A few things have been rolling around in my brain today while at work doing other things.
Sunday night, I was watching Firefly and g-chatting with a friend. I idly mentioned something that annoyed me about the show (and about Joss Whedon more generally), and the conversation went in a direction I wasn’t completely expecting.
My friend said to me that sometimes my critiques make her feel like she’s doing something wrong with her writing. That it can feel like navigating a minefield as a creative writer, trying to not cross any lines or do something wrong.
And I know that feeling. I know what it’s like to read through feminist readings of different bits of pop culture and suddenly feel guilty for liking something, or feel you have to defend yourself constantly. And forget about trying to write it yourself, right?
Creating art is walking through a minefield, especially in a society like this one that doesn’t really do much to support said art. And since many of us critics are also creators, we know that we don’t want to discourage creation, we want to make it better.
I was exhausted (still am) and frustrated and hurting a bit last night when I had this conversation, and instead of having a nuanced discussion I typed:
But I also feel slightly shitty about MYSELF when I see, over and over again, characters who act like me, talk like me, the ones who I identify with, get shit on again and again. It’s far less an intellectual reaction to wanting this story to serve a cause and much more a THIS HURTS ME moment.
And it wasn’t until I looked back at what I’d said that I realized it was true, and I realized I was crying.
Over Firefly? Over a conversation that hadn’t even really dipped into argument?
Over having it hit home for me that feminist pop culture criticism isn’t just an intellectual exercise for me. Having it click in my head that the reason this moment in this show bothered me at the time was what it was telling me about myself, about something that hurts me.
And that maybe this is why I do this—this meaning all of it, any writing that I’m doing that could fall under the heading “feminist pop culture criticism” is that it’s better than crying. (Sometimes. Sometimes I damn well need to cry, and I think probably last night I did, and then I felt better. Really.)
And when more than one of us does it, points out that “this story hurts me,” and interrogates it a little bit, poking and prodding until we figure out just why (and maybe it’s Firefly and maybe it’s Taylor Swift), and shares it in public, there’s a space created for more of us to say “Wow, this hurts me too.”
Maybe, like the best Tumblr conversations about the Eminem/Rihanna video, it makes us share our own stories. Maybe it opens up space for us to disagree about it, because criticism is necessarily subjective and our reactions to things are based on our experience, and the reason a silly TV show or a song makes me cry is entirely different from the effect it has on you.
It’s not a test. It’s not a way to prove I’m smarter than you. It’s a way, ultimately, for me to talk about the rest of the world, and what’s wrong with it as well as what’s right with it (I’ve got a hint for you: Robyn).
Ultimately it matters not because if we make the right judgment about a band or a movie or a TV show now we don’t get 10,000 points at the end of our lives or something. No one’s actually going to remember if you like Coldplay. It matters because it’s about human experience.