Problematic

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.

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3 responses to “Problematic

  1. Ya know, I actually totally understand where you’re coming from. When I first started reading your post i was on the train of sort of disagreeing, but not really, because I was only going to say something like “The storyline between Winters and Bloodyface is supposed to be brutal and weird and blah blah blah, etc… because that adds to the plot!” but looking back on it, it was used as sort of the crutch for the plot, wasn’t it? Rape isn’t okay in any channel, even if it is used to convey and push forward the plot. But, wasn’t that also sort of the point of the season, i think? To show how unfair the balance of power was between the women and their male counterparts within the asylum world. I don’t want to defend the show or anything, but I’m also cautious of saying that the show (or at least the season) was perpetuating rape culture, ya know? But overall I think I agree with you on, in media in general the abuse of women is used as a plot thickening device and only further to normalize it.

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  2. I think what you said is really interesting, and though I haven’t actually seen American Horror Story, I totally know what you are talking about. It really is everywhere, and not much is being done about it. Especially in primetime dramas, it really bugs me that in many shows and movies the man is either asserting his power by abusing/seducing a woman or the woman in essence offers herself up for the man’s pleasure in order to get something she wants in return, and she usually has no problem in doing so. This portrayal is so commonplace that many expect real life to be similar, and that’s where things go wrong. But if it’s so unrealistic and even dangerous, why are so many people attracted to media that display these things? If it’s on TV it has to have enough viewers that like it’s message. Like you mentioned, is it the audience’s expectations that define media or the other way around? Probably both. But it’s still a really important issue, and I think you bring up a lot of great points.

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  3. You all brought up very good points, but allow me to play devil’s advocate here. You said that rape is always wrong to show on TV. I wonder if you would extend that sentiment to other crimes, such as murder? Is it equally wrong to show someone getting violently killed? Does that communicate the same or similar message to the audience?

    I’m of the opinion that art, which television shows are, should be left to the artists, the creators of the shows themselves, to decide what is permissible or impermissible. Whether I approve of what the message (which is very tricky to determine) is or not, I have to respect their right and means to paint their own picture. I also try to keep in mind that simply showing an act does not mean that the creators condone that act, whether it be rape or any other crime; and that is the viewer’s responsibility to separate what is art and what is reality, whether it desensitizes them or not.

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