that if she's doing it then there must not be a Prime Minister.

    However, the way she uses that power is in almost all circumstances highly constrained by the convention that the Prime Minister must have the confidence of the House of Commons. So usually, that means there is only one possible person who she can ask (anyone else would immediately be defeated and she would just have to ask the right person again).

    The one time she has actually used that power, that I recall, where 'used' implies some discretion rather than simply rubber-stamping the leader of the majority party, was in 1974.

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    1. The Queen chooses Knights of the Garter and the Thistle.

      In terms of the prime minister, that's right, although usually the outgoing prime minister will advise her on who to send for. Other than 1974, the time when the present Queen had some choice in the matter was at Macmillan's resignation in 1963, when, at Macmillan's advice, she sent for Douglas-Home. At that time, the Tories didn't really have a procedure for choosing a leader under those circumstances, so Douglas-Home got picked even though both the Cabinet and the parliamentary party might have preferred Rab Butler.

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  18. "The Republic of Great Britain and Northern Ireland" would be a pretty good guess.

    Actually I think a Regency, until a more compliant monarch could be found, would be far more likely.

    But this discussion is veering very close to treason.

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  19. On top of being potentially treasonous, you're also risking drawing me out on the topic of why a monarch is better than a written Constitution in general. :)

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  20. Besides, every teacher knows that by pulling up children for trivial infringements of absurd rules, you distract them from major infractions and waste their insurgent energies on harmless displays of non-conformity

    I believe the theory is actually that by enforcing strictly rules such as the uniform, you train the kids to respect authority so that they are obedient in the big things as well.

    (See the horrendous state of discipline in that school featured in the Channel 4 programme: I bet that if the uniform policy was properly enforced, you wouldn't have kids walking over tables or talking over the teachers.)

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  21. The most sweary programme on British telly these days is The Thick Of It, featuring the exuberantly foul-mouthed political advisor Malcolm Tucker (Sample quote: "Tucker's Law: if some cunt can fuck something up, that cunt will pick the worst possible time to fucking fuck it up cause that cunt's a cunt. I've got that embroidered on a tea-towel at home"). However, this is not an example of TV coarsening real-life discourse - quite the reverse.

    On the DVD extras, writer Armando Ianucci tells of the early development stages of the show. They had some actors improvise a scene, watched by the show's consultant, former Downing Street spin doctor Martin Sixsmith. When it was over, they asked Sixsmith what he thought of it. "It was good," replied Sixsmith, "but they didn't say 'cunt' enough". So the language of the show was duly coarsened to more accurately reflect the speech patterns of highly educated people at the heart of the political establishment.

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  22. On top of being potentially treasonous, you're also risking drawing me out on the topic of why a monarch is better than a written Constitution in general.

    I think by now we have got the idea that basically you think the whole 1776 thing was a Big Mistake that would be best brushed under the carpet and forgotten about.

    Not that you're necessarily wrong about that. But then, I find the whole incident kind of amusing, as the man who gave the colonies away (to the French, which just makes it even more amusing) was an old boy of my college.

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  23. Actually, the 1776 thing was fine. The grievances raised by the colonies were legitimate. The colonization in the first place was a moral obscenity, but that's at this point our issue since we're the ones who continue to screw the indigenous population of the country. You lot are pretty good on that one.

    No, it's actually specifically the written Constitution I object to. The US government is basically a piece of software designed to run on the hardware of horses and buggies. It's designed to work in a world where communication between New York and Washington is as slow as travel between them, and where travel times between them is measured in days, not hours. And because it's a written document adhering to the moral and technological standards of the 18th century, the US is increasingly hamstrung by it. The written word is fixed and immutable. And we have it as the sort of weird fetish object establishing the legitimacy of our government, and that causes us continual and devastating problems.

    The UK, on the other hand, has a more or less powerless figurehead as the weird fetish object establishing the legitimacy of the government. Being a human instead of a piece of paper, this figurehead does convenient things for the march of history like change its mind and die to be replaced by a new figurehead. This turns out to be much more nimble and able to handle changing circumstances of history than the US.

    So while I think the Revolution itself was on target, and that the Constitution was, in 1787, the pinnacle of intelligent liberal thought, I think the UK is still ahead of us on the whole.

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  24. Iain Coleman: Yes, a good guess.

    SK - no, I wasn't in any way suggesting it was a real power, but in theory she has a veto. I was concerned that one of the comments might give the impression she had some de facto power.

