10:5 Our True Faces

Season 10, episode 5: Oxygen

ELLIE: Everything’s so messed up. The trivial stuff just falls away. You realise life can be so brief and so, I just want to tell you, if we do get through this, I want to have a baby! With you! And as soon as my radio’s fixed I’m going to tell you just that. 

I’m tired. Not so much physically tired as emotionally, mentally, and spiritually tired. I don’t know if I am burnt out or if I am just going through a phase. But being awake…is a chore. Communicating is difficult. I just…want out. I can’t imagine it getting any better-in fact, I only see it getting worse. Life has never been peaceful or tranquil-as long as life has existed and competition for resources was a requirement of survival we have had violence and bloodshed. And while some scholars argue that numerically speaking violence and death have decreased as a result of technological, societal, and medical advances, these improvements mean very little to the millions of people throughout the world who are dying from human greed and selfishness.

At earlier points in human history one could argue that we didn’t know better. The notion that there are universal human rights that should be applicable to every person regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion is relatively new and evidently isn’t universally practiced. But in theory, most countries, including some of the most vicious dictatorships often at least give enough lip service to the notion of human rights that they take great pains to hide, deny or minimize acts of torture and injustice. I can imagine that if we were to bring someone from the late 1400s or 1500s to see the modern world they would be confused, impressed and maybe even frightened by the medical and technological advancements we have made.  And perhaps they would find the large-scale discussion of human rights and democracy to be strange. Though of course once they scratch the surface they would find how for all of our talk about democracy, equality, and human rights and for our vast medical and technological resource that human cruelty continues unabated.

In this episode of Doctor Who, Bill, Nardole, and the Doctor come face to face with the outer limits of late stage capitalism. Initially, Bill is, of course, enthralled with being in space, especially when she is able to look out a window and see a section of the vast universe before her. But this awe is quickly forgotten as she, the Doctor and Nardole, become aware of the danger they are in; a danger not the result of a weird alien creature but a danger created by human greed.  In this stage of capitalism everything is commodified-including the very air that those on the ship need in order to survive let alone work their jobs. That’s what unchecked greed does-it zaps the wonder of life

SUIT: Oxygen is available for personal use only, at competitive prices. 
DOCTOR: It’s only in the suits. Personal use. They only have oxygen in the suits themselves. 
SUIT: Any unlicensed oxygen will be automatically expelled to protect market value. 

In order to survive those on the ship need to have access to air-and in this case that means they need to buy it. The notion that air-a basic human need can be commodified and sold seems not only ridiculous but cruel and raises certain questions about the morality of such a society. What is it like back on the planet where the crew comes from? Is air sold there? What happens to the poor in such a society? Do they even get to exist? They would have to, since capitalism, as practiced seems to rely on a steady stream of poor bodies that can be used and discarded at will. But while the notion that air can be sold appears ridiculous and cruel-it is of course but an extreme version of what already occurs on a daily basis. In the US for instance, medical care, housing, and food are treated as privileges not rights. Both the poor and increasingly the “middle class” are finding themselves struggling to survive.  Medical bills not only devastate people economically-destroying credit and eating up any savings a person may have been able to put away-but it kills.  The medicine individuals need to live often costs hundreds or thousands of dollars. In one of the most technologically advanced nation in the world, who boosts of being the “oldest democracy” people are dying because insurance companies and the multi-billion dollar health industry, to say nothing of the government, have determined that the lives of individuals are not as important as profit.

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While Bill and Nardole initially want to leave and go back to the Tardis at the first hint of danger, the Doctor pushes back against such a sentiment. In this case, he doesn’t exactly lecture them on the virtues of helping others, but he provides a light rebuke. by running away and hiding from danger, knowing that there are four survivors somewhere on the ship, what would they be revealing about themselves? When as a society we allow people to die from lack of medical care, or when we demand that access to guns is more important than the lives of elementary and high school students, what are revealing about ourselves? When we turn a blind eye to the atrocities in Syria, which despite the near defeat of ISIS appears to be getting worse  what are we saying about ourselves? What are we saying about humanity? When we ignore the cries of black and brown bodies demanding that we hold the state accountable for their violence, what are we saying?

