Today we are going to be controversial again.
A little backstory about this first though :
So it all started when a movie released in my country. This movie, titled Kabir Singh, instantly appealed to almost whole of the population. However soon after, there were some conflicting opinions about the same. Some critics started to call the movie misogynistic, and accused it of portraying toxic masculinity and glorifying abusive relationships. I read some reviews which pointed out the blatant flaws in the movie and I became convinced that Kabir Singh was in fact, not a healthy movie for any society and especially not for an Indian society where issues related to sex and gender are rampant. The minute that I formed an opinion, drama followed. I had a debate on this with a really close friend which ended up in a horrible argument. I felt guilty. Not of having an opinion but of having one without even watching the movie. Maybe people misinterpreted it? maybe it was a satire? maybe there was a deeper social message that they didn’t grasp? And for these reasons, I watched the damn movie.
And I absolutely loathed it.
I could point 20 horrible things that the movie glorified and applauded, like on spot, but since this post is not about Kabir Singh, I won’t do that. I’ve had serious arguments about this with the closest of my friends and random strangers on the internet. and man was it intense! They were unwilling to see what I did. Unwilling to accept that the movie was toxic. It was then when I first realized how I was letting social media truly affect my mental state and how the internet can, in fact, cause rapid changes to our mood. Social media is a strange place. No one really speaks. And if they do, people don’t really listen. People on the internet, including me and you, are adamant. This is why I chose this platform to talk about how what we read, see and listen can shape our minds and thus why problematic content should be called out. But nowadays people fling the word ‘Problematic’ at literally anything and everything that they dislike. So what I’m trying to do is to breakdown this whole mess and hopefully start a conversation about this topic .On we go!
What is Problematic Content?
constituting or presenting a problem
“the situation was problematic for teachers”
Problematic, as I found out on doing some research, is a really vague word. Oxford dictionary doesn’t really do justice to it and Urban dictionary chooses to make fun of the word calling it a term used by ‘sociology majors’. The closest i came to finding a proper definition and adding my two cents to it was
“a term that describes any action, content or statement which blatantly or implicitly upholds a system of suppression, discrimination or promotes harmful stereotypes and tropes, and is in general, derogatory to the minority community”
Some things we need to get out of the way before moving further with this discussion ,
- Offensive is distinct from problematic. There are a billion things that we as a person are sensitive about, what is personally offensive to us is not problematic in general.
- There is a vast difference between showing truth and glorying or suggesting it. For example if a book or movie is showing violence, abuse, domestic abuse or a homosexual person being treated unkindly, it does not mean that the author is approving it. It is most likely, a social truth or a social commentary. It probably has a deeper message through which the author is aiming to address some of the gory problems of the society.
- However, it becomes problematic when in a contemporary setting, those same things are being depicted without accountability, and the author, seemingly, is promoting it without condemnation or consequences of any sort. Some examples –
- a toxic and abusive relationship with the girl eventually accepting her partner. (especially in YA books where the audience are teens still trying to figure out life and dating)
- Bad or misleading representation of any minority community.
- the white savior trope
- rape/ attempt to rape being depicted in a very casual manner. (Main Guy character forcing the love interest to do something after she has clearly said no. And then that scene is not addressed or condemned by ANYONE in the whole length of the book/movie) etc
- An Author doesn’t automatically becomes a bigot unless there is a pattern in all of his works. or Unless he or she openly expresses a statement which makes them problematic. Did ya’ll know that Roald Dahl was antisemitic? I did not until recently and I’m SHOOK.
- I often find people forgetting that the time we live in right now, is very very different from the one that authors of the classics had to live in. Things that are not acceptable now, were very common back then-for example-women being mostly confined to household work. So judging a classic based on representation, diversity, and gender roles is in my opinion, can be pretty useless.Some people call Tolkien sexist and that really does infuriate me. a lot. Yes I agree that there were only a few female characters in his story but the ones that were there were put on an even higher pedestal than men. What about Luthein? What about Eowyn? Literally all the female characters in his lore were simply great.
Are the things I like problematic?
One of the things that nagged me the most when I began writing this post was the fear of being a hypocrite. Because I, like many others, have liked or even loved a book or a movie which might have had some problematic parts in it. When I was younger I used to idolize certain relationships where there was an imbalance of power. Because to me that was what ”romance” meant. When I first started blogging I honestly didn’t understand the big deal behind something being problematic. I think that is the problem with a lot of readers today. They read ”fluffy books” which might be trash and then say that they don’t really care about what’s wrong with it because it is JUST a book. They do not know and they don’t even want to understand why it might be harmful for the society. Now, is it that bad to be THAT reader?
I am not going to reprimand you for your choices. Nobody should tell you what to do, what to watch and what to read. It is okay to enjoy something without having to worry about the implications of it and how people might react to it. These days I see a lot of people practically attacking other people for not including a diverse book in their ‘Favorites list’ and instantly assuming that they are orthodox or a bigot. That is, in my opinion, a horrible thing to accuse someone of just because they did not pay that much attention to their choice of books. We can start a dialogue to make people understand why it is important to support writers of the minority community but calling someone out on any platform and berate them for it is simply wrong. Which is why, I believe
The problem is not in liking problematic content but in :
- Refusing to accept that it is in fact problematic.
- Saying that it is just entertainment and it has no effects whatsoever on anyone. And so it should not upset people.
- Being blinded by like or love of something so much that you cannot see why that piece of work might offend someone.
- Attacking a person for having an opinion just because it doesn’t match yours.
- Forcing your opinion on someone.
- Calling them ‘extremists names’ (feminazi, third-wave feminists,etc etc) just because they’re raising their voice against something they think is wrong and you don’t care enough to (or for any other reason) do the same or have a respectable debate about the same.
To sum up, acknowledging that there is a problem is the first step towards eliminating repetitive problematic content or stereotypes. For example, I have been getting into Stephen King’s books lately. And I have been absolutely loving it. One thing that I’ve noticed about a lot of his works is the way he describes the appearance of his female leads. There is nothing explicitly wrong in what he does but it does get a bit annoying when there’s a overly exaggerated (and not needed at all) description of the ‘breast’ area. (Also the problem with a lot of other male authors) It just does not feel right. So in this situation, saying
”Okay I loved this book to the core of my heart but that thing *whatever the thing is* bothered me and It would have been a much better reading/watching experience if it didn’t exist.”
Instead of just letting it go is probably the right thing to do. This way you are a. raving about something you loved and also b.not giving someone a chance to make you feel guilty about it. ALSO BONUS : if enough people do this same thing maybe writers and publishers take notice of it and know what to stay away from to improve their content.
Some other really helpful articles and videos on this topic that I would like to give credit to –
- Where do I draw the line?/ reading problematic authors
- So,Your favorite books are problematic, now what?
- When problematic is problematic?
My international blogger friends, if you want to see Kabir Singh It is on netflix.