“I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” -E.B. White
You know that person who watches gory Scandinavian thrillers about child vampires? How about that person who can read vitriolic comments on YouTube without flinching? The one who listens to the Top 100 on the radio and doesn’t constantly think, “wait…is this endorsing street harassment?” Or the person who isn’t paralyzed by fear that her doubts about cultural appropriation are coming from a position of pure privilege?
Whoever that person is…it’s not me.
I’ve always been a person who’s…shall we say in touch with her emotions? Ever since I was little people have described me as kind and caring but also sensitive– a word that carries more ambiguous connotations. Today people describe me as empathetic and dedicated, but they also ask me whether I’m on my period throughout the month (I guess I have PPDMS– Pre, Post, and During Menstruation Syndrome).
In the past few years, I’ve become increasingly aware of world issues. From poverty, war, and violence to controversies over ism’s in daily life and the American political system, I feel like every day I read something new to get upset about. Every once in a while, this sends me into a spiral of worry, anxiety, and deep and abiding sadness. As a person of definite privilege in several areas, I carry a heavy weight of anxiety that if I don’t stress about things like cultural appropriation and accurate representation of disability in pop culture, then I am betraying my role as an ally. In other words, my thinking is that if I am not constantly anxious and depressed, then I’m just another piece to the (insert oppressive social construct here). That produces damaging behaviors–suddenly I’m standing vigilant over my family and friends, making sure they aren’t saying or doing anything that’s even the tiniest bit problematic.
But here’s the thing about that line of thinking. It’s a) unsustainable b) frustrating for the people I love, and c) not actually helpful!
That last one is the zinger. Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said in an interview on NPR that racial guilt is understandable, but not really that useful. That makes a lot of sense to me, which is how I came to write this post.
I love consuming things– art, music, film, writing, food, you name it. But this anxious cyclone has left me unable to love anything for fear that it doesn’t meet my impossible standards of correctness. I don’t want to live the rest of my life without enjoying and appreciating the creations of other people and myself. That way lies unhappiness and frustration.
And yet I don’t want to completely throw my education to the wind, either. I can never put the blinders back on now that they’re off– but maybe I can learn to look at something that has problems, recognize those problems and not be afraid to talk about them in an appropriate context, and yet still love this thing for its successes.
I’ll use one of my favorite TV shows as practice: Pushing Daises was an adorable series that lasted for only two seasons. 😥 Its two main characters were white. It had the beginnings of a love triangle that I found kind of annoying because of the way it portrayed the “other” woman. The only major minority character had many elements of blacksploitation stereotypes that were hard to watch.
But wow, were there some awesome elements to this show. The writing was witty and sharp, the aesthetics fantastical and campy; it had a supernatural crime-solving gang reminiscent of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (another somewhat problematic show that I just love to pieces), the main female lead was interesting, well written, smart and confident but also kind (plus her dresses were TO DIE FOR), and not to mention the show was hella romantic.
So what do we do with that? I don’t think that blind boycotting is the answer, especially since it’s long since been cancelled. Neither is secretly watching the season finale late at night with a sharp, biting guilt in my stomach. But I can’t just ignore the problems either. So here’s what I’m going to try. I’m going to watch the show, not ignoring the offensive parts but also not getting too hung up on them. I’m going to consider it as a whole production rather than evaluating its individual parts. If, when I think about it as one entity, a certain element sticks out to me as being grossly offensive and impossible, then I can start evaluating what I want to do, if I can do anything, and how to do it in a way that’s helpful and constructive rather than inflammatory.
That feels a lot better already.
This blog is about that process. It’s about appreciation, examination, creation, consumption– all of those things. I’ll be publishing my own stuff and talking about some stuff that other people make. With this blog, I’m becoming an active participant in the cultural life in which I take such an interest. I used to think that the answer was to opt out. Instead, I’ve decided to opt in.