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  25. The ultimate triumph for the alchemist is to take the leaden crap bequeathed them by the past, circumstance, and the petty sadism of bullies and transform it into something shiny and interesting and illuminating. Way to rock your Hermetic mojo, Philip.

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  26. The grievances raised by the colonies were legitimate

    I was in the US this week. Over a schoolkid's shoulder on the subway I saw notes about that little bit of Bostonian vandalism.

    I thought about suggesting she ask her teacher what the effect of the Tea Act on the commodity price of tea in the colonies would have been, but decided in the end not to.

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  27. I've always felt as though the Stamp Act and the Boston Massacre made for better casus belli anyway.

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  28. The UK, on the other hand, has a more or less powerless figurehead as the weird fetish object establishing the legitimacy of the government.

    The UK has all its laws signed by a monarch who is crowned by a member of the clergy, in a church, and who swears to 'maintain the Laws of God'.

    This rather nicely keeps at the heart of a democracy the fact that right and wrong are not human inventions subject to revision and the will of the populace.

    This is a rather neat balance, and societies which forget it are apt to become morally unmoored and float with the tide.

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  29. One wonders how the colonists who objected to the Stamp Act thought that the costs of defending them from the French and the Indians ought to be met.

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  30. An interesting set of facts to go with the discussion on the role of the monarchy in UK government, here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reserve_power#United_Kingdom

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  31. I was going to stay out of this, but Phil is tempting me to break out my defense of the Articles of Confederation.

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  32. I'm really going to have to insist that you break that out, Jesse.

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  33. SK - The objection was, of course, less to the Stamp Act as policy than to the fact that it was imposed by people who had never and would never actually visit the areas they were governing and taxing. The objection wasn't to taxation to fund wars, it was to having no voice in the government that was doing the taxing. It's taxation without representation that was objected to, not taxation in general.

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    1. The problem with that is that the British had literally tried for decades to get the colonial assemblies to raise money on their own to pay for these wars, and they refused. The only reason the British moved to arbitrary taxation policies was because of an already existing implicit objection on the part of the colonies to taxation to fund wars.

      Basically:

      Step 1: American colonists refuse to approve taxes to pay for wars.

      Step 2: The British impose taxation on the colonists by fiat, in order to pay for said wars.

      Step 3: The American colonists object that they are being taxed without being represented.

      Of course, this hypocrisy is hardly unique. The English Civil War arose under similar circumstances, where the Personal Rule happened basically because Parliament wouldn't give Charles I money to fight wars on the continent that Parliament insisted that he fight.

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  34. If I do, I won't get any work done today. But I agree with the bulk of Merrill Jensen's interpretation of the period, so maybe I should appoint him my (dead) spokesperson.

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  35. "How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?"

    - Samuel Johnson, Taxation No Tyranny

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  36. Iain - That would be one of the colossal failings of American history there, yes. But that doesn't delegitimize the grievance, it just was a pretty good sign of how well we were going to do for ourselves once we broke away. And a fairly accurate omen, I should think. We fucked it up almost exactly as badly as you'd expect given that we were hell-bent on maintaining slavery.

    I mean, I have no investment in the idea that the framers of the Constitution were pinnacles of moral perfection. They obviously weren't. This entire post is, in part, an attack on their intellectual legacy. But the idea that taxation without representation is unjust is not one of the things they were wrong about.

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  37. "The US government is basically a piece of software designed to run on the hardware of horses and buggies."

    And the change control procedures for releasing patches appear to be far more difficult to surmount than anything I've encountered. I mean, the last patch was first released to development over 200 years ago.

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  38. It's difficult to see how they could practically have had a voice at Westminster, though. I suppose the Westminster government could have simply set a level of contribution for their defence to be demanded from the colonies and left it up to them how they raised it, but somehow I doubt they would have acquiesced to that either.

    I don't know: it always seems to me the same problem as private fire brigades. You're not going to willingly pay if you think there's a good chance that someone else will, for their own benefit, provide the service that you can take advantage of. After all, what would the representation have gained them? It's not like they could decide whether or not to defend the colonies, as Britain had to do that in her own interests.

    It really does look like people trying to get out of paying tax because they either don't understand the benefit the service provides (because it's always been there, so they assume it 'just happens') or because they reckon that enough others will pay that they can freeload.

    Comparisons with the present day are left as an exercise for the reader.

