The Social Construction of News

The news is a socially manufactured product, rather than an objective ‘window on the world’.

Many events happen in reality which do not get reported in the news and those which do appear in the news are placed in a particular order of priority and ‘framed’ by the questions which are asked and who is asked to comment on the events.

It follows that the content and format of the news is a result of many decisions made by several media professionals and those they work with and that the news will thus reflect the biases of those who are involved in its creation.

‘The News is Socially Constructed’ = the news is a manufactured product, the result of decisions made by media professionals about what to include and how to present what is included.

This post presents a brief introduction to the factors which influence news content, covering news values, organisational routines, media owners and the background of journalists. It has primarily been written for students of A-level sociology, studying The Sociology of Media option, AQA specification.

News Values 

News Values are general guidelines which determine how newsworthy an event is. The more news values an event has, then the more prominence the event will be given in a news programme or a newspaper.

Examples of News Values include:

  • Extraordinariness – how unusual an event is. An event which is not routine and unexpected is more likely to be included in the news.
  • Threshold – the bigger and event the more likely it is to be included – e.g. more deaths are better.
  • Negativity – generally war, violence, death, tragedy, all are more newsworthy than happy events.
  • Unambiguity – the simpler, more black and white an event the more likely it is to be included in the news agenda
  • Personalisation – if a story can be linked to an individual, and a personal story made out of it, then it is more newsworthy.

Organisational or Bureaucratic routines

These are logistical factors which can limit what events are included as news items and include:

  • Financial costs
  • Deadlines
  • Time and Space
  • The audience
  • Journalistic ethics

Economic factors and ownership

Instrumentalist Marxists argue that owners can influence content, and a good example of this is the control Rupert Murdoch exerted over the reporting of the Iraq war in 2003 – he was for the war and his newspapers did not criticise it.

Advertising can also affect the news agenda – independent news companies are dependent on advertising revenue, so they are unlikely to report on issues which are critical of capitalism and economic growth.

There is a hierarchy of credibility – the news generally presents the views of the elite and wealthy first and then the radicals and critics in response, suggesting the elite view is the norm.

Most Journalists are middle class 

More than 50% of journalists were educated in private schools, and most of the rest come from middle class backgrounds.

This means they share a middle class ‘establishment’ view of the world and will see middle class issues as more signficant than working class interests, and/ or present the interests of the middle classes as being the interests of everyone.

 

 

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The Marxist Perspective on the News

Marxists suggest the news agenda is heavily interests by those with power in capitalist societies and that the content of the news reflects the worldview and interests of the elite and middle classes.

Those working for mainstream news media may claim that the news they construct is objective and unbiased, but this is a myth according to Marxists, and the news primarily serves to legitimate capitalism and maintain the status quo.

This post is really an application of a combination of Instrumentalist Marxist Theory and Neo-Marxist (‘hegemonic’) theory.

Owners influence content

Owners may not be able to shape the day to day content of the news, especially live 24 hour news, but they can shape the broader context by setting the policies of their companies and influencing the general approach to selecting and editing news.

Owners the power to hire and fire Chief Executive Officers and other high-ranking officials, and they can exercise direct control over such decisions because they do not have to be made that often.

According to Marxist theory, owners will generally appoint senior officials who share their ideology and then lower ranking media professionals will avoid publishing content that might annoy them for fear of their jobs.

The news agenda legitimates a capitalist, neoliberal view of the world

News companies rely on advertisers for their income and so it should be no surprise that the news does not generally critique the capitalist system, in fact it does quite the opposite.

Most news programmes and papers have large sections devoted to business news and economics, where Corporate leaders and business experts are generally deferred to and are favourably presented.

These sections of the news rarely challenge the concept of economic growth, it is taken for granted as a universal ‘good’, and elsewhere the news rarely focuses on issues of poverty and inequality.

The Hierarchy of credibility

Journalists rank people in elite and professional positions as being more credible sources of authority than those lower down the social class order.

