It’s just a show. Really?

Years ago, when this site was young, we got so many people commenting to let us know “It’s just a show – lighten up!” that we expressly forbade this point of view in our comment policy. It wasn’t just the sheer volume, redundancy and dismissive tone of the comments that prompted us to get rid of them. It was also that it’s just not true.

I can’t tell you how times guys have disbelieved my claims to have gender-expectation-defying interests, preferences or activities, then cited television and movies as their proof I’m lying in some weird attempt to manipulate them. For example, women on TV and movies are always thrilled about getting flowers, they say, so when I say, “Oh, thanks, but actually having those anywhere near me will upset my allergies and lead to a bad headache”, I must really be saying, “I have secretly found someone else because your penis was inadequate and I hate you and your damn flowers.”

Another example: all women dream about their weddings. Men knows this because TV shows have given them the scoop. Remember the episode of Friends with the pillowcases? Even Phoebe was into it, and no one could be more of a strange loner misfit than Phoebe, therefore I must be lying when I say I have no interest in a wedding, mine or anyone else’s, ever. (In fact, I find them creepy.) Every woman wants a big diamond engagement ring to impress her friends, according to TV and movies, so what am I trying to pull when I claim I don’t? I must be trying to set men up to make mistakes so I can throw tantrums at them. Yes, that must be it. (I never even threw tantrums as a child, but women on TV and movies always do, so there!)

And of course, when I don’t get angry at men failing to recall my birthday, which I usually don’t recall myself, or for being late or for canceling last minute, which I totally understand and have to do myself sometimes, what I’m really saying is that I don’t care about them. Because the women in TV and movies always secretly seethe about this stuff, I must be secretly seething too – unless I just don’t care.

The sad fact is, a lot of people (including women) cite TV and movies as if they provide definitive evidence that all women feel/think/do X, and any individual woman claiming otherwise is lying, clearly for the purposes of manipulating somebody, the way all women do. I can’t defeat one stereotype without getting backed into another one.

The truth is, pop culture is not just fun and games, and that’s why “It’s just a show” is bullshit. Culture – and current culture has always been pop culture, and always will be – is the medium through which the privileged people educate all the other sorts of people on how they are supposed to behave so as to inconvenience the privileged the least they can with their undesirable yet necessary presence. I really am supposed to not only like flowers, but to accept them in lieu of kept promises and fidelity – not because it’s on TV but because that would be ever so convenient for uncaring and cheating men. What the person who criticizes me for diverging from TV portrayals of my gender is really saying is: “Don’t you know this is your responsibility? Even if you don’t like flowers, you still need to like the damn flowers because men need their women to be plug ‘n’ play, easily replaced! Men have nations to conquer and important things to do. They can’t be bogged down with trying to remember what each new current girlfriend likes, which is why it’s so crucial you all like exactly the same shit! Jeez, you selfish bitch!”

Pop culture has way more power than the law to change how people think and feel. We need laws to protect people from bigotry, but if you want to make people feel stupid about being bigots, pop culture can do that. After all, it’s what’s made people feel perfectly comfortable and righteous about being bigots.


  1. says

    In addition to the fact that entertainment culture is a huge influence on cultural values and norms (how could it not be?), it also comes from minds that have been influenced by culture. As a (hobbyist) writer, I’m offended by the implication that my “just” fiction is thus presumed to have no thought going in and no influence on others.

  2. says

    I wrote an essay last year about disability in fanfiction, in which I mentioned the three types of ways in which people with disabilities were portrayed in fiction while I was growing up:

    “When I was a kid, books about people with disabilities seemed to end one of two ways. Either the pure, good, tragic cripple died, or the pure, good, tragic cripple was cured. Okay, there were also villains whose disabilities were a symbolic sign of their inner corruption, but I’m not even going to touch that one. Such endings are incredibly disheartening for me, growing up, because I didn’t want to die, and I was never going to be miraculously cured.”

    and I got a lot of (very very deleted) comments from people why I was listening to those portrayals, or why it was important that fiction be representative on a post were most of the readers came from metafandom, a place where everyone discusses fiction and fandom with utmost seriousness. First of all, the essay was in response to the huge number of extremely ablist comments I was getting on a fic with a disabled character, which proved that people believe the drivel, but also, what part of me being a little kid didn’t they get?

    No one seems to understand that fiction isn’t descriptive. It is very very proscriptive. When I set about writing any piece of fiction, even fanfic drabbles, I’m making a moral statement, even if I don’t know what the moral statement is when I post. And these messages are aimed at all of us. The men learn how women should act, and the women learn they have to act like that or face consequences. When there is no cultural narrative telling you that you can do something, you should do something, when you do it, if you do it, you feel all alone doing it. Just like when I was a little kid, and I knew I had to find some kind of happy end for myself with my disability, and had my otherwise supportive family nickname me Camille after the girl who died in an opera and think it was hilarious, and just like when I confuse the crap out of people just by being crabby or normally sexual, because disabled people just aren’t like that, we all feel ashamed and alone when we thwart society’s expectations. And one of the big ways society communicates and re-enforces those expectations is fiction. Everyone who argues otherwise just doesn’t get it.