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  39. And it's probably the case that the end solution reached - that it's just not a good idea to govern America from Westminster - is the ethically optimal one. I mean, yes - there were obvious logistical issues in governing the colonies from Westminster. That's why, I think, the end result was that they weren't anymore.

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  40. We've just witnessed what would in other times have been a Major Constitutional Upheaval in the UK.

    Everyone seems to be agreed that the law of succession to the Crown is to be changed to strict primogeniture (regardless of the sex of the child). Not that other options such as the selection of a monarch by lottery have been seriously considered.

    The law has been changed before, but this time no one is really expecting the proposed change in the law to result in a series of civil wars or in the clearance of the Scottish Highlands.

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  41. More from Johnson's essay:

    "The Americans have voluntarily resigned the power of voting, to live in distant and separate governments; and what they have voluntarily quitted, they have no right to claim.

    It must always be remembered, that they are represented by the same virtual representation as the greater part of Englishmen; and that, if by change of place, they have less share in the legislature than is proportionate to their opulence, they, by their removal, gained that opulence, and had originally, and have now, their choice of a vote at home, or riches at a distance."

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  42. The problem is that there's a genuine failure of scaling. It's one thing for a place on the same island as London or in the general vicinity of that island to be ruled from London. It's another when there are entire oceans in the way. The technology of the 18th century did not scale to the task of governing the colonies from Britain in an ethically legitimate way.

    I'm also more than a little ambivalent about describing the exile of religious dissidents to the colonies as "voluntary."

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  43. Not that other options such as the selection of a monarch by lottery have been seriously considered.

    Um, that's exactly how we do select the monarch: by lottery of birth.

    'Hereditary despotism is, then, in essence and sentiment democratic because it chooses from mankind at random. If it does not declare that every man may rule, it declares the next most democratic thing; it declares that any man may rule.' G.K. Chesterton, Heretics

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  44. Indeed, but the child is destined to be monarch from the moment of birth and is educated for the role by the current incumbent's family.

    It might be more interesting for random members of the population to serve a short term (or, indeed, life) as monarch. What stories they would have to tell their friends and neighbours! It might be one way to get the public more involved in government and politics.

    Or perhaps the Tibetans have the right idea.

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  45. As much as I'm thrilling to discussion of the world's least revolutionary revolution, I'd like to come back to what I think is the heart of this post: bullying.

    I think it's wonderful, Tom, that there are gay Wiccans involved in Tory politics now. There are in Republican politics over here, too. Not as surprisingly perhaps, there are are several "outcasts" involved in the Democratic party as well. However, both Republicans and Democrats are involved in power-mad bullying all the time. It is largely Democrats in charge in California, where the most brutal crackdowns on Occupy-style protests have taken place, and here in Chicago where I live, those of us planning to take to the streets in ever more strident fashion leading up to the NATO/G8 Summits here in May are well aware that our Dem mayor and city council will unleash the fury of the fascist new police superintendent against us when that time comes.

    My point is that bullying by those in power is largely a product of power itself. Of course political parties and organizations of all types are welcoming more and more diverse populations, the world itself is inexorably changing to accommodate such changes in attitude. But the abuses of power aren't going anywhere, and I agree with Phil that it's really gotten worse since the rises of Thatcher and Reagan in the 80's. Where I may differ from him is that I think it would've happened anyway, regardless of the political affiliation of elected leaders at the time. Like the Doctor, I do not subscribe to "great person" theory.

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  46. It might be more interesting for random members of the population to serve a short term (or, indeed, life) as monarch.

    Given that the whole point of the institution is to embody continuity, that seems to entirely miss the point! It's necessary to know as far as possible in advance who is in line, to ensure that the continuity of the past can be seen stretching into the future; and it's necessary to train the next incumbent because, well, otherwise they might to anything. Something crazy.

    So we do rather need to pick people from birth, so they can be trained to behave properly and not embarrass the nation (would that we could pick their spouses too...) and given that we don't know how long a given monarch is going to live, the current method seem the most practical.

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  47. Oh, and:

    It might be one way to get the public more involved in government and politics.

    Of course not! The whole point is that the monarch is above politics! If the monarch gets people interested in politics, they are doing it wrong.

    A certain heir apparent will hopefully stop doing it wrong when he ascends.

