Is It Ever Okay to like Problematic Things?


I see, yeah that is annoying and frustrating. I feel like the solution in that case would be to just go, “Hey, personally I’ve never engaged with this work, but I’ve heard X, Y and Z from a person that I respect. Just so you know.” Basically a trigger-warning now that I think about it.


On the surface? No. As long as you’re utilizing the most basic form of critical thinking skills, you’re not, like, a capital-B Bad Person for enjoying things that have less-than-stellar elements, though I would feel a little iffy if you were to recommend them to others without caveats.

But there does exist a threshold where the implicit harm a piece of media is capable of doing, its “problematic” elements, probably should outweigh any personal enjoyment you might glean from it, or the representation it might offer.

So, Detroit: Become Human? I would not trust anyone who would willingly engage with that game or fan-generated content of it, “critically” or not, because it has no redeeming qualities. It’s an amalgam of every racist, sexist, and generally fucked-up view that David Cage harbors, and, even if you’re taking his characters and putting them in your own alternate-universe world, they will always belong to the source material, and they will always be products of David Cage’s bigotry. There is no ethical way to engage with that.

Similarly, I don’t trust anyone who has watched and enjoyed Call Me By Your Name, anyone who claims that it’s otherwise good representation, because it normalizes and romanticizes a predatory relationship between a teenage boy and adult man. Yes, it’s a movie about gay men, but it’s a movie that presents a pedophilic relationship between a gay man and a gay teenager as desirable and normal. Again, there is no ethical way to engage with that, because the core of it is irredeemable.


I’ve reached the point where I’m more inclined to base my judgment about whether it’s “okay” to like something on the creator than the creation. It’s almost a reverse of the old “separate the art from the artist” adage. Shadow Complex is a typically un-objectionable game, but I have no interest in supporting an Orson Scott Card project. Blue is the Warmest Color may be the most enlightening film ever made, but after learning what the director put the actresses through, I don’t think I could watch it with an open mind. This is inevitably a less comprehensive approach, because you’re just not always going to know.

That said, I think everyone has a line that they draw at which point someone’s fandom around certain media is really bad. Some people draw a darker line than others. For example, to piggyback of @fifthblight, I don’t have any problem with people that want to play and enjoy Detroit: Become Human, even though I don’t have any particular desire to engage with it myself. But if you’re firing up Super Seducer to try to learn something or think Hatred offers valuable social commentary, you’re probably not a person I want to spend any time with.


Best answer here. Well said!


Well, I’ll say that I, along with most queer people I know, tend to be attracted to media that’s deeply fucked up in one way or another, especially in regards to sex, sexuality, gender, and violent imagery (often in combination)

It’s important to critically engage, but be careful not to attack people who emotionally relate to messy, ugly, and often troubling things.

Recognize that saying “anyone who likes X should be shunned” will often hurt marginalized people more than anyone else. Maybe if “X” is literal fascist propaganda it’s still worth it, but be careful to understand whose toes you’re actually going to be stepping on.


one of the most exasperating things about being really into film is that you basically have to watch Birth of a Nation and Leni Reifenstahl’s stuff to understand the history of the medium and it really aggravates me that my opinion of Birth of a Nation is “completely repugnant and yet essential to the art form”


Speaking of Riefenstahl, did you ever see Dan Olson’s vid on Triumph of the Will? It’s a pretty good alternative perspective.


I would have pretty much no good punk music from the 70s or 80s if I went by this, my bookshelves would be almost empty and some of my favorite movies would never get played again. There is nothing that is free from problems especially if you start to break it down into the minutia we are today (and I’m not saying that’s a bad thing). For me it’s about recognizing and trying to improve, but shunning all art that can’t pass some kind of litmus test.

