Everybody Loves a Strawman!

You can't win. You can't get even and you can't get out of the game.

As a Pop Culturalist, I’ve never found it my job to critique media I do not enjoy, nor do I give much credence to those who do. It’s really easy to pick apart even the legitimate shortcomings of media you don’t like, but it’s hardly productive. Okay, so you found all the problematic elements of content you’ve established NOT LIKING. Good for fucking you. Now here’s a barrel of fish to shoot!

You will never hear me rant about the problematic aspects of the following:

LOTR
Joss Whedon’s universe
WOW
D&D
Howard Stern
lolcats
Twilight
Harry Potter
The Office
Reality TV
McSweeney’s

BECAUSE I DO NOT LIKE THESE THINGS. And state as much up front. No, it does mean I think who people enjoy these thing are bad people. It just means I don’t happen to share their passion for these things. I also don’t need to hear one more reason why I should be moved to partake in any of these things. Please move your foot so I can close the door. Me no like!

Besides, what would be the point? To prove I know how to pick on an easy target?

There ain’t no black people in LOTR. Booyah. I’m done. Okay, I can go out for a soda or something. Joss Whedon’s world is like Tori Amos’s world, which is like Jesus’s world. Possibly great but the followers appear to be large pains in the ass when proselytizing about their savior. Done with that one. The rest are probably self explanatory if you’ve read my blog for any appreciable length of time.

And that took – what – like a paragraph. Should I waste more of my time analyzing all the ways in which I believe these things to suck with supportive evidence of their suckery? As I say often say, I don’t know how many hours your day comes with, but mine only has 24 and I intend to use them wisely.

Honest examination of the media you actually consume means never having to say, “Omg, I can’t believe ____ said/did ____!!!” and you won’t find yourself so god damned shocked by what was in front of your face all the time. Granted, it’s a lot more difficult to unpack and examine media you find enjoyable, but it’s work that needs to happen. Ain’t no two ways about it. The alternative merely ensures it is always someone’s else’s heroes, interests or passions that are problematic and never yours.

———-

A version of this previously appeared on Snarky’s Machine where I blog daily, and often more than that.

139 thoughts on “Everybody Loves a Strawman!

  1. I completely agree. And for a lot of folks, it’s really, really hard NOT to critique stuff that we don’t like. I wind up doing it a lot even though I know it’s a really aggravating and annoying and pointless behavior. I am trying to get better about it, but it’s slow.

    I am also so glad you wrote this on a day where I am about to link to this by one of my LJ friends:

    http://zoethe.livejournal.com/726637.html

    Clearly related, both awesome, both about things that have been getting up my nose like crazy lately.

  2. love this post, will add it to my “read this before discussing pop culture with me arsenal” along with “It’s not just a movie” and a David Lavery’s essay in which he champions/defends the practice of thinking critically about media the work of artists one admires stating “it not be a swoon.”

    i really feel like unpacking media objects/directing a hairy eyeball to the rough/problematic bits is part of the act of loving/enjoying them… it makes total sense not to spill virtual ink commenting on television/film/art that has failed to capture your imagination in every way.

  3. One thing I’ve found is that in some books I enjoy, unpacking them INCREASES my enjoyment of the act of reading them. Not because they’re perfect, but because I like reading light fluff… but my brain needs to find something to grasp on to. And I’m not sure if enjoyment is the right word… a better word might be interest. I like reading things over and over, and getting that “yays!” feeling when something I enjoy does something right, and the “ohnoes” feeling when it does something wrong allows me to look at media I know inside and out in a different way, increasing the amount of interest I have in it.

    I must say, David Weber’s Honor Harrington series is fun to analyze in that way (and difficult, because it can be very good with some aspects of a single issue and problematic with different aspects of the same issue).

    Now I just need to stop dissecting Twilight. Though, since I’m student teaching in a high school, I really do need to finish it just to gain a bit more understanding of my students (as well as reading anything else that’s massively popular among them.) Not touching the fashions, though. No way.

    In other words, good post. It gives me things to think about.

  4. Yeah, the fun in critiquing, for me, is talking about things I like. Where would be the fun in bashing on something I’ve already established I don’t like?! And where is the fun in enjoying something uncritically?

    In addition, I find it much easier to engage with critiques of things I really really love when I am also critiquing them; it’s hard to view critique as some sort of personal attack when you’re doing it as well, even if you don’t necessarily agree with someone else’s critique. (If only all ardent fans could internalize the “critiquing comes from fandom and is not a personal attack” message, sigh.)

    And, for me, it’s an area of common ground: “Ah, I see you are a fan but are deeply troubled by this as well!” or “I had not noticed that before but now that you have brought it up, it intrigues/troubles me as well! My enjoyment of this work has been enriched by this discussion about it!”

  5. I understand what you’re trying to say about people who criticize things they don’t like in order to avoid having to think too hard about the things they DO like – that is indeed some serious bullshit, and I agree that, y’know, refusing to see the problems in things you enjoy is a bad idea, as is denigrating other people’s things on the basis that they’re other people’s things.

    But this is really problematic:

    It’s really easy to pick apart even the legitimate shortcomings of media you don’t like, but it’s hardly productive. Okay, so you found all the problematic elements of content you’ve established NOT LIKING. Good for fucking you. Now here’s a barrel of fish to shoot!

    I’ve a friend who recently gave a paper on transphobia in popular crime shows like Law and Order and CSI. Does she like those shows herself? No, not really. Is her paper important and useful? Yes. Could she find the same kind of thing to critique in stuff she does enjoy? No – because crime shows are where the juncture of legality and transphobia happen, and she wants to talk about it and tell people about it and discuss WHY it happens there in particular. Those shows are where that particular aspect of that particular problem is! And to say that everyone ever who critiques something they aren’t personally a fan of is a crank who’s wasting their time is pretty short-sighted, and disallows a lot of critique that very badly needs to happen.

    Also, your post feels to me a bit like the kind of proprietary screed that I see a lot of in various fandoms – and especially in the male-dominated ones. “It’s cruel and convenient to criticize something that isn’t yours” is one thing, but I’ve seen a lot of rants that start out there and all too quickly fall into “It’s not yours, so you can’t touch it!” and from there to “Fans of things like them, you’re critiquing this thing, therefore you can’t be a fan of it!” What I’m trying to get at is that telling people that they’re nonproductive lazy losers for critiquing things they personally aren’t fans of SUPPORTS the discourse in which people tell me that if I liked something, I wouldn’t be critiquing it – in short, it works to prevent me from criticizing things that I DO like. What is the point of this post? What is it producing, since being productive is so important? It seems to me that you’re critiquing people who do criticism in a way you don’t like, which by your own rules isn’t a particularly useful thing to do.

    Telling people what they can critique and how and that they are only allowed to talk about something critically if they’re credentialed, established fans of that thing is just a bad idea, period.

  6. I critique Twilight because I think it’s fucking dangerous. I don’t enjoy doing it, I have to take long breaks from it but I think I’m doing an important thing in the world. My voice (and lots of other voices) needs to be out there saying, manufactured fantasies of abusive boyfriends are not a good thing for teenage girls and here is why.

  7. I’ve a friend who recently gave a paper on transphobia in popular crime shows like Law and Order and CSI. Does she like those shows herself? No, not really. Is her paper important and useful? Yes. Could she find the same kind of thing to critique in stuff she does enjoy? No – because crime shows are where the juncture of legality and transphobia happen, and she wants to talk about it and tell people about it and discuss WHY it happens there in particular. Those shows are where that particular aspect of that particular problem is! And to say that everyone ever who critiques something they aren’t personally a fan of is a crank who’s wasting their time is pretty short-sighted, and disallows a lot of critique that very badly needs to happen.

    Yes, that’s why people who DO watch the show need to critique. They need to hear this message, not me. I know there’s goo gobs of transphobia, racism and a hot host of other -ism fail, that’s why I don’t wish to watch that show. You need to do a closer reading.

    Much of the reason I don’t like the things listed is because they are RIDDLED with problematic content their rabid fans pretend do not exist.

    Before you reply, please reflect on this:

    “Honest examination of the media you actually consume means never having to say, “Omg, I can’t believe ____ said/did ____!!!” and you won’t find yourself so god damned shocked by what was in front of your face all the time. Granted, it’s a lot more difficult to unpack and examine media you find enjoyable, but it’s work that needs to happen. Ain’t no two ways about it. The alternative merely ensures it is always someone’s else’s heroes, interests or passions that are problematic and never yours.”

    The confusion is with your reading of the text and not as it is written.

    Telling people what they can critique and how and that they are only allowed to talk about something critically if they’re credentialed, established fans of that thing is just a bad idea, period

    Where was that stated? My post is challenging folks to unpack the media they consume. Are you a butthurt Whedon fan or something?

    Again, maybe you have more hours in your day than I do, but I really have to be judicious with my time and -ism work. I can’t be everywhere and attempting to do so means others do not do their share of the work.

    And just to be clear, we don’t agree about this and I’m not really interested in going round and around about it. I’ve stated my views and responded to your posts. You free to accept it or not.

    -

  8. No, I’m not a butthurt Whedon fan.

    I absolutely think that people need to critique the stuff they’re watching/reading/etc. Need to take a good long look at the stuff they’re engaged with and unpack it and think about what kinds of isms, etc., motivate even their enjoyment. I often don’t like or don’t watch shows because their thresholds of homophobia, racism, sexism, etc., become too much for me, and I have to give up enjoying them – but I am not sure why giving up enjoying them means I ought to give up critiquing them. Should people who adore X, even though X is hugely homophobic, take a good long look at themselves and their pleasures and think about what kind of harm they are creating in the world by supporting X? Yes, that would be lovely. Do I trust them to do it? Not really.

    No one’s asking you to be everywhere at once, or to critique things you don’t like. You can critique whatever you want. That’s up to you, and hey, it’s true that there’s only so much time in the day.

    But your post clearly says that those who DO choose to critique things they don’t like are unproductive and lazy (strawmen-killers, fish-in-barrel-shooters) who should be doing something else. Your lines about “well, maybe YOU have that kind of time!” are rather aggressive, and imply that the only reason I have to spend time critiquing things that are already full of fail is because I’ve already beaten all the video games and ridden all the ponies I bought with my copious trust fund and have nothing actually useful to do.

