Ever since I was 14 and read EverydayFeminism.com for the first time, I have had a perfect understanding of social politics. In the few moments that it took me to take in the nuanced articulations of every single type of oppression and bias that was documented on social justice sites across the net, I lost every single inclination toward prejudice that I once had. I am now thoroughly cognizant of everything, am an anti-oppression savant, and have been promoted from a social justice warrior to a social justice admiral. Because of my complete and infallible knowledge, it’s incredibly frustrating for me to see any piece of media which doesn’t fully end all of the systems of oppression in which we muddle.
Yes, all of that is a lie — including and especially my complete and infallible knowledge — but here’s the question: because we cannot be perfect in our representation, politics, ethics, etc: what’s good enough?
I think, and I would hope you do too, that art is worth pursuing as a means to achieving a fulfilling life in the present and a more just plot arc for the world at large.
Writing about the world we live in is a chance to reflect on it in great detail. I look to TV — and
film and music, but mostly TV — for ruminations on the world. Then, when people work to create the world that we want to live in, we are drawing from our influences in daily experiences, political reflection, but also importantly, the experiences we have through art. Television, in particular, is one of the ways I learn the most, about lives other than my own and about my own opinions, beliefs and desires.
I know there’s some danger in this, because TV shows aren’t necessarily accurate, but I think you can learn a lot about how well a depiction holds up to reality by reading blogs and tweets about it, listening to friends and YouTube videos and podcasts and researching the backgrounds of the writers and actors. The things I feel, learn and notice while watching a show teach me about my own interests and biases; whether I am furious, ambivalent or in agreement with characters often illuminates my morals and politics.
Because television is a widely consumed and crucial educational tool, I don’t take it lightly when it falls short. It’s kind of exciting that it’s becoming untenable for television shows on major networks to have some explicit biases, and that showrunners and writers feel like they have an obligation to do more to represent their characters’ identities with accuracy and fairness.
But it’s disheartening to see that dialogue around these changes often revolves around the limitations and discomfort that it puts on showrunners. Although those are both real effects, most people don’t hear the message that it is exciting that television is testing and modeling new ways of communication that we may or may not end up adopting.
I’ve been watching The L Word with my friend all semester, and almost every episode, I’m frustrated with how the showrunners represent something or another. The uninformed politics — about gender, class, race, and more — are bad, and I know they’re bad, and sometimes I like watching them be bad.
Mostly, I like watching the show for the fundamental disconnect with reality that it has, but a considerable piece of my experience with the show is incredulously complaining about it afterward. Sometimes, I wonder if it’s wrong for me to be watching the show because of those flaws — maybe my time would be better spent watching something else, maybe I shouldn’t give it my implicit approval, maybe it’s teaching me things I don’t want to learn.
One of the hopeful things for The L Word is that the series reboot, Generation Q, has vastly improved upon the last one. Nothing’s perfect, and I don’t think Generation Q is revolutionary in any sense, but I do think they took care to produce a show about right now, the world that we’re living in, and provide a little bit of advice (tales of warning is probably more accurate) about how to navigate it.
I’m still grasping for an ethic on how to approach media that is bad, but maybe not too bad or that may be redeemable.
A lot of convincing lines in the sand have been drawn which shun media that may not deserve respect, because they push us away from a world that we want to live in. But we can’t be so quick to do that, because there is fertile middle ground.
Katie Sims is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Resident Bad Media Critic runs alternate Tuesdays this semester.