Thursday, January 31, 2013

On the reproduction of culture in Dr. Who

In his criticism of Touch of Evil (1958), a film that attempts to reproduce the setting of a mid-1950s U.S.-Mexico border town, William A. Nericcio points to the failed reproductions of Mexico on Hollywood movie screens. Among many other inconsistencies, Nericcio affirms that Touch of Evil "deal[s] with characters who either 'don't look Mexican' or 'don't speak Mexican,' in a space that 'isn't the real Mexico'" (51), because "Even as Touch of Evil presents images and events seemingly in synch with prior representations of the borderlands, of Mexicans, of Chicanos in word and image, it also plays upon (preys upon) these expectations, taking spectators to another place" (52).

In a similar fashion, the BBC managed to produce similar "seductive hallucinations of the Mexican" in Mexico with their first episodes of the longest-running television show, Dr. Who, in a series entitled The Aztecs (1964), in which "Aztecs" are portrayed as doomed by their savage nature. Lindy A. Orthia writes,
"In The Aztecs, set just prior to Cortes’s conquest, the Doctor’s historian companion Barbara tries to save the people from their 'barbarous' selves by preventing the practice of human sacrifices. She does this in the belief that by cultivating the 'civilized' side of Aztec culture, she can alter the Conquistadors’ negative perceptions of the Aztecs and thus prevent the conquest from ever occurring. Barbara gives up when the Aztecs fail to rise to her challenge, surrendering to the inevitability of the fate that they appear to bring on themselves."
Beyond the colonialist logic employed in the show, it is also amazing how the colonialist time travelers assume their places in this "Aztec" setting without much consequence. In effect, although Barbara doesn't wear any brown face make-up like the other "Aztecs" in the film, Barbara assumes the place of the colonized by merely slipping on a bracelet that the "Aztecs" believe is the sign of the reincarnated god "Yetaxa"--a made up name, like most of the "Aztec" names in the show, that utilizes some of the phonemes of Nahuatl--and, similarly, a white man can pretend to be an "Aztec" warrior under a mask that covers most of his head with the exception of his face.

Citations From: 

"'Sociopathetic Abscess' or 'Yawning Chasm'? The Absent Postcolonial Transition in Doctor Who" by Lindy A. Orthia (Free PDF). Published in The Journal of Commonwealth Literature. 2010 45:207. 

Nericcio, William A. "Of Mestizos and Half-Breeds: Orson Welles's Touch of Evil". Chicano cinema: Research, Reviews, and Resources. Ed. Gary D. Keller. Binghamton, N.Y.: BilingualReview/Press, 1985.

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