Criticizing our Fandoms

I want to start by thanking people for their contributions to the discussion on Avengers and Black Widow. While I don’t expect or want everyone to agree with me, and I didn’t agree with everything that came up in the comments, you gave me a lot to think about and helped me to refine some of my thoughts and reactions to the film.

That was a weird discussion for me. Again and again, I found myself talking about the bits of the film I found problematic. After a while, I started feeling like I was just hating on a movie I generally loved. (Overall, I’d rank it as one of the best superhero movies I’ve seen.) It started to feel uncomfortable.

I also saw responses that felt less like argument over the points I was making and more like, “HOW DARE YOU CRITICIZE JOSS WHEDON???”

I’m not surprised by this. If anything, I’m surprised there wasn’t more of it. But it led to something I feel is important. Namely, the fact that we love a story or its creator does not and should not make it immune from criticism.

I love Doctor Who. I think the show does a lot of things well, particularly in some of the matter-of-fact ways they portray race and sexual orientation. On the other hand, the season six episode “Closing Time” opens up with the tired stereotype of Craig the overwhelmed and clueless father, because as we all know, guys aren’t supposed to be able to care for an infant. That’s the woman’s job!

You could argue that this was about Craig’s character, not a broader statement about men and women and caregiving. Or you could say, “But Doctor Who is awesome Donna Noble saved the whole universe you’re crazy you’re only seeing sexism because you’re looking for it stop inventing problems that don’t exist!”

The former has the potential for discussion. The latter kills discussion and gives a free pass to any problems that crop up in the show.

It’s hard to criticize stuff we love. The cognitive dissonance can get nasty. Am I a bad person for loving something that includes sexism or racism or whatever? If I watch or read it anyway, am I excusing or even supporting those flaws?

I don’t think so … unless we choose to excuse or ignore those flaws.

Joss Whedon has done a lot of things I like and respect. He’s also made choices that leave me banging my head on my desk. Looking at this as an author, I spend a fair amount of time trying to fight things like sexism and sexual violence. That doesn’t give me a free pass, and to this day I continue to make mistakes or trip over my own sexist assumptions.

It’s easy to criticize people and things we don’t like. (Star Wars prequels, anyone?) But I think it’s equally important — probably more important — to be willing to take a critical look at the stuff we love, to accept them as perhaps awesome but also imperfect, and to talk about the warts, too.

What do you think? And how do you reconcile it when a story you love makes that kind of misstep?

See also: How to be a fan of problematic things.