DOCTOR: There was no hacking, no malfunction. The suits are doing exactly what they were designed to do. What your employers are telling them to do. 
IVAN: And what would that be? 
DOCTOR: Save the oxygen that you are wasting. You’ve become inefficient. You even told me. Your conveyors were down. 
ABBY: So everyone had to die? 

We are saying that certain lives don’t matter. When we claim that healthcare is not a “right” we are saying that we don’t give a damn about those who struggle with physical or mental disabilities. We are saying that we don’t care if people who are sick-die. We are in essence practicing a form of survival of the fittest-where only the healthiest or wealthiest survive. When we demand action after a puppy dies after being placed into an overhead bin for a three hour flight but we ridicule children and adults who demand gun control measures after every mass shooting, we are saying that a puppy’s life is worth more than that of children gunned down in school or adults slaughtered at a concert. (Not saying what happened to the puppy was correct-it should not have happened. But neither should mass shootings.) We are saying that damn it MY GUN is more important than the lives of other people.  And I’m tired. I’m tired of living in a world where my life is worthless because of my lack of wealth, my skin color and sexual orientation. I’m tired of living in a world where I need to explain to people why we need to care about how state violence perpetrates non-state violence beyond issues such as “terrorism.”

DOCTOR: They’re not your rescuers. They’re your replacements. The end point of capitalism. A bottom line where human life has no value at all. We’re fighting an algorithm, a spreadsheet. Like every worker, everywhere, we’re fighting the suits.
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Towards the end of the episode the Doctor talks about a ‘good death”-which he and the others do manage to avoid-this time. But I find myself attracted to the notion of a “good” death, whatever that means. Can suicide ever be considered a “good death?” I don’t know-perhaps not-but at this point I just want to say, “fuck you” to a society that will continue to devalue life and put profit over compassion. To me, telling society, to go to hell, seems like a good death. It won’t change anything, but damn it, at least I won’t have to be so tired anymore.

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10:3 Thin Ice

Doctor:… if your future is built on the suffering of that creature, what’s your future worth?

Current US President Donald Trump ran on the platform, “Make America Great Again.” His campaign attracted swaths of the population that felt as if the global economy had left them to behind. However, instead of blaming those with power, these voters blamed the vulnerable: people of color, immigrants, children, and refugees. In the minds of some voters, making America great again apparently meant making America white again. And instead of ushering in a new economic utopia where the heyday of industrialization reaps benefits on factor workers, coal miners, etc and other blue-collar workers, the beneficiaries have been the economic and political elite-from both parties. Republicans leaders get to try and shove their racist, poverty hating political agenda through and Democrats have the opportunity to reinvent themselves as heroes of the vulnerable and marginalized, although in reality Democrats have been all to happy to use marginalized groups for votes and then ignore them when in power. Both Republican and Democrats claim to want to create a more prosperous country, but what does this country look like and is it a country worth serving let alone fighting for?

Which lives matter?

In the episode, “Thin Ice” the Doctor berates Bill for being upset about that a child is killed.  I, for one, do believe rage has a time and place, and I view Bill’s rage as justified, it must also be acknowledged that rage instead of being an impassioned cry for justice can be used to mask hypocrisy and a thirst for power.

BILL: Save him. 
DOCTOR: I can’t. He’s gone. 
BILL: Do something and save him. 

Bill watches helplessly as a child is killed right before her eyes. The fact that the death is bloodless one does nothing to eliminate the fact that the child’s life is snuffed out.  Bill begs the Doctor to do something and is angry when he nonchalantly responds that he is unable too. If I am not mistaken, every companion, at least in Nuwho has expressed some sort of disgust and shock at the amount of lives lost during the Doctor’s journeys. They often serve as the Doctor’s conscious, reminding him that the people and/or creates slaughtered often had hopes, dreams, etc. In other words, the companions, at least at the start of their adventures with the Doctor, serve to remind him that those killed shouldn’t just be another number added to a long list of those killed. I empathize with Bill in this scene. I believe that her outrage at the child’s death and the Doctor’s seemingly uncaring attitude is genuine. I do think that the Doctor dismisses her anger all to quickly. However, the Doctor also provides numerous thought provoking arguments when he tries to counter Bill’s rage. His arguments can be applied to those who are relatively privileged and hold a measure of power.