    Now, perhaps your post is aimed at someone in particular who are annoying you right now – someone who says “there’s nothing wrong with show X! Look at show Y, show Y is misogynistic! There’s nothing misogynistic therefore about show X.” Those people are obviously douchebags. But if that is indeed the context in which you are making this post, that context doesn’t come through here. What comes through is the idea that for some reason just because I don’t like a thing, I ought not spend my time critiquing it. And perhaps that just because something is “really really” faily, I ought not spend my time critiquing it. As the commenter upthread says, critiquing things that you don’t like can do a lot of good in the world. There’s more to it than “there are no black people in LotR” – for a start, we can talk about the fact that there are dark-skinned people in that book, that their portrayal is negative, and discuss the particular ways in which it’s negative in order to think harder about the specific ways that racism works in narrative or pop culture. Or we can discuss the ubiquitousness of whiteness and the different forms it takes there. Surely someone who identifies as a pop culturalist understands that there’s more to critiquing race in a book like LotR than saying “the fellowship is really white” (although a critique can certainly begin there).

    I don’t disagree that it’s important to examine your own prejudices and the problems inherent in the things that are dearest to your heart. But I don’t see why I, if I have teaspoons enough, cannot also critique the things that are further away from my heart.

  9. CS Lewis wrote a lot of stuff, some of it more than a little odd and problematic, but I want to reference him on this subject, because I think what he said about this was absolutely right. He said that it’s perfectly possible to critique a genre you don’t like, but it’s impossible to critique a specific work from a genre you don’t like. If you don’t like courtroom dramas, you can legitimately write an essay about why courtroom dramas are A Bad Thing. But you cannot legitimately write a review saying that the latest John Grisham is a bad novel.

    This isn’t quite what Snarky’s Machine is saying, but it’s certainly a related point. It’s related also to what thingswithwings is saying about Law & Order dramas. And I certainly think it’s legitimate to say that Twilight is a problematic for all sorts of reasons, but I wouldn’t say it’s badly written, or critique it as literature, unless I liked the sort of book it was trying to be. (Disclaimer: I haven’t actually read Twilight.) I’m not sure whether I’m making much sense here, to be honest. I’m having a hard time expressing myself.

    ***

    On Lord of the Rings (which I love, though it certainly has problems), I’ll just remark that there are no black people in Pride and Prejudice either. Tolkein’s intent for Middle-earth was to create a mythology for England, as grand as the Norse mythologies he loved (though he borrowed also from Greek and perhaps Semitic mythologies). He certainly has no truck for the Nazis and their “perversion of the proud and noble northern spirit”. (That’s quoted from memory, and is in itself perhaps a somewhat racist statement; Tolkein was a complicated man.)

    TRiG.

  10. And thingswithwings has said most of what I wanted to say about LotR; has said it better than I would have; and has added more things I wasn’t going to say but which, having read, I agree with.

    TRiG.

  11. But your post clearly says that those who DO choose to critique things they don’t like are unproductive and lazy (strawmen-killers, fish-in-barrel-shooters) who should be doing something else. Your lines about “well, maybe YOU have that kind of time!” are rather aggressive, and imply that the only reason I have to spend time critiquing things that are already full of fail is because I’ve already beaten all the video games and ridden all the ponies I bought with my copious trust fund and have nothing actually useful to do.

    Well for the most part they are. Given that despite what’s been writing here, I don’t encounter a heck of a lot of people – even critically conscious folk – examining what they’re consuming in way that might allow them to brush up against some unpleasant truths. So while I agree with the spirit of what you’ve written, I’m not certain I can co-sign on a practical level.

    Also, your use of “aggressive” here is a derailing for dummies tactic, so tread very carefully. You might feel cheesed by my post, but the post itself and the manner in which I have conveyed my thoughts are not aggressive. Take ownership, please.

    There are lots of folks who call themselves anti-racist who are LOTR and or SCI-FI fans and really other than POCS who also happen to be fans of that work, I’m not coming across heaps of critical analysis regarding race happening. Otherwise would Racefail been so OOC?

    There are lots of fans of “Cunt” and V-Monologues who consider themselves allies to various communities, yet rarely do you hear those same fans speaking out about the severely problematic ways those two things frame womanhood and erase Trans Women.

    There are lots of queer folks all hot for Gaga, and unless they are also QWD there is little critical examination of the way in which she misappropriates lived experiences that she does not claim.

    Do you see where I’m going? I don’t rant. I do the legwork and report my findings.

    I’m not saying that nobody ever examines the things they love, but I am saying this is not a post where folks should be trying to pick apart what they see are its flaws – there’s are many, I wrote the thing, I am aware of my limits as a writer – but rather a moment to reflect on what kinds of cultural messaging they are receiving from the pop culture they enjoy, what impacts those messages might have on people with experiences differing from theirs and how this might shape the continuing relationship to that product.

  12. Oh yes I have been one of those people indeed. I’m finding that some of it stems from feeling left out when folks talk about their favorite tv show/movie/other media phenom and I haven’t a clue so I clumsily try to steer the convo elsewhere. Am learning to ask them questions about why they watch/like what they do.
    I’ve got a coworker who describes certain tv shows in such a hilarious manner that when I actually see them they’re not nearly as good. I would have missed that great live performance if I’d shut him down.

  13. I’m only speaking for me here, not Snarky, so probably in the end we agree on certain aspects of pop culture critique and disagree on others (which is fine!). But I guess part of the question here — and I think that this maybe relations to getting your Samuel L Jacksonosity on — is whether engaging in sustained critique of something is going to be productive for you when you do it. Sometimes, I get a lot of intellectual or political mileage over critiquing something that I am not a fan of; other times, I don’t, because the upshot is that my critique is going to consist of me saying the same old shit over and over again. For instance, sometimes, I find I really have something to say in response to Sarah Palin’s shenanigans, something that it would be worthwhile for me to say even if I never saw her face on tv again. Other times, someone sends me a link about her and I just go “Omfg don’t give me this Sarah Palin bullshit again.” Another example: we get a lot of emails from people that amount to, basically, “Have you seen this horrible fat-hating bullshit?” If it’s something that is newsworthy on its own, or that provokes one of us to put our ranting hat on, then maybe we’ll post about it; if it amounts to “Some blogger you’ve never heard of wrote mean things about fat people,” we are never, ever going to post about it. We just aren’t, because we have already said everything we would have to say about it, and we don’t want to put some random fat-hating bullshit in our brains.

    So what I take from Snarky’s points above is similar to what I took from the SLJ post: you pick your battles, not because the world has limited flaws but because you have limited energy. I think it’s sometimes valuable to get your critique on about something you don’t like, especially if you’re one of the very few people saying what you’ve got to say. But it’s often at least as worth it to use your mental energies for something you really do feel invested in, because it’s important for *you* as well as for the world. And you probably have more to say, because you know it better. That doesn’t mean that Future Sweet Machine is not going to shoot her mouth off about Twilight or Cosmo or what have you — just that I probably already know what she’s gonna say.

  14. Sweet Machine, I think someone like Palin is a little different, whereas she could directly influence our rights and choices.

    Again, my issue and reason for writing this post is the feeling tired of folks having so much shit to say about things they don’t enjoy, yet being rather mum on the problematic aspects of stuff they think is fabulous.

    When I discuss my favorite directors, folks must wade through a very dense passage where I talk about all the problematic aspects of their work, how that has shaped my relationship to their work and why I’m still even bothering with the work after noting all those things.

    Perhaps, maybe people are head-scratching because it’s not something expected of them. maybe having to do this kind of work is something required of those with less privilege. I don’t know. I haven’t considered that, but it does seem rather jarring that what I felt were rather uncontroversial statements are getting hackles up.

    I don’t have a lot of use for critique of pop culture from people who don’t like what they are critiquing. I’m not talking about politicians or policies, but PRODUCTS. I do get use out of hearing someone who has a relationship with that product giving a well reasoned and thorough examination of its flaws and problematic elements because it tells me a lot about the product and also gives me the kind of information I am looking for.

  15. The example I have been using lately is K-Big. I haven’t really been as critically engaged as I should have been and so in seeking ways to educate myself I read dozens upon dozens of articles written about her. The most useful – to me – were ones featuring writers who really knew and enjoyed her work, but could also critique the shit out of the themes she explores and how all of them fit into a larger feminist perspective and film history.

    Just hearing, “I don’t like K-Big because all she does is recapitulate stereotypical macho themes.” wouldn’t tell me anything I needed to know, despite being a generally – albeit simplistic – valid assessment.

  16. I just watched Moon with my boyfriend, and while I really like it as a sci-fi movie, it still contains the dreaded dead-wife trope, wherein the dead wife is all about the man’s pain. Ugh. And the evil-faceless-corporation-as-enemy trope, which was done in hollywood cliche fashion. Meh.

    I brought it up with my bf, because that’s what I do, while concluding that I liked the movie anyways. I’m teaspooning my bf on feminism and racism, and I like to show him that I’m not attacking him for liking stuff—I like it, too!–even though problematic.

    I’ve come to relish the dissonance I feel when consuming pop-culture I enjoy while engaging against the problematic stuff. And I think–and please correct me if I’m misreading–that’s your point. (Proverbial) you can still like stuff that is problematic, but (proverbial) you have a responsibility to understand the cost of enjoying it.

    Shorter burbly: IT’S TAINTED, EVERYTHING IS TAINTED! OOOH, SHINY!

  17. I agree that criticism coming from inside a fan base is always going to be a more effective use of time than poking at the mote in someone else’s savior’s eye.

    I think the first time I started to understand this was when I heard about how Bonnie Bramlett called Elvis Costello out on racist comments about about James Brown and Ray Charles. Elvis apologized a few days later, but not until what he said went public and a lot of his fans turned against him.

    Sarah Palin really doesn’t care what liberals think of her, our disapproval of her is only going to energize her and her base. Similarly it was the outrage of Catholics over the abuse scandals that has driven changes in the church.

  18. Yeah, I’m not finding any “perfect” pop cultural product, with exception of 4’33 by John Cage, which is wonderful because like tofu it assume the flavor of whatever problematic content in however amount it comes into contact with!

  19. @ Snarky:

    I honestly don’t want to derail; perhaps “aggressive” was the wrong word for what your post made me feel. I felt, not cheesed off by it, but called names by it; I felt devalued by it. I felt like one of the kinds of criticism that I try to do in order to do good in the world as best I can was being devalued.

    I will happily agree about your points regarding fans of various things, Vagina Monologues and LotR and Gaga and all, not being critical enough of the things they fan. That was never in dispute. At no point did I disagree with the idea that many people aren’t critical enough of the things they fan, or that intersectionality is often lacking, or that it’s easier to claim a social justice label like anti-racist or feminist than it is to live up to that label in regards to the things that bring you pleasure. Those all strike me as true things, and I agree with you wholeheartedly.

    What I don’t understand about your post (honestly, I don’t understand this) is why a post that is apparently, as you say, aimed at getting people to unpack the media they like – aimed at asking people to critique MORE – would begin with a statement about how some kinds of critique are worthless or boring, and how we shouldn’t be doing them. While I think it’s a great idea to say “we need to do more criticism Y,” I do not think it’s a great idea to say, “Criticism X is useless; we need to do more criticism Y.” It strikes me as a second cousin to arguments about how doing X kind of activism is not as important as doing Y kind of activism, and those arguments always seem to me to be doing more harm than good. Why should we devalue one kind of critique in order to value another?

