Now, I don’t watch a lot of television. I don’t actually even own a television, which has nothing to do with my snootiness and everything to do with how small my living space is. What shows I do enjoy I can stream from my laptop with the Netflix account I have borrowed indefinitely from my best friend.
It’s true I’m attracted to a particular type of show. Heavy shit, as my dad would say. True Detective, Hannibal, American Horror Story, Luther, etc. Odds are, if it’s dark and unsettling I’ll probably consume it readily and in one sitting. However, I’ve always been a conscious consumer. I absorb the content I watch but not before considering it. And as a woman, as a writer, and as a feminist I have a lot to consider when it comes to the content in popular media.
I wasn’t first introduced to the term “problematic” until about two years ago. It was another bit of vocabulary I had learned from Tumblr (serious vocab that I might actually use in serious discussion). The term is most often applied to movies, television shows, music as well as actors and artists. Urban Dictionary actually gives an apt definition for once and describes “problematic” as “a blanket term that describes any action that upholds a system of oppression for any oppressed groups”. Being a conscious consumer means viewing media and entertaining the ideas it sells and promotes without accepting them completely or abandoning your personal ideologies. Being a conscious consumer also means admitting that some of your favorite movies, television shows, and celebrities may in fact be problematic.
For example, the reason I’m writing this post. In the last 48 hours, I binge watched American Horror Story: Asylum. Mostly for Zachary Quinto. Season two was a complete doozy for a number of reasons but the shoddy plot and drawn out story line weren’t what made me cringe: it was all the violence, especially the violence against women. Having seen the first season, I knew I could expect a considerable amount of gore. But this second season certainly turned up the crazy. The story line involving Lana Winters and the season’s baddie “Bloodyface” was enough to turn my stomach and give me goosebumps, which really rarely happens. Throughout season 2, women were killed, tortured, maimed, tormented, and raped. All on prime time television. The same of course can be said for the other shows I listed above. Quite frankly, the differences between the shows – the plots, the characters, the narratives – don’t really matter. What matters most are their similarities and how they reflect on the expectations of the audience. Reality serves as the fodder for fiction and vice versa. And unfortunately, in reality, beyond the plasma screen, abuse and sexual violence remain as the status quo for many hundreds of women.
I enjoy my dark, creepy TV shows and movies. I can admit I get fanatic. But I can also admit that the stuff I like is problematic and is in many ways desensitizing its audience and feeding into our culture of violence and apathy. I for one am disgusted and tired of seeing rape on television. I am tired of television shows and movies “fridging” women characters for the sake of plot development. Whether it depends on better writers or better stories, some divergence from the norm would be hugely appreciated. Because I won’t settle for drek. Even when Zachary Quinto is cast as a lead.