Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Princesses, Nonviolence, and Doctor Who (30 DPC: Day 24)

Day 24: A photo of a celebration

Today's prompt comes, once again, from the collective brainstorming of myself, Brenna, Grace, and our friend Tracy. While contemplating the little things that go on in my life that I care to broadcast in the world, Brenna suggested I depict us at a college party to compare to celebrations in Uganda. I thought this a swell idea.

But if you're looking for scantily clad sorority sisters, you've got the wrong college. Because our college parties usually involve good music and good themes, so I present to you:

The Princes Party
With the roommates in our fine attire and paper crowns

A few weeks back we had a princess party that involved pretty dresses and paper crowns. College is wonderful. But on to bigger things...

Friends, I know that here on this lovely online forum sometimes I pontificate and rant about violations of human rights. Sometimes I ponder the essentiality of nonviolence, concepts surrounding various faith practices, and expound on religious texts. Sometimes I write paragraphs about Uganda and how important it is to me and how much I cannot wait to be in Africa (in just over a month now!).

And I’m feeling all those things today. But you know what else I’m feeling?

I’m feeling it’s high time I told you about this little TV show called Doctor Who and, um, how I’m kind of obsessed with it.

Prepare yourself for a geekish freak out. Because it just so happens that today not only am I being ridiculous teenager obsessed with science fiction, nor a young woman passionate about learning everything I can about the world. Today, I’m going to keel into writing the post that I’ve been so hesitant to expound on, and I’m going to explore themes of nonviolence in Doctor Who. Snort, scoff, and laugh all you like. I freely acknowledge the walking paradox that is my life (thank goodness Futurama’s paradox-proof machine hasn’t consumed me yet…yep. Just went there).

To begin: religion in science fiction is not a new concept. In fact, I’m hoping to be un-waitlisted and fully enroll in a class next semester called “Religion in Science Fiction” (did I pick the right school or what!?) so clearly there are even a few Ivory Tower puff-ups who’ve written on the subject. Probably because we all secretly wish we could travel through time and space with swashbuckling heroes and dashing heroines.

When you think about it, the concept actually makes plenty of sense. The dichotomy between science and religion goes back, hmm, to Copernicus? To Greece? To the domestication of animals? Wherever you contend this tension originates, there’s no denying it’s there. So when Joss Whedon, a professed atheist and science geek, was penning the brilliance that is the Firefly series it made sense that he wanted to explore this tension. In this particular television show the themes were manifested in the character of Captain Malcolm Reynolds (science and lost faith) verses Shepherd Book (a military man turned priest-like figure).

What I like about Joss’ commentary is that the two men, and thus the two ideas, come to respect each other and recognize that there must exist a duality between each one of us. Without the pragmatism of scientific theory and application we as a species could starve or merely stay stagnant. But in Serenity (the show’s finale in film form) Shepherd Book makes quite plain that without faith or belief we are lost in the dark, living without purpose. Book goes so far to say to Mal that “I don’t care what you believe in. Just believe in it.”

This resonates, to me, with much of what I’ve learned in my anthropology and sociology courses this year. In a nutshell this is that modern science is in some ways its own religion in its structure and the power given to it by the people who “believe” in science.

Now, before you start typing away furiously saying I’m a heathen fundamentalist, let me explain. Modern science as a system is trusted by educated people across the globe, and we common folk turn to these educated people for counsel when we are ill or do not comprehend a certain situation (think: going to the doctor’s when you have incessant headaches). Science has many limitations and many more unanswered questions (the doctors may not know how to cure your headaches, but they will take a calculated guess to try to cure you), and much of what we profess to be fact is based on Theory.

Yes, I’m aware that gravity is a theory, just like evolution. I’m not invalidating either theory by any stretch of the imagination- but think about it! People say they “believe in” evolution. Believe in! There’s contention from religious radicals claiming science is an unrighteous path, just as many scientists claim religion is folly and there exists no deity.

