This is why the “it’s just sci-fi, it shouldn’t have to be PC” argument is crap

I mean how am I supposed to feel if I see a movie set in the future and there aren’t any black or brown people in it? How is a child supposed to feel? It’s like someone’s saying, “I don’t like you and I don’t want you to be here, so I’m creating a world where you don’t exist.”

That’s a comment in the discussion of this fantastic post on RacialiciousNOCs (Nerds of Color) – a comment that sums up the basic problem of representations (or rather, the lack of them) of marginalised bodies in science fiction. Marginalised bodies are hardly represented in sci-fi at all unless they are a fetishised token marking a step along the hero’s journey.

It made me think too about the lack of representations of people with disabilites and of the blue and pink collar working classes in most future worlds, replaced by worlds filled with robots and “replicators” instead of an exploited human underclass and where disabilities are just tech-magicked away. Then my thoughts moved on from sci-fi to what we see in popular culture generally, where movies and bookcovers are literally whitewashed when they are based on the lives of people of colour, or how most movies continue to be made with character roles for many men of various physical types (the hero, his wingman, the geek, the funny fat guy, the weedy rogue) but just one eyecandy role for one kickarse babe.

Women’s bodies, of course, are the most frequently fetishised token representation in popular culture, in fact so frequently tokenised that people mistake the tokens for the actuality and resent women characters who do not fit the fetish. (There’s also some great comments on the Racialicious thread from WOC nerds and how they find themselves treated almost like mythical creatures in the nerd/geek community.)

At the core, all these fictional worlds are saying: “I don’t like you and I don’t want you to be here, so I’m creating a world where you don’t exist”. That’s not just refusing to be PC. That’s blatant exclusion.

Categories: arts & entertainment, social justice

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7 replies

  1. This is something that has always bothered me greatly about the “Utopia” episode of Doctor Who (from S3) — although there are a few people of colour at the end of the universe the “basic shape” that humanity has returned to is overwhelmingly white — I have a really hard time believing this would be the case, and Britain is surely a racially diverse enough country that this could have been taken into consideration during the casting.

  2. Dr Who is usually pretty good on racial diversity.

  3. Yes, Doctor Who is usually good (though not perfect) when it’s portraying contemporary times — I’ll have to do some digging to find the statistics, but I know someone did a count of PoC in Doctor Who and found that it averaged at about 33%, which is higher than the cencus data for Britain would suggest. However, “Utopia” is set in the far distant future, and the Doctor refers to the last remaining humans as “the basic shape” of humanity — and they are overwhelmingly white.

  4. Well it would make sense in the “survival of the fittest” sense – not that white people are racially superior, but that the traditional and entrenched social and financial privilege means they are better placed to survive the various emergencies that have led up to the end of the race. The poor are always hardest hit by natural disasters because wealthier people can use their money to mitigate the effects (owning their own transport to get out in time, rebuilding faster or moving elsewhere to start over – think Hurricane Katrina). If the poor are more likely to be POC when the collapse starts, then your survivors are more likely to be white. It’s interesting to consider that the “basic shape of humanity” on the ship still includes class distinction, whereas the wild people outside seem likely to be organised on tribal lines. Is class what it takes to be really Human?

  5. @DeusExMacintosh: That is Hobbes’s war of all against all, not Darwin. Darwin was well aware that many species’ adaptations included altruism and cooperation; direct competition tends to be expensive and wasteful.
    Also an extraordinarily vile justification for the overwhelming presence of $PRIVILEGED people in entertainments produced now for the consumption of people — many of whom happen to be other than $PRIVILEGED and [expletive] well deserve to be represented in their own [expletive] cultures. So even if events happen to turn out in just that genocidal way at some point in the future it doesn’t have a [expletive] thing to do with the stories we’re telling and selling about ourselves today.
    Which is the topic at hand. Even when those stories take the form of speculative fiction set in a possible future.

  6. At the core, all these fictional worlds are saying: “I don’t like you and I don’t want you to be here, so I’m creating a world where you don’t exist”. That’s not just refusing to be PC. That’s blatant exclusion.
    I find this a very thought-provoking way of presenting this. I have to go away now and think.
    .-= Anna´s last blog ..SIGNAL BOOST: (Canada) Feedback on Permanent Disability Verification Form (Student Loans) =-.

  7. kaninchenzero: in the context of that Doctor Who episode, it seems like a pretty good explanation; we later find out that the remaining survivors are not exactly nice people despite what the Doctor thinks. (Another possible reason: people of colour in TV series tend to get noticed, and having them making up a large proportion of the survivors would send the wrong message entirely given that they’re evil. Notice that Doctor Who villains seem to be largely white.)

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