June 28, 2008
Entertainment and ‘choice’
A recent thought I had on entertainment and choosing:
We all like (need?) to be entertained: all genders, sexualities, races, etc.
The sad truth is, we have to choose from what is out there. Sometimes people of progressive sensibilities have to “overlook” things in entertainment that are problematic in order to be able to relax and, well, be entertained.
This is why I am really sick of the following defense/excuse for systematic problematic representations and constructions of “otherness” (non-white/male/middle-class/heterosexual) in entertainment or simply of certain titles in entertainment:
“[insert marginalized group here] watch it/play it/buy it/read it therefore:
- there’s no problem with the ideology perpetuated
- it accurately represents what said people want
- said people enjoy it every aspect of the entertainment”
The bottom line is that we can only be entertained from what’s out there, and what we like and want is heavily informed by what already exists. If every movie I saw was problem-free, I would rarely go to the movies. Just because people consume entertainment doesn’t absolve their -Isms.** I often decline from supporting and entertainment that is even a bit sexist/heterosexist/racist, etc., and I am fine with giving it up but many other people don’t make that sacrifice and that is 100% their prerogative. But that cannot be interpreted to mean that all entertainment consumed by marginalized individuals is not in any way offensive or problematic. Not to mention that oftentimes the problematic nature of some entertainment isn’t known until after spending the $$; thus, when commercial success=implied condoning, the damage is often already done, which makes public critique our primary way of making our disgust known.
Example: this, for me, especially applies to hetero women and porn, of women having resources for sexualized men. women want erotic imagery but the vast majority of images and films are targeted for heterosexual men, and often involve ideologies that progressive women find objectionable. More and more there are non-sexist, non-racist material available, but they are often hard-to-find and are almost never “free” (whereas men wanting “traditional” material have very easy and free access to material that is quite suitable for them). Therefore, many women (or prog-men), who want to satisfy their desire for erotic material, “settle” for traditional material and try to “look over” the deficiencies. Or many cope by occupying the male observer’s standpoint, and sexualize the female involved, thus they may be consuming and enjoying mainstream erotic imagery, but are deprived sexualized male bodies. In other words: when it comes to porn, women who want and enjoy porn as a category have to simply choose between the options they are given, which may or may not actually be 100% what they want. It’s just what’s easily (or freely) available.
Back to entertainment “in general”: These assumptions are further problematic:
- Sexism/racism/homophobia/xenophobia/heteronormativity in entertainment is appropriate because it simply reflects the “truth” of what an identity group “wants” (i.e. sexism is ok because these games are “for men.”): -Isms are not just a “personal preference.
- “Got a problem with it? Don’t buy it/play it/watch it!”: see above and also **above.
- These are the kinds of entertainment that sell: ever think to question how much money and other resources goes into developing entertainment that is non sexist/racist/heteronormative etc? Or how such entertainment is marketed?
Entertainment for guys (read: straight guys) is only defined as such because of the sexism/heterosexism involved. There is no reason why women and gay men can’t enjoy certain entertainment, and they shouldn’t have to put up with BS hetero/sexism to do so. Take games for example. Games that would appeal to guys do not need objectification and homophobia. That is not the reason why guys play these games. Instead, they function to outline the proper audience for these games and to reaffirm hetero-masculine identity. And the fact that women play these games serves as “evidence” that women don’t mind or that women enjoy the roles they are given in these games. As I’ve been trying to show in this post, these are misguided conclusions/assumptions. But since women do choose to play these games (since there are little if any sexism-free equivalent alternatives) there is no incentive to make their games differently since it clearly isn’t affecting their bottom line. But women and queer gamers do voice their dissatisfaction. And the solution is not to make some second-class, underdeveloped alternatives that rely on pathetic tropes and stereotypical marketing (see this Broadsheet article that in part prompted me to write this post today). For example: if women only have the choice between lame-assed girl-games and more complex and interesting games with implicit or overt sexism, women choosing the former does not necessarily mean that’s what “women want” (they may in fact be so sick of the sexism in most games) or that their choosing the latter means that the sexism is acceptable to them.
Bottom line: what we “choose” is not always what we want. It’s just what we have to choose from. And what we want for the most part comes from somewhere-it is shaped by what’s available.
On a related note, keep an eye out next week for a guest post on current issues in gaming!
(cross-posted to The Reaction)