And further still, science is informed by culture. We did not diagnose PMS to be an actual medical condition until the 1970s in America. This was dually as a product of the Women’s Movement and because businesses were suffering from women remaining home, with pay, for a week a month while they were “unclean” and “unfit to work.” So the feminists and the CEOs, forgive the simplification, said that being on your period didn’t mean you couldn’t push papers or kick ass in board meetings. So women could take pain killers to quell the cramps and we "medicalized" the hormonal state pre-menstrutation to allow women the opportunity to work. What we decreed to be science was, in fact, decreed as such because of motivations from within the social structure. 

Sound familiar? When these parallels are drawn you can see the connections within massive religious institutions. The church or mosque or whatever is more often than not concerned morally with issues in contemporary society. Thus culture informs religion (why else is there so much dissent?). Yes, going to the doctor is relying on information given that is far more rooted in factual evidence than going to see a minister, but the basic structure of the institutions is what I'm talking about here. 

Back to Shepherd Book and living long and prospering (how far will she sink?!). He told Mal he had to believe in something and for many people, that something is science. Thus, a new kind of religion. One that isn’t mutually exclusive with other faiths (and I contend religious belief systems do not have to be exclusive, but that’s an argument for another time).

So Doctor Who. The show, along with its far darker companion, Torchwood, professes religion to be false and death to merely be the end. And on this blog at least whenever I have made the case for nonviolent practices, it has always been through the lens of a religious context.

Leave it to the Doctor to tell us all that nonviolence is not bound by the Qur’an, or the Bible, or the teachings of my beloved Mahatma Gandhi.

I’m working through the fifth season of Doctor Who and just recently watched the magnificent episode(s) “The Hungry Earth” and “Cold Blood.”


 In these episodes the human race comes into contact with another species that have co-inhabited the earth with them since their beginnings, unbeknownst to them: homo reptilia (aka lizard people. ah, science fiction). The homo repitilia have taken three humans hostage, two of whom are the husband and son of an unsuspecting Welsh mother. The humans in turn have a homo reptilia held hostage and the Doctor has decided to burrow into the earth to meet with the homo reptilia’s leader and strike a deal, trading the hostages. Before he leaves, he tells said Welsh mother and the other two humans to “be the best of humanity.” By which he means do not harm the creature that is, in some capacity, to blame for the kidnapping of the other people.

This might be my favorite Doctor Who line I have yet heard, which is saying quite a bit concerning he’s chock full of wonderful lines. But Chris Chibnball, the author of this particular episode, captures in a line what nonviolence- or better, Love- demands of humanity: the absolute best.

I’ve told myself time and time again that anger and violent retorts are easy, a gut reaction to pain or suffering. Being the best every day that we can be requires an absolute commitment to being the best we can be.

Yes, there is violence in Doctor Who. Often the Doctor and his Companions have to make horrible sacrifices, and this episode is no exclusion. But the appeal of the Doctor (besides his excellent one-liners and swell suspenders) is his determination to carry onward despite the pain. And he, who is over 950 years old, does so through nonviolence as much as possible.

It’s not a perfect metaphor, and the show certainly doesn’t always preach Love, but I really love that this is the call the Doctor has as the champion of the human race.
current jam: "mr. medicine" eliza doolittle
best thing in my life right now: the cucumbers are back in the dining halls!
days until departure: 41 days, 10 hours 

P.S. I gave the blog a bit of a makeover (in case you didn't notice). What do you think?


  1. I must say I like the yellow background! It's so "Lizzie." But I do like the new graphics with the title in the bottom right :)

  2. The episodes were great at showing how pro-war and pro-violence people justify it to themselves. "We did not choose this war," President Obama said the other day, and it is much like what Restac said about how the humans invaded and they did not choose it. There is always a choice. Also, Ambrose torturing to get information -- she thought she was protecting her son. It is like how the US has justified its torture, and also similarly ineffective. Ambrose is not a militarist, she works for Meals on Wheels -- applicable to the "liberal interventionist" war in Libya -- violence and destruction from those with the best of intentions. It is sad that something shown a year ago can have such clear parallels to new violence a year later.