    I get what you’re trying to say about how critiquing what you perceive of as easy targets can enable people to feel good about themselves without having to confront the actually skeevy things in the media they consume, but the truth is that devaluing any kind of criticism, particularly social justice criticism, is a bad thing. I don’t understand why you would make a post talking about how boring/useless it is to critique racial politics in LotR and then say in a comment a bit later that you’re underwhelmed by how few LotR fans critique its racial politics. I too want people to confront the actually skeevy things in the media they consume, and not take the easy way out! But I don’t think that telling people not to critique certain kinds of things is going to help with that. For one thing, no matter how easy the target, every little bit of critique helps; and for another thing, even the things that look like easy targets from the outside can have a lot to say, or can help us think in useful ways, about the problem at hand. Why place limits on what should or should not be discussed?

    And I also don’t get why it’s a good idea to critique whatever it is I’m supposed to be critiquing, but I shouldn’t critique this post. I don’t want to be mean or unfair, I know that blogging is often done on the fly, but . . . I think that you’re saying something problematic about the process by which we go about critique. I think your post is drawing lines in the sand about what kind of critique is and is not okay, and that really bothers me. I don’t care about the writing; I worry about the message being communicated here. You don’t come to your point about honestly critiquing the media you actually consume until the last paragraph; up until there, it reads like a screed against critique itself, perhaps because in a partial way it is a screed against critique itself, whether that’s what you intended or not.

    @ Sweet:

    Yes, I can definitely get behind the idea that critique that is, at the moment, productive for you, the person doing the critique, is a good idea. That’s a really helpful way of phrasing it, I think. I think that, for a lot of people, critiquing Sarah Palin shenanigans (or equivalent) is productive for them on Monday, but won’t be productive for them on Tuesday; and what they have to say about it might be new and interesting and helpful to other people on Wednesday, but not on Thursday. So it seems to me that the thing to do is not to issue blanket statements about what kinds of media are and aren’t okay to critique, but rather to strive as much as possible to critique things at those times when what you have to say will do some good, either for you or for the people you’re talking to. And I understand what you mean about how critiquing the things dearest to your heart may in fact be something more likely to be good for you yourself – at no point would I disagree with Snarky that it’s an incredibly important and soul-building thing to do – but I just believe that critiquing the things that aren’t nearest and dearest to me also does good in the world, if a different kind of good. Not necessarily a lesser good, but different. There are books I don’t like that I’m nonetheless, through circumstances beyond my control, intimately familiar with, and so in a way I feel uniquely qualified to critique them, even like I have a duty to do so.

    Picking your battles, sure. Absolutely. I guess what made me feel taken aback by this post was the impression that the job I have been doing picking my battles as carefully and as ethically as I could manage is not good enough, and that critiquing something I already don’t like must be a lazy-ass cop-out because I’m too afraid to critique something I do like. It’s just nowhere near that simple.

  20. I think these are some really important points. I’ve watched a LOT of English Edwardian and Victorian era dramas and truly enjoyed them, but in the last year or so I’ve kind of run out of steam on those. Now when I watch them, it’s like there’s a big flashing neon sign above my tv that says, EVERYONE IN THIS IS WHITE. It’s why I didn’t watch Part Two of Cranford.

    And it’s not even that I think black or Asian or indigenous peoples should be cast in the roles of shows or movies like Cranford, but more that I’d like to see some Cranford-esque stories about POC. So I think critiquing the industry and the limited opportunities of POC to tell stories about POC doing things that all humans do (but only white people get depicted as doing) is really important.

    Anyway, not sure what my point was or how on topic I am, but that’s what this made me think of.

  21. I think I understand what Snarky’s is saying, and it is such an extremely valuable task for those of us who become enraptured in certain products and turn off our critical lens. It’s much more valuable for me to spend my time analyzing my obsessive love for Jaime Hernandez’s Hoppers 13 universe (because I spend so much time there), than it does for me to tear down my husband’s love for Baldur’s Gate, because most of that critique is going to be “WHY would you rather play that stupid game all night than go to sleep???”

    And I really OUGHT to analyze my affection for Maggie and Hopey and Penny… especially Penny, sheesh, talk about needing to do some unpacking. That’s what makes the task valuable, and what keeps thingswithwings’s friend’s paper valuable as well – it’s new, it’s thoughtful, it’s useful.

  22. Interesting post, Snarky’s Machine. It’s a really hard thing to do, becoming aware of the flaws in stuff I like. I think it’s sort of an extension of the general defensive reflex that tends to spring up if people with privilege have their own faults or errors pointed out to them: “What? I can’t possibly have said something racist! Racism is evil, and I’m totally not evil! You’re overreacting! You misunderstood me! The problem is you, not me!” So, because I really love C. S. Lewis, I don’t want to think about there being racism or sexism in his work, because that might make me a bad person for liking the Narnia books. (Note: I don’t think liking the Narnia books actually makes anyone a bad person.) It’s a similar “I-don’t-want-to-think-about-this” feeling that people with sufficient privilege can use to ignore stuff.

    P.S. I’m currently feeling very proud of myself for stifling the “must defend Firefly!” impulse.

  23. I honestly don’t want to derail; perhaps “aggressive” was the wrong word for what your post made me feel. I felt, not cheesed off by it, but called names by it; I felt devalued by it. I felt like one of the kinds of criticism that I try to do in order to do good in the world as best I can was being devalued.

    I am not aggressive because you feel devalued and it’s not language that’s tolerated here. It was the wrong word. The right call is to shut up or say, “I was called out and I apologize for being problematic.” The wrong call is what you’re doing in your post. As a mod I encourage you to make the right call.

  24. When I was a young pretentious little snot, a phase I may never completely outgrow, I loved this sort of strawman because it was an easy way to feel superior. A part of it was what Snarkys is referring to, defensiveness about what I enjoyed, which is kind of like when you call someone out about being racist, and they freak out because they can’t possibly be racist, you’re the one that’s racist for even noticing racism. That is to say, people feel very defensive about privilege, and will derail. And they way they derail is by bringing up terms like “politeness” and “reverse racism” and “aggressive” which are basically “shut up and take the status quo.” The problem is the status quo is racist, and sexist, and when you speak up, it’s automatically “not polite” and “reverse racist” so it’s lose-lose.

    I only recently had my 101 epiphany, can you tell? :P

  25. P.S. I’m currently feeling very proud of myself for stifling the “must defend Firefly!” impulse.

    I am eager to watch this. My partner says that it avoids some of the things I don’t enjoy. It’s on Hulu!

  26. I am not aggressive because you feel devalued and it’s not language that’s tolerated here. It was the wrong word. The right call is to shut up or say, “I was called out and I apologize for being problematic.”

    Co-signed. I have a wicked stomachache and little patience right now, so that’s basically all I got. But there’s a big difference between “I disagree with this” and insisting that Snarky was doing something she wasn’t with this post, using language that’s often used to silence and derail.

  27. I was right there with you until I got to the item in your list of things you don’t like that I do like. It’s sad because you seemed so reasonable right up until that point, and in fact, you seemed perfectly reasonable after it, too… everything else in your post would make perfect sense if that anomalous item wasn’t in there. I don’t understand how this could be.

    In all seriousness: the media I’m most likely to pick apart in public is something I’m almost a fan of, but that leaves me disappointed. Case in point: Glee, which I really really wanted to like but which left me shaking my head too many times. I could make a point about how this is an example of when it’s useful to examine—and publicly examine—something that you don’t like at least once, but focusing on that would be ignoring the larger point that it’s not as though Glee suffered from one single flaw that changed it from the Perfect And Above Reproach category of everything I enjoy and put it in the Deserving Of Critical Analysis category.

    Media whose failings haven’t reached critical mass for me personally can still have boatloads of serious problems, and there isn’t any good reason for to say “I’m passing on Glee because of this, this, and this” while giving D&D a pass because I think it’s fun.

  28. Snarkys, if you wouldn’t mind and if it’s not off-topic because it’s not meta enough, would you link to the K-Big articles that you liked? I really liked The Hurt Locker, but I have a hard time going beyond “[recapitulating] stereotypical macho themes.” Mostly all I’ve got is K-Big is winning at men’s stuff, which is the good stuff, which is a problematic idea (ie simplistic, though possibly valid assessment).

  29. Redlami, oh I have, and that’s how I wound up watching THL in the first place when it first came out. I do feel that Snarkys search engine would probably be more efficient than google, but I also realize that’s not her job, so if no links, no problem.

  30. Okay, the other shoe dropped. Is that too close to “teach me, oh wise minority about the ways of the patriarchy”? I honestly thought since Snarkys was talking about specific articles she found interesting she might like to share them. Also, it was more about what I saw as her authority as a film geek, which I definitely cannot call myself. Snarkys, I apologize if it was rude. I get that sometimes getting asked at all can be tiring.

  31. I agree: picking apart something I like is so much more enjoyable than simply hating on something. But there is such a thing as a good slam, which is fun to read. Michael Hoffman took off after Stefan Zweig a few weeks ago…admittedly Zweig is dead and can’t defend himself, but I liked it.

  32. It’s true that people need to be more critical of the things that they like. I always notice flaws automatically, but most of the time I’m too busy being amazed by what my newest book or game got right to actually write about the problematic aspects. I should definitely pay more attention to that. However, when something is problematic enough to make me want to rant about it? Then I stop liking it. I’m not sure if you’re saying that as soon as I have reached this point, I should stop talking about whatever it is because I no longer like it. That would feel like avoidance to me.

    Or did you just mean things we were never interested in at all? That would make more sense, because I can think of many situations in which explaining why you don’t like the thing in question would not be a waste of time at all. In fact, I recently did this and was thanked for it by someone who appreciated the warning and will now never watch that movie. I’m sure that’s not the type of situation you meant, though.

  33. Tiana: Maybe I’m the one missing the point, but I think you’re being sidetracked by the build-up about time and energy spent tearing down media we don’t consume and missing how that directly relates to the conclusion, about media we do consume. In fairness, I don’t think you’re alone there.

    “SHUT UP ABOUT TWILIGHT/BUFFY/THE OFFICE!” isn’t actually the point of this post, except insofar as it supports the idea that we ought to turn our Scalpels of Snark inwards and dissect the things we do make space in our brains for.

  34. It’s true that people need to be more critical of the things that they like. I always notice flaws automatically, but most of the time I’m too busy being amazed by what my newest book or game got right to actually write about the problematic aspects.

    So then you’re not very critical then.

    I think my post is pretty clear so I’m not sure the purpose of your post.

