AI: Problematic Media


Educating yourself about things like privilege and the kyriarchy is always a good idea, but it does have one slight drawback: learning how every form of media you once enjoyed freely has something wrong with it. From films that don’t even manage to involve two named female characters (or PoC characters) that talk to each other about something other than a man (or white person); to casual transphobia, hipster ableism and ironic racism in mainstream comedy shows; to the wide use of words that seem innocuous until you learn about their troubled past; once you start noticing things you can’t stop. It’s like Pringles, only less delicious (but just as bad for your blood pressure).

This is clearly a reflection of how screwed up the world in general is, which can be a difficult thing to learn. It’s easy to feel powerless, so changing your media consumption habits or examining them critically can be ways to educate yourself and keep yourself aware of injustice. At the same time, such actions can feel like literal armchair activism, particularly when those in charge continue to reinforce the status quo and dismiss any criticism as coming from people just trying to be offended. (Something is certainly trying, but it isn’t us…)

There are a few ways you can try to deal with this constant analysis without giving up altogether. This article by the Social Justice League lists a few of them, but if you’re anything like me you’ll still be conflicted. Some people, of course, say things like “you’re taking things too seriously, loosen up and enjoy life!”. While that dazzling argument clearly works for a lot of people, it’s also playing right into the hands of these problematic concepts, in addition to silencing people who try to draw attention to the fact that not everyone has the liberty of ignoring these things.

What’s your strategy for enjoying problematic media? If there’s a line, where do you draw it? Have you found an example of a TV show, film, etc. that doesn’t have any issues of this sort? Is there anything ordinary consumers can do to make a tangible difference, or is it all a waste of time and energy?

The Afternoon Inqueery (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Queereka community. Look for it to appear on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, at 3pm ET.

(Featured image by abbot45 on Flickr.)

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  1. I write fanfiction. Supernatural has passed the Bechdel test maybe three times? (At some point I need to get back to working out stats on that.) I have written one ficlet per episode, for every episode from 1×01 to 7×02 inclusive including the anime spinoff, that passes the Bechdel test.

    • That’s awesome! (Your writing, I mean, not the show’s lack of meaningful female characters.) Obviously the Bechdel test isn’t perfect, but it can also pretty revealing, especially when applied on a scale like that.

      I wonder if one reason some writers, TV show runners, etc. are against fanworks is that they don’t like being shown ways that they’ve potentially gone wrong – particularly with regards to more inclusive fanworks?

    • Oops, thank you! (Grrr, curved quotation marks.) It’s definitely an article I find myself referring to over and over – or just reading to reassure myself that I’m not a terrible person…

  2. I have this all the time particularly in comedies, I love QI, Thick of it etc. but they have mostly done transphobic ‘jokes’ at some point, puts me off that episode but I still watch. Sometimes it puts me off completely the Family Guy episodes where Quagmire’s dad transitions put me off it completely, and the IT crowd episode with a trans woman too…

    • I’ve had the same experience – for example, I’ve been watching a lot of “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” recently, and it’s saddening how many transphobic and other sorts of problematic jokes were allowed (and to an extend relied upon by the performers). It does seem like transphobia is one of the last “acceptable” prejudices, which is really wrong.

      • Trans Media Watch is helping to change that slowly, though some when called out on it don’t see the problem still… A new version of whos line is it anyway aired recently on bbc2, can’t remember what it was called now, and had transphobic jokes in nearly every episode. Worse thing is when people who should know better make them e.g. Stephen Fry, who got asked to apologise on twitter and wouldn’t 🙁 Jimmy Carr is an arse who can’t seem to stop making them either…

        • I didn’t know that about Stephen Fry – he should know better! Though considering his reaction to being called out on other dodgy comments it’s not all that surprising. Just very disappointing.

  3. I love zombie movies, but unfortunately it seems most of them are directed towards a…certain…demographic (young cis-male gun enthusiasts?). I finally got around to watching “Survival of the Dead” which was a pretty terrible movie….in this case, though, my knowledge of privilege helped to make it more entertaining. Once I realized that the ratio of speaking male characters to female characters was about 7 to 1, I decided to watch to see if the movie would pass the Bechdel test. Spoiler alert, but at the 1 hour 14 minute point, the only two living women, who both have names, are in the same scene, and they sort-of talk to each other! In that, one woman says something and then the other woman says something else that could possibly be a response (but not necessarily)!

    And, to boot, they’re talking about a female zombie, not a man! Woo! Score! Made the whole movie worth it.

    So, clearly, I try to turn problematic media into a game in order to get through it. I’m not sure how productive that is, but at least it takes the hurt away.

  4. As an “ordinary consumer,” I try to use problematic media to ninja-start conversations about this sort of thing with people who wouldn’t normally be having them. (“Oh hey, look, all the people in this scene are white men! What are the odds?” … I may occasionally be guilty of sarcasm. A little.) I win and the movie/TV show/book loses if I get someone with one of the axes of privilege it has a problem with to see the problem.

    (Unfortunately, I lose AND a little more of my faith in humanity dies when this attempt results in me being accused of being a feminazi and/or told to get off my soapbox. But hey! You can’t win ’em all.)

    I do, at any rate, find problematic media easier to enjoy when I know the people around me are aware of its issues, too. When I’m the only one who has a problem with it, that’s when I can’t enjoy it despite whatever redeeming qualities it might have.

    I think the closest thing to non-problematic media I’ve seen has been the Avatar: The Last Airbender cartoon. The lack of queer representation is the only issue I had, and it *does* challenge gender stereotypes frequently and effectively. It gets points for being racially diverse, passing the Bechdel test with flying colors and a fanfare, and just all around being awesome television.

    • It can be a really great conversation starter with the right people (i.e. not the “stop being serious”/”trying to be offended” crowd, but even they can change). Sucks when you’re the only person you know who sees the problem though. That’s one reason I’m glad the internet (including the three feminist Doctor Who blogs I follow) exists!

      (I have heard lots of other good stuff about A:TLA too – may have to check it out…)

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