Heads of companies, government officials, the police and academic experts are all more likely to be invited to comment on news items than those from pressure groups, less popular political parties, or just ordinary members of the general public.

The elite thus end up becoming the ‘primary definers’ of the news agenda.

The news often reports on what such people think of events, rather than the events themselves, so we end up with an elite/ middle class frame of the world through the news.

The social class class background of journalists

GUMG argue that media professional tend to side with the elite because they share a middle class background with them, and thus a worldview.

News items thus tend to represent the elite and middle classes more favourably than the working classes.

Fiske (1987) for example found that news reports on industrial disputes tended to report on managers as ‘asking’ whereas trades unionists tended to reported as ‘making demands’, presenting the former as more reasonable.

Sources 

Modified from…

  • Ken Browne (2016) Sociology for AQA Volume 2
  • Chapman (2016) Sociology AQQ A-Level Year 2

Organisational Routines and News Content

Organisational routines may affect what items are selected for presentation in the news. These include factors such as financial costs, time and space available, deadlines, immediacy and accuracy, the audience and journalistic ethics.

Organisational routines are sometimes known as bureaucratic routines.

This post has been written primarily for A-level sociology students studying the media option within the sociology of the media.

Financial costs

News gathering can be an expensive business, and investigative journalism and overseas reporting are two of the most expensive types of news to produce, because they former involves sustained long-term investigation and the later involves overseas expenses.

Financial pressures have led to news companies changing the type of news they produced, with two major consequences:

Firstly, investigative journalism has declined, and that which remains has become more about digging up dirt on celebrities rather than in-depth exposés on corrupt politicians or corporations.

Secondly, the news has become more about infotainment – that is entertainment has become increasingly important as a factor in the selection of news items. Entertaining items achieve larger audiences which means more advertising revenue and more income.

Even the BBC isn’t immune from these pressures. OFCOM recently said of BBC News that it is ‘More Madonna than Mugabe’.

Time and space available

News has to be tailored to fit the time and space available in the newspaper or on the television show.

For example, A typical 6 O clock BBC news show consist of around 15 items in 25 minutes, usually with each item taking up 5 minutes or less. If an item can’t be covered in less than 5 minutes, it is more likely that it will not be included in the news agenda.

These small time slots also limit the number of perspectives which can be given on a news item – often restraining commentary to 2 people, and contributing to biased Agenda Setting (according to Neo-Marxists)

Longer news programmes allow for more in-depth coverage of news items.

Deadlines

This only really affects newspapers: the deadline for something to reach tomorrow’s newspaper is around 10PM the previous evening.

Immediacy and Accuracy

An item is more likely to be included in the news if it can be accompanied by live footage and if relevant people can be found to comment on the issue or offer soundbites.

The audience

The content of the news may change because of the perceived characteristics of the audience.

For example The Sun is aimed at less well educated people while The Guardian is aimed at people with a higher level of education.

The content of day time news may change to reflect the interests of stay at home parents.

Journalistic ethics

Ethics should constrain the type of news which is reported, and the way in which news is reported.

All UK newspapers sign up to the Press Complaints Commission’s voluntary code of conduct which stipulates that journalists should avoid publishing inaccurate information and misrepresenting people and should respect people’s privacy and dignity.

However, there is some evidence that journalists do not always act ethically. For example, the News of the World phone hacking scandal in the early 2000s – the paper hacked various celebrities and royals’ phones as well as those of victims of the July 2005 London bombings.

The Leveson report (2012) found that news stories frequently relied on misrepresentation and embellishment, and it seems that press watchdogs have little power to enforce journalistic ethics today.

 

The Neo-Marxist Perspective on The Media

Neo Marxists argue that cultural hegemony explains why we have a limited media agenda.

Journalists have more freedom than traditional Marxists suggest, and the media agenda is not directly controlled by owners. However, journalists share the world view of the owners and use gatekeeping and agenda setting to keep items which are harmful to elites out of the media agenda and thus voluntarily spread the dominant ideology.

This perspective is also known as the Dominant Ideology, or Hegemonic perspective on the media.

