Liking Problematic Things Is Fine – Just Don’t BE Problematic

August 1, 2016

And yes, there IS a difference.

It’s hard to be both aware of the world and an enjoyer of casual media these days.

It used to be that actors could be quietly racist behind the closed doors of their giant mansions, but with more and more of our lives being lived on the internet, it’s easy to find out if your fave is problematic, and it’s increasingly likely they are.

And if the actors aren’t a problem, the writing is. Or the director says something derogatory in an interview. Or we’re whitewashing roles originally intended for people of color.

There’s something wrong with just about everything we consume, and this isn’t news. It’s just that as we’re becoming more socially aware as a society, those of us with privilege are finally starting to spot all those hairy castings or tone-deaf tweets.

Just so we’re clear, the fact that these conversations are happening is an extremely good thing.

Ghostbusters is the latest hit that’s been considered controversial for a lot of really crappy reasons. A bunch of guys took to the internet and decided to try to critique it to death because it’s creators – one of which was original ghostbuster Dan Aykroyd – dared to make the cast all female. There were several solid critiques of it as well, though, and leading the pack was the fact that there was only one person of color cast among the four leads. To top it off, that one woman was also the only member who wasn’t a scientist. She was your standard Hollywood-branded stereotypical black woman, and it rightly pissed a lot of people off.

Those of us who have areas of privilege and want to be good allies sometimes feel like we’re at a crossroads in moments like these. For a lot of reasons, Ghostbusters is great, and you had already planned to pick up tickets with a friend when you read this article about how it has these problematic stereotypical views of black women in it. What’s a good ally to do?

It may surprise you to hear that there is no one solid answer to that question. You may have been expecting me to say “Absolutely do not see it”, but sometimes you have to see the thing. Sometimes you may not be fully equipped to provide a critique of what was problematic when you haven’t seen it in its entirety. Sometimes you promised your mom you’d see it with her on her birthday. And sometimes you think you might genuinely enjoy parts of it, and that terrifies you.

Don’t let it. Enjoy things. Go see Ghostbusters, or watch Sherlock, or enjoy the new Star Trek franchise, and have a good time. You’re allowed to do that. This alone doesn’t make you a bad ally. What does is refusing to acknowledge the problems.

Due to the movie’s success, an older skit performed by Kate McKinnon (who plays Jillian Holtzmann) has come to the surface. It’s horrifically transphobic and pretty cringeworthy to sit through. I love McKinnon, and I especially loved her as Holtzmann. But when I saw a description of the skit and a link to its actual performance, I wanted desperately to pretend I hadn’t seen it.

If I could just scroll right on by and forget that this bit of trans mockery existed, I could go right on guiltlessly loving this actress and her character. But I didn’t. I watched the skit, and after that I had no choice but to share it. The skit itself is 10 years old and certainly from a different time when it comes to acceptability in humor – but that doesn’t make it any less transphobic.

The crappy racist things our grandparents say are still both crappy and racist. And as a member of the LGBT community, I’d like to think we should hold McKinnon to an even higher standard.

There are hundreds of shows and books and comics you could apply the same idea to. As a huge Firefly fan, the knowledge of how depressingly bigoted Adam Baldwin is makes me sad on a regular basis, as does the show’s mysterious decision to include absolutely no Asian actors or actresses in a world that’s supposedly half Chinese. I still love it, but I question these two things loudly and frequently – and so should you.

It’s these questions that have allowed this slow awareness and change in media to happen in the first place. We’re holding creators responsible for what they put out into the world, and it makes for a steep but necessary learning curve.

Enjoy your things, wear your “I’m SherLocked” button proudly, just don’t defend Martin Freeman’s trademark sexism and bigotry. Share articles about how great Ghostbusters was, but also share the ones about its problematic presentation of women of color. You can enjoy your things without defending their problems.

Images via weheartit.com and giphy.com.

Comment: Do you think we’ve all just become a little too politically correct?


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