“We are perhaps becoming too eager to banish anything and everything we find problematic”
I believe in responsible media. I believe in condemning fetishized violence against women, I believe in condemning media saturated in sexual violence for shock factor, and I believe in authentically representing the underrepresented.
This issue of The Glasgow Guardian is particularly invested in this question of authentic representation. In this issue Culture has shone a light on the barriers facing female filmmakers and disabled actors, and celebrated the breadth of diversity at last year’s Scottish Queer International Film Festival.
People are talking about media more than ever: not just about the media we consume, but about the way in which we consume it; and, for the most part, this can only be a good thing. The media holds a position of power, and we should never lose sight of this. The only difference is that today this power is easier to get a hold of than ever before. Facebook posts go viral, tweets grow into global campaigns, and people in power are more exposed than ever before. What this means is that we can all harness the power of media for ourselves – to varying degrees of success – and it’s often too tempting to take to social media to decry anything that rubs us up the wrong way.
But there’s a difference between a piece of media having damaging repercussions – whether pervasive throughout society or for specific demographics – and something that is particularly unpalatable to ourselves as individuals. As a generation raised on the internet, we’re at risk of conflating the two.
Once upon a time, this wouldn’t have been a particularly big problem. Twenty, thirty years ago we could only voice our frustrations with the people we saw in our day-to-day lives. Over recent years, however, a sense of momentum has built, propelling these issues to the forefront of debate and revolutionising the way we consume media.
The most recent target for debate was Netflix’s newly-launched Bandersnatch, a Black Mirror instalment which mimicked “Choose Your Own Adventure” storytelling. The much-anticipated winter release was met with lavish attention on social media, and several instances of censure: the viewer’s ability to control protagonist Stefan into increasingly grisly tasks was flagged by some as glorifying real-world gaslighting. Though the bulk of reviews seemed to emphasise disappointment over its failed potential, this idea of “dangerous media” in particular stuck with me. I’d found the episode particularly difficult to watch, in no small part because of the emphasis on mental illness as experienced by a parent and child, which was a little close to the bone for me. After about an hour, I knew when I’d reached my limit, and I switched it off. I know that these critics, like me, likely saw something reflected in Bandersnatch that made them look away.
Bandersnatch wasn’t for me. But let’s face it: it would be impossible for every piece of media to cater to our unique sensibilities. Hell, it would be impossible for any piece of media to achieve. What’s more, we aren’t entitled to be the proper audience for every piece of media, and it’s unrealistic to expect that we should. The very idea of a media landscape capable of personalising so uniquely to ourselves is worthy of its own Black Mirror episode.
We are perhaps becoming too eager to banish anything and everything we find problematic. Just months before Bandersnatch came to screens, Netflix was under fire once more over light-hearted teen romcom Sierra Burgess is a Loser, a modern take on Cyrano de Bergerac which faced calls for a boycott for endorsing catfishing.
I am by no means saying that we should swallow whatever the media dishes out. What I am saying is that condemning any kind of new media as dangerous is on par with blaming video games for gun violence. Films, TV shows and stories all exist to provoke us; deciding the parameters for what is and isn’t appropriate is a difficult job, but one that can be achieved through proper perspective.
Issues such as whitewashing, the exclusion of transgender actors and the erasure of disabled experience are important because the repercussions resonate beyond the screen and into the real world. They are bound in questions of power that go beyond individual experience. Tackling these issues is paramount to the progress of the industry. Making the media industry a safe and level playing field is and should continue to be our collective goal moving forwards.
We will probably never have a media tailor-made for ourselves, and we shouldn’t expect it either. Until then, there’s no shame in switching off.