Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Manifesto, Or, I Refuse to Apologize for Caring

Okay, here's the thing. Over the years, a lot of you have commented to tell me that I'm taking this all "too seriously". That I'm "over-thinking it". Telling me to calm down, that it's "just" a movie or TV show or book or whatever. I've been called a killjoy, a prude, self-righteous and down-right mean.

I don't really deny any of that, for the record. I am.

But I also have a reason for it. There's a reason why I take all of this so unfailingly seriously, and there's a damn good reason why it's never "just" anything to me. And that reason is you.

I'm serious! (When am I ever not?) The reason I'm so manic about all this, about stories and character development and portrayals of racism or sexism or just bad writing, all comes down to you, dear reader. Well, you and everyone you know. Because I refuse to live in a world that does not properly value you. That does not confess your God-given importance in the grand scheme of things, and which does not cherish your humanity, personhood, and agency. The media isn't treating you right, my friend, and I want to fix it.

Or at least I'm going to yell at them until I go hoarse.

Now all of this sounds really lovely and kind (which is not an adjective often used to describe me, sadly), but what does it have to do with the daily nitty-gritty of me pooping all over the stories you love? Everything.

When you exist in our society (and here I refer mostly to English-speaking, Western society, but it could easily be expanded to include all of human society), you are engaged in a daily battle. The battle is not over your appearance, or intelligence, or happiness - not really. This battle is waged over nothing less than your right to consider yourself a human being. And you are losing.

Everywhere you look, from advertisements that reduce us down to well-oiled torsos and manically grinning zombies reaching for shoes, to politicians who reject compassion in favor of dogma, the world tries to put you down and convince you that, really, you are not a person. You are a consumer, a sex object, an extension of your job, a piece of furniture - anything but a living, breathing, believing human.

And the media is most egregiously guilty of this.

It doesn't seem so at first, not when you look at all the smiling couples in romantic comedies, or the beautiful animation in Disney princess films, or the pulse-pounding thrill of a good action feature, but it's true. These movies don't want you to think of yourself as a person. In fact, they take great pains to remove that option from you. The romantic comedy sells the idea that love, the fusion of two lives and souls into one, where souls are crushed and reborn, and where the danger is greater than anything else we will ever face is nothing more than an extended Pottery Barn advertisement. That women in love are shrill and disembodied voices and breasts, and that men are slaves to their instincts.

The action film suggests that rather than people, we are animals, doomed to repeat our mistakes and always fighting over the very last of the resources, utterly convinced that there is not enough for all of us, and insisting that you dehumanize the enemy lest you stop for a moment and realize the sheer body count that the "good guys" have racked up, all in the name of justice and freedom. But it appears to be a freedom more dearly bought, and less worthy of its price than any I've ever seen in real life. A freedom to torture, to fear for the sanctity of your world, and to end the lives of other human beings with extreme prejudice. The freedom to value your life above theirs, and the freedom to consider them so inhuman that you do not lose a night of sleep over it.

And then there are the children's films. The ones that suggest that if you look pretty enough, or you meet the right prince, or you just believe, then everything will be all right. That no one good has flaws and that faith in the impossible is more important than effort. That if you want a good life, you must be perfect. And that you have but two options: to be either an object upon which others can impress their own beliefs and ideas, and onto whom the world will interpret meaning - a completely agentless, limp simulacrum of a person, or to be a golden flower on a pedestal, beautiful and untouched, but equally without the ability to make choices, mistakes, and memories, a beautiful statue for the world to love, but who is never given the opportunity to breathe.

Those are your options, children. Choose wisely.

I have long believed that I would not be so angry if I did not care so much. And it's true. If I were a softer person, a gentler one, I wouldn't be so mad. I would shout less. I would be the sort of person strangers enjoy speaking to. I wouldn't terrify my students and have to constantly reassure my friends that they are not about to be eaten. But I do care, and I am angry. Why?

Because stories have so much power, and I hate to see them misused like this. Because I believe that you and your heart matter. I believe that stories are the closest expression we can get to representations of the soul, and it causes me physical pain to see so many stories where the people are unhappy, petty, small, and denied any opportunity for redemption. It kills me to see stories where the characters never learn or grow, where the women are objects, and where the people of color are barely represented, and if they are shown, are considered barely human. It hurts. Because stories are how we tell the truth about what we believe, and they are also how we receive truth from others.

Tell me a story and I'll tell you who you are. But don't ever accuse me of taking this too seriously, or claim that these are "just" stories. There is no such thing. There is only the verbal and visual language with which we create our society, and I refuse, I refuse to let that language, that process, these stories go unexamined.

And I will not apologize for that.


  1. I just want to fist bump you right now. I have never actually seen your writing as particularly angry - I wonder if it's just that you are writing about this at all that gets people so defensive.

  2. Totally agree. I think this is the time for reflection, for a lot of us, and I think you are right, so thank you for giving me a lil sumpin to think about myself as I look back over this year.

    1. Oh hey, look at that! I didn't even think of this as a year in review post, but you're right. It works well in that context. :)

  3. I agree. I have taken film studies courses with classmates shaking their heads and claiming that we are taking films/television/commercials( or commercialism) too seriously. I think media is a huge part of our culture and has a tremendous effect on the way we live. Believe it or not it's that way in which many people collect information and form ideas about social norms. Nobody teaches kid to be mindful about the messages in the media or about the way advertisements work (selling a culture or setting...ext Starbucks). If it wasn't a thing, documentaries like Miss. Representation or campaigns like "Watch what you Watch" wouldn't have been made. That's not mentioning other types of programs and the lack of diversity or representation of diversity on television. Ex. SNL just started castings for their first female African American cast mate. I love what you write, so thank you.

    1. You are very welcome. I think the fact that we so blissfully don't examine children's media is what bothers me most. Kids' brains are squishy, and hell yes they pick this stuff up.

  4. sorry, I forgot to mention... thinking critically about something what we watch in the media doesn't mean we HAVE to hate the show and stop watching if we find something fishy about that said show/film. The important thing is to think critically about them and know why they make you feel the way they do.

    1. Word. It's how I can still manage to like Supernatural. :DDD