If you’re like me, the last few years on the internet have lead to a seriously head scratching conundrum. There are people out there, in the world at large, who are racist, sexist, homophobic, or otherwise highly bigoted. This much, we already knew. But some of those people are Star Trek fans. Or grew up watching Doctor Who or Star Wars. They’ve grown up with progressive science fiction, with shows about heroes that travel galaxies while fighting for the little guy, respecting women, and generally being all about what the future should be about. These bigots, in general, are fans of these shows and movies…and yet still bigots. They can talk about how much they love Captain Kirk and in the same breath condemn Star Trek: Discovery for having women of color as the lead characters. It’s a whiplash of philosophy that makes almost anyone who’s paid any attention’s head hurt.
Yesterday, the BBC finally revealed that the Doctor’s 13th regeneration would be a woman. And portions of the internet freaked right the hell out. Doctor Who was declared dead. It wasn’t unexpected, but it still was shocking. How could anyone look up to the Doctor as a role model and then immediately turn around and be some kind of sexist? Of course, if you told those Doctor Who fans they were being sexist, a million and one other excuses begin being thrown around. “Oh, I’m not sexist, I’m just tired of social justice pandering to women!” and “Oh, I’m not sexist, but it is a major change to the character with no good reason!” and “Oh, I’m not sexist, but why would the Doctor ever change from being a white man? It just doesn’t make sense in the story!” Folks who were rightly celebrating this new era of Doctor Who were left scratching their heads, wondering why perfectly rational people had suddenly gone nuts.
At first, the response is “Oh, they must not be real fans.” But no, these are people who have been watching Doctor Who since the Baker years or earlier. “Well, maybe they don’t really understand the show,” but ask them about their favorite qualities of the Doctor, and they’ll list his intelligence and compassion before his ability to space karate chop. These are people who, at least on the surface level, understand and agree with the show. But when they’re met with change, they turn into raving bigots at mach 42. What happens?
The simplest answer is, sadly, society. We all are constantly surrounded by media, every day, that perpetuates the stereotypes of white supremacy. Growing up with most modern TV, films, and even some books will plant these stereotypes in your head until they become second nature. It’s a constant, uphill battle to realize that they’re there in your head and to fight them. That instinct that tells you a woman is “talking too much?” That’s not real. The one that makes you cross the street to avoid a black person at night? You got that from Law and Order. It’s called “Mean World Syndrome,” and it’s a psychological phenomena where people base the world around them on what they’ve seen in media, particularly television. And once it’s embedded in your mind, it takes a herculean effort to realize it and fight it in yourself.
And this is where Star Trek, Doctor Who, and many others come into play. Watching these shows without any sort of self examination is a dangerous road. You can listen to the Doctor or Kirk or Picard give long speeches about how to treat other people, but if you’re not willing to take a good look at your own life and apply those lessons, you’ll end up nodding sagely along and saying, “Man, I’m so glad we got rid of prejudice in 1962.” After all, that’s what we’re taught in school.
But then one day, something will come along that will instinctively freak you out. For example, the Doctor regenerating into a woman. You’ll see it and feel disgusted, because the society all around you has taught you that women are weaker, only there for romance plots, and can’t be the lead in your favorite shows. But you won’t realize that. You’ll only know you feel disgusted. So you flail around for a reason and come up with something stupid, but you cling to it, because otherwise, you’re being sexist. And you can’t be sexist, you watch Doctor Who. You have female friends. That doesn’t make any sense. Something else must be wrong. And you’ll defend that idea to the death because otherwise it means there’s something wrong with you.
There is something wrong with you. There’s something wrong with all of us. We’ve all got these bad ideas baked into our heads. The glorious thing about Star Trek and Doctor Who is that they can help us fight those ideas. If you watched yesterday’s announcement and it made you feel something that you can’t quite define, before you go posting rants about SJWs online, maybe take a moment and look in the mirror. There’s nothing wrong with being stuck with the ideas society has drilled into your head. There is something wrong with refusing to face them and be a better person.
It’s what the Doctor would do.