It’s OK to Like Problematic Media

TW: Some mentions of rape in media.

Much as OKPOTATO supports diversity in media, the truth is that there are a lot of books, TV shows, and movies that lack quality diverse representation…and we are here to remind you that it is okay to still like these things.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, as unemployment has led to a fair share of Netflix-watching. It’s no big secret that there is an unfortunate amount of movies and TV shows out there with white-washed casts, unexpectedly bigoted jokes or storylines, poorly written story arcs and/or dialogue for women and minorities, and, well, the list goes on.

The first thing to acknowledge is that there is no such thing as perfect representation. For all its racial diversity and celebration of female-centric stories, Orange is the New Black contributes to biphobia in its refusal to allow the very word “bisexual” to grace the lips of any of its characters, including main lead Piper Chapman who explains, time and again, that she likes both men and women. Fan-favorite Game of Thrones showcases superb acting amongst a large cast, but continues to degrade most of the women in the show with storylines that focus heavily on violence against women, including graphic depictions of rape (the latest of which has received incredible outcry among viewers.)

Game of Throne's Sansa Stark is at the center of the latest controversy regarding the show's depiction of its female characters.
Game of Throne’s Sansa Stark is at the center of the latest controversy regarding the show’s depiction of its female characters.

Of course, as a viewer, it is up to you to decide where you draw the line in the sand concerning what you will watch or not, based on what the show or movie can provide for you. For instance my latest show of choice, Fringe, is heavy on the kick-ass female protagonist storylines I love, as well as the science fiction freak-outs. However, I am ever aware of the egregious use of the show’s PoC characters — Jasika Nicole as Astrid and Lance Reddick as Broyles in particular (actually, let’s be real, they’re the only PoC characters in the main cast) — and the complete lack of any LGBTQAI characters, religious elements outside of Christian mythology, and its detached exploration of disabilities despite the ROBOTIC PROSTHETICS THAT ARE EVERYWHERE.

But, I am still over-the-moon about this show. I’m halfway through Season 3 of 5 and still enthralled by the mix of humor, detective procedural, and crazy weird science.

Some people don’t like to engage with their media in this way, and I get that, you’re there to be entertained. But these shows and movies do not exist in black holes. What you see on screen is going to affect the way people — including yourself — think, act, and react to various diversity in real life. There’s a reason that depictions of any stereotypes, racial to gender-based, have been perpetuated for so long. Audiences internalize and reiterate what they feel has been normalized: “That blonde joke got a laugh? I’ll say it to get a laugh, too.”

Life imitating art. Art imitating life.
Life imitating art. Art imitating life.

But what are you, as a viewer, to do when I just told you that no perfect media representation exists?

The best thing you can do is acknowledge the problematic elements of these TV shows/movies. While Pitch Perfect 2 dominated the box office this past weekend, showcasing a practically all-female cast, it also was filled with racist and strangely sexist jokes. Praise the things that work — great girl power message — and acknowledge the things that don’t. You don’t have to grab the pitchforks and condemn these things if you don’t want to, but don’t try to cover up these shortcomings either. Namely, don’t deny that these problematic elements exist.

The great thing about media lately is that so many people are eager to discuss the stories they watch and read and engage with. Twitter feeds still go crazy over every new episode of every show on network television. Mainstream news keep up-to-date with the latest controversies and storylines of a pretty damn wide array of movies, video games, music albums, and TV shows. And the even greater thing about all this is that people are catching on to the impact media representation has on its very diverse audiences.

Viewers are no longer willing to accept mediocrity and the occasional crumb thrown their way. They are calling for responsibility from writers, producers, networks, and production companies for not only diverse representation but quality diverse representation.

The main cast of Pitch Perfect 2.Great female representation.
The main cast of Pitch Perfect 2.
Great female representation.

Something even more amazing? It seems that some media is rising to the challenge.

Mad Max: Fury Road has been making major waves lately as viewers have become aware that, despite the title and the trailer’s focus on the eponymous hero, the real focus of the movie is none other than a band of empowered women, led by Charlize Theron’s Furiosa. To add fuel to the fire, it was revealed that Vagina Monologues writer Eve Ensler was one of the movie’s major consultants. She helped the cast understand the perspective, history and current issues surrounding violence against women:

“I read the script and was blown away. One out of three women on the planet will be raped or beaten in her lifetime—it’s a central issue of our time, and that violence against women relates to racial and economic injustice. This movie takes those issues head-on. I think George Miller is a feminist, and he made a feminist action film. It was really amazing of him to know that he needed a woman to come in who had experience with this.”

While the quality of this feminist representation is being debated (“Actually, Mad Max: Fury Road Isn’t That Feminist”), the wide discussion over the now infamous Men’s Rights Activists’ call to boycott what they view as “feminist propaganda” is a good start for a wider discussion on problematic media and the problematic media that we can like while acknowledging it as problematic.

Have a different view on the topic of liking problematic media? Let us know in the comments! Chebk will be back on Thursday with a new post!

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