How to Watch a Television Without Breaking It

There’s a dilemma if you’re “woke” (socially conscious). Do you resist the temptation and allure of popular shows and movies because they violate your high standards? Or do you indulge in them and face constant outrage?

Perhaps there can be a third way. In this day and age there is a lot of money poured into damn good TV. Some of the shows are expertly crafted, and so popular that skipping them risks you losing out on big parts of cultural discussions. However, these shows aren’t always the most savvy when it comes to being modern with their portrayals of women, of social, sexual, or ethnic minorities, or perhaps people with physical or mental disabilities. Some onscreen tropes and clichés date back decades, others even a century. Because being stuck back in time is a disease that all of Hollywood seems to have caught, it can be really difficult to limit yourself to just shows like Shondaland’s more modern casting and storylines.

The trick may be to watch and enjoy the show, but remain critical of the elements that are problematic. Like the uncle whose views are firmly stuck in the 1950’s, you can love TV for its many talents and wholeheartedly reject its dated and damaging representation of people.

This, however, takes some internal work to make sure that negative messages and imaging don’t do too much damage, and may require setting boundaries. Calling out stereotypical portrayals on Twitter or to your friends is one way to manage it.

Drawing boundaries is another. For instance, I simply won’t watch a rape scene. If I’m at home- I’ll change the channel. If I’m in a movie theater, I will either close my eyes or simply walk out. It’s way too upsetting for me to see images of women being raped. Similarly, I have no stomach for descriptions of child sexual abuse, which thankfully are out of the mainstream media but sometimes get explored when there is a child sex abuse scandal. I do not believe that as viewers, we need to know the explicit details of how a child was violated and abused to fully understand the depths of evil of the abuser.

All of this takes work. Enjoying a storyline but rejecting its stereotypes takes selective attention. Preventing negative images from infecting your attitude takes some doing. But in order to participate in popular culture, and to be a better critic who can inform those who don’t see these issues, it’s worth it.


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