    • says

      This is part of why i loved How To Train Your Dragon. *spoilers* It’s failing on gender grounds aside, having an amputee at the end and having it be a happy ending in which this is not a terrible terrible thing, in this community where many amputees live together. I want more narratives in which not every comes out whole in the end after saving the day–and that that’s not a bad thing, it’s just a natural outcome of saving everyone in incredibly dangerous situations. i want more narratives where people can just be who they are, and if that includes them having “disabilities,” the goal shouldn’t have to be “look you’re cured! Now you can be happy!” Argh!

      • says

        I avoided it because of the gender issues, but this may make me have to see it and temporarily quash my inner feminist. Yay for people with disabilities having happy endings!

        • The Other Patrick says

          How to train your dragon is pretty great, really. Even the gender fail didn’t annoy me that much, especially since the male hero succeeds by thinking and the two prominent girls are pretty non-stereotypical. And the disability win helps, too, of course.

          • The Other Patrick says

            Addendum: I am most annoyed that everybody has a viking name and is more or less broad-shouldered and rough, except for the love interest “Astrid” (the other people are called hiccup, stoick, snotlout, fishlegs, tuffnut and ruffnut) who is prototypically attractive with blond hair and everything.

            • Maria says

              Plus, I thought Astrid’s name fit into the idea that she took herself REALLY seriously. But hey, I might be “fixing” the movie.

          • says

            That bothered me too. But in another way it made sense to me–the least viking-ish viking boy was attracted to the least viking-ish viking girl, who felt she had to do even more to prove herself, perhaps because she was so–and she was just better at doing viking things that Hiccup, which is why he was ostracized and she wasn’t. But of course, that’s me making excuses for the filmmakers, and I highly doubt that’s how they decided on that. I have to go back to my Art of How to Train Your Dragon book and see, but I think there were other designs for Astrid in which she was more viking-ish-looking and less scrawny.

          • Maria says

            I really liked that ending for HTTYD. I actually mentioned it on a mil_spouse website as being awesome for showing how complicated “winning” a battle can be.

      • says

        This is actually one of the very, very, very few redeeming qualities of one of my guilty-pleasure-carryovers from childhood, Quest for Camelot. It’s everything that’s wrong with ’90s American animation, really, except for the fact that the male half of the protagonist team, Garrett, is blind throughout the movie (from a head injury in his youth). He is portrayed as attractive (!), and isn’t cured by Excalibur’s magic (it heals everybody in Camelot’s injuries/magically induced mutations, and separates the conjoined twin dragons– who rejoin themselves anyway– in the BIG FINALE) or by the wizard Merlin at the end.

        I mean, he’s still conveniently in tune with the magical forest, and in one song sequence, it’s sort-of-implied he can “see” Kayley (female protagonist) before a flesh wound is healed by some sparkly healing plants, all the “bad” characters are deformed/mentally unstable/ugly/some combination of those, and the character from The King’s Damosel (THE SUMMARY LOOKS SOOOOO BAD) that Garrett’s based on actually does cure himself of blindness instead of saving his own life– but I already said the movie sucked. SO. MUCH. I don’t understand Gary Oldman’s career choices sometimes.

        Anyway, how horrible is depiction of differently-abled characters in popular media that “superpowered blind person” is the most common depiction of “usefulness” that can be expected?! Really. Even in mainstream comic books (read: Marvel and DC), Daredevil is the rule, and Oracle and Echo are the exception.

        • Patrick McGraw says

          In the superhero stuff I’ve been developing, there is a government agent who deals with superhumans. Everyone always assumes she has some sort of superhuman senses, which gets the irritated response of “No, I’m just blind.”

        • says

          How bizarre is it that the type of fiction being cited as portraying people with disabilities in a fairest light is *fantasy*, the one genre where one could most easily expect magic to cure whatever crippling damage one could suffer?

          • Casey says

            Speaking of disabilities in fiction, does anybody remember Pelswick? It was a Nickelodeon cartoon that debuted around ’00~’01-ish, alongside Invader Zim, and As Told By Ginger and it’s about a teenage boy in a wheelchair who has an inept guardian angel and lives in San Francisco with his dad and little sister. He has a love interest and a villain in the school bully, who harasses Pelswick in spite of his disability, as opposed to because.

