Image: Azealia Banks / Manfred Werner (Tsui) / Wikimedia Commons
I first stumbled upon the conundrum whilst talking to a friend about unsolicited nudes. She described to me her confusion over a male colleague of hers. Despite her respect and admiration for some influential environmental work he had done, she just could not bring herself to like him, because, well, he sends unsolicited nude images.
As someone who is learning to think more critically about the people and things I admire, I could relate. Social awareness can be a minefield. Is it possible to be the perfect socially aware person?
The term ‘problematic fave’ is one I’ve heard a lot lately. Urban dictionary describes it as: “A favorite person (usually a character) who has problematic views and opinions.” Basically, even the leaders and celebrities we admire and love can fuck up sometimes.
The Tumblr blog yourfaveisproblematic hosts a full list of ‘problematic faves’. The list mentions the likes of Amy Poehler, Benedict Cumberbatch, Childish Gambino, Lena Dunham, Nicki Minaj, and even John Green, with detailed lists of problematic actions and statements attached to them.
The list itself is a little pedantic, and is possibly enough to make you lose faith in the leaders of humanity (or at least of the pop-culture community). Many of these people are ‘faves’ for the great work they have done.
Amy Poehler and Lena Dunham have become champions of female representation on television, creating exciting new opportunities for women and pushing a more feminist discourse in pop culture. John Green does a range of humanitarian work; things like his ‘Project for Awesome’ with brother Hank Green. The project involves a huge amount of online collaboration in raising funds for charities such as Save the Children, and Partners in Health.
At the same time, one example of a problematic action associated with John Green is the snide jokes he made about Kim Kardashian in this video, making fun of her because her fame supposedly has its origins in a sex tape. John Green is an overall great guy, and remains on my personal list of ‘faves’, but that doesn’t mean I’m ready to condone the shaming of a consenting adult woman’s sexuality in order to create humour.
Another topical ‘problematic fave’ is Azealia Banks. Banks is well-known as a rapper from Harlem, New York, and also for being a vocal user of Twitter. Although I don’t agree with all of her opinions, in the past I have admired some of her outspoken tweetings. She used her position of prominence to discuss the injustice that incited the Ferguson riots, is a self-professed champion of womanism, and called out Eminem on his freestyle rap misogyny.
Despite this, she remains unapologetic about her derogatory use of the slur ‘f****t’, including in a documented video whilst leaving a plane, and in condemning celebrity blogger Perez Hilton (yet another problematic, but I will leave that for another time).
‘Faves’, especially people we look to as leaders of social movements, aren’t always perfect. My question then is: is it ignorant to have ‘faves’ that may be problematic? How do we judge their actions?
One solution may be to simply be as aware as possible, and keep having socially-aware discussions. Instead of creating idols who we think can do no wrong, we need to admire the good work of others, and call them out when they’re wrong. In this increasingly media saturated environment, it is so important to remain critical, to possess all the facts and act accordingly.
I don’t think it is possible to be the perfect socially-aware person, there is always more learning to do, and we all mess up sometimes. This doesn’t mean it is okay when we do, it just means that we need to keep talking about it.
And on a larger scale, if a ‘fave’ takes a problematic stance (oh hai, Taylor!), perhaps at least it creates conversation about the issue, giving people an opportunity to learn about exactly why it's problematic in the first place.Support Villainesse