This morning io9 posted my essay/review about Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter wherein I criticized the movie for being a White Guilt Fantasy and full of fail. Predictably, the site’s many commenters rose up in protest of my assessment — which I’ll get to in a separate post — and also whipped out the tried and true “But it’s just a movie, you’re not supposed to take it so seriously!” line and variations thereof. Looking through the archives, I don’t think I’ve posted a rebuttal to this line of thinking yet, and now’s a good time since I see many clicks over from io9 today.
The bottom line on this issue is simple: If you think that a piece of media such as a movie, TV show, book, or song is merely entertainment and ingest said media without giving any thought to how it influences or shapes you or the culture you exist in, You Are A Sheep.
What!? You cry. Again:
You. Are. A. Sheep.
Don’t worry, you’re not alone. There are millions of sheep like you in America. You spend most of your day listening to terrible music because it’s there, watching terrible television at night because it’s on, and spending extra money going out to terrible movies because you’re trained to.
I’m sure that you actually enjoy these forms of entertainment. The music has a beat you can dance to, the TV shows have some hot people and maybe some angst or whatever, and the movies have explosions or hot people kissing or some cartoon violence. And hey, these things are made to be enjoyed. Even things classified as “high art” are meant to be enjoyed and people should enjoy them.
The thing that makes you a sheep is that you aren’t aware of how these media products affect you. Oh, I’m sure you’ll say they don’t and it’s stupid to say that TV makes you believe things you don’t really believe. You’ll bring up Tipper Gore and the bugaboo of video games being spuriously linked to violence. I bet you read that in a newspaper somewhere or on a blog that doesn’t challenge your already formed world view.
Okay, okay, I’ll put aside the snarky put downs for a few paragraphs. I can see it’s making you mad.
But honestly, if you don’t spend any time in your life thinking about the messages and world view media presents to you, how can you claim to be anything but a sheep? I’m not even talking about high levels of media criticism here, I’m simply talking about pausing for a moment and being conscious about what your favorite TV show or the latest blockbuster is about on a sub-surface level.
That doesn’t mean you have to take the joy out of your viewing or listening time. You can still be entertained. You should just also be aware.
Because make no mistake, your media is delivering a message to your brain. It’s up to you whether that message flows in there unimpeded and unexamined or if it swirls around in conscious consideration. Movies, television, music, literature and art are products of our culture that are both informed by and inform said culture.
Thus, media might promote stereotypes about women or people of color or a particular religion and do it in such a way that it either plays into already existing stereotypes and prejudices or may even help to create them. You let that pass into your brain unexamined and you may start to believe the stereotypes are real and form the prejudices the media promotes. And you’ll do it without a conscious thought.
It’s never just a show or a movie or a book. Media is always presenting you with a version of the world as imagined by the creator or creators behind it. That’s not always bad, for sure. Sometimes it’s an awesome and amazing view of the world. It’s up to you to make that determination. To say: this is sketchy! Or: This is how I want the world to be!
Another thing to keep in mind is that the backers of mass media are often presenting you with a worldview they really hope you just accept and don’t question, examine or deviate from. This is why the White Guilt Fantasy prevails so well in Hollywood. It’s right up there with the view that women never do anything important, that they exist only to be objectified or to glorify men.
If you don’t see that mass media is sending this any other harmful messages, then you’re not paying attention.
That is what I want you to do, media consumers: pay attention. You don’t have to deeply analyze everything and you don’t have to stop enjoying the things you love. Even if those things are problematic. Humans are capable of being nuanced creatures. You can find fault with a TV show or movie yet still have love for it, or parts of it.
This is how I maintain my love of Doctor Who and why I’ve seen The Avengers 4 times. There are major problems with both of those media entities, and I have no problem acknowledging and even poking at them. But I also let them fill me with squee.
Unlike most white Americans, I can’t afford to be a sheep in our current media landscape. Most of the messages media perpetuates are specifically harmful to me and people I love. I have to pay attention. Perhaps you don’t have to. I’m just saying that you should.
Honestly, do you want to be a sheep for your whole life? Just doing and feeling and thinking what the TV box tells you to?