    But for the cheap seats I’ll repeat myself:

    EXAMINE THE SHIT YOU LIKE.

  35. “….some kinds of critique are worthless or boring, and how we shouldn’t be doing them…”

    Apologies if I’m out of line here but @thingswithwings, please know that, to me, nowhere in SM’s post is the statement that WE should or shouldn’t be doing anything. If you go back and read the orignal post, you’ll find statements throughout saying “me, myself and I”, and the pov that goes along with it. Nothing was said about what people can or can not criticize. A pov stated to open a topic of discussion is not being aggressive.

    For me, I was just thinking about this very topic, but in a different kind of way. I often critique stories, films, songs, etc that I like, and sometimes it gets to the point where I kinda rewrite the script or restage it to “fix” what annoyed me. I look at it as an acting exercise–keeping the mind sharp. I also realize that by the end of it sometiems I’ve rewritten and restaged the whole thing! I guess that’s a kind of MaryJaneing it, which I know some people can’t abide.

    But I also apply the critiquing to actors and musician’s that I’m very much fans of. It’s sometimes difficult to reconcile that I’m attracted to this person even if I know things about them that are really not to great (to say the least). So I think it’s helpful to delve into and look at the things that I like and try and deconstruct why it’s okay for that person, or film, song etc., but not anywhere else I would tolerate it.

  36. I just came up against this recently! I was reading “Flow” which is fantastic, by the way, history nerd me and feminist nerd me where in heaven and the ads in it were awesomely disturbing. However, like right away, I came across a line that was (this is not an exact quote, it’s late and I’m a little lazy at the moment) “there are blah-blah-blah big # of women in the world and every one of them has had a or will have a period at some point.” And I was kind of shocked, because, well that’s just not fucking true. Transwomen don’t menstrate, and some disabled women don’t either. That bothered me throughout the whole fucking book, they made the same statement several times, and each time it bothered me anew. I almost put it down, then I realized that pretty much everything is going to have some fail in it, the important thing is to recognize it and analyze it when you like it. Many times it will reveal your own personal fails, and it can be *gasp* a learning experience more so than mocking fails of things that you hate *gasp*.

    And of course it’s important to recognize the fails AND the wins. I watched one horror film called “Severance,” that is this really great British horror film. There’s a scene when the characters are watching a training film and everyone in it is white. One character points this out, argument follows, the boss says “It’s just a coincidence,” to which the character that pointed it out says “Would it be a coincidence if they were all black?” Which is a fantastic line, I’ve already used it several times, and it pretty much works the majority of the time to get people to at least shut the fuck up. However, after this the SINGLE black character in the film dies to save the white girl.

    The movie is great, it has a great conversation about POC in the media, there’s a black character and he isn’t the first to die, but then they use the oldest trick in the book to get rid of him, but not seem racist because well, he died a hero. Fuck, he saved the white girl! The blonde, petite, American white girl no less. It was also done without the slightest bit of irony. The rest of the deaths are funny and ironic but his was solemn, he did his duty and saved the white girl while also getting out of the way of the romance between the white girl and the white boy.

    I still like the movie (and others with problematic shit in them, horror movies are horrible with -isms and they’re practically the only thing I watch, and yes I am fucked up) but I see the problem, when I tell other people about it I point out that huge fucking fail. And guess what? My critique of that problem is taken so much more seriously because I like the movie. I could complain about a racist scene in a movie I openly hate for years, and everything I say could be valid but no one would listen or take it seriously because it means nothing to critique something I already hate. People who know me however know I love horror films, so when I point out issues, they listen and take what I say seriously because I take it seriously.

    @Snarky’s, this is truly an awesome post, seriously, you’ve articulated something awesome here. People are really only sensitive to this issues when they’re willing to recognize them in their own favorite media. A big part of it is that you get to pretend that for underprivileged groups it’s easy to ignore these shitty messages programed into all media, just watch GOOD movies, there are no -isms in them obviously. When you see the -isms in GOOD movies then you can start to recognize that as things stand there is no escaping this shit.

    Sorry for the novel, it’s been a while since I commented and this is a post that just makes. so. much. sense!

  37. So then you’re not very critical then.

    I totally am, in my head. I just forget to actually say it out loud sometimes, which is why I wrote, after the part that you quoted, “I should definitely pay more attention to that.” Meaning, “Thank you for reminding me to speak my mind more often.” And here I thought I was being clear, too! Ah, the joys of written communication …

    I think my post is pretty clear so I’m not sure the purpose of your post.

    Um. I ask questions when I have trouble understanding something. Was that not clear, either? I still don’t understand completely, but maybe it’s just me being my usual, socially incompetent self. I’ll keep reading future comments in the hopes that I’ll get it eventually.

    @Alexandra Erin: Thanks, that does make it a little clearer.

    @redlami: True, but … what did I say to inspire this??

  38. Great post. Everything Snarky said made sense to me. Especially:

    Again, maybe you have more hours in your day than I do, but I really have to be judicious with my time and -ism work

    and

    Yes, that’s why people who DO watch the show need to critique. They need to hear this message, not me. I know there’s goo gobs of transphobia, racism and a hot host of other -ism fail, that’s why I don’t wish to watch that show.

    Snarky, if you ever do watch Firefly I look forward to your take, should you decide to do one.

  39. Thank you, Snarky’s Machine, for this post. It’s helped in crystallising thoughts that were swirling around in my head. I’m trying to be more aware of all my privileges and stop using problematic language etc but I had not quite got to realising that the next step was to look at media I like honestly and see where the problems are. This has really given me a lot to think about.

  40. @Snarky’s – I went to your blog to see if I could figure out what you think about The Office and wound up discovering that you have the same taste in paint color as I do. Not sure if you care, but I thought it was kind of neat.

    Re critiquing the things one likes – I agree about the value, but I’m not sure what to do with the results. I often will discuss movies or books critically with like-minded friends, but that seems like its own sort of fish-in-barrel shooting. I have tried at times to share my critiques with others and get stuck at the “can’t you just watch/read without taking everything so seriously” place. Also, I have a tendency to want to see the best in everything, so I’ll sometimes give a movie or book too much credit (case in point, I thought the Jennifer Hudson character in the SATC movie was a good portrayal of a WOC, but completely missed the class disparity issues, etc. that others on this blog noticed). But, as I’m writing this I’m thinking about how being able to afford to see the best is actually quite a big privilege in itself.

  41. I’m far more interested in critiquing stuff that I like because I’m more emotionally invested in it. Yep, I think Whedon sucks, but I don’t really care that much about what I percieve as issues with his work because, well, I think it sucks, so I’m not watching much of it.

    Heavy metal on the other hand…I can talk your ear off about the problems with sexism, racism, generally backward thinking, and all other manner of bigotry to be found within the genre. And people who like metal need to do that, because without us putting pressure on the more, um, unenlightened of our metalhead brethren nothing is ever going to chance.

  42. Seconding Timothy’s point, which I think is part of what Snarky’s Machine was saying in the initial post – insider critique is more valuable. Taking metal as an example, I roll my eyes at people whose criticism is all “Satan! And they look wierd! And I can’t read their album covers!”, but criticism from people who’re fans but aware of all the issues that need to be addressed I’ll always listen to even if I end up not agreeing. An outsider might say something like “all heavy metal is sexist”, but a. that’s not true and b., since it’s not true, it’s worth looking at say why Motley Crue is far more problematic than Iron Maiden, and why Arch Enemy is actively undermining the sexism in the genre rather than reinforcing it. So basically, if you want to know what the real problems are with a given pop cultural product, ask someone who’s a fan but not a blind one.

  43. While I agree with your core argument about the importance of critiquing the stuff you like – because our entertainment does so much to influence the way we think without being acknowledged as a source of influence – the way you frame the argument makes it easy for someone reading to infer the idea that you’re saying valid criticism of any trope/work of fiction/person can only come from within the respective fandom. And yes, I’m deliberately used ‘infer’ rather than ‘imply’ in that sentence. I get that people critiquing easy targets is too closely related to your key point about people paying more attention to their own favourites to be ignored in this post, but couldn’t you make that point in a way that doesn’t seem to say that all external criticism is invalid. Probably a lot of it is, but not necessarily all, and I think that’s an important distinction.

    And it does *seem* to me that you have a bone to pick with Joss Whedon fans (perhaps justifiably – they can be infuriating). Nonetheless, as someone who enjoys the man’s work while being somewhat aware of the twenty seven million kinds of fail present in BtVS – his screwed-up treatment of women, race and homesexuality just for starters – I find that a little offputting. You’re making an important point here, so why muddy the waters?

    P.S: I find this post very timely in another sense, given that over the past few years I’ve noticed an increasing tendency that in some of the most rabid, oops, ‘dedicated’ fandoms more and more fans begin to look really closely at what is *really* happening in their favourite show. There are good examples to be found in Buffy and Stargate fandoms, just to name a couple.

  44. Oh, another case where this criticise your own shit idea is deeply applicable – horror movies. There are tons of hugely problematic elements in horror movies, but honestly, most of the criticism that comes from people who don’t really watch many horror movies isn’t very illuminating. The criticism from horror fans, otoh, is often very interesting. And the fact that non-fans often can’t see the difference between the really deeply problematic stuff and the stuff that’s less so is…well, interesting.

    (I had a long argument with some dude who insisted that it was unfair of me to say that I regard Miike Takashi’s work as often deeply sexist and problematic, but I love Chan-wook Park’s vengeance series, because Park’s movies are at least as violent as Miike’s if not more so. To which horror fan me responded with – dude, of course Park’s movies are violent, that’s to be expected given the genre, but can you really not see the difference in terms of how much less gendered his violence is compared to Miike’s?)

  45. Hear hear, Snarkysmachine!

    For me, ultimately – I just don’t have enough hours in the day to consume the things I don’t like in order to criticize them. I would much rather enjoy the things I enjoy, and then unpack it.

    Perhaps others have more time or enjoy not enjoying things, but, uh… not me.

  46. Critiquing pop culture, both the aspects that I enjoy and those I don’t, is really important to me. In particular, I’m interested in the representation of disability in cult film and TV (an interest where I owe a great debt to a friend who studies film and TV more formally). I believe that if disabled people don’t critique the way we’re represented in these media, no one else is going to do it for us, and nothing’s going to change.

  47. I have nothing to say today, headache and an eyeball that feels ready for bursting has jammed my silly valve shut. I did want to say though that Snarkysmachine – you are a seriously cool lady, and I like it when you get your SLJ on. The reason for this is that its a bullseye zen shot.

  48. This is true for Sweetmachine also. I’m not ass kissing, I’m just always struck by both of your balance and that you can do it each day just as fresh.