The Neo-Marxist Perspective on the Media.png

Neo-Marxists emphasize cultural hegemony

Hegemony is where the norms and values of the ruling class are taken as common sense.

According to Neo-Marxists, the reason why we have a limited media agenda is because of cultural hegemony, not because of direct control by wealthy media owners. In other words, cultural factors are more important than economic factors in explaining narrow media content.

Simply put, Journalists have accepted the conservative worldview of the ruling class as common sense, and they share this world view with the ruling class – they thus unconsciously spread the dominant ideology themselves without the need for direct control by the media owners.

Journalists voluntarily spread the dominant ideology

Journalists have the freedom to report as they please, so other factors besides economic control/ ownership determine media content, factors such as the interests of journalists and industry news values.

HOWEVER, the broad agenda of the media is still limited because the journalists share the same world view as the ruling class and the owners (this is known as ‘cultural hegemony’).

This is at least partly because Journalists are themselves mostly white and middle class, with more than 50% of them having gone to private schools. They thus present a conservative/ neo-liberal view of the world on autopilot.

Also, journalists do not want to risk their careers by annoying owners and so are reluctant to publish content which might annoy owners.

Agenda setting and gate keeping

Agenda setting and gatekeeping are the two processes through which journalists limit media content. They are normally used in relation to the selection and presentation of The News.

Gatekeeping = the process of choosing which items are selected for coverage, and others are kept out.

Agenda setting = deciding how media items are going to be framed, for example, who is going to be invited to discuss topics and what kind of questions are going to be asked.

According to neo-Marxists gatekeeping and agenda setting tend to result in issues which are harmful to the elite being kept out of the media, thus reinforcing the dominant ideology.

Examples of agenda setting and gate keeping include:

  1. Only having two political parties discuss a news item – we rarely hear from the Green Party, for example.
  2. Focussing on the violence at riots and protests, rather than the issues which are being protested about, or the cause of the riots.
  3. The news taking the side of the police and the government, rather than hearing from criminals or terrorists.

Criticisms of Neo-Marxism

  • Traditional Marxists argue that it underestimates the important of economic factors, for example the power of owners to hire and fire journalists
  • As with traditional Marxism, the role of new media may make this perspective less relevant. It is now much harder to maintain the dominant ideology, for example.
  • Pluralists point out that this perspective still tends to assume the audience are passive and easily swayed by the dominant ideology. In reality, the audience may be more active and critical.

Sources 

Modified from…

  • Ken Browne (2016) Sociology for AQA Volume 2
  • Chapman (2016) Sociology AQQ A-Level Year 2

The Marxist Instrumentalist Theory of Media

Marxist Instrumentalist theory holds that media owners control media content, and that the media performs ideological functions. The primary role of the media is to keep a largely passive audience from criticizing capitalism and thus maintain the status quo.

Marxist Instrumentalist Theory is also known as the Traditional Marxist or Manipulative Approach to the media.

This post is primarily written for students of A-level sociology, studying the AQA 2019 specification.

Marxist media sociology

Media owners control media content 

Media owners are part of the ruling class elite and they consciously manipulate media content to transmit a conservative ideology to control the wider population and maintain their wealth and privilege.

The content of the media is thus narrow and biased and reflects the opinions of the ruling class generally and the media owners in particular.

The government does not effectively regulate media content because the political elite are also part of the ruling class like the media owners.

The media performs ideological functions 

According to Instrumentalist Marxists, the primary role of the media is to spread ruling class ideology and maintain the status quo, keeping the current unequal capitalist system in place.

The media performs ideological functions in many ways:

  1. We see many favourable representations of (rather than critical commentary on) the wealthy – for example Royalty, millionaires on Cribs, and middle class lifestyles more generally in all of those hideous programmes about spending £500K on a house in the country.
  2. It spreads the ‘myth of meritocracy’ – Dragons Den and The Apprentice are two wonderful contemporary examples of this.
  3. The News often dismisses radical view points as extremist, dangerous or silly, and a conservative (ruling class) view of the world as normal.
  4. Negative portrayals of ethnic minorities and immigrants serve to divide the ruling class and discourages criticisms of the ruling class.
  5. Entertainment distracts the public from thinking critically about important political issues.

