Monday, June 18, 2007

Sir Patrick Moore presents: The Ancient History of Social Standards

There are so many funny ways for politics and pop culture to intersect. Benefit of the Doubt makes an essential assumption that a lot of them are good... whether it's literature referenced in movies, or memes with powerful aesthetic concerns, or theorists who celebrate the growth of popular culture, we can all find the positive momentum in entertainment media, as long as we're willing to look.

But every so often, we find an exception. Enter Sir Patrick Moore, 84-year old British TV host of The Sky at Night, which I'm not ashamed to say I've never even heard of. Apparently he's got a lot of pop culture clout in pop science and science-fiction communities. However he got that capital, built up over a long career in television, he just spent a bunch of it... more, in fact, than he ever built up, at least with this viewer.

Sir Patrick Moore has decreed (yes, I'll just come out and say it) that women have made television suck. WOAH! With both Hollywood and academia wholeheartedly supporting progressive causes, I don't think any of us expected to see a pop intellectual regurgitate such an outdated conservative viewpoint! He said some lovely stuff, like:

"The trouble is the BBC now is run by women and it shows soap operas, cooking, quizzes, kitchen-sink plays. You wouldn't have had that in the golden days."


"I used to watch Doctor Who and Star Trek, but they went PC - making women commanders, that kind of thing. I stopped watching."

HA! Wow! It's been a long time since I've heard such a straightforward illustration of gender essentialism. Mr. Moore, aren't you supposed to be up on new developments? Like, the developments that have occurred in the last century? The "golden age" of television supported an outdated status quo, it was full of cultural biases and homosexual tension, and it exhibited a social awareness befitting a well-trained monkey. Television has been getting smarter, more aware, and more complex ever since the "golden age."

Unfortunately, Mr. Moore represents a discouraging trend, especially in his discussion of science fiction. Alongside the profoundly intelligent, gender-aware science fiction of authors like Ursula LeGuinn, Margaret Atwood and Octavia Butler, there's an old-boys club of authors whose work I generally haven't read... people like Larry Niven... whose characters are flat and one-dimensional, and whose gender and relationship paradigms read like testosterone fantasies. Male character saves helpless females from rape, male character has sex with multiple women during debaucherous youth, male character eventually grows up and accepts ideal female who obediently falls madly in love with him. Some mass-market authors' work comes across as clinical and sloppy when it comes to emotional dynamics. Sir Patrick Moore's public statements have a similar sloppy regressiveness to them, and it's unfortunate.

Luckily, we can see the wheels of social progress turning, even now. Apparently, according to some spokesman for the BBC, Sir Patrick's "forthright" views are "what we all love about him". Maybe it's just me, but I can't help chuckle at that phrasing... forthright views? It's what we all love about him? Those words sound equivalent to "quaint" and "nostalgic." Sounds to me like Mr. Moore is being tolerated, but quarantined.

And that's what's going to happen to regressives in a progressive society. Sir Patrick Moore has just officially dated himself to irrelevance... he'll continue to be honored, to appear in history books and tribute specials, and maybe he'll be impersonated or modeled on some referential television show, but his "forthright" views on women, who make up a huge part of both the critical community and the consumer demographic, will get him chuckled at. He's managed to go from respected thought-leader to strange cultural artifact, the entertainment equivalent of an antique.

Thanks to RT for heads-up on this story. Even now, I'm recognizing that there's a lot more to be written about women in science fiction, and about the strange relationship within that community between progressive (read: sensitive, intelligent) and regressive (read: sloppy, masculocentric) strains of thought, but that discussion will have to wait until another day.

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