After the post where I pointed out some sexism in a TV show, I found myself being chided with the MST3K mantra: I was told it was just TV, and I didn’t need to worry about the ins and outs of it all. Some claimed that they were “embarrassed” to be women and/or feminists because I had pointed out some sexism in a TV show–the feeling here is mutual, and I am thoroughly embarrassed to share an identity with people lacking such a capacity for critical thinking.
It’s just a show, they told me. I should really just relax, they said.
And they’re wrong. I fail to see why one should not criticise something in the mass media for displaying problematic content. It does not mean one needs to disregard the entire thing because it is utter crap: this post at Social Justice League provides a handy guide to being a fan of things which are problematic. In short (though you should really read the whole thing, as it’s brilliant), one needs to acknowledge the problems and not make excuses for them; not gloss over issues or derail conversations about problematic content; and acknowledge other, less favourable interpretations of media you like.
After all, there are very few films, TV shows or books which are completely unproblematic. It is all produced within an oppressive system wherein racism, sexism and ableism prevail and therefore seep into popular culture. Cracked hit the nail on the head with their deconstruction of “Five Old-Timey Prejudices That Still Show Up In Every Movie“, and there are heaps more on top of this.
Should we therefore “really just relax” when we see something on the screen that we would never stand for in real life? Of course not. As for the defenders of sexism on screen, are they perhaps as willing to let oppression slide in the meatspace? I suspect that they may, and that worries me greatly, and strengthens my resolve to call bullshit where I see it.
The function of critiquing and drawing attention to oppression in mass media is made clear by MediocreDave (again, you should read the whole article, as it’s great):
My only answer is of course it’s ok to seek escapism, to watch things for pleasure without composing a political response. But that’s why we need to force improvements of our popular entertainment, so that it’s possible to watch them without having to confront the tiresome and horrific inequalities that define our daily lives. Art can only ever be so far ahead of the society that produced it, and is likely to be a fair way behind, and as such will always be riddled with problems which, in our ignorance and privilege, we may only be dimly aware of. If we attempt to deny ourselves and each other, explicitly or implicitly, the act of critical analysis of the art that we consume, be it by claiming that the work doesn’t warrant so sophisticated a reading or by declaring that offence taken is somehow not valid, we leave ourselves disenfranchised. If we value our ability to watch a television program unchallenged as higher than someone else’s ability to watch it uninsulted then we have probably picked the wrong side in a long established relationship of privilege and degradation. We may choose to sit quietly through the objectionable bits of a work of art, from time to time, even when it offends us, but we can’t expect other people to do so with us (even on Christmas day) and we must be prepared to acknowledge it when the things we like problematically contain things we have to hate.