The audience are passive 

Marxist instrumentalists see the audience as a mass of unthinking robots who are passive and easily manipulate. They essentially take what they see in the media at face value, and believe what they see without questioning it.

Supporting evidence 

Curran (2003) suggests that there is a lot of historical evidence of media owners manipulating media content. He carried out a historical analysis of UK media, broken down into four historical periods.

Control by owners was most obvious in the era of the Press Barons in the early part of the 20th century, when some even said that they used their newspapers to consciously spread their political views.

Rupert Murdoch’s control of his News Corporation since the 1970s is another good example of an owner controlling media content. All of his newspapers have a strong right wing point of view, which reflects his values.

A specific example of Murdoch’s control is that all of his news outlets supported the Iraq War in 2003, a war which he personally supported. It’s unlikely that all the editors of all his newspapers globally shared this view.

Criticisms 

Pluralists are the biggest critics of Manipulative Marxists.

It is impractical for media owners of large corporations to control all output on a day to day basis. At some point they have to trust editors.

Pluralists argue that media owners are primarily motivated by making a profit and thus would rather provide audiences with the diverse content they want rather than use their media companies to spread their own narrow view of the world.

The previous criticism follows on from the Pluralist view that audiences are not just passive and unthinking, they are active and critical, and thus not easily manipulated: they can easily choose to switch off if they don’t like what they see.

The rise of the New Media especially undermines the Manipulative approach – New Media encourage audiences to be more active and allow for a greater range of people to produce and share media content. It’s simply not possible for owners to control such content.

Sources 

Modified from…

  • Ken Browne (2016) Sociology for AQA Volume 2
  • Chapman (2016) Sociology AQQ A-Level Year 2

 

A Level Sociology of Media Bundle

If you like this sort of thing, then you might like my A Level Sociology of the Media Revision Bundle which contains the following:

  1. 57 pages of revision notes covering all of the sub-topics within the sociology of the media
  2. 19 mind maps in pdf and png format – covering most sub-topics within the sociology of the media.
  3. Short answer exam practice questions and exemplar answers – three examples of the 10 mark, ‘outline and explain’ questions and three of the 10 mark ‘analyse’ with item questions, all take from the specimen paper and the 2017/2018 exam papers.
  4. Three essays and essay plans, taken from the specimen paper and 2017 and 2018 exam papers.

The pluralist view of the media

Pluralists argue that power in democratic, free market societies is spread out among diverse competing interest groups, and not concentrated in the hands of a minority economic elite, as Marxists suggests. According to pluralists, no one group has a monopoly on power. Their view of the media reflects their view of power in society more generally.

Pluralism media sociology.png

Media content driven by profit

Pluralists argue that in democratic, free market economies different media companies must compete for customers, and so they must provide the kind of content those customers want in order to make a profit and survive. If a company fails to provide the kind of news and entertainment that people need and want, customers will simply stop buying their media products and go elsewhere, forcing that company out of business.

It follows that control over media content ultimately lies with consumers, not the owners of media, because the owners need to adapt their content to fit the demands of the consumers.

Media owners primarily want to make money and so they would rather adapt their media content to be more diverse and keep money coming in, rather than use their media channels to publish their own narrower subjective views and opinions.

Media content thus doesn’t reflect the biased, one sided views of media owners, it reflects the diverse opinions of the general public who ultimately pay for that media content. The public (being diverse!) generally don’t want one-sided, biased media!

Consumers determine content

From the pluralist perspective audiences are active rather than passive and not easily manipulated. They are free to select, reject and re-interpret a wide range of media content, and they increasingly take advantage of new technologies and new media to produce their own content.

It is thus ultimately the consumers of media/ the wider audience who determine media content rather than the media owners.

