Why Problematic Art is Important
I know, we can only put up with Quentin Tarantino's littering of the n-word for so long, but how does stripping other forms of "problematic art" harming us instead of helping us?
Let's be honest, most mass media is created by people we don't like. And when I say "we" I mean people who have been marginalized in some way or another (i.e. women, LGBTQIA+ people, people with disabilites, and people of color, but of course this "we" excludes those white women who have a special place in hell for abandoning sisterhood in favor of race-based privilege). So essentially, I could have skipped all of that and said point blank, most of the popular media we ingest is created by white cisgendered men.
So what does this mean for our consumption? The media they create is often problematic and troubling. But also, often funny and entertaining. Is it possible to see the duality in their work and still enjoy it?
Well, let's get into that, why don't we? I want to talk about two very different expressions of "problematic art" and why there is inherent value in their consumption. I will give a short description of both but hopefully becasue of their respective controversies you'll have at least a small idea about them before reading this.
So, "The Office", it's a major television phenom and has had massive success both while it was running and even now on Netflix. I don't have the exact numbers, of course, but "The Office" is almost always trending on Netflix and I am sure has to be one of the most watched and rewatched shows on the streaming platform. The basic premise, if you haven't seen it, is that a documentary crew has come into a paper company office in Scranton, PA to document the lives of small-town cubicle jockeys.
You get the impression that these documentary workers are kinda snobby at first and perhaps treating their subjects as lesser and lower but by the end of the show some of this distance and hierarchy is interuppted (ugh, y'all remember that slimy mic guy who tried to get with Pam).
Other than this, it is what you would expect, an observational kind of show much like Parks and Rec but instead of an upbeat Leslie Knope we get a deeply problematic and politically incorrect Michael Scott (pictured above). I am not even going to repeat the things he has said or done in the show becasue that would be a disservice to everyone reading this.
More times than not, Michael and his best bud Todd Packer (sales rep), use lude and problematic humour such as verbal sexual harrasment of female employees, mocking of different accents and cultures, and complete erasure of anyones voices in the office despite theirs.
I must say, it gets better as the show goes on and I wonder if this was a character decision or a political must for the show becoming so popular. I am not even going to analyze this yet because I want to talk about my second example first. For this one, we are going to completely change gears to indie film. I promise you if you stick with me this will all make sense in the end.
"Three Billboards outside of Ebbing, Missouri" is arguably one of the best movies of 2018, but to actually get this title, more than a handful of people would had to have seen it (of course, I am using gross hyperbole but seriosuly this movie was essentially marketed to indie quirkies and oscar watchers only). I only saw Three Billboards becasue I had done an article on TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) where it won the people's choice award which is a coveted win at this festival. (also, I highly
reccomened delving into these festivals even if you can't go, and just making an effort to see the films that are submitted; not only does it make oscars night more interesting but these movies will change your life).
I will try to keep this summary short becasue I know this exposition is dragging. Stay with me, you won't regret it. So, in this film our main character is a mother named Mildred who has just lost her young daughter who was raped and murdered in her hometown. The police begin a search but seem to just stop looking after a while. These police officers are the worst of the worst (or should I say the norm) in that they brutalize the black people in the community and generally have no respect for anyone other than white men. Mildred takes this in to her own hands and paints three billboards that read "Raped while Dying," "And still no arrests,?"How come Chief Willoughby?". (pictured above)
This alone sends chills through my body and it causes me to confront all forms of injustice through the United States' apparent "justice system." Throughout the movie Mildred also confronts these injustices such as her own experiences with domestic violence, racial police brutality, and sexual violence in her town's catholic church.
As you can see this movie does a lot and it does all of this chaotically. The viewer really feels like this Mom who doesn't know what to do next or how to change the system that is causing her and her community such pain. Of course, she turns to
violence (as I think anyone in this community would) and even more chaos ensues. Right at the end of the movie, this alcoholic and disgraced police officer over hears a man bragging about a rape and a murder he committed and essentially tells Mildred so they can go find him together. The movie ends with them sitting in Mildred's truck having a life about something asinine. To some, this was seen as a redemption story for this officer, but even if it was that, does that not happen? (really a question I can't answer and don't want to answer but I want y'all to think about what it means to change a piece of work to be more politically correct thus compromising reality)
So, now we know both "The Office" and "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" are captivating so why do they both face some criticism? Well, they are both extremely problematic. Michael Scott is rarely, if ever, checked for his racism and sexism, and Mildred says the n-word as she simultaneously calls out racial injustice.
What do we, as consumers, do with this?? First, I think we need to accept that art should not have rules and regulations and should not be politically correct. If you erase all of these characters transgressions you are erasing oppresion and therefore peoples identities. I think, often, we want to reach this utopia state and think that by creating spaces around ourselves that are wholly "woke", we will. But this would be a lie.
People like Michael Scott and Mildred are real and they are in this country and world in droves. Igoring their very real existence by trying to stay sheltered in our politcally correct art bubbles is not going to change that. I love "The Office" and "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" respectively because they are both important stories to tell.
Mildred is far from perfect but still fights the police in her community and demands that justice is at least persued. But, yes, she also shares a car ride and a laugh in the last scene of the movie with the aforementioned brutal police officer. There is no apologies for the way he has acted and may continue to act but he is complex and he is a human being. How, as an audience, could we demand he is jailed when that justice is yet to come in our "real" world?
In some way or another, both forms of entertainment share such a raw and real representation of pockets in this country that need to be shared. I cringe throughout both the show and the movie but that doesn't mean they shouldn't be publicized. I think both forms of entertainment will ultimately teach you something about this complex country and also about your complex self and community.
I must mention that this post idea was spurned by one of my closest friends that truly understands me just as I understand her in wherever we are coming from on these issues. Relationships like that are hard to come by, so I pray you all find at least one, and have the tenacity to hold on tight!
Thanks for reading, x