  49. Shit – sorry, how rude am I? I meant this to all the mods – I think you all do a great job of keeping things balanced and fresh and putting thought into all your responses each day.

  50. Like the post, Snarky’s Machine!

    @alibelle: Is this the Flow you’re referring to? I really don’t remember anything about feminism or menstruation or advertisements in there.

  51. Thank you for a great post Snarky (and nice way to shut down the derail).

    Personally, I am never going to like Mad Men, Six Feet Under etc so leave me alone.

    I like the stuff I like and I won’t push it on you so don’t make me watch the Wire.

  52. Love this post.

    As fun as it can be to go on a tear about something I don’t like anyway, when I did it regularly way too often it turned into self-congratulatory backpatting about how clever I was and what good taste I had, all tinged with the bitter flavour of sour grapes (because it was often something popular that I did not get and felt left out). It’s not very useful and not very good for me.

    In contrast, critiquing things I like or love–or almost like but had something that made it fail for me–is very good for me. It helps me know my own mind instead of being left with lingering discomfort over something I’m not quite putting my finger on. It also helps me root out my blindspots and make myself see what I’m giving a pass on that can cause my thinking toward myself and/or others harm.

    And I know that the more I like something, the more likely I am to be too in awe its creator and internalize messages from it and I have to critique to push back against this tendency. Not doing so has caused me actual harm in the past. Big, painful example: Back when I was a weird teenaged loner living in a small rural town, I discovered Heinlein’s novels. If you know SF/F, you probably know a little about Heinlein and that for all he wrote some ripping yarns, how full of queer, feminist, ableist fail those stories are. And here I was, swallowing them whole and pushing down the twisty discomfort so much of it gave me, because who was I to judge the writings of someone brilliant?

    Those messages ended up being wound all through my immense self-confidence problems as I became less and less able to avoid my queerness, my rejection of the expectation I be ‘feminine’ and produce children, and my mental illness. I was pretty okay with pushing back against the expectations of the people in the town I grew up in, but that I failed so hard on the views of someone I thought of as brilliant (and how could he be wrong if he’s brilliant was my naive line of thinking) crushed me.

    For all of that, the first time I encountered critique of Heinlein I railed against it as terribly unfair. Heh. I didn’t want to be wrong; it’d mean that I’d thoroughly invested myself in something pretty poisonous. It took a lot of distance, learning the usefulness of critical consumption, and learning that hero worship is really unhealthy for me to untangle my thoughts.

    So yeah. I learned that if nothing else, critiquing media I love helps myself.

  53. @Timothy:

    And I certainly think it’s legitimate to say that Twilight is a problematic for all sorts of reasons, but I wouldn’t say it’s badly written, or critique it as literature, unless I liked the sort of book it was trying to be.

    Here I disagree on the ‘badly written’. It’s entirely possible to accurately examine the skill with which something is made, even though you (generic) don’t like it. It’s of how much use this exercise is that’s questionable.

    And it can be useful in certain contexts, but in the way SnM showed in her post, it’s not so much.

  54. This was a rather timely post for me…I’ve been re-watching Babylon 5 on Netflix (first time watching it was only a few years ago; I didn’t see it when it came out), and this time around keep going, “awesome, but wait, WTF is up with X??”

    I need to keep in mind that the impulse to tear into, say “Gossip Girl” while cackling gleefully, because that is unhelpful. I do need to get practice at critiquing genres/books I don’t like on their actual merits, though, since it will at some point I hope be my job. (Maybe by the time the economy picks up and a public library actually hires me, Twilight will have outlived its time in the fandom spotlight and I’ll get out of reading it? Maybe? No, the universe probably does not love me that much.)

  55. @Aliabelle – The movie is great, it has a great conversation about POC in the media, there’s a black character and he isn’t the first to die, but then they use the oldest trick in the book to get rid of him, but not seem racist because well, he died a hero. Fuck, he saved the white girl!

    This was exactly the point in Iron Man that I started watching with a jaundiced rather than hopeful eye — brilliant “good” (i.e. non-Taliban) Afghani scientist helping rich-white-generally-offensive-dood Tony Stark of COURSE has to die. To SAVE said dood. As much as I dig the superhero genre, I rarely let myself hope that maybe, this time, it won’t be as bad/made of ismFAIL and/or use women/POC exclusively to Help The White Dood Learn A Valuable Lesson.

    I won’t waste my breath on Avatar either, especially when I can write the same criticisms of stuff I actually enjoy, even if it is made of ismFAIL.

  56. @tg Haha, no, I should have put the entire title. It’s “Flow: the Cultural Story of Menstruation.”

  57. Thought-provoking post, and thought-provoking comments, thank you! I *adore* dissection and discussion of pop culture, love love love it.

    It’s interesting that you mention Joss Whedon, because I’ve found that Whedon fans are very willing to, and seem to enjoy, critically discussing his shows. I’m not trying to talk you into loving his stuff (although Firefly does indeed rock, and I wish I could watch it all over again with brand new eyes), though…example time only! When Dollhouse was airing, I loved the discussions on various message boards more than I liked the actual episodes, sometimes….(and I liked most of the episodes a whole lot). Whedon has some archetypes and themes that he draws on a lot (“bad dads” being a big recurring one), and even though his portrayal of women is usually quite refreshing and awesome, he misses the mark sometimes, too. And all that’s important to talk about and acknowledge and dissect, instead of just fan-girling mindlessly.

  58. @paintmonkey – YES and you just made my day with that.

    Oh, and I forgot:

    @TRiG – Citing Tolkien’s desire to create a mythology for England as excuse for the complete lack of POC is a cop-out: POC lived/worked in Britain long before Tolkien was born. Ignoring POC around you when you’re writing a national narrative is the provenance of the white-privileged.

  59. @Jo, yeah that whole trope is one I’ve had to force myself to unpack. I was viewing it for the longest time exactly the way they wanted me to. Well yeah the POC dies but they’re heroes they saved the white girl! Then I realized, they do the same thing in Legion, Freddy Vs. Jason, the remake of Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead etc. etc. etc.

    One of these days, I’m gonna write my own horror movie, one of these days. I’ll fix everything. ;)

  60. It’s an excuse, but not a good one. How many non-white characters are there in Beowulf? Tolkein was a scholar of Anglo-Saxon.

    But, as thingswithwings said, there are dark-skinned (“swarthy”, I think) people in LotR, and they’re baddies (sort of). It is actually quite a complex narrative, and I remain a fan, but there certainly are problems.

    I read an excellent critique of the implied racism in LotR on h2g2 by another Anglo-Saxon scholar. I must find it again.

    TRiG.

  61. This rocks, Snarky’s Machine. One of my proudest teaching moments was a few years ago when a student complained, “You ruin tv. I can’t watch my favorite shows without *thinking* about them.” I so wish I had this onhand to give him at the time. . . I will keep it at the ready this spring as I continue this particular path of destruction. (:

  62. the way you frame the argument makes it easy for someone reading to infer the idea that you’re saying valid criticism of any trope/work of fiction/person can only come from within the respective fandom.

    @Ben, you clearly seem to grasp the point of the post, so who is this “someone” you’re worried about who might “infer” something other than what Snarky actually wrote?

  63. @godless heathen…erm, I might be wrong here, but as I saw the film, there may well have been some black actors hidden underneath all the special effects, make-up and costumes, but there were certainly no characters, or actual roles given to POC, which is the important part.

  64. A cheesy film I adore Wild Wild West is a really good example of what I’m talking about here. This film had me invested until they decided to have Will Smith going off message and start preaching about lynching and such.

    I was never under the supposition the film was supposed to be historically accurate. And I was perfectly okay with the idea of its existence in some fantagical universe, without a historical memory or reality of slavery. I would have also been okay with it existing in a universe similar to our own.

    What I wasn’t okay with was the film trying to do both. It made for an awkward, clunky and wildly insulting homage to the character James West. It inadvertently cheapened Will Smith and unraveled everything transgressive they were attempting.

    But I love this movie. I love what it tried to do. I’m sad that it didn’t succeed, because I felt Smith was a really smart choice for James West. The entire casting was pitch perfect. But the terrible narrative choices not only torpedoed the film, they were also incredibly problematic, resulting in unintentional – well at least I hope it was unintentional – race fail.

    Most people who don’t like the film aren’t going to be as nuanced.

  65. @snarkysmachine – the film also was good because it gave Kevin Kline an airing…always time well spent.

  66. @ paintmonkey

    John Lee Hooker would have made a great Gandalf

    Have you seen the Chromatic Casting meme that was doing the rounds a couple of months ago? There was an LOTR one (linked), a Harry Potter one, a Narnia one… I found them really useful and thought-provoking both as statements on the racism inherent in Hollywood casting, and ways of re-thinking the racial politics of these texts.

  67. Wow this is very interesting. I never really thought about it before. I mean, I do sometimes criticize things I DON’T enjoy when, say, a friend or loved one enjoys them and I can tell they have never really noticed certain really problematic aspects of them… Because I’d like them to be aware of it, and I’d appreciate them doing the same for me.
    And, I HAVE on occasion really dissected and criticized things I DO enjoy, only to remind myself not to buy into some of the crap that’s there. For instance, I really enjoy Sex and the City, LOVE watching it, I find it entertaining. But I also have some serious criticisms of it. I remember talking about them in front of a loved one who said, “but I thought you loved Sex and the City, you watch it over and over all the time”, and I said “well yeah, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think X Y and Z is fucked up.” I guess it was good to remind myself of those things, not let them seep into my brain unnoticed.
    But that is ONE case. I think for the most part I don’t do that, especially with things I enjoy. It’s interesting that a very high percentage of the things mentioned in this post are things I love. So, of course just because Snarky doesn’t like them doesn’t mean I shouldn’t. But the fact that it’s not OBVIOUS to me what’s wrong with them, when it’s so obvious to her, must mean I’m oblivious to certain things there, which is a shame, because it’s much better to be informed than ignorant, even if I then choose to continue enjoying these things and just taking the bad with the good.
    Hmm… definitely food for thought.

  68. @paintmonkey,

    I wasn’t aware we were talking about the film version of LotR, which has its own problems. There are certainly “swarthy” characters in the novel. Peter Jackson’s racism is not JRR Tolkein’s racism.

    (I think the Oliphaunt drivers in the film were black, weren’t they?)

    TRiG.

  69. @timothy (trig)…..I was talking about the film version. Paintmonkey’s mind couldnt fathom trying to guess the race of fictional fantasy characters, and “swarthy” is too vague a euphemism for me…I also feel that a lot of fantasy fiction could bore the arse into a wooden horse, but thats just me.