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  48. I'm not certain that the "whole point" of the institution is to embody continuity. It could also be argued - in fact, you did argue this - that the institution is essentially a sort of randomised democracy. Picking by lot rather than by lineage is no more democratic, as you have said, and is neither more nor less liable to result in a murderous, suicidal monarch (see King Dipendra of Nepal, 2001). But I'm surprised that you consider "proper behaviour" and "not being embarrassing" are the prime criteria for the appointment of a head of state. We could simply give the crown as the prize for winning Laddette to Lady.

    I don't see why the opportunity to participate in government shouldn't get the public interested in public affairs (as opposed to those affairs which are limited to the bedroom).

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  49. Well, I quoted Chesterton, not entirely relevantly as you'll note he was talking about 'Hereditary despotism' which is rather different to a constitutional monarchy.

    Giving the crown as a prize for an etiquette contest again violates the continuity principle, which, I'm sorry, simply is if not the whole point a large part of it. I'm fairly sure that it's a large part of the reason why support for the monarchy runs so high among polls of the public: the monarch provides a touchstone of continuity in a changing world, a symbol of the thread that connects us to the past and will carry us into the future. A lineage-based system is probably the best way of creating that powerful symbol of something that abides and endures, yesterday, today and tomorrow.

    I don't see why the opportunity to participate in government shouldn't get the public interested in public affairs

    Again: the monarch, these days, has nothing to do with government. the monarch should very specifically stay out of government. If the monarch intervenes in government, then the monarch gets dragged into politics, and will end up with some people agreeing with them and some disagreeing, and again that defeats the point of an enduring continuous symbol of the entire nation.

    A monarch is better than a President as a head of state (but not a head of government) precisely because nobody voted for them -- so nobody voted against them. They can embody the whole state, provide a rallying figure, without having to get involved in anything so messy as asking people to vote for them.

    Participating in government, then, would be a disaster on two fronts: one, anyone involved in government should be subject to a vote now and again so that they can be kicked out if necessary (as old Winnie said about democracy). And two, as mentioned above, them intervening in government would lead to them taking sides and the head of state should not be able to be claimed by any side: they should represent the entire country.

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  50. On the personal note: bullying? Yes it does happen and did happen on as large a scale or larger than Philip encountered in 93. Ask the children of the 60's and '70's when toothless school policies not only did nothing to discourage the bullys, but sometimes rewarded the perps as the school officials thought that it would "toughen up" the young "different" kids.

    Being an American Dr Who fan in '80 wasn't easy. Its almost a cliche now: I was skinny, 14, not terribly athletic and loved science fiction and comic books so, of course, on a daily basis, got cowed, intimidated, had artwork taken from me and destroyed, got bullied all over the school. Seriously, its a bad movie when you describe it like that.

    Not quite sure what it is about most boys, but their first impulse is to destroy. Anything. Doesn't matter what. Just destroy. I have two daughters now and I see it in all the boys in their classes when i volunteer.

    And yet, and yet... it does get better as the youtube saying goes. Like Doctor Who in 1977, we metamorphed under pressure, changed who we presented ourselves, grew up and found others who believed in differences and creation and moved on in society. We didn't remain the outcast anoraks forever.

    The Halloween party we throw is the best one my wife and i put on all year. This year, we had two Matt Smiths show up (both boys younger than 11). Both with different generations of sonics even. My Dalek pumpkin was celebrated as a carving triumph (well, it was considered second best to the Pug). Dr Who is celebrated as legitimate science fiction and at its best is a triumph of TV.

    We oulasted the bullies, many of who work in waste disposal and exceptionally boring careers. They had and have no imagination. It is OK to feel choked up about the Dalek scarecrow. You earned it.

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  51. Ask the children of the 60's and '70's when toothless school policies not only did nothing to discourage the bullys

    Well, this is the problem of not having proper discipline or respect for authority.

    I'm not keen on this stuff about Doctor Who becoming mainstream. Five years ago in a queue I heard kids and their parents discussing Cybermen and Daleks (this was between the broadcast of Army of Ghostsand Doomsday) and I thought, five years ago anyone who mentioned Daleks and Cybermen in the same sentence I could have an intelligent discussion with about the different metaphorical bases of the fears embodied in each Doctor Who monster. I could talk about how the abandoned 'Body Shop' concept would have been truer to the original conception of the Cybermen as the self-dehumanisation of mankind than the mess we ended up with in the Age of Steel. I could have mentioned The Abolition of Man.

    Now it's being talked about by twelve-year-olds who have no clue and they should shut up.

