“But she can’t live there” – Cultural Assumptions and Kids

Yesterday was a pretty good if busy day. Last night, I attended the monthly translators’ meet-up at Leo’s Restaurant. I had pasta with spicy tuna sauce, red wine and Italian hot chocolate (hot chocolate with a dash of amaretto) not to mention a lot of pleasant communication.

School went pretty well, too. About half of my afternoon class was allegedly ill. Lucky for me it was the troublemaking half, so I had only the quieter students today.

Since today was the last class before the afternoon classes get redistributed after the half-term break, the kids had clamoured to watch the second half of the Doctor Who episode we started three weeks ago. It was End of the World, second episode of the first season of the new series. Well, one kid clamoured to watch the rest of the episode, the rest were mainly happy to get to watch a film instead of doing reading comprehension and grammar exercises. And since we got started early and didn’t have a whole lot of interruptions, we had time for another 45 minute episode afterwards. The kids were not overly excited by the trailer for the next new series Doctor Who episode, The Unquiet Dead (and frankly, the whole Victorian gothic horror set in Wales with Charles Dickens and allusions to his works doesn’t work well for this demographic anyway), so we watched the first episode of Demons, which is another of my “watch with students” shows.

One thing I really like about watching British or US TV shows with kids is how this experience highlights all sorts of cultural assumptions. First of all, there was a classic example of the SF/fantasy divide in the class. A boy, obviously a budding SF fan, could totally relate to the alien laden Doctor Who episode, interpreting it via prior SF experiences.

Meanwhile, our resident reader of teen paranormal romance related far better to Demons, since it featured supernatural creatures she already knew from her reading, and interpreted the events in the show via comparing them to what she knew from Twilight, the Vampire Diaries and so on. “Oh, she’s a nice vampire, who doesn’t drink any blood, just like the Cullens.” – “Oh, she can see the future just like Alice from Twilight.” – “Oh, these people are vampire hunters just like the parents in the Vampire Diaries.” Yes, SFF and horror people, the coming generation will interpret horror film and fiction through the lens of Twilight. Live with it!

Our resident paranormal romance reader also remarked that “the monsters in Doctor Who were really cool, but there wasn’t enough romance.”

Now I was a Doctor Who fan before the new series and hung out on fan forums when the new series started up, so I remember all too well the outcry that there was too much romance in the new Doctor Who, too much gayness and too much domestic stuff and anyway, the Doctor like all timelords was asexual and never ever had sex or was even interested in such matters ever. Yes, by that point I was wondering whether they had ever watched the original series at all, too, because just because you don’t see it on screen doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

But looking at the new Doctor Who through the eyes of a 13-year-old raised on Twilight and anime, there really isn’t a whole lot of romance on an episode to episode level. In the first two episodes, which is as far as we’ve gotten, there’s Rose and Mickey, whose relationship is comes across more as a friends with benefits (not that a 13-year-old would know what that is) relationship than as a proper romance. Jackie Tyler tries to hit on the Doctor, the Doctor is obviously quite taken with Jabe, the tree woman (and who could blame him?) and there is some handholding between Rose and the Doctor. But that’s it. The show gets a bit more romancey in the David Tennant era, but there really isn’t a whole lot of romance in there at all. So in retrospect, all that screeching by hardcore old school fans looks even sillier than it did at the time.

Not that Demons fares that much better in the romance department, but at least there’s the ongoing “just good friends or more” situation with Ruby and Luke, the jealousy between Ruby and Mina and at least in the first episode, a hint of a spark between Rupert and Luke’s mum, which the kids probably wouldn’t notice at all, because Rupert is an old guy and not on their radar. Whereas for me, Demons is basically Gene Hunt hunting monsters.

Another thing that I’ve noticed is that Philip Glennister probably shoots more living beings in the first episode of Demons alone than in Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes taken together. Because Gene Hunt, for all his bluster and violence, only very rarely kills people. There’s the ringleader of the prison revolt (who really had it coming), Martin Summers (ditto) and a dog* in Ashes to Ashes and one or two of the crooks involved in the train raid in Life on Mars and maybe someone else that I missed. He also accidentally shoots Alex while firing at someone else. And that’s it for five seasons and forty episodes. This is also what always bothered my about Demons, that the Rupert character shoots so many creatures in cold blood. Because it doesn’t fit a character who otherwise isn’t all that far away from Gene Hunt.

Finally – and this was a real surprise regarding cultural assumptions – one boy couldn’t get his head around a scene where the Ruby character is walking home and is kidnapped by a monster. Because Ruby lives in a typically British council estate block. There’s even a line about that in the dialogue when Rupert offers to walk Ruby to her door, because “it’s a bad neighbourhood” and Ruby mistakes the offer for a crack about her living on a council estate.

So the boy watches Ruby walk through the nightly council estate – not even particularly grotty looking, compared to others I have seen – and exclaims, “But surely she doesn’t live there?” I say, “It’s an apartment block, you know like in Neue Vahr or Osterholz Tenever.” But the boy just shakes his head and says, “But you can’t live there. That’s not a home.” Later on, when we see the flat where Luke and his mother live – the sort of loft type flat that a single mother could never ever afford in London – the boy asks, “Does he live in the same apartment block as Ruby?” I calmly explain that London is a very big city with five million people and that so many people can’t all live in individual houses.

Of course, those kids live in a suburban/rural area with individual housing, but we do have some smaller apartment blocks even here in Stuhr and we also have housing estates in Bremen. So the boy’s inability to contemplate anyone living in such a place was somewhat surprising.

*When told off for shooting the dog, Gene basically replies that the guard dog was preventing the police from rescuing a teenaged girl in the process of being raped and murdered, so really what could he have done? Which is an interesting reversal of the cynical “Kill as many people as you like, but never ever harm a dog or cat” rule in US TV as well as a commentary on the sort of people who get all bent out of shape over a dead dog/cat/horse but aren’t bothered at all by dead humans, including innocent ones.

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