Journalists not controlled by owners

Finally, pluralists point out that on a purely practical level media owners of large global corporations cannot personally determine the content of all their media products, there are too many products and too many global-level management issues to keep them occupied. Thus producers, editors and journalists have considerable freedom to shape media content, free from the control of the big bosses.

Criticisms of Pluralism

  1. Ultimately it is still owners who have the power the hire and fire journalists and they do have the power to select high level editors who have similar views to themselves, which may subtly influence the media agenda.
  2. It still requires a lot of money to establish a large media company, and ownership remains very concentrated. There is relatively little journalism which is both independent and widely consumed.
  3. Owners, editors and most journalists share an upper middle-class background and a conservative worldview.
  4. The pressure to maintain profits has led to narrowing of media content – more towards uncritical, sensationalist entertainment and less likely to be critical and independent.

Censorship on Facebook and Twitter – supporting the dominant ideology?

Pluralists would argue that social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are just neutral sites through which anyone is free to express their opinion, however, Marxists would suggest that they work with governments and corporations to suppress views which go against the dominant ideology by censoring anything which challenges the mainstream capitalist world view.

The recent banning of the anti-media group from Facebook and Twitter seem to have gone further than just banning hate-groups and fake-news creators, and suggests support for the Marxist view of the media.

The banning of anti media from Facebook and Twitter

Anti-Media is an alternative news outlet that offers information that runs counter to the often pro-government narratives of traditional media outlets.

Their content is heavily critical of the current political system which they believe has heavily indebted ordinary people, and increasingly infringed on individual rights while expanding its reach and power.

They focus mainly on challenging unjust government corruption, oppression, and authority – criticising both ‘right’ and ‘left’ wing governments and part of their stated agenda is to awaken people from their passive subservience to big government and corporatism.

At their peak in 2016, Anti-media were reaching tens of millions of people per week, offering an alternative to the mainstream news, but their reach then declined, according to them, due to algorithmic changes following Trump coming to power.

Then in October 2018, the anti-media Facebook page was unpublished altogether, along with its Twitter feed shortly afterwards. A number of its employee’s twitter accounts were also suspended, including that of Carey Wedler, whose video about the issue, published on the censorship resistant site @dtube is well worth a watch.

NB her personal Twitter account was suspended without warning, and despite appealing this four months ago, she still hasn’t received a legitimate explanation of why her account was suspended.

The official Facebook and Twitter line was that they removed anti-media as part of a wider purge of  “spam” and “fake accounts” that targeted users with the intent of misleading them, by trying to do such things as driving them to ad farms to profit.

HOWEVER, neither anti-media nor their employees did any of this, they were dedicated to evidence-based factual reporting without sensationalism

Along with Anti-Media, dozens of pro-freedom libertarian pages were also deleted during the Facebook and Twitter purge back in October 2018, pages such as:

Some interesting analysis by Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi, who investigated these purges suggests that this isn’t about purging left or right political views, as both types of page and account were purged, but rather it was about censoring the following themes which are touched on by both ends of the political spectrum:

  • Anti-war content
  • Focus on police brutality and misuse of state power
  • Disinterest in two party politics

Relevance to A-level sociology

This seems to be a straightforward example of Facebook and Twitter censoring media content because of ideological reasons – anything which upsets the status quo by challenging the state too vociferously (whether from left or right ends of the political spectrum) and/ or draws attention to state violence is more likely to get censored.

In short, this suggests support for any perspective which argues that mainstream media companies collude to support the dominant ideology by gatekeeping out views which are hyper-critical of those in power.

If you don’t study the media, this is still yet more supporting evidence for Marxism in general, and relevant to Theory and Methods!

Sources

Screen Time and Children’s Well being

The UK’s Chief Medical Officers are now officially advising parents to ban their children from using phones and other electronic devices in their bedrooms and during meal times. These are two out of nine specific recommendations made in a recent official report entitled:

Screen-based activities and children and young people’s mental health and psychosocial wellbeing: a systematic map of reviews.

research screen time effects.png

NB – for students of A-level sociology this is great example of an official government document, a form of secondary qualitative data!