  70. Fantasy is horrible for having POC. Science Fiction is only sometimes better (that aforementioned David Weber series has strong WOC characters… Actually, thinking about it, of all the relatively major characters whose race is mentioned, they’re all women. *starts thinking about what that means* YAY! Something else to analyze!). Tolkien is the granddaddy of fantasy, and then through the early days of fantasy and sci-fi, you only had white authors published. I haven’t analyzed them too much as genres, but I’m sure other people have. I stick to looking at the specific examples I read, which range from accidentally progressive (That aforementioned Weber series, I suspect is accidental) to fairly problematic with a good plot to progressive for their time but not so much anymore. Just because it, as a genre, is problematic, doesn’t mean I’m going to stop reading it, it just means I need to think about it far more than I used to. I love sci-fi and fantasy plotlines.

    So, basically, a lot of the issues you find in Tolkien show up in later series, because Tolkien is the big guy in fantasy.

    Now I need to get my own blog just to do a huge post analyzing the problematic and positive aspects of the Honorverse. (David Weber). I LOVE his books, but… they need some analysis. I just don’t have the TIME! (I really should be doing something else right now)

  71. I remember talking about them in front of a loved one who said, “but I thought you loved Sex and the City, you watch it over and over all the time”, and I said “well yeah, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think X Y and Z is fucked up.”

    Yeah, I’ve had that conversation with Al a billion times immediately after seeing movies. “But I thought you liked it!” “I did.” “But you just spent 20 minutes ripping it apart!” Yeah, well, show me the entertainment product that can’t generate at least 20 minutes of off-the-top-of-my-head complaining, and I’ll be happy to shut up.

  72. @Timothy (TRiG):

    I think you’re mistaking “finding an explanation for how this particular expression of racism came to be” with “excusing something that might otherwise be racism”. This is the same thing as the “justified racist trope” thing, though. Explaining how an elephant came to be crammed into a room doesn’t change the fact that the elephant is, in fact, there. It doesn’t make things any more comfortable for the people who were squished aside or crushed underfoot by the elephant’s arrival.

    In creating “a mythology for (white) England”, Tolkien created a whole world… a whole mythic age for our world, in point of fact… that looked English, a world that was populated by Angles and Saxons, and other peoples drawn loosely from Nordic myths who were also pretty dang white (or else monstrous and bestial).

    In doing so… and more than incidentally impacting the development of the modern fantasy genre that followed… he established a trope of building a whole world off the European frame of reference. Not just telling stories within the scope of Europe, but vanishing or othering-times-infinity the rest of the world.

    We can come up with all sorts of explanations for this that aren’t “acting out a desire to eliminate all other races from the world”, which is actually probably among the least likely explanation, but none of them change what is being done.

  73. And I’ll just add that the “Eurocentric world/world as Europe” thing is something I’ve done in my own work.

    Failure to examine the shit you like, as Snarky puts it, is a leading cause of failure to examine your own shit.

  74. This post was hard to write as a child of two unrepentant Sci-Fi geeks. I got a good verbal throttling from the parents who lovingly dismissed me as a wet blanket and questioned my lineage. It’s hard at Thanksgiving ;)

  75. This reminds me of something that happened with someone I know. This person suggested re-thinking and re-envisioning the problematic aspects of a certain story… that she didn’t know anything about and wasn’t a fan of. Because certain elements of the story, as seriously, deeply, and offensively problematic as they were, were essentially to the understanding of the story.

    How can you critique something if you can’t love even a small part of it? If you can’t even begin to understand why people like it? That’s just changing it into something YOU like, not making it into a better story.

  76. @paintmonkey,

    Most of the characters in LotR are human. And black humans do exist in the book. (Yes, they’re all under the sway of Sauron, which is certainly a problem, but they do, actually, exist.)

    @Alexandra Erin,

    Yes. Absolutely right, and very well put. And thanks for giving me something more to think about.

    TRiG.

  77. @Redlami Ben, you clearly seem to grasp the point of the post, so who is this “someone” you’re worried about who might “infer” something other than what Snarky actually wrote?

    Well . . . me. I inferred that a little from her post, regardless of how much I agree with her core argument. Also, lines like ‘Are you a butthurt Whedon fan or something?’ suggests a not-friendly attitude towards anyone raising the possibility that external criticism may *ever* be valid.*

    *A statement which itself suggests certain sweeping assumptions are being made about Joss Whedon fans (and fans of anything that acquires a significant following). Not all fans of his work are mindless worshippers out to convert the unwashed – that characterisation is itself a strawman.

  78. Makes sense to me – it’s easy to critique something you do not consume because you do not like it, but the critique is frequently (if not always) unoriginal and obvious. F’rinstance, I can critique Twilight until I’m blue in the face, but nothing I have to say has not been said already, and I haven’t read the books, so what the heck am I doing critiquing something I don’t even properly know? I’ll limit myself to making snide jokes about Sparkle Motion.

    On the other hand, it’s hard to critique some of the things I really love – often, I want to shut down and just enjoy it with no strings attached, but that’s my freakin’ privilege – I can choose for the problematic stuff not to smack me in the nose if I like – but that’s being dishonest about the impact of the things I love.

    A good reminder, Snarkysmachine! :)

  79. @Ben – Maybe I’m annoyed because I’ve already dealt with this myself this weekend, but a line like “What are you, a butthurt Joss Whedon fan?” manages to say both jack and shit about, quote, “anyone raising the possibility that external criticism may *ever* be valid.*”

    Snarky was addressing one person in one circumstance, but it’s way easier to shoot her down if you generalize what she was saying into an indefensible generalization.

    And that generalization still ignores the point of the point, as it were, which is not about the validity (or lack thereof) of outsider critique but of the need for insider critique, for self-examination and self-awareness amidst consumers of culture.

  80. Isn’t taking apart the things you adore to examine the composite parts an inherently geeky thing to do? It is, it is! So I wish more people would ACTUALLY DO THAT. It’s apparently more fun for a D&D nerd to min-max their character sheet than wonder why there’s all this racefail in the Player’s Handbook. (I’ve been playing a lot of D&D lately. I am now rolling up my sleeves to go and do some unpacking. I’ve got a campaign world to plan and it’s gonna need to contain less Fail.)

    Buuut yes, it’s damn near impossible for some people to say something bad about the things they love. It’s all or nothing! No one may disrespect the precious! Hiss! ..and goodness knows I’d have been doing the same knee-jerk stupid defense of problematic things years and years ago. I was once an insufferable 15-year old fangirl. Insufferable, seriously. Learning to detach yourself from your Large Amounts of Fan Squee seems to be the only thing that’ll let you tear off the lid and start rooting around the insides of the things you enjoy.

  81. What Alexandra Erin said.

    It’s not impossible or valueless for Snarky’s Machine to make valid criticism of the works of Whedon, but it’s much more effective for me as a die-hard Whedon fan to discuss the total race-related failures of Buffy. (It might be more effective yet if I could bear to do it on the Whedonesque boards, but I just can’t. I read them occasionally, usually when Joss himself has done some kind of major post — he did one a while back on torture porn and stoning videos that was really interesting — but I always skip the comments.)

    But even just sitting around with friends, the comment “Ever notice that everyone in Sunnydale is white?” has, I think, more impact than if someone who doesn’t like the show (and has therefore not watched every single episode and doesn’t know about the rare exceptions) goes into a long exposition about race and the Buffyverse. (Alibelle, I’m totally stealing that line from “Severance,” by the way.)

  82. Basically when I choose to critique things I don’t consume/like, I don’t have a voice. The creators of that product are generally only interested in feedback from their consumers, not their detractors. Even the legitimate critiques can be brushed aside as the rantings of a “hater”, whose motives are suspect.

    In my experience, folks tend to be more receptive to insider critique – if they are receptive to constructive critiques at all – and that’s what I’m advocating. It’s not that I think I’m beyond it, but rather I don’t think it’s useful feedback or productive when not given in the spirit of “love”, which generally requires affection and familiarity.

  83. I must say, by the way, that TV Tropes is surprisingly good at this sort of thing (for race, sex, and sexual orientation, anyway; I’m not sure how good they are on transgender/genderqueer issues). The analyses are clearly written by fans, and dissect a great number of problematic tropes.

    TRiG.

  84. @ karak –
    How can you critique something if you can’t love even a small part of it? If you can’t even begin to understand why people like it? That’s just changing it into something YOU like, not making it into a better story.
    You are brilliant. That is all, that is all.

  85. I like TV Tropes, but their -ism analysis is not even at 101 level. Still, it’s a wonderful site if one wants to explore the tropes used in pop culture. Acknowledging the existence of something is not in and of itself a critique and that’s mostly what you will find there.

  86. @snarkysmachine – I agree with you about TV Tropes. One of it’s major problems, I think, is that it’s a community of editors and content generators who are assembled around a love of TV/Film/Pop Culture but that’s where the similarities end. So you might have one user who makes a comment or critique about race fail in Firefly, but maybe that user doesn’t do SGA*, so something that deserves to be brought up about that show just gets overlooked. Etc.

    *not an SGA fan, myself but just needed a stand-in for another show that might appear on TVTropes. Please don’t anyone jump down my throat about calling out or not -isms in the Stargate franchise.

  87. Snarky – thanks. And i think the problem is sometimes blogreaders expect our blog writers to be heroes. We want you to run out and solve all the injustices in the world, including in kinds of media maybe you’re not even remotely interested in. And that’s an expectation problem on the side of the reader not the writer.

    Timothy – I used to agree with that. In the books basically only “bad” people are described as dark skinned, which they actually changed for the movie (the kind of middle-eastern dressed soldiers with the heavy eye makeup are white-skinned in the movie, b/c the director didn’t want to have ONLY dark skinned people in bad roles). However, given the movie wasn’t a perfect adaptation of the books (Elves at Helm’s Deep?! WTF!) I don’t see why there couldn’t have been dark-skinned hobbits, elves and humans without any kind of explanation.

    hsofia – another good point, and I think this is in tune with Snarky’s point about Wild Wild West. I’d like to see more movie adaptations of Austen or Elliot or Bronte or whoever with POC without any explanation. Because no explanation is needed! Fine in 1700s England you would not have had a POC as a noble-person or landowner. That doesn’t mean we can’t include great actors and actresses in our modern adaptations. And we don’t need to explain it, it can just be.

    I remember watching a McDonald’s commercial I think it was that had a family sitting there eating. And each member of the family was quite obviously a different race. And you know what? We didn’t need an explanation. You could tell they were a family having dinner. That’s all that mattered.

  88. snarkysmachine – I agree with you about TV Tropes. One of it’s major problems, I think, is that it’s a community of editors and content generators who are assembled around a love of TV/Film/Pop Culture but that’s where the similarities end. So you might have one user who makes a comment or critique about race fail in Firefly, but maybe that user doesn’t do SGA*, so something that deserves to be brought up about that show just gets overlooked. Etc.

