Dear Fail!Allies (Don’t Give A Damn ‘Bout My Bad Reputation)

Will I ever stop writing about Glee? Who knows! Not today!

I should note that this actually turned out to be the second part of five, not the first of three as I say below. The first part is The Greatest Crime In Television which I did a while ago.

This is tragically fandom-specific–and Glee fandom at that–though I daresay the sentiment and logic is applicable elsewhere. It is angry and the writing is self-indulgent and too clever by half. It is the first completed installment of three in the Don’t Give A Damn ‘Bout My Bad Reputation series, the other two of which are Grilled Cheesus And Race and Moral Ambiguity vs Author Intent. More may come! They can be read in any order. The posting is random, at intervals, and probably requires more thought than I can afford.

(This is what I do instead of the magic-meta. I am sorry.)

Dear Fail!Allies,

I am not one who finds value in fail!culture or analysis by bingo card. These are terms I invented, so I will explain: I don’t like playing games where the viewer who wins is the one who managed to identify the most -isms or gender/disability/sexuality/class/race!fail in a given piece of media–at the purest level, in any turn of phrase. I am suspicious of any and all politics that can be fit into a box on a bingo card (I got three racisms and an ableist slur! Idiotcounts, right?) I believe in complexity, nuance, and no absolutes or right answers.

I hate widgets and buzzwords and I distrust instinctively anything that makes thinking, reacting, or living into something easy or evaluative. A culture that puts the people with the most Internet access or the greatest ease manipulating words and modulating responses as arbiters of what is good and right is a culture that is not safe for me or a lot of others. I know this instinctively. A culture that values criticism over introspection is not one in which anything is being refined or built towards. A system of evaluating evolving materials and breakable people as though they were static is self-destructive and completely counter-productive.

To borrow your language for a moment: I am not advocating the abandonment of academic or social criticism. I am advocating a critical engagement with the nature and forms of popular “criticism” itself.

Let me abandon my Internet pseudo-scholar voice for a moment. I’ll be a meme instead. I will break out my own bingo cards and “call you out” on your own “massive fail.” Here we go:

You’re doing it wrong.

When you worry about Sue “corrupting” poor, sweet Becky and Brittany and taking advantage of their innocence and naivete and childlike trust?

That’s ableism. That’s more ableist than anything the show has ever written.

You’re doing it wrong.

When you call the writers (led themselves by a gay manhomophobic for not having two gay characters with a history of violent and sexual abuse due to their sexuality make out in one of the least-safe environments in their world?

That is actually about six different levels of trivializing and presumptuous and privileged and fetishizing and yes, homophobic–to say nothing of the completely and utterly fucked politics that might make it okay for a straight “ally” to call a gay man homophobic.

You’re doing it wrong.

When you go into a rage that the plus-sized actresses all have multiple stories about food or size, and ignore the needed and positive messages sent about body image, self esteem, and size acceptance? When you complain that Puck’s interest in them is unrealistic, that Lauren isn’t pretty enough, that Sam would never date a Black fat girl?

Well, to quote the lady herself: “Okay, you need to stop, because you just said like ten offensive things and I’m starting to get embarrassed for you.”

You’re doing it wrong.

When you wonder if Brittany can ever consent to sex, given what her mental age seems to be?

Developmentally disabled people everywhere pray to be saved from this well-meaning kindness and concern.

You’re doing it wrong.

When you explain that it’s problematic for a Black girl to use tots as a plot device, but are silent about Santana’s obsessive love for BreadstiX, Coach Bieste eating entire chickens or huge bowls or pasta, Finn praying to a sandwich, and Sam’s body image problems? When you actually believed her storyline was only about tots, because what else could she possibly have a storyline about that episode, could she possibly be using food as a cover for, why on earth would she be taunting her increasingly distant best friend and crush with his one sure trigger?

The writers aren’t the ones who can’t see beyond some powerful stereotypes in this situation!

You’re doing it wrong.

When you complain that Kurt Hummel is too effeminate or “stereotypical” and why can’t we get a real gay character, someone a little less of a sissy…


You’re doing it so wrong it is physically impossible for you to be more wrong.

When you wonder when Artie will ever talk about his accident, or if we’ll ever get to see it, and weren’t his scenes with Tina in Dream On so touching, and why didn’t his Born This Way shirt say anything about his legs? When you ignore all his lines about being fine with himself, and you trample all over an amazing storyline about disability acceptance and pride?

I know that pity and sensationalism are easy, but they’re also disrespectful and actively harmful.

You’re doing it wrong.

When you get offended on the behalf on Black people everywhere because two characters who are demonstrably full of shit, if not actively racist, called Mercedes lazy and you went ahead and believed them despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary including an entire storyline in that very episode, an episode explicitly about race, dedicated to showing how even Rachel realized that in the end everyone was explicitly screwing Mercedes over?

Yeah, sure, the writers are the ones relying on racist stereotypes instead of deconstructing them in characterization and the narrative. Mhm.

You’re doing it wrong.

When you hear some people complaining about Sugar appropriating an Asperger’s diagnosis to be rude, and you rush to decry the inherent ableism of the character without checking your sources–at which point you will discover that the people leading the charge are parents of autistic kids, not autistic themselves, do not believe “ableism” exists, and regularly tell autistic adults to go kill themselves? (Including this very one!) Or that a lot of autistic people are pointing out that Sugar represents an incredibly common problem for people with a lot of different diagnosis, a problem you contribute to every time you say you’re “just a little OCD” or “feeling kinda bipolar today” and they really appreciate her storyline?

Here’s a handy hint. It will come in very, very useful in the future, I think! Don’t tell a minority group how they should feel, what they should think, what they should want, or how they should be, or are, being portrayed.

You’re doing it wrong.

Look. You can dress it up however you want. You can appropriate and mutate academic words and theories, you can turn the world into your own personal trooper tale, you can position yourself as an ally or champion, you can ‘splain and ‘splain at whoever will listen, you can look for things to be offended by and end up creating more, you can declaw and silence actual advocates and activists because this is just clearly too personal and painful for them and you’re quite eager to help the freaks poor, poor dears….

You know. Whatever helps you sleep at night.

You do whatever you want. I just want you to know two things:

1. You’re doing it wrong.
2. Minorities everywhere pray that you will one day stop using words that you don’t know the meaning of.

We do not, actually, need a swarm of well-meaning people brimming with kindness and interest and pity and fascination and rage, armed with degrees in sociology or gender studies and the right kind of politics, to defend us. We know, we know. You know it.

We lived it.

Please, please listen to us.

Julia Bascom blogs at Just Stimming.

Dear Fail!Allies (Don’t Give A Damn ‘Bout My Bad Reputation) appears here by permission.

[image via Flickr/Creative Commons]

on 11/15/11 in Art/Play/Myth, featured | No Comments | Read More

Leave a Reply