It’s also a great example of an amazing ‘literature review’… they go through a stack of evidence on social media/ screen time/ internet use effects and ask lots of methods questions about each piece of research to determine whether or not those studies are high/ middle or low quality.

Interestingly the report said that there wasn’t enough available evidence to issue any guidelines on the total amount of time children should spend online or using screens in any one day or week, but that there was sufficient evidence to suggest limiting uses in specific contexts when using them can upset other beneficial activities.

Hence why the report recommends that parents limit their children’s use of phones at the following times:

  • At bedtimes
  • During mealtimes
  • While crossing the road.

The report also highlighted the fact that parents shouldn’t just assume that their children would be happy with them posting lots of pictures of them online and criticised some parents for ‘oversharing’.

Interestingly the report also highlighted the lack of high quality research into the impact of screen time, and stressed that more research was needed and they called on tech companies to share data to aid research.

Finally, the report also recommended that social media platforms and technology companies  sign up to a voluntary code of conduct to protect children online, and hinted at possibly introducing new laws to protect children online.

Relevance to A level sociology

Firstly, the report seems to suggest there is some evidence that increased screen time has made childhood more ‘toxic’, because using them is proven to disrupt beneficial activities such as sleep and conversation during meal times.

The report seems to be saying the government is powerless to do anything to prevent Corporations from carrying on with their deliberate attempts to get children to spend more time on screens, merely suggesting that they might sign up to a voluntary code of conduct. So this demonstrates the might of the tech TNCs and the weakness of the Nation State.

Instead, the report focuses on ‘lifeworld’ or ‘privatised solutions to public problems’ – in other words, it’s down to the individual parents to regulate their children’s use of screens.

The report also makes it clear that we cannot say ‘a certain amount of screen time is bad’ – there isn’t evidence to back up a particular figure. This isn’t surprising given that there are different ways we can use our screens, so the idea that ‘screen time’ in general is going to be good or bad is maybe a bit ridiculous!

Finally, this is a good example of a late modern response rather than a postmodern response to a social problem – the report doesn’t just say ‘we’re uncertain, do what you like’, it says ‘there is some evidence that specific uses of screens at particular times prevent beneficial activities taking place, thus you should do x/y/z… i.e. we still have valid knowledge and a clear path of action even in the midst of uncertainty!

Main characteristics of New Media

New Media are digital, interactive, hypertextual, networked, virtual and simulated. These are the six key characteristics which distinguish New Media from old media.

New Media are Digital, interactive, hypertextual, globally networked, virtual and sometimes based on simulation. 

This post provides further information and elaboration on these six key features of New Media.  Main Characteristics of New Media_1.png

Digital

With the growth of digital technology in the 1990s, the vast majority of information is now converted, stored and transmitted as binary code (a series of 1s and 0s.). Qualitative information has today become ‘digitalised’.

Digitalisation what allows so much information to be stored in compact hard disks or micro memory cards and it is also what allows for the near instantaneous transmission of information via cable and satellite.

Digitalisation has also resulted in ‘technological convergence’, or the convergence of different forms of information (text, audio and visual) into one single ‘system’ – most web sites today offer a fusion of text and audio-visual information, and our mobile devices allow us to perform a variety of functions – not only reading text and watching/ listening to videos, but also searching for information, sending messages, shopping and using GPS functions.

Analogue is the opposite of digital.  It is stored in physical form and examples include print newspapers, records, and old films and T.V. programmes stored on tape.

Interactivity

‘Old media’ tended to be very much a ‘one way’ affair, with audiences on the receiving end of broadcasts, for the most part able to do little else that just passively watch media content.

New Media however is much more of a two way affair and it allows consumers and users to get more involved. It is much more of a two way form of communication than old media. 

Increased interactivity can be seen in simple acts such as liking a Facebook post or commenting on news piece or blog. However some users get much more involved and create their own blogs and videos and actively upload their own content as ‘prosumers’.

New Media seem to have fostered a more participatory culture, with more people involved and the roles between consumer and producer of media content becoming ever more blurred!

