One fine summer day, my friends called me up to ask if I wanted to go to the movies. This was back in those heady and far-off days when I had spare time and could do something as frivolous as sitting in a dark movie theatre for two whole hours, so I said ‘sure,’ and away we went.
I can’t remember what the movie was. That’s not really important. What I do remember is that something really awful happened in the first twenty minutes. Something so awful that I’m not even going to tell you what it was because just thinking about it makes me queasy. I was upset. I was really upset. I was also extremely offended. So I walked out, and demanded my money back. Our local movie theatre is pretty chill, so they refunded my ticket, and I went home.
My friends, who hadn’t been aware that this thing was going to happen or they wouldn’t have taken me, didn’t walk out. They didn’t find it as offensive as I did. And they were surprised that I would do something as ‘theatrical’ as walking out of a movie that I didn’t want to watch any more.
Here’s the thing. I get asked a lot why I keep watching, reading, and listening to things that offend me or upset me. Surely, if they are that awful, I could just avoid them, right? But I can’t. Because they are everywhere. Because I can’t go to the movies with a group of friends without wondering if I am going to see something so upsetting that I will be having nightmares about it weeks later. I can’t ‘just avoid it’ because I have no idea where it’s going to pop up next.
We have a ratings system for movies, but it is next to useless. I don’t give a flying fuck if a movie has profanity or consensual sex. I can tolerate a pretty high degree of violence, depending on the nature. The things I want to be warned about? The things I want to avoid? They are never warned for. I have never seen a ratings notice that says ‘warning: horribly troped depictions of disability’ or ‘rated NC-17 for rape scene’ or ‘warning: racism ahead’ or ‘warning: gender essentialism.’
Now, I know that there are review sites where people actually do compile some of this information. I could check on one of these sites before going to see a movie or watching a television show, but unfortunately, most of these sites are designed with ‘conservative values’ in mind so it would take some reading between the lines to find what I’m looking for, and along the way I would be exposed to things like anti-gay bile and racist bullshit. I can rely on fellow social justice activists to write about the media they are consuming, and that sometimes warns me about things to stay away from, and sometimes I don’t need to be warned at all; I can tell from the title or the previews or who is involved that something is going to contain content that will upset me.
The point is, here, that I don’t watch/listen/read things I hate. (Now that Glee’s over for the season, anyway.) I don’t. I have better things to do with my time. So do many pop culturalists out there who are writing critiques of the things they consume. I have about as much interest in consuming things I don’t like as, well, interest in going to the dentist. I’ll do it if I have to because I can see a common good, like with Glee, where I’m watching the show specifically to counter all the squee out there, but just to get my teeth cleaned? No thanks, I have a toothbrush.
This argument, that we keep consuming things we don’t like, kind of goes hand in hand with the idea that we are just looking for something to get offended about. Like there’s such a fucking dearth of content that we actively need to seek it out. We don’t. It falls into our laps. It’s impossible to avoid because it is pervasive and everywhere; take Wonderfalls, a show I really love. It has some content that makes me want to scream. Do I stop watching the whole show because of the fat hatred? No. I recognise it, I talk about it, and I choose to avoid that episode on re-watches so that I don’t have to deal with it again.
No media is perfect, and I have no particular reason to trust the creators of media. I can’t assume that anyone is going to create work that is not going to contain problems, and by the same token, I can’t assume that I will ever be able to just sit back, relax, and enjoy, because there will be something. I suppose I could stop consuming pop culture at all, restricting myself to very specific things that people I trust very highly have recommended, but that would be incredibly dulling, and I would also miss out on some cool stuff, because, well, there’s a lot of stuff I like that also contains content that pisses me off.
So, no. I don’t hate Bones, or Firefly, or True Blood, but ‘not hating’ does not mean ‘these shows are perfect.’ It means I like them, and they have flaws. And I talk about those flaws. Because I think it’s important to point them out. Because I think it’s important to engage with them. Because I owe it to myself to identify the problems with the work I enjoy, and I owe it to my community to talk about those problems, to get people thinking about them, to ask people about how they engage with pop culture.
Believe me, there’s a reason I don’t write about, say, Family Guy. Because I don’t watch it. Why don’t I watch it? Because I hate it.