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Fightin’ Words: A Coda

I wanted to say a very quick something about two kinds of responses I noticed while reading about the Awkward Black Girl/Crunk Feminist Collective issue that I wrote about last week. As I read the comments to the letter, I realized that many of them fell into one–or both–of two categories: the letter writers were either called haters or told to stop watching the show. Although I did not spend any time addressing these two issues in my last post, I still thought them important enough to discuss now, and would like to address them here briefly.  

1. The letter was not an instance of hating. Unfortunately, the term hater has been used so promiscuously that the actual meaning of the colloquialism has been muddied, confused. To be clear: hating is slang for the act of bringing up an unrelated, or even unfounded, negative point to counter another’s apparent success. Being critical of something is not hating. It’s a form of engagement that’s actually quite useful. Though I did not entirely agree with the letter writers, I did not at all interpret their actions as “hating”– and I’m a certified hater. The letter brought up an incredibly important issue that needed to be discussed. It wasn’t as if they saw the success of the show, got jealous, and decided to diminish that success. Quite the contrary. The letter writers are actual fans, part of the success of the show. And I understood their letter not as a form of hating, but rather an effort to further engender the show’s success.

I think those who simply wanted to reduce the letter writers to haters were lazy–and defensive. Calling someone a hater in these kinds of instances is just a refusal to engage critically with the kind of art we consume. Grandma Charlotte also says, “Thinking is hard work; that’s why so few people do it.” Regarding this kind of criticism as hating is a refusal to really think about the ramifications of the text. Which is a bad thing. It’s part of the way (self-)hatred happens. And although I understand the impulse to defend the things we love, that’s also an especially dangerous move. (Remember Penn State?) It’s okay to enjoy things that are problematic. We all do. But it’s not okay to ignore those problems. If we appreciate the art, part of our duty as an audience is to engage with it on all levels–even the lumpy ones. If art inspires, challenges us, it is our duty as the audience to inspire and challenge it. Not everything can and should be a mindless diversion from our everyday lives.

2. The whole “If you don’t like ___ , you shouldn’t watch it,” argument is wrong. It makes no sense. And it just needs to stop. This is not a pair of shoes. One does not simply choose a different pair. I cannot speak for others, but I cannot imagine how much worse this world would be if we simply ignored the things we did not like, especially those things that could–and have–perpetuated messages that were potentially harmful. Since I demanded the stoppage of The Nigger Test last week, how about I replace it with this: The next time you don’t like something, consider the ramifications of ignoring it, consider the stakes, and respond accordingly. Sure, the test may work for things like, I don’t know, broccoli or LeBron James, but I doubt it works for things like homophobia or violence against women. (Again, remember Penn State.)

That is all.