«Le mieux est l'ennemi du bon.»

The next time someone tries to tell me that a piece of media is "problematic", I am going to scream.

"Problematicness" is not an intrinsic quality. Minstrel shows, for example, are "problematic" in the context of modern-day America. I quite agree that they are offensive and racist, and have no purpose other than to use stereotypes to make a particular group of people look stupid and inferior. In the context of pre-Civil War America, they were not "problematic" because they did not cause any goddamn "problems" with the prevailing social norms. There are people out there who would argue they still don't cause any "problems". They're not people I'd talk to, but they do exist.

"Problematic" was coined as an academic term for use in academic discourse, and it was used to describe a thing that came into conflict with some other thing that you had just spent the previous twenty-six fucking pages defining, explaining, and putting into context. "That is problematic," is a passive sentence. The speaker, it is implied, has nothing to do with its "problematicness". It just is. This construction is not only acceptable but encouraged in academic writing, where the idea of 'death of the author' is taken to such extremes that the researcher is supposed to purge all traces of themselves from the write-up of their own work. It works when you're describing chemicals; no matter what Derek Lowe wrote, saying that the beaker of hypergolic solution "wants to" explode is just anthropomorphism. When used in social discussion among the laity, without the benefit of all the long-winded build-up, all it does is obfuscate the fact that in order for something to be "problematic", it has to be experienced by someone who has a problem with it. This disclaiming of responsibility for a personal assessment of something that is by definition subjective is, to put it politely, disingenuous.

To put it impolitely: Where do you fucking get off telling everyone else what the proper moral interpretation is? Calling something "problematic" is the progressive equivalent of "it's in the Bible", and I'm saying this as a godless heathen liberal myself. You are using it to bottleneck the discussion into a debate on whether specific points are wrong without allowing room for the possibility that there isn't anything wrong with it. This is no different than trying to force me into debating the exact meaning of Biblical verses that you claim condemn homosexuality, when in fact my response is that I don't adhere to your religion and therefore have no reason to care about anything in Leviticus, and the entire argument is moot.

This media is not problematic. It is media you have a problem with. This does not mean that your feeling that there is a problem is not valid. It doesn't mean that I don't agree with you that there's a problem. It certainly doesn't mean that I don't think the problem shouldn't be fixed in some fashion, or that I don't want to help you do that. It does mean that your evaluation of its problematicity is completely and utterly subjective. Own your opinions, asshole. I have no right to tell you how to feel, and I won't, but your feelings are not objective reality.

This rant has been brought to you by several days of other people -- or whatever kind of creatures hang out on the internets -- implying that my interests are stupid because they are not all free-range organic vegan queer-minority-womyn-owned and produced handmade artisanal pieces of subversive beauty, whose creators donate all profits from its sale to the housing and education of underprivileged left-handed orphans in war-torn Latveria.

The quote in the title bar is "The perfect is the enemy of the good." Originally an Italian aphorism, the French line was popularized by Voltaire in a poem. It means -- and the social justice echo chamber on tumblr could stand to be reminded of this once in a while -- that you cannot sit there and stew in discontent until you find the one absolutely perfect thing that fulfills the entire nitpicky list of qualifications you've got rattling around in your head. It will never happen. And if all you can do is obsess over the bits you think are less than absolutely ideal, then you will be obsessing forever, and miss out on all the imperfect stuff that is honestly pretty fucking cool.

Sometimes pop music is enjoyable, and sometimes middle-aged white guys make me laugh. Deal.

Comments

  1. "In the context of pre-Civil War America, they were not "problematic" because they did not cause any goddamn "problems" with the prevailing social norms."

    They were problematic to black people, no?

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    1. By our standards, they were terrible. But, no, they were not "problematic," in the academic sense, to the social majority of the time. The academic sense of the word is used in reference to a specific context, against which something that is purporting to be an advance -- or at least a change -- in social practice is paradoxically shown to be ineffective, or to have a connotative message that is counter to the explicit denotation. Looked at within the context of changing ideas about gendered toy sales, for instance, the Goldiblox thing is "problematic", because even though its aim is to get girl-children interested in a traditionally boy-coded activity, it reinforces the gender lines by assuming this can only be done by taking LEGOs and painting them bright pink.

      The sense in which the word is being used in casual conversation now, which seriously makes me want to stab people with a goddamn fork, is "I think this thing implies something that makes me uncomfortable, and I am trying to disengage myself from the process of judgement by passing the problem I perceive off as an objective truth, and then yelling at people about it". It implies that the "problem" as you see it is a universal fact perceived the same way by everyone, and that people who disagree with you over whether it's a problem, or just don't care and like the thing anyway, are wrong, and should be shamed back into the fold.

      It's mindless dogma, and mindless dogma makes me angry. Especially from people who claim to be devoting brainpower to this stuff.

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  3. I don't really see that at all. I mean, yeah, there might be some people who act that way, but it doesn't seem to me to be connected to the word "problematic" itself. I think you're taking two different things ("problematic" being used in its nonacademic sense bugging you, plus people taking intellectual and moral shortcuts to push others around) and assuming the two are connected.

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    1. Possibly. The two things seem to be correlated, and I am under the impression that the reasoning that links them is that they are using the academic language (improperly) to express that they think their problem with whatever-it-is is universal, and from that universality they derive the right to bully people into following their moral code. I'm fully prepared to accept that there are probably other ways of getting to both of the things that annoy me, which may or may not involve a direct connection.

      Mainly, I just find myself increasingly angry with the "call-out culture", of which both of these things seem to be symptoms. There is a world of difference between going, "Hey, knock that shit off, I find it highly offensive," -- using your own agency to state your own opinion, and acting like you expect it to be respected, which it absolutely should -- and behaving as if you are the avatar of the One True Moral Code, and under its universal authority, you command them to stop. Even when I agree that the thing in question is offensive, that one still makes me cringe. It's a great way to start a Crusade.

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