I was on Tumblr a couple of weeks ago, reading what celebrities I like have said. The 'Your Fave is Problematic' Tumblr itself says that they are just documenting the facts of what was said and let you decide whether it was wrong. There is an absence of context, seriously, it is like a sucking void. Sometimes people say stuff that a lack of context renders shitty. If you see what they said or did as part of a conversation or piece of art, the perceived shittiness disappears like an optical illusion.
Headline writers have been pulling this trick for decades. They take the most inflammatory thing someone has said, usually after the interviewer asked leading questions to get it and write that divorced of the wider conversation. Usually after you read the interview, their unhinged opinion seems diluted. Not always. But usually.
That Tumblr is just another channel to be a critic. Nothing wrong with that. But I dearly wish that people, intelligent people, intelligent people with thoughts to share, I wish they would stop criticising others and create their own stuff. (Irony feedback loop) Of course, it is easier to criticise others and tear them down and hold them up to a high standard. Impossibly high in some cases. It is difficult to express yourself (artistically or otherwise), in a way that captivates or interests others. Notice how I have not got my own Tumblr. I just want to lightly shit on this one for a bit.
What strikes me as interesting about the current state of online culture is how we like to throw tv shows up on our shoulders for showing that people are not just Good or Bad. We have been spoiled for choice recently, television has been giving us morally ambiguous characters for a few years now. And we love it. We love the way we don't know how to feel about Hank and Marie or the Lannisters or Springer Bell. We love how television is showing us the essential truth that people are complex. Sometimes they throw 10 year old boys out of a window after having twincest. Sometimes they shoplift. Sometimes they save entire cities. Sometimes they pull you through a terrible injury.
We lap that stuff up and beg for more. Please show us how humans are ambiguous and complicated! Because we know we have done some questionable shit in our time and we want to know if that means we are bad people.
But celebrities do not receive the same appreciation when we find out that they are complex humans, prone to shitting the bed. Some of them are dragged through the mud for having a foreign word or symbol tattoo. Can you imagine if there was a television drama where the one shade of grey for a non-Japanese character was a kanji tattoo?
If I were to satirise 'Your Fave is Problematic', I'd start 'Your Westerosi is Problematic'.
Dani for appropriation. Ned for executing the mentally ill. Tyrion for saying 'cripple'. Tywin for homophobia. Arya for fat shaming. Jon for knowing nothing.
In my opinion, holding people in the public eye up to a minimum standard of public decency is fine. My problem is holding them up to higher standards than we do for ourselves. Some of them get in trouble for exploring things in poor taste through drama or art. They get in trouble for what their characters said or did. Sometimes the all important context is 'Wanted to hold a mirror up to the problematic shit people do' and that has got to count for something. Why is repeating something homophobic someone said a better way of pointing out it is wrong than having a fictional character say something homophobic in a drama?
I admire the 'Your Fave is Problematic' Tumblr for saying that they are not the jury of whether something was out of line, they just want to gather the information together. But. What are we achieving by this?
I think it is a way of making us feel good about ourselves. Much like the trashy women's magazines where they point out the armpits of otherwise 'flawless' celebrities. We get to point and say how outrageous something someone said was. We get to think 'I'd never be so awful, look how I condemn this problematic behaviour!'
That is pretty problematic behaviour itself. How is that different from snarking on someone who looks a bit sweaty? We need to grow the fuck up. Celebrities, as human beings, are going to say and do shittastic things. We are not better people for having recognised their shittiness. We are better people by not being shitty ourselves.
Make art about what it means to be human and what it means to be good. If a celebrity troubles you with their problematic behaviour, then showcase the behaviour in your art so people understand how to be better people. Share it far and wide. Just holding people up to higher standards of behaviour, in a constant cycle of outrage, that is getting us exactly nowhere.