And I really don’t mean this as a dig at the OP, but I’m a little uncomfortable that question even has to be asked. The end result here isn’t some kind of wiping out of all art with anything objectionable in it-- that’s what the right keeps trying to pretend all of this mean. This is NOT about writing off every piece of art that has problems. It’s about recognizing it, having conversations and trying to do better as things evolve.


i kind of think this type of discourse is ultimately unhelpful bc it draws a line in the sand that paints people who didn’t have that reaction to the movie (or book) as pedophilic or irredeemably “problematic” themselves when they might have had a different understanding or interpretation of the initial media. having read the book and seen the film, this is not a way that i would describe this piece of media at all but your interpretation leaves no room for that. it’s not that im an apologist for it, ive read a lot of interpretations of CMBYN that agree with you and am sensitive to those issues, i just disagree about what is present in the context of the film/book (particularly the book). i think the best things we can do as people who critically engage with things is trust people who make critical decisions differently from our own to be smart and sensitive and not go down a puritanical route of trying to save people from “irredeemable” media.


As someone who freelances as a media critic and also consumes a lot of media, I’ve watched some “problematic” things for the sole purpose of seeing how bad something was. It’s all about what you feel comfortable with. There’s things I have zero tolerance for that other people enjoy just fine, whether it’s something I cannot in good conscience support (see Roman Polanski’s work, etc) or stuff that just has plots that might upset me or whatever. As long as you keep your brain on, knowing why something you love has flaws, is just as important as finding something useful in something “bad” or Bad. You cannot be a critic worth any salt if you cannot come to a conclusion on why something is the way it is, or what it is, but even regular people should interrogate their desires and media consumption. That doesn’t mean flogging yourself for watching something bad but not defending it might be a good first step if you do have misgivings. Reading critical work about it can also be helpful too in guiding your way through what might make a particular piece of art or media worthwhile or not.

Edit: I should note that it’s probably super unhelpful to make this about specific pieces of media vs. the conversation talking about how to engage with media in general.


There is also the extremely long history of criminalisation of gay relationships which in no small way included heavy use of different ages of consent (eg 16 for straight teens, 18 or even 21 for gay people). The Wikipedia plot synopsis say age 17 to 24 difference is what is being presented in this movie and… lots of places have an age of consent of 16 (and also maintain a much healthier idea of consent that the puritanical stretches of the US - 18 is certainly not a magic number indicative of a more enlightened place) so it’s generally something I’d consider iffy (what is a 24 year old doing with someone so much younger) but also this is exactly the sort of thing used to deny the liberty of gay people for decades after outright outlawing gay sex was removed from local laws (we’re talking laws only reformed in the UK 15 years ago, being actively used to put people in prison 20 years ago).

Talking generally, we cannot remove media from the history of oppression and even if it’s intended with the best intentions, relighting such previous oppressive laws now as “you can’t enjoy the problematic” is something I’m almost equally uncomfortable about compared with the depiction of relationships with such an age gap.


I don’t take it as a dig. It’s just, as a person who is on-spectrum (I may have depression as well - but my work insurance doesn’t cover mental health, so I haven’t been tested and I don’t want to self-diagnose) and thus isn’t great at reading people, and who accidentally said hurtful things in the past, I’ve tried to make up for my actions - to not only “check” my privilege, in the sense of being aware of it, but I’ve also interpreted the expression as saying that I need to “put a check on” my privilege - to work to limit it and restrict it, as a way to compensate the unexamined wrong-headed things I did when I was younger.

Consequently, when I learn a work that I thought was innocuous is irredeemably problematic, especially irredeemably so, I start questioning everything else I’ve done, as if instead of helping I’ve been making things worse - in some cases making me wonder if that’s all I can do, make things worse. Disengaging from these discussions also does not necessarily psychologically help, because, as a cishet-white-guy (one who is on spectrum but still, that doesn’t make up for the rest of it), my privilege allows me to disengage in that manner, which makes me more upset, ultimately bringing me into a sort of… feedback loop of self-depreciation and self-loathing.


i also think a lot of discussions of “problematic” media can eliminate the questions of intent and context, and i think the specific conversation around CMBYN suffered from that greatly. sometimes these things are complicated and confusing and if you’re not interested or you find it gross that’s fine but painting it as irredeemable or definitely outwardly harmful is, imo, lacking a nuance that makes meaningful media criticism


I’m finding the use of the word “redeemable” here a bit curious? Because when we talk about redemption with regard to a person, that’s usually with respect to a change that someone has made in their choices or lifestyle, or actions they’ve undergone to alleviate problems they had caused or perpetuated before.

