Is it OK to have a problematic fave? No, really. I’m asking. You see, She Who Shall Not Be Named’s completely unnecessary addition to an already pointless year and my subsequent elimination of Harry Potter from my diet really got me thinking. I mean, what are the rules for consuming media ethically? Sure, I’ve been considerate about content for a long while now. But JK Rowling and the Transphobic Tweet (and sequels) really made me think about the people behind the work. Is it OK if our favorite artists are a little bit problematic?
Media ethics is a broad category, and for now I’m talking about fictional content. First up, I wanna acknowledge that this is tough stuff. Other branches of applied ethics (religion, veganism, etc.) are “easier” to follow, because there are prescribed rules to be analyzed and interpreted. When talking about the ethics of consuming fictional media, it’s like the Wild Wild West: everyone’s gotta make their own rules and follow their own guidelines for media consumption. I thought I’d share my process and the questions I’ve been asking myself, since I’m currently wading through these murky waters. So …
Put Down the Book. Close the Browse Tab. Do Not Pass Go.
This works when content is obviously offensive. Unchecked racism? Women characters only existing to support their boyfriends? Quick pass from me. The thing is … despite my best efforts, I still miss the more insidious stuff. What then? How do we know someone falls into the “problematic fave” category?
When in Doubt, Consult Uncle Google
If a piece heavily features a group I don’t belong to — especially if its author doesn’t belong to that group either — I hop onto the interwebz to see what people of that group have to say. While internet commentary is always a mixed bag, there’s usually an overwhelming consensus. My next step is closely related.
“Twitter: It’s What’s Happening”
Because what’s important, too, is how an artist interacts with their audience. When they screw up, do they apologize and do better next time? Or do they double down?
I’ve always appreciated Emily Andras’s (creator and showrunner of Wynonna Earp) willingness to engage with fans who question her and decisions made by the show. Like when an actor of Filipina decent was hired to play a Latina character.
I am public as can be while still having a career. Some days I get so frustrated, I don't care if I still have one, if it means pushing. I'm not making excuses. I'm just saying I can't do all of this…here. I'm already on permanent probation for DFWMF. I also DGAF about that.
— Emily Andras (@emtothea) August 5, 2020
I get that, I truly do. I just can't discuss it on twitter. Let's connect another way? Only if you're game.
— Emily Andras (@emtothea) August 5, 2020
Andras’s Twitter feed is full of similar interactions. Not all of them are perfect:
We all fucked up. No one is denying that. But the buck stops with me and I truly apologize. That being said, I am hurt that you have compared me to JKR, who is dangerously transphobic. I hope Earp still can bring you joy. If it no longer does, that's on us. I'm sorry G.
— Emily Andras (@emtothea) July 28, 2020
She doesn’t get it right all the time, but there’s effort there. I think more people could stand to look at themselves in the mirror. Cause some people dig in their heels. And that can be a tough pill to swallow.
Let’s say a piece passes the first steps with at least a B. Well. What could possibly happen now?
Intersectionality is probably the diciest place we find ourselves next. I think mainstream queer media especially has difficulty dealing with intersectionality well. If we use television as a standard, queer media representation is dominated by gay able-bodied white cismen.
Of course, I don’t only consume art to see myself, but you know, it’s nice, so it sucks when you can’t ever find your full self. It’s like choosing sides, when in reality, you can’t actually ever separate your identities. I will always be Middle Eastern and queer. Also, allyship and problematic representation …
Which brings us back to people doubling down. For example, I really connected with Rainbow Rowell’s (still imperfect) heavily queer Simon Snow series, which basically re-imagines The Chosen One archetype and lets Harry and Draco fall in love. Imagine my horror when I found out Rowell’s published some really racist shizz, refuses to acknowledge it, AND is being awarded with a movie. Problematic fave to the max.
(note: the following tweets are not a successive thread)
I am EXTREMELY DELIGHTED — like, OVER THE MOON — to announce that @thehikarism will direct the 'Eleanor & Park' film being produced by @picturestart and Plan B Entertainment. pic.twitter.com/clRnulJEyV
— Rainbow Rowell (@rainbowrowell) July 5, 2020
this book is highkey racist though…
— fran fontaine ⚡️ (@fgarlands) July 6, 2020
I felt so betrayed and let down, but I couldn’t put her queer book down. Even though I harbored immense guilt about it. I know I know I know.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Sigh. The million dollar question.
My first criterion is to prioritize works created by minorities. After the Harry Potter and Simon Snow incidents, I found a really cool database of queer sci-fi and fantasy books that lets you filter by queer authors, if you prefer. Unfortunately only interacting with #own-voices works is limiting, and it can actually backfire on diversity and inclusion when we insist that only people of a marginalized group tell their own stories. Whoever’s telling the story, I personally think that the relevant group should continue to be the gatekeepers for what’s acceptable. But that leads us back to the problem: When do we let go?
For instance, it’s a lot easier to decide never to watch Kevin Spacey act again than it is to boycott Rainbow Rowell. The truth is it’s not hard for me to say adios to Harry Potter, because it’s basically a bunch of straight white wizards. I loved it as a kid because it let me escape, but two decades later, I’ve found pieces more relevant to my life. But, is it letting down my siblings of color to enjoy Wynonna Earp because the queer content is just so perfect? Can I love Black-ish despite its toxic masculinity (that isn’t always checked)? How do I engage with a show like Brooklyn Nine-Nine — which spoils us for inclusivity — when it’s essentially a fairy tale about cops?
Is it OK to enjoy one piece by an artist and recognize its value? Or accept that parts of work are problematic? And what if the artists are dead? Since they can no longer reap financial benefit from their work, is it OK to spend money on it? Is that logical? I don’t know. It’s a constant negotiation between doing the right thing and separation anxiety, with feeling seen, but not at the expense of someone else. Perhaps it boils down to weighing the net positive against the negative. And always acknowledging your privilege. All that being said, I still don’t know if it’s OK to have a problematic fave.
This article was originally published on 10/4/20
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