Anxiety and the Doctor

[posted by Greg]

One of us is reading Slow Man by Coetzee, the other Travels in the Scriptorium by Paul Auster. Maybe because of this rather heavy reading we took a break to watch a DVD from the library of an old (Tom Baker) episode of Dr. Who. Nothing irreal about Dr. Who of course, but what caught my attention was the contrast between the new Dr. Who (a new season of which was being previewed on the CD) and the good-natured older series. The preview was a reminder of how anxiety-ridden the new series is, representing in this way the paranoia of Tony Blair’s England. Its basic thesis: that the universe is such that the Earth will forever be assaulted by one set of evil aliens after another, who must all be dealt with ruthlessly. Seeing such anxiety on display raised the question in my mind as to whether there is a similar anxiety in irrealism. Paranoia, after all, is an anxiety in as much as it represents a belief that the means we have at our disposal are inadequate to the ends (in this case protecting the Heimat of Blair’s England from evil); so, then, is the more generalized anxiety of irrealism similar?

In part it is, I would answer, but I would argue that it is in fact a very different application of anxiety. The use of anxiety in irrealism depicts a basic human condition — i.e., that the goals we set for ourselves are always subject to delay, interruption, or outright denial — whereas the anxiety represented by the new Dr. Who (and American television series such as “24”) is an attempt to play upon and manipulate our generalized anxiety toward a specific political goal (besides the potential of higher ratings that such sensationalism can bring). In turn this induces a state of paranoia that attempts to legitimize a kind of police state authoritarianism. Something the old Dr. Who would not have tolerated!

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