    So I can't get 'choked up' by the mainstreaming of Doctor Who symbols. It's not for the mainstream. It's for those who can understand and discuss it intelligently.

    Not quite sure what it is about most boys, but their first impulse is to destroy.

    'Girls are incomparably wilder and more effervescent than boys, more untamable and regardless of rule and limit, with an ever-shifting variety, breaking continually into new modes of fun, yet with a harmonious propriety through all. Their steps, their voices, appear free as the wind, but keep consonance with a strain of music inaudible to us. Young men and boys, on the other hand, play, according to recognized law, old, traditionary games, permitting no caprioles of fancy, but with scope enough for the outbreak of savage instincts. For, young or old, in play or in earnest, man is prone to be a brute.'

    N. Hawthorne, The Blythedale Romance

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  52. The cheek of those kids, eh? Daring to enjoy a Saturday tea-time children's show! And the fourteen million who watched City of Death were the elite, I tell you. The elite!

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  53. When you find yourself describing Mary Whitehouse as an exponent of Enlightenment liberalism, I think it's pretty clear that something in the analysis has gone awry.

    I’d say that the actual logical endpoint of Enlightenment liberalism is not Reagan/Thatcher but rather individualist anarchism of a decidedly egalitarian sort. And that avoiding any such outcome, by highjacking the rhetoric of Enlightenment liberalism while leaving the substance firmly behind, was (and is) the central function of Reagan/Thatcher conservatism.

    I also think the opposition between Enlightenment liberalism and postmodern liberalism, as you describe it, is a false dichotomy -- or, to get fancier, a dialectical antinomy in need of synthesis through a judicious application of Ramsey's Maxim. Enlightenment liberalism (in the version you describe, which I think is a deformed version) reasons:

    1. In a free market of ideas, the best ideas rise to the top.
    2. We have a free market of ideas or a close approximation thereto.
    3. Therefore, the ideas that currently dominate must be the best.

    And the postmodern liberals (again in your version) reason:

    1. The ideas that currently dominate represent wealth and power rather than anything that is best.
    2. We have a free market of ideas or a close approximation thereto.
    3. Therefore, in a free market of ideas, the ideas that rise to the top represent wealth and power rather than anything that is best.

    My Ramsey gripe would be with premise (2).

    "secular versions of Enlightenment thought are not the place most people go for aesthetic advice"

    In contemporary analytic philosophy they are (particularly the Scottish versions of Enlightenment thought). Not that that contradicts what you said.

    "Thanksgiving is what we have as our autumnal holiday because we just can't look ourselves in the mirror if we're calling something 'October Bank Holiday.'"

    And because Hallowe'en is too pagan for Americans. It's celebrated, but no one gets the day off.

    "My point here is really just for American readers - not that there are any the day before Thanksgiving"

    I'm here!

    "Libertarianism is little more than a proof by contradiction of Enlightenment liberalism in which everybody forgot what to do after you find the contradiction."

    Hey, I'm standing right here!

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  54. "there's no other way to pretend that a rule clearly intended just to stop Congress from shutting up pamphleteers who disagreed with its decisions could really mean that pornography is protected speech"

    Are you assuming that the meaning of a law is determined by the intentions of its drafters? And if so, do you mean consequential or semantic intentions? If a king who doesn't know he's Scottish decrees that all person of Scottish descent must be killed, does that decree apply to himself? Yes, according to his semantic intentions; no according to his consequential ones. But the semantic intentions seem more important to the meaning. So the First Amendment might apply to pornography via semantic intentions (i.e., the more important intentions) even if it didn't via consequential ones.

    "From which it follows that the original intent must have been to devolve decisions about establishment of religion to the level of the individual state, province, county or even town."

    But then the question is whether the 14th amendment extends the 1st amendment to cover the local jurisdictions also.

    "the Constitution was, in 1787, the pinnacle of intelligent liberal thought"

    Dear god no. It was a plutocratic coup d'etat. Like Jesse I prefer the Articles of Confederation. But I prefer Godwin's Enquiry (admittedly a handful of years later) to either.

    "One wonders how the colonists who objected to the Stamp Act thought that the costs of defending them from the French and the Indians ought to be met."

    In some way that didn't involve censorshp? or taxation without representation?

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  55. Incidentally, I should probably explain my reference to Ramsey's Maxim. The maxim states that when philosophical disputes prove intractable and unenlightening, "it is a heuristic maxim that the truth lies not in one of the two disputed views but in some third possibility which has not yet been thought of, which we can only discover by rejecting something assumed as obvious by both the disputants."

