Last week blogger Abigail Nussbaum posted about the HBO adaptation of The Time Traveler’s Wife, including that it makes the relationship in the Audrey Niffenegger novel squickier. There was discussion in the comments about how many people weren’t bothered by the relationship in the book (which starts when the adult time traveler meets the wife in her childhood); this led in turn to discussion that people consume information “on the surface level” and don’t see deeper problems. One commenter said the problem is most people aren’t active online so Internet discussions of problematic performers and stories haven’t reached them yet.
I found the discussion annoying. I don’t think it’s necessarily bad that people don’t want to think deeply about their entertainment and simply treat it as, well, entertainment. Despite putting a lot of thought into some entertainment — if you read this blog or my movie books you already know that — I’m perfectly happy looking at something and thinking “that was fun” and not going deeper. In the case of Time Traveler’s Wife, the relationship didn’t squick me out. When I watched the film version for Now and Then We Time Travel, actually seeing the naked guy with the little girl was creepy, even though he wasn’t doing anything.
That’s not to say anyone who’s creeped out by the book is wrong, just that I don’t feel bad for well, not feeling bad reading it.
Fiction can be creepy or have ugly messages it’s bad to consume uncritically. For instance, the umpty-zillion stories that show women cry rape at the drop of a hat. Or the sexism of Piers Anthony. I think it’s important to have the fiction-verse grow more diverse, offer better roles for women characters (and other groups) and not recycle old tropes reflexively or because that’s what sells.
At the same time, I don’t think sitting back and watching or reading something without dissecting gender roles or power structures will turn us into monsters. You are not what you read.
As for not being aware of online discussion of these issues, big whoop. There was a lot of online discussion after Black Panther about whether Killmonger’s vision for Wakanda wasn’t better than T’Challa’s. That’s a perfectly valid point but I honestly can’t see that going to the film and coming out thinking Wow, That Was Awesome! and nothing beyond that is something to worry or tut-tut about.
It’s not an issue unique to the Internet. Thirty years ago someone could make the same argument about not reading critics or feminist/black critics or good books analyzing film (or TV or whatever). Or, you know, reading a brilliant film book by someone (I’m too modest to say who I’d recommend).
And of course, not all online discussion is good — I’ve seen plenty of takes about why X Is The Real Villain or The Message Of This Book Is Messed Up that I didn’t agree with (case in point, the firestorm over Blood Heir). Plus there’s plain old disagreement. A recent post on The Mary Sue ripped into Stranger Things‘ handling of trauma in S4 and got a lot of pushback in the comments.
I don’t know a couple of tossed-off comments in a long thread were worth this much response, but it’s my blog so you’re stuck with it.
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