Hypertextual

Hypertext, or ‘links’ are a common feature of new media, which allows users more freedom of choice over how they navigate the different sources of information available to them.

In more technical terms, links in web sites offer non-sequential connections between all kinds of data facilitated by the computer.

Optimists tend to see this feature as allowing for more individualised lifestyle choices, giving users the chance to act more independently, and to make the most of the opportunities new media markets make available to them.

Global Networks

Digital Media has also facilitated cultural globalisation – we now interact much more globally and via virtual networks of people rather than locally.

These networks allow for ‘collective intelligence’ to increase – they allow us to pool our resources much more easily and to draw on a wider range of talents and sources of information (depending on our needs) than ever before.

NB one question to ask about networks is what the main hubs are, through which information flows. This has implications for power.

Virtual Worlds

New Media presents to us a very different reality from face to face to ‘lived reality’ – for most of us this means a very fast paced flow of information with numerous products and people screaming for our attention.

However, this situation has only existed since the mid 2000s, and it must be remembered that New Media reality is virtual reality.

This is especially true when it comes to social media sites  which give users the opportunity to present themselves in any way they see fit, and while most users don’t go full Cat Fish, most people choose to present only one aspect of themselves.

Simulation

Simulation goes a step beyond the ‘virtual’ nature of New Media as usual. Simulation is most obviously experienced computer games which provide an immersive experience for users into a “virtual life” that is simulated through digital technology.

These virtual worlds are synthetic creations that ultimately rely on algorithms which set the parameters through which events in the gaming environment unfold.

Examples today include not only online RPG games, but also driving and flight simulations.

Sources 

Adapted from  Martin Lister et al – New Media: A critical Introduction (Second Edition).

The New Dr Who: An Annoyingly Politically Correct Regeneration

I’ve found the eleventh series of Dr Who a bit of a struggle to watch at times. It’s nothing to do with the fact that she’s a woman, it’s that she seems to have regenerated not only with an alien womb, but also with a renewed sense of hyper politically correct preachy moralism, hell-bent on offering us up a sermon on the importance of minority rights and other moral issues.

Don’t get me wrong, I ‘get it’ and I even broadly support the aim of using a prime-time show, watched by millions of children worldwide, to raise awareness of dyspraxia, bust stereotypes about Pakistani females, provide us with a potted history lesson on Rosa Parks and proselytize about pacifist means of tackling violence, but there’s just something a bit too obvious, and a bit too preachy about the way this new series does all of that.

It never used to be like this: Dr Who used to be solid sci-fi, underpinned by the lonely, chaotic (rather than ‘moral’) character of the Dr, and at times it even got VERY dark, as with the penultimate episode of season nine: ‘Heaven Sent’ in which, following the death of his companion, Clara, the Dr gets trapped in a castle, living out the same horrific cycle of events for billions of years: the really sick twist being that it was other Time Lords who ‘tricked’ him into ending up being there.

The Dr being murdered for the X millionth time during his billion year ground hog day experience…..

I just cannot see this kind of ‘horror’ featuring in this latest incarnation.Maybe it’s the fault of the new writing team – Steven Moffat’s moved on, and it seems that the new team has a new OTT politically correct agenda for the Doctor on Sunday evenings. Anyway, to emphasise my point, below are a few examples of preachy moralising from the latest series of Dr Who…

Episode 1 – In which the Doctor struggles to fit her gaggle of new minority side-kicks into her Tardis.

When I were a lad, there was one side kick + the ultracool K9, now we’ve got THREE sidekicks, all ticking at least two ‘minority’ boxes.

  • Yasmin Khan, an identifiably British Pakistani (usually, knowing this series, she’s probably of Indian heritage or elsewhere) name, a Police officer, and a very independent one at that.
  • Ryan Sinclair – a black male suffering from dyspraxia, signified by his relatives mentioning it and by the fact that he’s ‘struggling to ride his bike’ at two points in the episode.
  • The final sidekick is a white working-class older male, the working classness signified by his being a bus driver, Graham O’Brien, note the Irish surname to ram in yet another minority reference.

