Sunday, October 24, 2010

Who has principles these days anyway?

“I only go to a movie if it satisfies three basic requirements…. Last movie I was able to see was Alien.”

-- Dykes to Watch Out For

“I used to love Tarantino movies, but now I’m a Christian I don’t watch them anymore.”

-- My friend Louis

My dad hates Rupert Murdoch. He doesn’t know him personally; he just thinks that – dubious business practices; admiration of Thatcher; The Sun – Murdoch is an odious human being. And so he doesn’t take a Murdoch-owned paper, and he doesn’t subscribe to Sky. The latter is tough for him, because he absolutely adores cricket; but he denies himself it, to avoid giving money to Murdoch.

Not many of us would make that kind of sacrifice. We say, It’s only a small thing so it’s not worth it; I’m only one person so I wouldn’t make a difference; I’ll just indulge myself. We believe stealing is wrong, but we get all of our music from Megaupload. We hurry past people on the street collecting for sick children, and spend £10 a week on comic books. We believe in feminist values, but we watch horribly misogynistic movies and TV.

I admire my dad a lot. Some people might think that it’s only cricket, a trifling entertainment, but that makes me admire him all the more because, when it comes to entertainment, I do not act on my principles.

For example: The Bechdel Test. I love the Bechdel Test. All feminists love the Bechdel Test. Every time I see a movie, I keep a watch out for female characters and conversations they may have. But one thing we never really talk about is that, in the original comic strip, the character refuses to see movies that don’t pass the test. Granted, in 1985 this might not have been very practicable, but nowadays there are ways of finding out in advance whether a movie passes. It would be perfectly possible to never see the many films that fail.

And yet I keep going to see them. Movies that ignore women, made by studios whose policy is to ignore women: if I was serious about the Bechdel Test, wouldn’t I just stay at home?

It’s a sticky question, because I don’t know where to draw the line. When I was about 15, I bought a book by Orson Scott Card. Then I found out the man has some loathsome beliefs, and he does put his royalties where his mouth is. If you buy an Orson Scott Card book, you are contributing to the Mormon Church, and so you are funding things like the Yes on Prop 8 campaign. Does that make it wrong to read OSC books? I hope not; if someone had put a copy of Ender’s Game into my tragic 10-year-old mitts, I might have become a little less tragic, and it still resonated with me last year when I finally read it. My compromise here is to buy all my OSC second-hand, so he doesn’t actually get any of my flaming pink dollars.

But that doesn’t address the matter of content and subtext. One of the reasons we feminists rage so hard at things like the lack of minority representation in Hollywood is because we believe that people’s exposure to the undercurrents of popular culture affects them subconsciously from a very early age (“the ‘fat is bad’ stereotype…is evident in children as young as three”). And, if you’re not engaged in the exhausting work of constantly battling the messages of a messed-up culture – that you’re not complete unless you have a romantic partner, that you’ll be happy if you’re skinny and conventionally pretty, that if you’re not a straight white cis male you are Other and hence inferior – if you’re not fighting against these messages all the time, you’re implicitly accepting them.

That’s where my friend Louis comes in. Louis is a pretty cool guy. He’s another gay Christian with an enthusiasm for pop culture, and although we disagree on some major issues (such as whether a gay Christian should be celibate) I have a lot of respect for him. So it’s worth my while to think about why Louis believes that, as a Christian, he shouldn’t be watching Tarantino films.

Only the most narrow-minded people think they should never engage with anything that doesn’t jive 100% with their beliefs. Having your beliefs challenged is a vital way of ensuring you know why you hold those beliefs, and whether you even should be holding them. Personally, I don’t have a problem with Christians watching Tarantino films or feminists listening to Eminem, but you have to be intellectually honest about it. That involves admitting upfront that this material is problematic, and engaging with it critically throughout: analyzing what about it is problematic for you and why.

Of course, this means I have to admit – perhaps I’m deceiving myself; perhaps I’m simply justifying my own unpleasant, if not downright immoral, enthusiasm for violent movies and misogynistic rap music.

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