Wednesday, 8 October 2014

No-Win Scenarios 2: The Birthenating

(Spoilers from jump, people. Conduct yourselves accordingly).

I try to put up my reviews/thoughts on a given text without checking up on what other people thought first. Partially this is laziness, but there's a genuine advantage to this policy, namely that I don't end up accidentally just recycling the comments of others in a pointless mish-mash of ideas. If nothing else, it guarantees that what ends up on my blog is my approach. It's inevitably informed and shaped by others in a general sense, of course, there's no way to avoid that. But at least for this particular piece of fiction, I went it alone.

Sometimes this works very well.  Other times I spend so much time building on the foundations of my favourite pet topics I manage to miss the bloody obvious.

"Kill the Moon" seems very much to have led me down the second path. I was so intent on studying the structure of the central dilemma so as to judge it as whether it held water I completely missed the possibility that this was a story about abortion.

Not everyone was so blinkered. After I'd put up my initial post on the episode and went looking for other takes, it seemed like the internet had lit up with people concerned the episode veered too closely into pro-life territory, featuring as it did two characters insisting that the moon creature ("just a baby!", as Courtney put it) must be born and to hell with the consequences. Not only did the voices of these two characters outweigh and override the woman insisting that destroying the unborn (unemerged?) life was the less risky and more practical option, the episode ended with said character admitting she had made a mistake.

Which, OK, fine. If the subtext you see is two anti-choice women beating down a pro-choice woman despite pretty much everyone in the world agreeing with her, then that's a problem.  But it's not, to be clear, the only way to parse the episode.

Before we get to my suggestions on this, though, allow me to nail down what it is that I'm certainly not suggesting. I'm not suggesting that we should try to argue the episode has no connection to abortion at all.  Others have tried by noting that a) no-one is pregnant here, b) the "baby" is so close to full-term that framing this as an abortion debate makes less sense than interpreting it as an argument about murder by necessity (a straight up trolley problem, as Phil Sandifer noted), and c) if your thought-experiment about abortion has to imply the baby's birth might cause the death of hundreds of thousands of people, then you are definitely doing it wrong.

These arguments are only partially convincing. When Amy Pond went through the horrors of Demon Run back in season six, there was a great deal of back and forth over the internet over whether or not it could fairly be described as the story of a rape survivor.  Some people pointed out all the different ways in which the story didn't perfectly map onto the tale of surviving sexual assault.  What others (again including Sandifer) noted, correctly I think, is that it's self evidently true that a show that wants to be broadcast on Saturday evenings at a time kids can watch it AND wants to include a story about the horrors of sexual abuse and - much more importantly - how they can be tackled and ameliorated, there's going to have to be some camouflaging going on.

The same must necessarily be true of abortion. The oblique angle is the only angle possible. So the various ways in which the episode and the "controversy" fail to align aren't relevant in this narrow sense. The only real counter to "X is an analogy for Y" is "X is actually a better analogy for Z".

Where these differences are important, then, is to the extent to which they can suggest alternative subtexts, or alternative stances to the manner in which the subtext is seemingly being explored. We can explore each of these on its own merits.

For example, what are we to make of the fact that there is no mother in this abortion story?  We're watching a trio of female characters argue about whether or not someone else's baby is better off not coming into the world. Do we assume that the idea of having a mother threatened by her own baby is something sci-fi intended to be watchable by kids simply can't give us? Or is the metaphor deliberately being altered here?

The former might absolutely be true, of course, but I can see a clear path to the latter as well.  I think the fact that the baby is not Lundvik's herself is crucial.  Lundvik only operates as a pro-choice character if we see her status as someone other than the baby's[1] mother as enforced by the limits of the metaphor.  If instead we see it as a deliberate choice on the part of Harness, then Lundvik immediately becomes an anti-choice character, in that she is assuming moral responsibility to determine how someone else's "pregnancy" should be handled.

In contrast, Clara and Courtney both take the position that interfering with someone else's pregnancy is not something they get to do, irrespective of how many people are demanding it. Yes, Courtney's objection ("It's just a baby!") is ill-formed, but the overall vector of the story seems to me about how every bugger else needs to just butt out. The focus on the majority lacking the authority to make a decision for somebody else underlines this theory.

In fact, even if this is an anti-choice parable, it would seem to me that the tell isn't that the mother is ignored, but that if Lundvik is intended as a pro-choice character, she's a pro-choice character hellbent on travelling the world (and the space around it) forcing other people to have abortions.

Which, astonishing as it is, is actually something various anti-choice activists insist is the pro-choice endgame. Not to ensure society respects a woman's control over her own body, but to usher in an era of enforced abortions as sacrifices to the gods of socialism, whilst we dance around cackling to the light of burning flags and have sex with whoever and whatever we please.

And maybe that really is what's being suggested here. Maybe Harness is genuinely that unhinged, and Moffat really is so inattentive as to let that slip through. Maybe that's actually a more plausible reading than a story about respecting the rights and lives of others against the selfish whims of the mob which happens to roughly fit a framework we deplore.

That's not the way I'd bet, though.

[1] Throughout this post I'm going to describe the creature hatching from the egg as a "baby".  That's because it's in the process of hatching, making "foetus" seem a bad term for it.  This should not be taken to mean I don't distinguish between babies and foetuses. It's also worth noting here that I don't think the text is confusing the two either. The only reason this abortion metaphor uses a baby rather than a foetus seems to me to be an obvious question of ramping up tension.  "We have only six months to make this decision!" doesn't have the necessary urgency to make the episode work.

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