Media can’t do that. Media can be adapted, and new interpretations can be offered, but the actual qualities of a piece don’t change with time. Something that presents a viewpoint with problems (which, as we’ve more or less pointed out here, pretty much everything does) is never going to not have those problems. And this is not at all me saying “Hey, go watch Birth of a Nation because there’s value in eeeeeeverything,” but works can and do have serious issues in one spot and significant value in another, without that value needing to redeem the problems.

And most if not all pieces of media are going to be that way, because they’re being created in a world with systemic problems and marginalization and by creators, whatever perspective they’re coming from, who have been socialized in that world. There is no outside to that, and no piece of media is going to be created that’s above that. The idea of redeeming qualities there adds this weird transactional nature onto those pieces—this idea of “well the perspective it offers must weigh X versus the problems it has which weigh Y and if the scale tips then it’s fine to consume,” and that seems antithetical to me because those weights are not objective.

Also, on the subject of Detroit: Become Human, I thought it’d be interesting to point out that that game does have a huge fandom based around queering some of its narrative beats, which Gita Jackson wrote a really great article about here: I will also never be interested in playing that game, but it sure seems like people are making something new and potentially valuable out of it.


The context I’m using here is with the discussion around the Shadow of the Tomb Raider review, which in turn was around the idea of “Can Lara Croft ever not be horrifically vile and problematic, or should she be relegated to the dustbin of history?” with the stance of the article (at least how I interpreted it) and some of the comments being, no - she’s fundamentally problematic, and Tomb Raider games need to basically just stop.


This is a really good point and two recent examples for me have been League of Legends and Cyberpunk 2077. Tangentally it made me think of how creators who after being outed as abusers, will try to redeem themselves immediatly without actually having engaged or understood the magnitude of the harm they caused (Louis C.K.), or those who feel like they will be found out soon and try to paint themselves as victims to soften the blow (Junot Diaz).


The creator/creation thing is another weird one that I’m always wavering back and forth on.

For example, let’s take Shane Black being an utter tool and casting his convicted sex offender buddy in a movie and downplaying what he actually did. At this point, you can safely assume I’m not going to be engaging with Predators at any point or really anything new he makes. At the same time, am I never going to watch the original Predator again, especially given the fact that I already own a copy? Being fully honest, I’ll probably watch and enjoy it again at some point in the future even if I have no desire to right now.

It’s a weird subject, and I think you can never fully divorce one from the other entirely in either direction. It’s the reason why, for example, I wouldn’t say I’ll never watch the original Mad Max, but I’ll definitely never rewatch Braveheart. Mel Gibson is a terrible person sure, but almost none of that bleeds into Mad Max while boy is there some real repugnant shit in Braveheart.

It’s all weird, amorphous, and personal. I personally can’t condemn anyone for where they fall on the spectrum outside of people who are willfully ignorant of the problems in the media they consume, or outright supportive of the problems.


Yeah, definitely. It’s a sliding scale with no actual markings on it. In the end, it’s just an endless series of judgment calls.

But I also think about right after the Weinstein news was breaking and I was listening to a podcast with a guy who I really like, and who I think is really trying to do the right thing, bemoaning “Does this mean I can’t watch Woody Allen movies anymore? I like Woody Allen movies.” And it’s just like, give me a break. A) it’s not about “can’t”. B) I don’t care how much someone likes Woody Allen movies, they could go the rest of their lives never seeing another one and the impact it would have on their Total Lifetime Happiness Reading would be imperceptible. It’s not that big of a sacrifice.