You’re Favorite TV Shows are Problematic (and Why You Can Still Enjoy Them)
One of my first pieces of writing is about cancel culture. How it’s more of a cultural bandaid that does nothing to hold people accountable. The term “kill your darlings” never seemed to applicable to my life as last semester. I examined some childhood favorite tv shows for an assignment. My hypothesis was that my favorite afternoon sit-coms featured problematic content. Content that there weren’t words for in the early 00’s: fatphobia, gaslighting, and some that we all should’ve called out: homophobia, sexism, etc.
According to Google’s Ngram Viewer, the terms “fatphobia” and “gaslighting” gained popularity around 2010, despite fear of fatness going as far back as the early 19th century and gaslighting originating from a 1938 stage play.
See my post for my thoughts on childhood tv. Spoiler alert: it messed me up.
There’s been important discourse about separating the art from the artist, but what if the art is what’s problematic? Do we boycott all forms of oppression wherever we see it?
If I were to boycott all tv and movies in accordance to my definition of problematic, I would be stuck with narrow options.
Am I bitter about the Friends reunion? Will I only watch it if the whole cast has a serious conversation about the dangerous effects fat Monica had/have on viewers? Yes, but I digress.
a quick rundown of problematic stuff that I find on tv:
speciesism, fatphobia, queer phobia, objectification, sexism, racism, toxic masculinity, ableism, sexposition, anti-semitism, imperialism, islamophobia, pro-military, pro-capitalism, cultural appropriation, religious discrimination, animal abuse.
I’ve been rewatching New Girl. I started watching it as a gullible teenager. There is fatphobia in nearly every episode, ranging from the word “fat” used with negative connotations, to entire scenes of a character who’s past is only defined by how fat and gross they used to be. They are never not eating in a flashback scene. Watching New Girl now, it is silly and a good way to wind down before bed. 10 years ago, it added to my determination to believe that no one could ever love me because of my fatness.
All your favorite costume dramas? Likely rife with animal abuse and exploitation. See Life of Pi, The Hobbit Trilogy, Eight Below, Pirates of The Caribbean. (All cases of animals used as props or characters in movies/tv is abuse).
There can be serious criticism without outright boycotting. The right-wing media is bent on waging a war against cancel culture. Sure, they have no concept of what we can learn from problematic media and are generally clueless, but they aren’t wrong in disdaining cancel culture.
like the angry mobs emailing the FCC about a delightful Super Bowl Half-Time performance, we can and should band together and protest issues in our media. Don’t blame yourself or anyone else for loving Friends, for Game of Thrones being their favorite. We have to learn exist in a space where we can love something and recognize it as flawed.
(Admittedly, I am pissed about how popular The Big Bang Theory is despite every single episode being problematic in many ways. So, if that is your favorite, no it isn’t.)