Cultural Norms

I’ve recently finished watching the sixth season of Doctor Who, which I highly recommend if you’re into that sort of thing.  (Watch the fifth season first.)

Alas, I tend to focus on subtext.  There are of course all the superficial ways in which a British science fiction / fantasy program will differ from an American one.  But then there’re the subtle ways, and the cultural differences are fascinating.

It’s supposed to be a “family show”, to the point where child characters are repeatedly reassured about their paramount importance to everyone, gunshot wounds aren’t visible, and there’s no blood even when people are neck-bitten by space vampires.  (Well, they’re not actually vampires, they’re something so awful that they prefer ‘vampire’ as a cover, but whatever.)  The companion program for the episode even has one of the special effects people talking about how important it is to limit the visible blood so that the censors won’t have a problem.

Yet it’s chock full of terrifying creatures and concepts.  And the vastly more sophisticated special effects in the regenerated show don’t help – children famously hid behind the sofa at first sight of the previous series’ villains, which were hilariously cheap props.  The new monsters are profoundly disturbing.

I’ve heard it said that Europeans and Americans chose opposing trade-offs between sex and violence:  we’re neurotically repressive / indulgent about sex and wildly indulgent in violence, they’re the other way around.  Maybe there’s something to that.  But there are surprising number of references to sexuality, from Rory causing a mishap with the TARDIS because he’s helping to adjust its hardware when his wife walks across the glass floor/ceiling wearing a short skirt, to the Thin and Fat Gay Anglican Marines.

That last brings up one of the weirdest points from an American perspective:  attitudes towards religion.  The primary villains of this season have hired the Anglicans as backup (it seems Christianity has developed in some interesting ways three thousand years in the future).  An episode monster is an obsolete god that has been put into a travelling space prison by the civilization that no longer needs it, and it feeds on the faith of selected victims.  There’s a religious order called the Headless Monks who believe the head is the source of doubt and the heart of faith, so they supposedly follow their hearts.  Well, they have to, because they’re decapitated and turned into undead killing machines.

This sort of thing isn’t new to SF.  What’s interesting to me is that these points aren’t being presented as an argument or a proposition.  It seems to be expected that the audience will see them as a sort of default.  And default or not, material which can be even remotely construted as a criticism of religion isn’t considered child-appropriate for basic family fare.  That is seemingly is in Great Britain to this degree is remarkable to me.


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