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  56. I'm with you, Iain. I think those twelve-year-olds (or my nine-year-old son, who has been discussing The Beast Below with me a lot recently) have a strong basis for arguing that the 'fans' have no clue and should shut up.

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  57. Frankly, when my six-year-old son tells me that the existence of The Silence demonstrates the truth of Ramsey's Maxim, I'll turn to him and murmur "Spoilers!".

    Education through entertainment, SK.

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  58. But then the question is whether the 14th amendment extends the 1st amendment to cover the local jurisdictions also

    See, I told you American history wasn't my area. I didn't know about this 14th amendment. The only other amendments I know are the ones about booze. That probably explains it.

    And the fourteen million who watched City of Death were the elite, I tell you.

    I don't like the Tom Baker era, so I'm pretty sure that the fourteen million who watched City of Death were idiots.

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  59. Remember that probably only 10,000 actually watched City of Death. The other 13,990,000 were extrapolated idiots.

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  60. That's representative democracy for you.

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  61. SK:
    "The amusing thing, of course, is that a nation with enforced secularity has a holiday called 'Thanksgiving'. Who, exactly, is that they think they are thanking?"

    Thanksgiving, of course, predates the Constitution, and the U.S.A. itself. But then, many people who celebrate Christmas don't believe there ever even was a man named Jesus, whether he was the son of God or not. (I'm sure some of them don't believe the Nazi Holocaust happened, EITHER. Never mind all the photographs and eye-witnesses.) I once kidded a Jewish friend of mine who owned a store that, since he regularly closed on Jewish holidays, that he should open his store on Christmas.



    Iain Coleman:
    "This is because Henry VIII disagreed with the Church and decided to take it over in order that it would do as he wanted."

    I saw the movie. He wanted a divorce. Do you know how many murder mysteries are centered on the idea that the Catholic Church won't grant divorces? Since the 80's, they will, at least, grant "annulments", in the case of insanity, adultery or "marriage under false pretenses". The adultery part makes me shake my head. I interpret it as meaning, if you actually sleep with someone else and it's proven that you have (by you or your spouse), then, you can have your annulment. Seems a shame to have to commit an immoral act just to end a marriage which may be hopeless, ill-advised in the first place, or totally self-destructive to one or both parties involved.



    Wm Keith:
    "Whitehouse's complaints about "Till Death Us Do Part" included"

    I have never seen the show, but I have always heard it was the basis for "ALL IN THE FAMILY". Only recently did I learn, to my amusement, that its star was in 2 Emma Peel episodes of THE AVENGERS, including "Two's A Crowd", which also featured Julian Glover. Never would have imagined Warren Mitchell ("Brodny") was the inspiration for Archie Bunker.



    SK:
    "has the notion of 'federality' been so ingrained in the American psyche by this point that the idea of localism simply doesn't occur?"

    I almost hate to say this... I'm afraid it's been going that way ever since the formation of the Republican Party, when their first elected preisdent, Abraham Lincoln, more or less was responsible for the American Civil War. It's only in the last 6 months that I've suddenly begun to see Republican administrations as having been directly associated with some of the worst problems this country has ever had to deal with, going back at least to the 1920's. Amazing it took me 52 years to really notice this. (And yes, I'm sure there've been bad Democrats, too.)

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    1. Thanksgiving, of course, predates the Constitution, and the U.S.A. itself.

      While "thanksgiving" celebrations have been around for eons, the annual American holiday known as Thanksgiving was not created until the Civil War.

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  62. The power of Whitehouse is such that it took not one, but two people in America to spread her hateful brand of evil in America: Peggy Charren and Donald Wildmon. Charren, with Action for Children's Television blindly combatted the "evil" of violence on television (often in the most idiotic ways possible, as a prime target of hers in the '80s was He-Man, which by definition of being produced by Filmation was not the most violent thing on the air), while Wildmon chased after offenses to morality in the name of religion (the campaign against Bakshi's Mighty Mouse being his most infamously silly attack). Sadly, while Wildmon has been laughed away with minimal lingering influence, Charren managed to inspire the regulations that require TV stations air "educational" programming for children-rules which, when not subverted by loopholes, result in the "E/I" label being applied to shows that in many cases qualify as torture under the Geneva Convention treaties.

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