Is it possible to construct a text accurately depicting a time when racism or sexism were prevalent, without this text being inherently racist or sexist itself?
How would one go about doing such a thing? Perhaps you depict both of these cultural existences as being something to condemn? If so, from whose perspective do you show this from?
In the case of Life on Mars we have the contemporary eyes of Sam. Sam attempts to treat Annie as his equal, where all others treat her as an object and call her a 'plonk'. He looks thoroughly put out by racist inferences. The comments which are littered throughout the show are still sexist. They're still racist. Are they now rendered acceptable because they are shown in counterpoint to Sam's opinion? Are they acceptable because they're products of the time? In general, the racist and sexist qualities of the time are shown, through Sam, as the big bad vices of the early 70s. Bigotry is seen as an era gone by. At the same time, though, it is clearly a mirror of today.
Let us look at this through other texts. You cannot have a Sam-like figure in an adaptation of something such as the BBC's recent production of Bleak House. This depicts a world where women are most certainly seen as inferior to men in every way bar childbearing. Is this depiction not sexist because that's just 'how things were done', because it is a text of historical importance? Or perhaps it is sexist, and we accept that it is sexist, and we view this material because it shows us how far we have come, and how far we have yet to go. Does the viewer become the Sam-like figure in these situations, critically assessing the action through a modern perspective, an enactor in choosing the messages the texts present?
In order to combat racism and sexism today, you first need to admit to the racism and sexism of the past. Showing these through popular media appears to be one method currently in use. However, if we relegate racism and sexism solely as 'relics of the past', without examining how these texts are racist and sexist in their own ingrained way at the moment, how can we ever hope to succeed?