To make it even more unreal, as the series develops there’s a hint of a romance possibility emerging between Yasmin and Ryan, which is just about the most unlikely ethnicity pairing in the UK.

Now I’m all for stereotype busting and minority inclusion, but, trust me, watch episode one, and you’ll see how cringe it is. Desperate even – it’s non-stop unrealism, all the way through to Ryan ‘trying to ride his bike’ in honour of his dead Grandma at the end of the episode.

Episode two: The Ghost Monument

Actually this episode isn’t too preachy compared to the others, but there is a very cringe moment where Ryan the dyspraxic has to go down a ladder, and the episode seems to halt while the Dr gives him instructions about how to overcome his clumsiness… the lesson clearly being ‘be patient with your clumsy class mates, there may a reason for their clumsiness’.

There’s also a moment in which Ryan runs around shooting some robot soldiers, like in ‘Call of Duty’, but of course they all ‘reboot’ and so the Doctor gets to preach about ‘guns not being the answer’, and how it’s ‘better to outsmart them’.

In fairness I can forgive this sort of moralising, because it amuses me just how much this is going to annoy some gun-toting Americans watching the episode with their kids.

Episode three: Rosa..

In which the team go back in time and meet Rosa Parks, and foil a history changing plot by a White Racist to stop her refusing to give up her seat.

I actually really enjoyed this episode, and I can forgive the writers the history lesson, but again it’s the cringe: towards the end of the episode, the Dr who gives a mini-lecture on Rosa Parks’ legacy, accompanied my ‘magnificent mood’ music.

A lesson on Rosa, with exact dates.

Ongoing cringe themes of the first half of the series….

Graham’s partner died in episode one, so ‘dealing with death’ has been one ongoing theme, and Ryan was deserted by his dad when he was younger and his coming to terms with this is another ongoing theme. Over the first four episodes, I’d say there’s a good 20 mins of very fast-forwardable footage where these two characters process their emotions about their tough life circumstances, and that’s quite a chunk of airtime dealing with emotional issues – nearly 10%!

There are some upsides….

Episode 4: Arachnids in the UK wasn’t too preachy, and seemed to finally get on with developing a through-plot for the series, and one of the ‘bad-guys’ is a Donald Trump clone, and I do quite appreciate this dig. Again, I would love to see the reaction of those gun-toting Americans!

The internal revamp of the Tardis is cool but TBH the squeaky clean bright and white interior would have suited the new lame ass tone of Dr Who better than its new alien-organic look.

Final thoughts…

The Doctor has battled hundreds of enemies over billions of years of time, saving the earth from destruction on several occasions, and entertaining millions of people in the process.  However, having survived the likes of the Daleks, The Master, and The Cybermen, she’s finally been brought down by the great scourge of 21st century political correctness. She may well still be alive, but she’s completely lost his edge.

As I see it the Doctor as I new him is no more….I used to really enjoy the sense that the Dr was a tragically lonely character with a ‘dark and sinister past’, who was closer to ‘chaos’, beyond good and evil if you like, rather than the simple force for moral good which she (now he is a woman?) seems to have turned into in her present incarnation.

And the final irony: you would have thought that of all the beings in the universe, the most likely candidate to have a relativistic perspective on things, and to fully appreciate the fact that morality is a social construct, dependent on location and historical context, that person would have to be a Time Lord.

Just not according to the BBC: the Doctor’s  universal moral code seems to be perfectly in-tune with that of early 21st century Britain, ‘naturally’!

This post was written for educational purposes.

Sources

Dr Who: Heaven Sent – https://dvd-fever.co.uk/heaven-sent-doctor-who-series-9-episode-11-the-dvdfever-review/

Dr Who – cast – https://www.doctorwho.tv/#_

Enid Blyton – https://www.enidblytonsociety.co.uk/book-details.php?id=2388&title=Five+on+a+Climbing+Holiday+(No.+68)

Lesson on Rosa – https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0bpwm2m/doctor-who-series-11-3-rosa