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Understandably, a good portion of Americans find themselves angry and powerless in the face of the Trump administration. As a result, many people, particularly those who may have been politically indifferent now find themselves politically engaged. I am not trying to knock those people or their new-found activism. I am however positing a question that I think needs to be taken seriously: is this new-found activism based on a passion for justice or simply on a fear that the current administration’s policies will negatively impact their lives and their families? In other words, will this sense of rage continue whenever President Trump is no longer in office?

Let’s be honest, it is human nature means to care predominately about issues that directly impact our lives. Moreover, there are so many cases of injustice that it would be impossible for any one individual to adequately deal with them all. It is ok to hold some causes dearer to the heart then others. But the reality is, that many issues are intersectional-meaning they do not just stand alone. And my fear is that the focus only on events that impact our own personal lives means that the marginalized who are often screwed over regardless of who is in power are overlooked. For example, the women’s march in which women of all races, ethnicity, etc participated is great. But where were the white women when black and brown lives were protesting the deaths of unarmed and mentally ill people at the hands of the state? Where were the protests against the Obama administration’s increased use of drone strikes, which murdered numerous innocent civilians? Yes, some argue that the Trump administration presents a much direr existential threat than previous administrations. I am not here to debate whether or not that is true. But I argue that his administration didn’t simply come out of thin air. His election was the result of numerous political, social, and economic factors conflating. In other words, ignoring the plight of others because their pain does not directly impact us-eventually comes back to bite us in the ass. Injustice builds upon injustice.  It is easy to look at the suffering of others and believe, “that will never happen to me.” History demonstrates again and again that such an attitude is fool hardy. The distinction between oppression that directly impacts us and oppression that does not, is a useless and arbitrary one.

DOCTOR: You know what happens if I don’t move on? More people die. There are kids living rough near here. They may well be next on the menu. Do you want to help me? Do you want to stand here stamping your foot? Because let me tell you something. I’m two thousand years old, and I have never had the time for the luxury of outrage. 

Like I said before, I believe outrage has a vital place in social justice movements. I especially believe that those who are part of groups that have historically been the victims of state oppression deserve to have their outrage acknowledged. Far too often, their outrage is suppressed in the name of “peace.” But it is important to acknowledge that outrage, especially on the part of those with privilege, can serve as a way to avoid taking concrete action and making difficult decisions. Outrage that doesn’t lead to action is useless. I mean, many Americans are outraged at the horrific treatment Native Americans underwent during European colonialism and the beginnings of the American empire, yet these very same people ignore or downplay the continued suffering of native Americans. Or, many Americans condemn the slave trade and express anger that many of America’s founding fathers supported such a horrific system yet they show a shocking apathy towards state sanctioned murder of people of color at the hands of police.

A worthy future?

DOCTOR:… What makes you so sure that your life is worth more than those people out there on the ice? Is it the money? The accident of birth that puts you inside the big, fancy house? 
SUTCLIFFE: I help move this country forward. I move this Empire forward. 

There is no denying that Trump and the current Republican Party express a blatant disregard for the well being of those who do not look like them or have their vast resources. In this context it is easy to want to view the established Democratic Party as saviors. But rhetoric needs to be matched by actions. The Republican Party has made it clear that they do not value the lives of immigrants, children, or the poor. They are willing to hold hostage or completely cut the already inadequate American safety net. Democrats have capitalized on this by giving the appearance of standing up for justice. No, they claim, they won’t give up on DACA recipients. They will fight for healthcare for children. Yet their actions have been less than stellar. I would argue that the Republican Party represents the Sutecliffe that the Doctor and Billy see-openly arrogant and racist. While the Democrats represent the popular image of Sutecliffe and the one he holds of himself: charming, advocating progress, etc. But the empire that both parties endorse is one that views certain lives as expendable. The current Republican Party-especially the far-right branch openly admit their disdain for people of color, women, LGBTQ, people from “shithole countries” (aka non-western ones). While the Democrats are subtler: they will stand up for DACA recipients until it no longer benefits them. They will listen to Black Lives Matter advocates, at least until the election season is over.

I think it’s time that Americans-regardless of their political leanings really consider the type of country they want to be a part of. What values should we hold dear? How do we define progress? Because right now, the United sates views the suffering and deaths of the “nobodies” as a necessary price to pay for progress.  And the result is a country not worth boasting about, much less fighting for.

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