Sunday, March 2, 2014

The First Question: What Ethnicity Best Describes You?

What Ethnicity Best Describes You? 

 Dr. Claire Jenkins and I have a project called The First Question (TFQ), based on our shared interest in Doctor Who.  For Dr. Jenkins, Doctor Who represents a means to explore questions linked to popular culture and gender.  For me, The Doctor represents an opportunity to investigate the superhero archetype outside the U.S. context.  Through our conversations and later presentations, we decided to develop a project to facilitate our exploration.   

TFQ in an online survey focus on Doctor Who fandom. Initially, looking at examples of digital humanities projects, I intended TFQ to collect fan responses to a questionnaire and allow them to upload artifacts.  The technical hurdles for that kind of online portal proved too much for me to accomplish.  Taking a step back and assessing the project's goals, I worked (with Dr. Jenkins) to hone a set of substantive questions aimed at exploring Doctor Who around questions of identity.  Naturally, our decision to pursue this approach was influenced by the explosion of scholarship that has greeted the program since its 2005 return and the 50th anniversary of the program  in 2013.  


Although scholars have argued the new series revived by Russell T. Davies was highly critical of the United States, TFQ seeks to understand the audience through their reflections. Building on scholarship that has discussed Doctor Who’s link to 9/11 geopolitics and the consequences of the war on terror, TFQ asks questions to garner insights linked to identity, culture, and power in Doctor Who.  



In practice, TFQ has collected over 600 response from all over the world.  With so many responses, we are slowly processing meaning in the answers. Currently, I'm concerned with clear conclusions that I can pull from the raw responses.  The word cloud above is based on the question, "What Ethnicity Best Describes You?"  

 I will spare you the story of the long discussion I had with a colleague about the difference between ethnicity and race and why ultimately I asked both questions in the survey.  Moving beyond the why of the question, the result sparks reflection. The image was generated by Wordle, which creates clouds by presenting words that appear more frequently as larger than words that do not. By taking the raw response from the ethnicity question, you can see the result.  We hoped to get response from places other than the United States and the United Kingdom.  We did, but not surprisingly, the Anglo-American success of Doctor Who came through in the responses.  This conclusion is too simplistic.  Indeed, Scottish, Irish, and English were lesser responses, which I believe will factor into discussions of the Britishness in Doctor Who.   Our efforts come at a time when fandom is waiting for Peter Capaldi's turn as the iconic character and Steven Moffat's tenure as showrunner faces strong criticism.   Perhaps our efforts can provide some clarity to this moment in the program's long history. 


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