Problematic favourites – we all have them, whether they’re TV shows, musicians, characters or books. I think everyone has something or someone they love but feel reluctant to discuss or recommend. Personally I worry that if I mention liking something problematic I run the risk of appearing to agree with that thing entirely, when this simply isn’t the case.
The term “problematic fave” has become somewhat of a joke, but I feel like the topic is actually something that is worth discussing seriously. Is it possible to like something problematic without being problematic yourself? How?
Of course it’s possible to like something problematic while still trying to not be problematic yourself – if it wasn’t we would be very limited as to what we could actually like. I believe that the most important thing about liking something problematic is realising and understanding that that thing is problematic – if you’re asking this question you’re probably already there. You can enjoy something while still recognising the bad aspects. Watch Breakfast at Tiffany’s as much as you like, so long as you understand the problem with Mickey Rooney’s Mr Yunioshi.
An example of one of my problematic favourites is It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. This differs from examples such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s in that the characters are intended to be terrible people – they are offensive and non- PC, and often get their comeuppance. The show often gets incredibly close to the bone, and although I enjoy it there are often moments that are incredibly problematic. Yes, this is the point, but it makes it very difficult to explain the show to people who haven’t seen it without sounding like a horrible person. I think what the show does well when you do watch it, however, is having a character step back and acknowledge how problematic the gang’s antics are.
It’s important to remember as well that characters are just characters, and that they don’t reflect writers or audience’s opinions. On the same lines, it’s important to remember that you can separate art and the creator – you don’t have to like an artist/writer as a person to appreciate their work. Justin Bieber’s behaviour is often deplorable, but I don’t think I’ve met anyone who doesn’t sing along to Sorry if it comes on in a bar.
Another example of one of my “problematic faves” is Isabella (Bunny) Bennett. Bunny is a member of Steam Powered Giraffe, a band who perform as steampunk robots. A while back she caused quite a stir online after making several jokes about eating disorders and self harm. It became important for the band to emphasise that their work isn’t directly connected to the people – fans don’t have to like them as people in order to like the music and surrounding art (Bunny and fellow band member Sam often sell prints and band merchandise that they have drawn themselves). Further still, you don’t have to agree with everything Bunny says/does to like her in general. I like Bunny and connect with her in many ways, but these jokes were shocking and not something I support at all. I find it important if “Saladgate” comes up to reiterate that I don’t agree with the joke at all, but that I still like the band and the people.
While you don’t have to like a creator or even the whole piece of work, it’s incredibly important to recognise and address problems with them. We cannot ignore problematic aspects of film, music, literature etc, or this adds to the problem. We have to say “I like this, but I don’t condone [offensive aspect]”, in order to send a message to creators about what is and isn’t acceptable.
What are some of your “problematic faves”? How do you describe them to people?
See you soon,
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5 thoughts on “Fandom Friday | The Problematic Fave”
This is something that crossed my mind when I was thinking about guilty pleasures. I think most of my personal problematic faves tend to stem from rooting for ‘villains’ (e.g. Rumplestiltskin from OUAT, Erik from Phantom of the Opera, Klaus from TVD/The Originals). Then there’s the charismatic ‘good’ guys with dubious attitudes towards women (The Three Musketeers comes to mind). However, I think one of the most problematic characters I’ve encountered is Melchior from Spring Awakening because of the way he’s presented compared to what he ends up doing. On a related note, lately I’ve been questioning the implications of reworking and romanticising abusive relationships in fiction.
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The villains & “good guys” are definitely things I consider some of mine too! I’ve heard a lot about spring awakening but not seen it. That’s definitely an interesting topic to research & one that causes a lot of problematic faves – joker & Harley Quinn are definitely two of mine! I think a huge problem with the depictions of abusive relationships in fiction is that people don’t realise they’re abusive – I’ve had arguments with my mum several times about whether Christian Grey is abusive, yet there’s so much evidence against him.
Harley Quinn and the Joker were actually the ones I was thinking of (followed by various characters from classical mythology)! I’m fascinated by the character of Harley Quinn and she’s the reason why I’m interested to see what Suicide Squad’s like even though it’s not the type of film I would usually go for. (Same with Black Widow and the Avengers.) I find the discussion surrounding Harley Quinn and the Joker very interesting, but don’t personally feel like I’m in a position to comment because I don’t know the characters that well and don’t want to sound ignorant. I think it’s especially tricky when problematic characters have a complex history!
I think you raise a very important point about people recognising when fictional relationships are abusive and I think Spring Awakening would be a good one to discuss here, especially because how it’s staged can vary depending on who’s doing it. However, I feel a bit conflicted about what I think the ‘best’ approach to take is (and maybe there isn’t just one of them) because I personally like ambiguity in fiction as I like being forced to really think about things. In the case of Spring Awakening, I think the ambiguity (at least in the version I saw) made it have a bigger impact on me. Having said that, I recognise how a lack of clarity can be problematic for people who then idealise abusive traits.
And now a whole other bunch of problematic faves have popped into my head: Louis/Lestat/Claudia in Interview With The Vampire, Beauty and the Beast, a LOT of rom-coms…
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So many romcoms are so problematic! I don’t know a whole lot about joker & Harley’s back story other than that their relationship is incredibly abusive, I’m interested to see what suicide squad does with it as well. It must be difficult for writers to create characters in an ambiguous way too – I think if I intended a character to be abusive I’d rather push it but it’s hard if that’s not the point of the piece.
As I was writing the post I kept coming up with them too!