The past is an incomprehensible blur, remembered only through BRIT Awards clips and reruns on Dave. We lower our abdomens into the cold, unforgiving swimming pool of modern culture, its nature and behaviour more shrill than ever before. For some, this time in history is one of unprecedented scrutiny. People are under the spotlight not just because of their actions, but the minutiae of what they say and wear and think. This doesn't apply to those who shirk this level of obscene intrusion, who don't partake in the endless Facebook arguments or barrage of tweets. For others, though, the threat of doing and saying the wrong thing, at the wrong time to the wrong person, is ever-present. Every individual has become a politician; all their thoughts, feelings, actions and opinions are fair game to the public and its unforgiving sword of Damocles.
It has appeared in many forms, with many heads, each equipped with sharp teeth. While upsetting to many people, it is a good thing, in my view. A few hurt feelings here and there are fine collateral for enlightenment. Understanding and empathy are our only routes to salvation, if that can even be achieved this deep into the torrid swamp. This 'calling out' culture has its positives (and its powerful, brutal negatives), the greatest of which is getting people to think about what they do. Ingrained social norms become that way because they are reactions that are learned. Thinking critically about these things is useful, helpful, and opens you up to a wealth of experiences and feelings you perhaps weren't even aware you had.
One of the places this attitude of verbal inspection grew from (and subsequently exploded out of) was the now infamous Tumblr page Your Fave Is Problematic. The page was operated by six moderators, some as young as 17, and created something of a benchmark in modern language and behavioural politics as we see it now. Before I came across this website, the concepts of cultural appropriation, microaggressions, fat shaming as a body politic and not just an insult, transmisogyny, the word cis and a slew of others were essentially new to me, and, I imagine, to a lot of other people. These terms were presented via the criticism of celebrities, something we all, consciously or not, partake in regularly. But instead of criticising their weight or relationships or haircut or what have you, they criticised their politics, their attitudes, their lack of awareness on cultural issues. No one was exempt from the laser gaze of these six mods, who have done well not to have many of their details revealed online.
They would always claim that their site is merely an archive, saying "We just document problematic things celebrities have done. We are record keepers, and nothing more." Yet this idea falls flat on its face after just a small peruse of the archive, where opinion rules. It's not record-keeping to call someone a "piece of shit" or "trash", and the idea that fairly objective things like whether it's acceptable for a Bajan woman to wear a Kimono can even be subject to 'record' is tenuous at best.
Your Fave Is Problematic was, at its best, accessible. All of the reasons for X celebrity's behaviour or comments being unacceptable were clearly laid out. It also managed, on its normal posts and not its opinion-asides, to be relatively mild in its vitriol against the cultural plaintiff. Today I'd say that an event horizon has been reached in terms of how these things are reacted to, and have given rise to a cataclysmic backlash of right wing punditry from the likes of Milo Yiannopolous and friends, who bleed themselves into university campuses across the United States talking about how they should be allowed to call people 'faggots' if they so wish, and that being black doesn't stop you from being 'free', in the most nebulous way the word can be used.
"Problematic" as a term implies that there is a solution within it. Problems can be solved, and the problems that were being aired by the blog can indeed be fixed, with conversation and education and discussion. Many say they don't want to discuss their hardships with those who don't, or sometimes refuse, to understand or acknowledge them, which is fair – but ultimately we'll all have to bite on a bullet to get anywhere. While Your Fave Is Problematic, as an idea, wasn't executed to the best of its ability, it would be a shame to ignore the good it did, even if you disagree with its basic tenets. "Wokeness", in some form or another, is here to stay. Perhaps the more unsavoury and cutting aspects of it will fall by the wayside as people inevitably tire of its relentlessness – as they always do. But gleaning some positive messages from its existence should be the goal. We're all trying to better ourselves, right?
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