Liking Problematic Things

I like TV shows, books, and movies that are imperfect matches for my values. They are produced in societies that are, likewise, imperfect, and few cultural creations can withstand any kind of purity test.

That doesn’t mean that you just get to ignore the problem. It also doesn’t necessarily mean you have to stop enjoying something that is problematic. What you have to do, as is so often the case, is to start with listening.

I just ran across this great post from the blog Social Justice League – How to be a fan of problematic things. I found it by reading Shakesville (Melissa McEwan) on Mad Max and feminism (tl;dr it’s an imperfect feminist film that is a fantastic feminist film. Also Tom Hardy gets it), and that took me to McEwan’s piece on watching The Heat and what it meant to see a body with which she could identify be presented matter-of-factly on the screen (as opposed to the usual fat-shaming), and from there to Social Justice League. It’s from 2012, but I’m writing tomorrow about good representations of disability on problematic shows, so it’s very timely for me.

Some quotes:

Firstly, acknowledge that the thing you like is problematic and do not attempt to make excuses for it. It is a unique irritation to encounter a person who point blank refuses to admit that something they like is problematic

Don’t deny. Listen.

Secondly, do not gloss over the issues or derail conversations about the problematic elements. Okay, so you can admit that Dune is problematic. But wait, you’re not done! You need to be willing to engage with people about it!

Also listen.

Thirdly you must acknowledge other, even less favourable, interpretations of the media you like. Sometimes you still enjoy a movie or book because you read a certain, potentially problematic scene in a certain way – but others read it entirely differently, and found it more problematic

Did I mention, listen?

As fans, sometimes we need to remember that the things we like don’t define our worth as people. So there’s no need to defend them from every single criticism or pretend they are perfect. Really loving something means seeing it as it really is, not as you wish it were. You can still be a good fan while acknowledging the problematic elements of the things you love. In fact, that’s the only way to be a good fan of problematic things.

I’m a fan of this blog post. Go read it.

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