Don’t Blame the Box

Every now and then, someone will express surprise to me that I have this person or that person as an online friend, despite them spouting unpopular views or having strong opinions I don’t agree with, or even doing shitty things like posting spoilers on purpose. But people who know me well know that I enjoy dialoging about tough topics–especially among those with whom I disagree. I don’t want my life to be an echo chamber of shit I already agree with. Plus, I don’t know everything, and people I don’t agree with are more likely to know shit that I don’t know. Though they might still be bugfuck wrong. 😉

Today I saw a post referencing Jessica Jones on Netflix. Someone else was basically saying that because in the first episode, there was a single joke they didn’t like (a joke that was insensitive to, and at the expense of, fat people), they “had no interest in” the rest of the series. Now obviously, people can choose to watch whatever the hell they want. But I found it curious that this post came from a person who, every day, argues that people need to seek out information that conflicts with what they’ve been taught, and that they need to be more respectful of alternate/new viewpoints. I really can see both sides of this.

On the one hand, we can all choose only to expose ourselves to people, things, ideas, and speech that is to our liking. For most people, watching TV is a leisure time activity and is supposed to be fun. Personally, I like my viewing material to be more challenging, so I often seek out things that will make me think, feel discomfort, ponder and debate, or get really, really scared as I wonder what I’d do if what was happening to the characters was happening to me. But that’s me.

On the other hand, I think it’s myopic and incredibly limiting to say “I don’t like something this character said, so I’m not going to expose myself to any of this material.” In this case, that means missing out on the entirety of Jessica Jones, which would be a bummer for anyone who appreciates complex characters, or in-depth discussion of issues like responsibility, trauma, control, and consent. Plus, it’s an awesome cast in a well-plotted show that everyone can get something out of–you know, unless they bail after Ep1.
When I say, “It’s only a show,” I’m not saying that what happens in fiction doesn’t matter because it’s just pretend. But I *am* saying that fictional characters shouldn’t have the same impact as real-life people doing and saying real-life things. If they do, you might need to step back.
The characters in the TV aren’t your friends. The rules of interpersonal communication do not apply. Watching a program doesn’t make you complicit in the actions of the fictional characters–not even the protagonists. The Godfather is one of the greatest films ever made. Yet most of us don’t leave the theatre wishing we had Luca Brasi’s job. It’s possible to laugh at Three’s Company (for lack of a better example) without actually thinking homophobia is hilarious or that gay people deserve to be mocked or belittled.
Surely we’re not all so fragile that we have to scurry away from any speech we don’t like, or pretend that everyone who appears in fictional media has to conform to our personal standards of morality or interpersonal communication– or we just can’t bear to look? Or is it a question of feeling “disrespected” by jokes? It might bear keeping in mind that TV shows and movies aren’t made with any 1 audience member in mind. If it was, we’d probably know that before tuning in. Why is it so easy for some of us to be offended by people who literally don’t know we exist?

It’s possible that I’m assigning emotions or motivations incorrectly to behaviors I don’t like. It might be that I loathe the superior air with which people say “I don’t watch THAT” as if not watching something is analogous to actually doing something that helps oppressed people. Maybe it’s the idea that you really can’t have dramatic conflict in a world where no one has a problem with women, or men, or rich people, or poor people, or racial minorities, or religious minorities, or fat people, trans people, gay people, people with disabilities, people with mental illness, or takes issue with how people dress, how they dance, who they date, where they come from, or whether or not they can grammar.
EVERYONE sees the world through their own filters. EVERYONE judges other people for reasons seen and unseen. If you think you don’t, sorry–but you’re a filthy liar.
The more types of people we expose ourselves to, the more we learn about our fellow humans. Obviously, there are valid reasons not to befriend a mafioso, or a gaggle of methheads, or a pray-the-gay-away commune in real-life. But in media? One of the best steps we can take toward understanding each other is to expose ourselves to as much varied media as we can–and do our best to understand what we see viscerally–not just turning our backs on new material one rough comment in. We can do better than that. And for most of us, our lives are comfortable enough that we can safely expose ourselves to a whole helluva lot via the media at our disposal without collapsing into a quivering puddle of sobs.

So kids, watch what you like–or don’t watch. But if I may personify Television for a moment: I promise that the mean old TV-box isn’t going to hurt you unless you let it. It’s just a box. I promise. And if you let fear and potential discomfort keep you from exploring all the box has to offer, the least you can do is not blame it on the box.

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