I spend as much of my time as possible watching television, and as with most of the media I critique and consume, I watch it primarily because I like it. From science fiction to sitcom to soap opera, TV shows are a worthwhile occupation on their own. Television, in its many problematic variations, is awesome.
While I like a broad variety of shows, I dislike just as many. I don't like watching shows I don't like, so I don't watch them. And I don't write about shows I don't watch—with few exceptions (Bones, Police Women of Memphis), I don't formally review media I haven't watched or read at least twice. When I'm interested in watching or writing about a particular series or season, I don't just look for how it's "good" or "not good" in a feminist sense—I have to have some kind of positive emotional, literary, humorous, or aesthetic reaction to it. There are too many socially irresponsible shows in television, so I focus on the ones I like.
Image: An illustration of a smiling television against a pink background, with hearts above it. From Robert Couse-Baker on Flickr
I only take the time and care to give a feminist response to shows I respond to on another level. If I don't think it's worth my time, I don't think it's worth the time of readers of Bitch, or Deeply Problematic, or whatever I'm writing for.*
Lost and The Office and even South Park are shows I thoroughly enjoy watching and discussing. I get to know the characters and the tones of their universes like I get to know friends and social environments—I understand the difference between an anti-racist Michael Scott and Kelly Kapoor gag, and an irresponsible joke about sexual assault made by the same characters. My desire to to figure out how they're reflecting oppression I benefit from is a consequence of my enjoyment and understanding. These series are important enough to me as art and influential enough as popular entertainment to spend valuable time dissecting what is and isn't socially worthwhile about them, to figure out how they contribute and how they destroy.
Critique is an act of love and admiration for a show: it says that I think it's good enough to champion, strong enough to withstand critique, deep enough to dissect. Other viewers who enjoy these shows notice these things too, and want a space to consider and discuss them. My enjoyment of these shows often reflects my privilege—I can watch cissexist, racist, heterosexist, sizist, classist humor without feeling personally threatened, and often without even noticing it. Unpacking what is wrong with these shows helps me unpack my own privilege.
Though my programs have problems, I value United States of Tara, Mad Men, and 30 Rock for their humor, literary value, and actors. When people dismiss me (and others) by saying that I've just got some axe to grind about a show I haven't seen, it's just not true. Some people cast me as a bitter woman whose entire response to modern culture is rage; that I'm a killjoy who writes about these shows just to make sure that no one else can ever enjoy them. When I read these complaints, I am tickled by the image of myself cackling over my cauldron of feminist buzzwords as I conspire to make sure that these foolish fans can never love their shows again!
This casting of feminist critics to as witches and bitches out to ruin everyone's good time is a familiar one. Feminists are constantly accused of blowing things out of proportion: we're always making something out of nothing. We just want something to be mad about. Feminists don't understand that these are just silly shows, and rape and racism clearly don't matter if they're animated. Why are we taking everything so seriously? What's the big deal? It's not like these shows reflect structural issues in society or something.
Sometimes these cultural anti-critics are feminists themselves, as s.e. smith and Tasha Fierce are aptly demonstrating in their current Bitch series. Even though this is a feminist space with a mostly feminist audience, we have internalized this critique of our movement and apply it to others.
I don't watch these shows just to, uh, bitch about something. It's entirely the opposite: I write about these things because I find it most interesting and rewarding to talk about things that I enjoy. When I begin critiquing a show on a certain axis, it staves off boredom with reiterated plots and enables me to pick up on the different themes being developed; I interact with the universe of the show to a more thorough degree. Critical thinking doesn't negate my enjoyment and appreciation of media; it enhances it.
*Except Family Guy. I seriously hate that show.
I want to end my last TelevIsm post for Bitch with a thank you to the folks who let me blog here. Writing for Bitch has been a literal dream come true. I've ardently admired Bitch since I was a teen, and I likely would not have returned to blogging about feminism or writing Deeply Problematic had Bitch not offered me this stint in March. And it's worked out better than I could have imagined—Kelsey Wallace and Kjerstin Johnson have been extraordinarily patient, helpful, and positive throughout. I literally could not find anything bad to say about them, period. They are awesome women.
And the Bitch audience for the most part is exactly as beautiful as I thought it would be. I hope you'll stop by my blog, Deeply Problematic, for my continued thoughts on television and everything else. Thank you for a lovely experience throughout these two dozen posts.