Trigger warning for brief strong language and (it should come as no surprise) some offensive/problematic incidents in the link I’ve given. I was debating whether or not to publish this article – it has lingered in my draft box for weeks, in one form or another – but I’ve decided I might as well. It’s full of metaphors and gifs (I’m trying to be lighthearted, is it working???)
Those of you who regularly plunder the deep dark caves of the internet might have stumbled across an interesting ore known as the “problematic fave”. It’s intriguing, but, once you’ve picked it up, YOU CANNOT GET RID OF IT.
That was unnecessarily melodramatic. But it’s still an important issue and thinking about it has made me analyse everything and everyone – including the nature of the “problematic fave” movement itself.
By definition – according to the internet’s answer to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Urban Dictionary – a problematic fave is “a favorite person (usually a character) who has problematic views and opinions.” This could be a favourite film/TV/book character, a musician, an actor/actress… literally any well-known (and generally well-liked) public figure. They are usually considered problematic due to their attitudes and actions; for example, they might have used culturally-appropriative imagery in a music video or used racist/sexist/homophobic/cissexist slurs in interviews. Sometimes this is a result of ignorance or misinformation, sometimes it is intended to be “satirical” (although there’s also a tendency among fans to scream “it’s satire!” whenever their fave does/says something offensive).
(Hint: it’s not satire if nobody finds it funny except bigots.)
Several tumblr blogs have arisen in recent years, devoted to highlighting – or naming & shaming – celebrities who have, perhaps unwittingly, crossed the line into problematic territory. The most notable is http://yourfaveisproblematic.tumblr.com/, which gives a comprehensive list of various incidents. Search their tags: is your fave up there? When I first glanced through their list, I was shocked to find a staggering number of my favourite people on it. Some of the issues described were ones I had heard about and others I had not. It confirmed my suspicions about some celebrities and shattered my illusions about others, and perhaps this is why so many people are quick to dismiss or defend these allegations – consider, for example, the way so many people jumped to the defence of Youtubers who were accused of sexual assault in recent years.
It ruins the illusion.
Celebrities are supposed to be perfect people. We put them on a pedestal, idolise them, worship them. In a way, the people you admire and respect are a reflection of you, demonstrating your values and your interests. Discovering that they have said/done things which, either directly or indirectly, attack a community or a demographic – possibly your own – is not a pleasant sensation. It made me want to shovel ice-cream and Pringles into my face by the tonne.
Does that mean you should hate them now? Are you now obligated to avoid their work?
Not necessarily. In fact, some might argue that you should continue to follow them, but do so with a more critical, discerning eye. Challenge the fans who back them up when they’re in the wrong. Don’t presume that, just because your fave thinks it’s acceptable, you have to buy into it too. You don’t have to like an artist as a person in order to appreciate their art; you don’t have to appreciate their art in order to like an artist. Not a hip-hop fan, but damn do I love Nicki Minaj!
You may be wondering why the image at the top is of Benedict Cumberbatch, the BBC’s darling and, I can only assume, the result of a collective wet dream among the women of Britain. Well, it may shock you to discover that he too is a problematic fave. This is due to some comments he made in an interview regarding his role as The Creature in Frankenstein, alongside Jonny Lee Miller. You can read an analysis of it here (x), from an autistic woman’s perspective.He had visited a residential school for autistic young people with JLM and had based his characterisation upon that. He compared people with autism to Frankenstein’s monster – which, we can all agree, was really fucking stupid.
The mixed response to the movement and to these types of blogs has led to the creation of this one, a humorous take on the issue using fictional characters: http://yourfavecharacterisproblematic.tumblr.com/ Personally, I think it’s important that celebrities do not go unchallenged purely on the basis of their fame. No matter how much you admire someone, you should still accept and acknowledge that they are a human being – a species renowned for being complex and, well, problematic.
I want to hear your thoughts on this issue! It’s a fairly tense one for me to cover. Do you have any problematic faves? Comment below!
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