“It is both possible (and even necessary) to simultaneously enjoy media while also being critical of it’s more problematic or pernicious aspects.” Anita Sarkeesian, Feminist Frequency
We live in a world dominated by media. It’s everywhere - your TV, your radio, your phones, movies, the internet, plastered on posters and billboards. It’s pretty darn hard to live without coming in to contact with some form of media on even a daily basis.
Now, this wouldn’t normally be a bad thing, but more often than not, the media we consume on a regular basis is media created by the major (toxic) systems in place in our world - more often than not consisting of sexist, misogynistic, violent, white, able-bodied, skinny, upper class individuals. The media we consume enforces the status-quo in society (read: Keeping people who aren’t adhering to the above constraints buying things and feeling inadequate). It is, in essence, the police force that reminds women that they aren’t men, or people of colour that they aren’t white, poor people that they aren’t rich…you get the point.
And the more and more you become aware of this fact, you see it in EVERYTHING. I’ll be writing a post later on about how the media we consume influences us, and how to critique media to understand it better, but I wanted to start with one of the most important factors, which is…enjoying media while being aware that it’s problematic.
For the longest time I felt like a big sellout. I had all these fandoms I was a part of, all these books, games, TV shows, movies, and I loved them all. But there were...things...that kept getting under my skin. And I felt like to point out these things, I was betraying the fandom - I wasn't a good enough fan to look past these things.
I loved a lot of these great TV shows, movies, anime and manga, even art pieces, but they were…
Not the most (insert: feminist, inclusive, fat-friendly, positive, non-violent…etc, etc.)
And I felt BAD for that. I would watch these shows, and feel a little sick every time a woman was tied up (like seriously - ew). Or every time there were 15 white characters, and zero black ones, or every time a fat joke slipped through the script.
Want solid proof? Let’s look at one of my favourite TV shows - Supernatural. Now, by all means, I’ve been watching Supernatural (and enjoying it) for five? Seasons, I think. But, let’s be honestly fellow supernatural fans - there are A LOT of problems with the show.
Like…first and foremost - biggest. Bro-fest. Ever. Are there even females in the supernatural world? Oh wait - yes, there are. But they’re either dead, or they’re screwing the guys over. Or they’re lesbians. Or tied up/being exploited in some way. Which brings me to another problem - violence is equated with sexuality in this show (and a TON of others). If there’s a woman in peril, you can bet she’s going to either be naked, or compromised in some other way, moaning and breathing heavily, with excessive body-shots from the camera, panning over her helpless form. No thanks.
Or what about the (unsurprising) lack of racial inclusivity? There are pretty much ZERO characters of colour who are important to the plot. And let’s not even get started on the excessive use of fat jokes (there was a whole plot arc about how a supernatural race was fattening humans up like cattle and eating them. Yes, it was as sickening as it sounds).
And yet, I still love the show. I participate in the fandom like a crazed teenage girl. I spend too much time analyzing Jensen Ackles’ ass. I wait every Wednesday for the next episode of it to come out, and have been for a long time, because I like it.
And because we live in a world permeated by certain societal systems, the things we consume are bound to be problematic - products of the environment they’re made in. In just the same way that the general public was convinced women suffered from ‘hysteria’ in the 1800s, there are a lot of things the people in charge of making our TV shows (or movies, books, posters, magazines, newspapers, anime and manga, etc) take as ‘normal’ that…well, frankly, suck. A lot.
So I had to do a lot of digging, and come to terms with the fact that, yes, media kind of sucks, far too frequently. But I can’t let that stop me from enjoying it. It also can’t allow me to not acknowledge when media has crossed a line. So, for all of you wondering who you, too can attain such a…strange media-nirvana, here’s a primer of tips and tricks that might help!
HOW TO ENJOY PROBLEMATIC MEDIA WITHOUT GOING INSANE
1. Realize there is a problem. Keep this in the back of your head and repeat it as a mantra. Maybe take a media class, or read a book on media. It’s normal to feel bewildered once you fall down the rabbit hole of media analysis. You’ll be fine. I promise.
2.1 Understand the place your media comes from. For example, North American media - veerrrryyy different from Japanese media. There are different tropes, factors, beliefs, nuances - it’s a different culture (for example - in Japanese media - when a character sticks their finger in the mouth of another [kind of strange, but something we, as North Americans, would probably just look over and shrug] implies rape in Japanese society. So…different cultures - different rules). Things are not the same. Get to know the culture, regardless of what it is. This also applies for North American Culture, even if you already live there, so:
2.2 Do some research, dig deep in to media analysis, and read lots of articles with varying opinions. I often compare learning to critique media as the breaking of a dam. Once you have the tools, you can’t put them down. Once you understand the problems, you can learn a lot in a very short period of time - feminist critiques of common TV shows are some of my favourite things to read! The internet is rife with tools for you to pick up, and full of smart people with opinions (although be aware that opinion is just that - an opinion. They can be right, they can be wrong, they are almost always a bit of both). Take all of this and form your own conclusions and opinions from it all. Build a toolkit you can pull out every time you see a MANLY ad fly by in the subway, or hear a rape joke.
3. Pay attention when you’re watching. Pay attention to what makes you angry, what makes you feel sick, what doesn’t bother you (each of these are worthy of further research - what makes you angry hints at something you’re personally passionate about - consider really digging in to these subjects - you’d be a valuable advocate for the cause. What makes you sick usually hints at something that triggers you - understand it, and then try to keep away from it. What doesn’t bother you (but you know it should) hints at ignorance or perhaps some privilege. You, by all means, should learn more about this topic, and how you can be an ally to those who ARE passionate or triggered by such things. It’s the right thing to do. ;))
4. Understand WHY you LIKE the show. This is important, because if you don’t like it - why are you watching it??
5. Enjoy THOSE things. Like - really enjoy them. If you adore Jensen’s ass, then please, look forward to every time he turns around!
6. State out loud when things go wrong. I’m lucky to have a partner in crime who loves to watch these shows with me. I use M as a mirror to bounce things off of. If something really bothers me, I’ll say it out loud - to hold myself accountable, and to hopefully spark some further discussion about it later. If you don’t have an M, then perhaps keep a pad of paper, or just rant on a forum of fellow supportive people.
7. Speak out! There are problems - your silence isn’t going to fix them. You support the media you enjoy - you are a valuable fan! Share how you feel, tweet about it, send letters to people, engage in discussions! Be a part of the solution - as a viewer, you have a say in the matter, and the more people who speak up, the more things will hopefully change.
Hopefully with these tools, you can begin to understand problematic media, while also still enjoying it. And while it may still be a difficult time to be socially and critically aware of your media, and a fan, it’s not impossible to do. So go fourth, and enjoy, fellow nerds!