“It’s just a show, I should really just relax”

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.

 Be angry if you feel angry. Listen to others’ anger. Perhaps, then, we will finally have shows where we can really just relax.

11 responses to ““It’s just a show, I should really just relax”

  • quiteirregular

    Great point. Particularly like the point that everything is “implicated” – a particular problem when people attacked “Sherlock” and implied that the source text is therefore a bastion of progressive ideas, which it ain’t. And your point that we needn’t worry about the desire to escape, only the locations we escape to.

    There’s an article on Pride and Prejudice (name escapes me) in which the critic essentially points out (to imagined howls of protest from a lot of Austen criticism, for who exegesis should only reveal JA’s feminist credentials) that however well the plot works, Lizzie’s courtship and wedding are a fantasy. They’re a superbly managed piece of wish-fulfilment which persuade you they could happen via literary skill. They’re escapism for young girls who want to believe that rich, powerful, sexy men only want women who challenge them, call them out and mock them. But she ends not by discarding the book, but essentially saying “If this is a fantasy, we need more fantasies like it.”

  • Jamie

    If you’re referring to the comments on your critique of Sherlock, I don’t think anyone was arguing that it’s okay to have sexist content in a tv show, rather that the content itself wasn’t sexist.

  • Apparent Moron

    You make a good argument and I take back my comments I made about it ‘being a TV show’ and you are entitled to be angry at its content. Heck knows, I have been ticked off by ‘just a TV show’ before now so I should have not responded in such a petty manner.
    I did love Sherlock the other night; I got swept away and I really did not see the problematic content that you have blogged about. I do now, however, see that you have a valid point although I still do not share in the majority of your views.
    I would like to know what your views would have been if Irene Adler had just been a character Moffat himself had created and that there wasn’t a comparison to make. I have to say, I was expecting Irene to ‘win’ at the end just because of ACD’s version and was surprised when she didn’t. Maybe that is simply what the Moff was going for- unpredictability. I still find it insulting that there is only considered to be ‘the woman’ anyway. Surely there are more intelligent women out there who could match Holmes. And maybe, one day, someone may write one… Irene could just be the one that took his heart. And when you consider how unfeeling Sherlock usually is then I would say that is quite something.

  • mark

    brilliant!
    You can’t not communicate is what they say, and i had no idea this is what WAS being communicated til you pointed it out. I love Sherlock and still do, but this (and the various competing comments) make it more interesting. Watching it is the first bit of pleasure, talking and reading about it gives you a second go at it.
    If stuff is in such plain sight, it is so more easily missed so very worthwhile pointing out. “just TV” is bollocks. TV makes it worse by making it appear normal.
    This is why blogging is brilliant when done well.

  • Mink

    I completely agree with your point of view expressed here, as I did with your article on ‘Sherlock’. Indeed, in my opinion, there are not remotely enough people expressing these kinds of views in any way – let alone so articulately – on the internet or in ‘real life’. The amount of dismissive comments to a Guardian article expressing a similar POV on ‘Sherlock’ was truly shocking to me. I thought we’d come further than that; evidently I was wrong.

    Your ‘Sherlock’ article brought me to this blog, but I’ll now be bookmarking the blog homepage.

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  • gravityshmavity

    I happen to disagree with the claim that the episodes central theme had sexist undercurrents, but I think you are absolutely right in this post. If you think it is sexist, you should speak out – because trivialising the accusations and pretending sexism isn’t a problem is the way it gets worse.

    “I [disagree with] what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

  • silverchouette

    I think the point of it all was to say that if you want to point out stuff like that, start where it’s obvious. There’s no need to defend feminism on such a small front, there are a lot of political and social issues where your voice is needed more than for a TV show. (Seeing how you wrote such a long article about it and spend such a long time analyzing it I mean … you could have invested that in worthier causes, I think.)
    Plus, there’s the fact with a lot of people (including me) not agreeing with your interpretation, but that will happen anywhere and should not be a problem.

    • gravityshmavity

      I completely disagree with this.

      “No reason to defend feminism on such a small front”?

      For one, Sherlock isn’t a “small” front. It was watched by 10 million people! If 10 million people are getting a sexist message then that IS cause for concern.
      Then again, even if it was on a small scale, why not raise the issue? It’s all the small fronts put together that are still responsible for gender discrimination anyway so, if anything, the small fronts are just as important as the big ones.

      A worthier cause? If you ask me, a small cause like this is just as worthy as a big one.

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