Criticisms and Being a Fan of Problematic Media
Trying to find media that isn’t problematic in some way can be difficult to find, particularly in any mainstream media. So for this week, I’ll be addressing some of the problematic aspects and different critiques of different things in the media.
*This also ended up being so long with just two things so for now, I’m just going to stick with the two shows below.
The 2005 Reboot of Doctor Who
I only recently (in the scheme of things) started watching the new reboot of Doctor Who but I was instantly hooked after watching the first episode. However, the more I watched and the more the series progressed (particularly the last couple of seasons under Steven Moffat), the more I realized how problematic the show is. There’s a Tumblr called stfu-moffat that highlights some of the problems not only with Moffat’s work (and the man himself) but in other types of media as well. That same Tumblr also has a list of problematic stuff from Doctor Who.
There was a university study done on the sexism within Doctor Who, highlighting the fact that under Moffat’s run, the show has been significantly less likely to pass the Bechdal Test (and the writing is so poorly done). Characters in the earlier seasons are much more developed and actual characters than others later on. With Rose, Martha, and Donna, you get to know them as characters during their time. We met their families, they argue with the Doctor, we learn about their past. They have depth and yes they’re not perfect but they are characters filled with humanity and richness and equals to the Doctor. Martha constantly proves her worth to be a companion to the doctor and to be a licensed badass in her own right. Donna is stubborn, opinionated, and constantly argues for the good to come from the Doctor.
But then we get to Amy Pond and River Song, both characters that revolve around the Doctor and his world. We know almost nothing about Amy, especially about anything other than Rory and the Doctor. Her stories all pertain to deciding between the two or are exceptionally defined by either and there’s not much to her outside the two of them. Unlike past companions, we don’t get to know Amy as a person. We don’t get to see her with her family (literally not one of her family members shows up in the show) and she doesn’t have any hobbies, interests, or jobs outside of Rory and the Doctor. (And the entire storyline about her pregnancy is so fucked up.) And while River is a stereotypical female badass, there’s not much to her either. All of her stories center on the Doctor in some way.
(Okay at this point, I’ve linked to the stfu-moffat tumblr several times… Really recommend reading through it. There are a lot of really good points about the direction that Doctor Who has gone since Moffat took over in 2010.)
There’s a list of some great feminist moments in Doctor Who, all of which I just love and are just a few in the series. That list was made by the tumblr Feminist Whoniverse, which reading through the first page or so, I like so far! There’s another Tumblr called Whovian Feminism that I’ve seen around. Gah, there are so many really great reviews of the revived series of Doctor Who out there but I’ve rambled enough for now.
Welcome to Night Vale
I wrote about Welcome to Night Vale last week when I wrote about some of the podcasts I listen to and since then, I’ve read some critiques of the show, particularly regarding the Apache Tracker story arc and the creators’ complete dismissal of pretty much all critiques. A lot of the critique with this part of the podcast/Night Vale universe that I have read (but are not the only ones) comes from idkunicornthings on Tumblr, who has made it exceptionally clear that they do not want to engage with white WTNV fans so if you fall into that category, talk to me. Not them. There is one post that describes what initially happened but they also have many posts in their tag “the apache tracker saga” that highlights what happened, how the creators completely shut down any sort of discussion, and other things. Really recommend reading through those posts.
One HUGE issue with this whole thing (other than the problematic nature of how the story arc and character were written) was Joseph Fink’s response to the criticisms. He was incredibly dismissive of any criticism, especially from PoC fans, AND completely shut down any chance of a further discussion. That’s so frustrating to hear, especially since he presents himself (whether he does so intentionally or not) as this quirky anti-racist white person.
In the end, I always struggle with so many of the problematic aspects of the things I have some interest in. But being critical and being a fan should not be mutually exclusive – loving something in the media should not mean you accept every piece of it at face value with no critical analysis and accountability. Calling out bullshit and holding others accountable to their problematic behavior shouldn’t make you any less of a fan of something.
At the same time, I also struggle with still being a fan of problematic things and with the question of whether it’s okay as an activist/feminist to continue being a fan of problematic media. To be really honest, I don’t really have a definite answer to that. I do think it’s imperative to critically analyze any type of media, particularly if you are a fan of it, and to hold creators of media (particularly creators of mainstream media) accountable to the bullshit they produce. There’s a post from the Social Justice League that discusses being a fan of problematic things and brings up some excellent points, mainly to not excuse problematic aspects and natures of different things you might be a fan of. I also think it’s important to hold the creators/showrunners of popular shows/media (like Steven Moffat and Joseph Fink) accountable to their fans and the mistakes they make.