    They do an excellent job of collecting examples of tropes they list and they are funny. They are adept at giving tropes snappy names. My favorite being, “Beard of Sorrow”. It’s a trope I’ve long observed but never had a catchy name for it. That’s their superpower.

    So to be clear, it is a fantastic site. Just not the place to get nuanced discussions of -isms as they are portrayed in pop culture and the histories inform those portrayals and what impacts those portrayals have on folks with those lived experiences.

  89. @FrauTech – I’m conflicted about colorblind casting. On the one hand, you have the example of movies like Much Ado About Nothing and Loves Labors Lost, in which the color blind casting was well-noticed and well-received (although I did spend the first hour of MAAN trying to NOT think about how physically dissimilar Keanu Reeves and Denzel Washington are). On the other hand, when I went to see Holland’s remake of A Little Princess almost 20 years ago, I was truly delighted to see the character of Becky portrayed by a black child. Many things were changed in this version (including the setting – from London to NY) and on several levels, I feel this adaptation of a white character to a non-white character was more successful than Branagh’s attempts. (Not that I don’t appreciate Branagh’s attempts.)

    For me it’s not so much that I want to see Cranford with a brown skinned neighbor woman thrown in – tokenism, bad! – but rather that I want to see a) more brown and black people telling their own stories – beyond the heavy handed morality tales of Tyler Perry and the abused-women stories of Oprah Winfrey (please don’t think I’m hating on them), AND that I want to see POC cast in leading roles in films that neither erase their ethnicities nor play into ethnic stereotypes (see Alien vs. Predator and The Descent ).

  90. I should add – I do think movies are getting better about this. Slowly but surely. But there is still a looong way to go – especially in films intended for children and adolescents.

  91. black humans do exist in the book. (Yes, they’re all under the sway of Sauron, which is certainly a problem, but they do, actually, exist.)

    I always understood those people to be Near Eastern. (I am not sure about this but I think Near Eastern people fall under the term “black” in the U.K.? Anyway.) Still: it’s kind of like Tolkien (whose fictional world’s morality was deeply informed by his Catholicism) is saying, hey, the white people are following the right “god”, and the people of color are following the wrong one. Which is racist both on the face of it and in the fact that, oh, the people of color are just too gullible not to be taken in, because of course white people are smarter. Bleh.

    I said in a comment at Shakesville a couple weeks ago (on the Captain America post, I think; can’t be arsed to find it) that there is no such thing as an in-story reason, there are only the author’s conscious or subconscious attitudes being injected into the work. Yes, Tolkien was creating a British mythology. (The fact that Britain already had one was apparently lost on him, I guess.) That in no way means there couldn’t be people of color in his story as The Good Guys. Look at the BBC’s Merlin. Guinevere is black.

    And it doesn’t mean their couldn’t have been people of color playing the characters in the films, either. I mean: let’s think about hobbits. Hobbits have curly hair and most of them are dark. Frodo (in the books) has lighter coloring than the other hobbits and is considered weird because of it. So some or most of the hobbits could have been played by people of color. Some of the dwarves, some of the elves, some of the people of Gondor, could have been people of color. Even the Rohirrim, if the filmmakers had wanted to go that way, even though they are described as being blond, because the thing about making a new interpretation of an old story is you can do whatever you want.

    The fanboys would have been pissed off. Well, a lot of them were pissed off anyway. They were pissed off about Arwen taking Glorfindel’s role (and horse). So there were some changes made in the interests of feminism (however misguided I may have thought that–don’t talk to me about how a woman has to be A Badass in order to be a fully realized character, because embroidering a banner is weak and useless or something). There could have been more changes made for other progressive reasons.

    Speaking of my personal fandoms: Hermione Granger could have been played by a girl of color in the movies. You certainly don’t have to be white to have bushy brown hair or be a know-it-all. There are some characters of color in Harry Potter, but the vast majority of them are in the background. They are neither the major good guys nor the major bad guys, they’re just faces in the crowd.

    I can talk at length about the roles of women and what makes a woman good or bad in the Potterverse. I can talk about Hermione’s teen-movie nerd-to-hottie makeover. I can talk about the treatment of fatness in the books; I can talk about the message we get from the resolution of the house-elf liberation subplot. But I don’t want to keep going on about it right now. This lunch break has gone on too long already. I need to get back to my chores.

  92. I love The Wire. Love it, love it. Love how it demonstrates concepts like “structural violence” and “agency and structure” and “institutional racism.”

    I love how people feel invested in the wellbeing of criminals as well as non-criminals (result of having been a prison educator and thinking much of the problems of our criminal justice system have to do with middle class white people not knowing- or thinking they don’t know- the kinds of people Tough On Crime campaigners claim are the root of all our problems). I love how 70% of the cast are POC and the roles POC play run from Mayor to union worker to police commish to drug dealers. (I *heart* Wendell Pierce)

    And that just doesn’t excuse The Wire’s lapses of incisive commentary. In fact, the lapses are so much more visible because when The Wire is good, it is very, very good. But there are some issues going on with race and class privilege that make me feel uncomfortable. When gender issues (women’s issues, since masculinity gets a real going over in this show) are elided in a way addiction issues aren’t, if you’re paying attention, it shows. A lot.

    Allowing myself to ignore that doesn’t make the show any better, and it makes me an analytical hypocrite.

    Thank you, Snarky’s, for phrasing so very well how that works.

  93. @redlami:

    “heard about how Bonnie Bramlett called Elvis Costello out”

    OMFG – I was a young teen when this happened, and it is my first memory of feeling crushed by an “idol”. Elvis went from cool to drunk racist instantly*! Oh, my angst! For years I wrote EC off over this – tore up posters, threw out album, radio boycott, the works. Of course, I was conveniently forgetting my own many instances of asshattery. And, what is perhaps more forgivable in the very young, I HAD to put EC in the “bad” box, b/c he so clearly didn’t belong in the “good” box.

    I had to do a lot of maturing, where maturing=calling myself out on my own shit, before I could revisit the whole thing. Which is why Snarky’s line “… it is always someone’s else’s heroes, interests or passions that are problematic and never yours.” resonates so powerfully for me.

    I also feel like so many people equate critiquing with “tearing down”. If I point out problematic theme X, it’s far less likely open up a deep discussion than to garner a “Why are you hating on this? Lighten up, it’s just for fun!” type response.

    Is it that American culture so thoroughly reveres The Dudebro that we’ve lost, or never develop, the capacity to form a complicated opinion or critique? It’s only good or bad, in or out, hot or not. Or is it more that people won’t critique what they like because in order to do that well, you have to have done a thorough examination of your own warts, zits, and wrinkles?

    Anyway, thanks for the post, and for the reminder that looking hard at the things we love helps to keep us honest.

    (*Bonnie went from cool to waaaay cooler, of course.)

  94. And that just doesn’t excuse The Wire’s lapses of incisive commentary. In fact, the lapses are so much more visible because when The Wire is good, it is very, very good. But there are some issues going on with race and class privilege that make me feel uncomfortable. When gender issues (women’s issues, since masculinity gets a real going over in this show) are elided in a way addiction issues aren’t, if you’re paying attention, it shows. A lot.

    The Wire is hard for me because I am too busy being in awe of Simon (my Whedon) for writing one book and getting TWO shows out of it. And since I’ve done so much analysis of class/race/gender with Homicide: LOTS, it feels redundant, but I am aware of the lapses you mentioned.

  95. IrishUp, I felt like that too, and I was 15 at the time. I couldn’t listen to him any more after that. Of course, later I found out that EC reached for the most offensive thing he could think of to say to BB, thus absolutely knew how offensive it was — but it’s likely he thought BB was a “has-been” and that nobody would care about a couple of singers in their cups baiting each other because that probably happened to him every day. Of course, he probably didn’t figure she’d slug him, either. (To this day, he claims she missed — other witnesses claim otherwise. BB, for her part, claimed she was not drinking, only EC was.)

    The weirdest part (and no, I can’t find linkage, I’ve tried) was when Rolling Stone magazine asked James Brown what he thought of the whole episode, and he said, “That’s okay, I just hope he buys my next record.” And even weirder still, knowing EC, he probably did.

  96. Thank you so much for this post snarkymachine. I am actually a Twilight fan and much of the criticism of the books I have encountered has been from people who have not even read them! But the more hurtful things I have come across are the people criticizing the PEOPLE who like twilight as stupid, unrealistic, and antifeminist, as well as even more amateur taunting of “ugly, FAT, and can’t get a boyfriend.” Because one’s guilty pleasures tell a lot about what their personality, their body size, and their looks, surely. I can say on behalf of most twilight fans, most of us above the age of 15 are well aware of it’s flaws and know it’s not for everybody…just let us enjoy it in peace! XD

  97. Snarky’s: I have never watched Homicide, but I feel like I should check out the book and then give the show a look-see. I understand how you feel about the One Book Two Show awe. It blows my mind a little to listen to commentary tracks and realize how much attention the producers, directors, actors and writers pay to their work.

    I also think that The Wire gave some actors (Wendell Pierce, Michael K. Williams, and Dierdre Lovejoy in particular, but many others as well) such great roles to develop, and I would love to see them in more, equally interesting, roles. And not just in Simon-produced work, either. I’ve seen Idris Elba around a lot, and that has been a real pleasure. Now, if we could get the same for J.D. Williams, I would be much happier with the popular culture world.

  98. Sorry, incomplete last para. What I meant was, the writing for POC and women characters is so good, it makes thinking about the problems of the show worth doing not because it’s bad, but because it’s so good. I want it- or whatever comes after it- to be better. And, the strong writing also puts a lot of other TV (even TV I like) to shame.

  99. Lindsay, your posts illustrates exactly what I’m talking about. Thanks.

    AnthroK8, yeah definitely check out the book and the show. It usually takes The Wire folks a moment to fall into the rhythm of H:LOTS, because it doesn’t use much profanity or nudity.

  100. @Lindsay – Thanks for saying that. I have tried to read Twilight, but could not get past what I perceived as awful, awful writing. Not to mention, I could not relate to a single character in the book. I only tried to read it because I have a bunch of female friends – all intelligent, college educated, and in their 30s – who LOVE Twilight. I can only imagine that they love the story and the world that Meyer created, but who knows. I learned a long time ago, when we looked at critiques of ‘the romance novel’ in cultural studies 101, that being dismissive of women because of their reading choices is a quick way to make oneself look like an ass. You can tell as much about a woman from knowing she loves Twilight as you can tell by seeing that she’s fat.

  101. AnthroK8 — Watch Homicide: Life on the Streets before (or perhaps instead of) reading Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets. The show is great. The best show you never saw. The book, not so much. I was disappointed with it. Largely because the show has many black characters but the real homicide unit in the book does not. The ‘cast’ of the book seemed creepily homogeneous to me.

