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I spy, with my critical eye, something beginning with Fail…

Today’s post comes from Nik, who is a community   musician, church tour-guide and active listener, and  gets confused about the combination over at anyanswersquestioned.blogspot.com

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The prompt for me to watch the first episode of the new series of Sherlock was seeing a proliferation of blog posts about it’s rewriting of the end of the episode. I managed to avoid reading any of the posts before seeing the episode, so all I noticed at the time (not having read the original) was that the ending was a bit pants, and the lead female character, who had been brilliantly written for throughout, wound up looking pretty pathetic. Which was a shame.

A friend of mine who enjoys Harry Potter (and who also gave the most rousing and convincing defence of the Twilight series I’ve ever heard, for which they get kudos) told me that they are really disappointed, not only by the fact that outing Dumbledore post-publication appears to imply that non-heterosexual relationships are somehow more “adult” than heterosexual ones, but also by the fact that Ginny Weasley’s sole raison d’etre is to marry Harry. Which, in spite of rhyming, is not cool.

Another friend (yes I have more than one) has expressed disappointment in discovering recently that a couple of their favourite authors (namely Lois McMaster Bujold and Jared Diamond) are in their own special ways more than a teensy bit racist. Damn.

I really enjoy Steven Moffat’s writing. I really like his dialogue, his pacing, most of his characters. I love what he’s done with Doctor Who, and I’m willing to sit through a certain amount of potentially dangerous over-simplification / benevolent sexism to enjoy it. I’m also willing to ignore a certain amount of homophobia from the lead characters in Sherlock because I think their relationship is well-written enough to overcome it (Korea disagrees). But is it enough simply to be aware of these problems? Given that I have very little way of addressing them (apart from getting whiney on The Internet), by continuing to enjoy and consume this material I am tacitly endorsing it, and every time I recommend it to a friend I’m potentially propagating it. Should I be giving a list of caveats every time I tell someone about something I like? Because given what a fan of Lord of the Rings I am that could seriously impact on my free time. (There’s a deeper argument I quite like here, which sheds some interesting light on a discussion I had a while ago about the rape scene in the Watchmen film.)

In some ways I feel that it’s a mark of quality – the fewer caveats I need on something the better it is. I’m currently avidly consuming Avatar: The Last Airbender (a children’s cartoon made for the American mainstream market) because it is remarkably progressive regarding gender, race, ability and so on. The number of caveats required in the first series is roughly one half (it also has a 10-tonne, six-legged, flying bison in it, which may explain much of the rest of its appeal). While that’s all very well in contemporary media, it doesn’t work for much else. Wagner was anti-semitic but still wrote great music (well, arguably great anyway). Gandhi beat his wife, but surely that doesn’t invalidate his approach to protest? And obviously we can’t discount Stephen Hawking’s contribution to physics because, according to the BBC, he spends most of the day thinking about women, who remain “a complete mystery” apparently (poor dear).

Maybe it’s about lowering expectations. Nobody’s perfect, and even friends’ opinions are bound to disappoint at some point. I guess for the moment I’ll just keep playing “spot the fail” and then getting whiney on The Internet.

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2 responses »

  1. Hmm, it is a difficult topic to know how or whether to recommend things with or without caveats. There’s a certain sense in which participation as a viewer does implicate you in whatever oppression is taking place, yet not all depictions of sexism/racism/homophobia are serving that oppression, many are used to question and explore those biases and ethics. How do you think we encourage better media portrayals? Do you think indie/alternative platforms for media are doing a better job?

    Reply
  2. I recommend myself with caveats 🙂

    With something like Lord of the Rings (a very male-dominated story, set in a male-dominated pre-history) the artist in me ignores ‘Is it good?’ and ‘Is it right?’ and ‘Does it convey a worldview of which I would approve?’ Instead, my question is more along the lines of, ‘Does it convince?’ or ‘Is it good art?’ Good art with a questionable message beats honourable, well-meaning bad art any day.

    *insert caveat here, probably about Eminem*

    Reply

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