Stage Left: The Long-Promised Post on Liking Problematic Media
As promised when I wrote about [title of show]...
And when I wrote about next to normal
And also when I wrote about Nine, just this week...
I am going to be talking about something that pretty much everyone I know has struggled with: feeling like a bad feminist/activist/organizer/person because you like a piece of media that has really problematic elements. Lord knows this is an internal battle I've fought, and continue to fight. All three of the above-named musicals are shows I like and/or love. They have compelling plots, or fantastic scores, or are hilarious. Yet all three have significant issues from a social-justice perspective: I wrote about those in Nine and next to normal, and while my [title of show] post was more complementary, there's some really problematic humor in the book for the show (the part of the script that isn't sung, non-musical folks). I could easily list another half-dozen musicals that fall into the same category for me. Not to mention books, video games, movies, television...
So what do we do? I don't know about those reading this, but for my part I have real trouble just "turning off" the analytic part of my brain—I know people who can, but I'm not one of them. Even when I'm really enjoying something, oppressive elements jump out at me, like a sour note or bad chord would. But given the sheer prevalence of bigotry and thoughtless marginalization in our societies, I can't commit to only consuming media that is wholly unproblematic—there is so little of it, if any.
How do we juggle the competing parts of our brain? Strike a balance between "I just want to enjoy myself" and "this is harmful"? For me, at least, there is a tipping point—I can watch and enjoy Nine, but Glee on television leaves me completely cold. I want nothing to do with it. I don't know what that point is, but somewhere a line gets crossed. I suspect everyone has one, a point beyond which any entertainment you derive from a piece of media doesn't make up for the oppressive BS you have to wade through to get it. Everyone's line is in a different place, or based on different things—some can consume intensely problematic stuff and still enjoy certain elements, whereas some are extremely sensitive to the alienating effects mainstream portrayals of marginalized groups seem to have.
So how do we reconcile that? To be perfectly honest, I'm not even sure we can. I know I don't have any easy answers for how I balance it. I just know some things I can manage and some repulse me. A lot fall somewhere in between. In a perfect world, this would be a non-issue—the viewpoints espoused by the media we consume wouldn't further contribute to the marginalization and exploitation of oppressed people. Heck, in a perfect world, marginalization wouldn't happen! I have no idea what a world with no harmful media would look like. I don't even know if I can imagine it. But that world is not the world we live in, and so we have to make sacrifices, to compromise our principles. And so I put the question to you, readers:
How do you reconcile that?
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