    Andre Braugher is the greatest American actor. He’s so wonderful. And so underused. I blame racism for the relative lack of Andre Braugher on my television. With wailing and gnashing of teeth.

  102. I would say do both, Anthrok8, even given Grafton’s accurate assessment. The book captured the atmosphere at the time it was written and the show does the same. Like ATL, Charm City went through some major shifts in demographics as it relates to race and gender, particularly in the police force (something some of the early season episodes touch on) and funnily enough it seems Fontana (St. Elsewhere), Attanasio and Simon just liked Braugher better than anyone else so they had to rewrite Pelligre-whatever to reflect that, though essentially he’s exactly like Pembleton.

  103. I am sorry.

    I was just reading a post up @ Stuff White People Do that directly relates to what I was trying to unpack upthread.
    http://stuffwhitepeopledo.blogspot.com/2010/03/claim-that-analyzing-ways-of-white.html

    As I’m reading that, I realized that what I wrote here was framed badly, in a very SWPD way. What I stopped short of getting at was that one of the specific privileges that Privilege confers is to remove any onus of introspection, self-questioning or doubt. At the very essence of being marginalized is having your life as lived constantly questioned and judged to the finest degree. But if you’re King, even your worst traits and habits are beyond reproach.

    Macon d of SWPD writes:
    “To say, as I do on my blog, that white people have some common tendencies is not to say that no one else has this or that said tendency as well. Rather, it’s worth pointing out that when white people do them, they do them within in an ongoing, de facto white supremacist context. That makes their doing them different from other people’s doing them.”

    And it is precisely THIS that I failed to frame into my earlier comment. But it needed to be there. Because what I wrote reads like people=white/het/cis/male as the default. I needed to pull out that that’s the cultural assumption, not the Way the Universe is Ordered, not an essential truth. And that it is an extremely hurtful and harmful assumption.

    So, I am very, sincerely, sorry.

  104. “I don’t think it’s useful feedback or productive when not given in the spirit of ‘love’, which generally requires affection and familiarity.”

    I disagree. There are many useful critiques from which I have learned (for example, the Dudebro/Apatowcalypse series at Shakesville) that were not spurred by love, but by contempt. It seems to me that knowledge of rather than affection for a product should be at the core of useful critique. I have read every word of the Twilight series, and seen far too many dudebro films. My affectionless take on them has been useful and productive, especially in discussions with friends who greatly enjoy them.

    I strongly agree these critiques should not be in lieu of analyzing materials I do enjoy. I just feel that one need not be discouraged or dismissed as useless to encourage the other.

  105. Lajoie, good for you. Now go to YOUR blog and write about it and put it out there. It seems you’re suffering from the need to question knowledge because it’s not coming from a nice white lady. Your response barely requires anything other than snark. Based on what you’ve written you know very little about pop culture and even less about intersectionality – two subjects that I know about in ways that would blow your mind – so your attempt to take me to task is really embarrassing for you and hilarious for me.

    PS: your comment makes no sense.

    NEXT.

    Seriously, y’all are gonna need to give the various forms of the “tone on the net” argument a rest.

  106. That assessment of me (and what I’m “suffering from”) is way off. I shared what I thought was an on-topic example of my own experience, and my thoughts on the value of selecting what we critique. I was not attempting “to take [you] to task”, and I apologize for coming off that way. I’m swallowing my initial responses to do some thinking as to why my comment would be interpreted in such a way.

  107. Might want to start with this:

    I disagree. There are many useful critiques from which I have learned (for example, the Dudebro/Apatowcalypse series at Shakesville) that were not spurred by love, but by contempt. It seems to me that knowledge of rather than affection for a product should be at the core of useful critique.

    Also we’re back to the whole doing it your way ensures it’s always someone else’s heroes that are problematic never yours.

  108. My opinion and experience clearly differ from yours on this subject. I should have written my response as a post elsewhere rather than attempt to express my perspective in the comments.

    As for ensuring “it’s always someone else’s heroes that are problematic never yours”, that’s why I stated that “I strongly agree these critiques should not be in lieu of analyzing materials I do enjoy.”

  109. It’s certainly possible to offer an insightful critique of something you don’t enjoy, but why would you bother? And it’s certainly more useful to yourself (and probably to your audience) to critique things you do enjoy. (That said, Slactivist’s analysis of Left Behind is a thing of beauty, so there are exceptions.)

    I’m very bad at critiquing anything, myself, but I’m learning.

    TRiG.

  110. I don’t think Fred Clark’s takedowns of Left Behind are exactly an outsider critique… yeah, he’s totally preaching to the choir (a couple of them, in fact) and it can’t be said that he’s examining shit he likes.

    But evangelical Christianity is his culture, and to those of us who are even further outside the world of Tim LaHaye than he is, Left Behind and things like that are the face of that culture. His rebuttal of it, then, is very pointed… far more so than if Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens were to sit down with the books in hand and start doing a page-by-page sporkjob of them.

  111. Again, you’re right, Alexandra Erin. Much as I love Christopher Hitchen’s prose style, and much as I admire Richard Dawkins, who is also a fine writer, neither of them could do what Fred Clarke (is that his name?) does.

    TRiG.

  112. It’s important to criticize the media you care about. That said, a good critique is a good critique, and leveraging the popularity of certain media to spread coherent ways of thinking about problematic themes can be highly effective (as opposed to “hardly productive”) even if you don’t personally enjoy the media. I’ll agree it’s not an effective self-examination tool.

  113. leveraging the popularity of certain media to spread coherent ways of thinking about problematic themes can be highly effective

    @AdamR, it sounds like you’re talking about using media and culture in order to generate examples to be used in critiquing society in general. I think Snarkys’ premise is good here as well, as it’s only effective if you’re a member of the greater culture you’re criticizing.

  114. Gee AdamR did mansplain that all by yourself or do you work with a roving band of white dudes who are under the supposition that the rest of the world needs to hear their opinion on EVERYTHING.

    Here’s a newsflash WE DON’T. So take that mansplaining back to your own blog and let’s see what kind of analysis YOU can come up with. And you know, get lots of people to actually pay attention to it.

    NEXT.

  115. My thoughts on the topic, not a response to anyone else:

    I think we have to distinguish between evaluating artistic quality and analyzing unethical/harmful/prejudiced messages. Only someone who’s interested enough to give the material a fighting shot can do the first, but everyone should be aware of the second. For example, using everyone’s favorite whipping books, Twilight: It’s not a genre that interests me, I’m about as far from the target audience as you could imagine, and so for me to criticize the writing or entertainment value would be pretty silly. It doesn’t appeal to me because it’s not intended for me. However, I am and should be aware of the socially problematic aspects (abusive, obsessive, all-consuming relationships promoted to teenagers as romantic ideals). Similarly I don’t know or care anything about fashion, yet I still appreciated the unfairness issues raised in the thread about Gabby Sidibe’s Oscar gown.

  116. Godless Heathen PERMALINK
    There were people of color in LOTR, they worked for the bad guy. Way to go Tolkien.

    And wore war paint and lived in the south and rode oliphants and never did anything but fight savagely.

  117. This is a great convo that’s a challenge to moderate, I’m sure.

    I was raised by two parents.
    One taught me this: “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” And she generally demonstrated that in front of me, including yelling (something she hardly ever did) at me from the front seat of the car when I put myself down about what I looked like as a teenager.

    The other parent couldn’t enjoy anything without critiquing it, and wasn’t subtle AT ALL. If I watched something insipid on TV, say, The Love Boat, Dad would stand behind me, with a running commentary of “That’s ridiculous! This is a terrible show! I can’t believe the writing! How can you watch this?” until one of us turned it off or I started crying (we had a tv in “the other room” — not my bedroom, but one with a cold, hard linoleom floor and a very old and disgusting couch) and he left the room.

    Was my dad an asshole? Yes. Did he/does he enjoy critiquing everything that comes in his path? Yes. Is he a particularly bad match for a woman like my mom, who has a sharply critical mind but prefers not to hear negative things said aloud? Yes.

    Both of them live in my head, and so I can relate to all of the sides here. Critique is good — all critique! If you don’t like something, keep your mouth shut! Don’t every blindly consume entertainment, it’s all grist for the mill! Can’t you just shut up and let me enjoy watching The Love Boat!

    I’m going to assume it’s not only white Jewish teachers children who have had this experience.

    I do look critically at the things I enjoy. I don’t tell people to shut up and let me enjoy McSweeney’s* or This American Life without noticing how narrowly they represent the wider culture and what they ignore/leave out/perpetuate. I am open to critiques of the things I enjoy. I also tend not to have any “extra” time to spend on things I hate — but as a younger person, I had a sort of “can’t look away” fascination with certain things — and more introspection caused me to stop torturing myself by continuing to consume them. These days, my pop-culture world is pretty secluded, except for the segment of it targeted to 5-year-olds who don’t have the cable tv hooked up so therefore don’t watch commercials unless they are at someone else’s house.

    I have had many opportunties to critique Disney Princessess and non-Disney old-school fairly tales — but I keep many of these to myself because I want my daughter’s developing mind to latch on to critiques as she develops, not parrot what my hot-buttons are. She is developing a discernment about some things. I try to steer her, for sure, making sure her playthings aren’t all the same hue of skin color, for example, and saying “most girls have vaginas and vulvas and most boys have penises” when talking about gender differences, for another example, rather than a definitive, “boys have penises and girls have vulvas and vaginas” way of talking about it.

    If I drive her crazy, it’s to challenge her definitive ideas about the world, to make it all more grey around the edges. It’s got to be tough to be a five-year-old with a mom that won’t let your mind develop the black-and-white thinking it needs at this age.

    She’s in for a lot of “I can’t believe you are watching that” as she gets older — from me, her aunt, her dad, her grandparents, and many others. It may make her secretly sneak television at other people’s houses, the way that some kids will likely congretate at our house because the snacks are not critiqued — apple slices, cheetoes, cherry tomatoes, oreos or trader joe’s equivallent, kit-kat bars and wheat toast, hot dogs, braised tofu — all have the same moral value as food.

    It’s my way of rebelling against “I can’t believe you are going to eat that!”

    * I haven’t been consuming much McSweeney’s lately — SP serves as a sort of fat, feminist McSWYs for me these days.

  118. Thanks, Other Becky. When my 5-year-old wakes up in the morning and the first thing she says is “I love you, Mom” I like to think that’s a good sign. This morning, she wanted me to check the weather on the computer to see if it was good weather for the park. I started to interrupt her and she said, “Mom, let me finish!” when she was done, I said, “Is it my turn to talk now?” and she said yes, and proceeded to listen to my minute-long monologue. I don’t think it’s always easy being my daughter, but I think we’ve got a good thing going these days, for the most part.

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