    • Patrick McGraw says

      There’s also the almost total non-presence of non-evident disability, especially functional mental disability. When was the last time in popular culture that you saw someone with mental illness whose life wasn’t based around it?

      • says

        There was this awesome cop in Criminal Minds who had obsessive compulsive disorder (and wasn’t anything like Monk) who was shown as the one person on the force who really cared about the homeless on his beat.

        There’s also word of god for Bones, but yeah, huge dearth of portrayals if I’m going to oneshot characters. Of course, the entire cast of CM is probably depressed, but that’s another story.

        • says

          Of course, the entire cast of CM is probably depressed, but that’s another story.

          That’s why the real FBI doesn’t run around personally chasing serial killers all the time – they generally just write the profiles from a distance and let the cops handle it. No one could be in a constant state of “stop the killer before he does it again” without a severe depression following. Cops involved in chasing down just one serial killer or rapist sometimes have difficulty coping or coming to terms after the fact.

          • Sabrina says

            Both Brennan and Zach Addy are said to have Asperger’s syndrome. This was however not (yet?) diagnosed within the plot of the series.

          • Patrick McGraw says

            That makes sense. It is much better to have characters show signs of mental disability than to make it a big “flashing sign” part of their character.

        • SunlessNick says

          There was this awesome cop in Criminal Minds who had obsessive compulsive disorder (and wasn’t anything like Monk)

          The cool thing about him was that it was his OCD that led him to discover the killer, but in such a way as to supercrip him. More like his OCD led him to organise, his concern for the poplace led him to focus that organisation on cases and death reports, and his skill set led him to understand the significance of the resulting patterns, but then his OCD made it easy for others to dismiss what he found as phantom patterns. His condition was important without it being all there was to him – and it was the very perception that it was that let the murders carry on for so long.

          Plus, if it’s the episode I’m thinking of, there were a lot of other things that game me happies, but I’m not sure if I’m conflating it with another.

          • says

            It’s the one where the killers are putting homeless people through an old slaughterhouse – rooms filled with shards of glass and so on – and the main culprit thinks he’s doing humanity a favor.

            His superiors seemed to think being OCD = being unreliable, and they also assumed homeless people disappearing was par for the course. But the BAU people knew better in both instances: OCD people are not delusional, and they’re no more likely to perceive phantom patterns than anyone else (neurotypical human brains excel at reading patterns into coincidences). And statistically, they knew there actually IS enough stability among homeless populations to make the number of missing people from that small area highly unlikely to be a random event.

            There is a lot of win in that ep.

          • SunlessNick says

            That is the episode I was thinking of, thanks. Other things I liked were that this was one of their “this is a bad one even by our standards” episodes without being sensationalised – and one where you saw a lot of the current victim and what she was going through, but it was harrowing, with no sense that I was being invited to find it titilating (though I think Criminal Minds isn’t as good at either of those as it used to be, though it’s still better than most).

  3. The Other Patrick says

    Okay, I’m pretty much with you. but:

    * if you got a restraining order against your ex and
    * if said ex then ends up heroically stopping a dangerous runaway train

    that will make you take him back like with any other woman, won’t it? (Unstoppable is the name of that film, btw.)

    • says

      😀 I loved this film for everything BUT that part. I was like, WTF??? This dude is unstable, violent, etc., but he’s hot and saves the day so…that makes your flawed relationship all better. LOL. In the kind of LOL that’s actually me crying. I recently rewatched Live Free or Die Hard, which, I totes love, but I realized just how creepy McClane is. He’s stalking his daughter? But that’s totes okays because obvs he’s a hero! D:

    • says

      No, no I wouldn’t. In fact, depending on the hero worship he was getting, I might make Herculean efforts to move far far away. Thank you for warning us. Now I know another movie to avoid.

    • says

      Depends on whether he brings me flowers. 😉

      No, seriously, wtf? What is this trope? “Huh – he’s unstable and violent, but sometimes he uses his evil for good, and therefore he deserves some pussy, so I’m happy to provide!”

      It’s interesting, as an aside, how heroic men deserve some pussy, but crazed psychopaths are only that way because they haven’t gotten any pussy, and men who are getting pussy but still misbehave only did so because the pussy wasn’t good enough.

      • says

        It’s not even just getting pussy, though. As I pointed out in my comment, it’s a trope in which stalker/abusive/violent protagonists just get whatever they want, not even limited to romantic love interests. In the case of Unstoppable it’s also his son that he gets to stay with. In LFoDH, it’s his daughter.

        This also happens in Megamind. *spoilers XD* in the worst possible of ways. This cretin criminal who frequently kidnaps a woman (to the point where she’s become desensitized to it) kills, or so everyone thinks, the city’s hero, then gets bored with tyranny, creates another hero who becomes an even bigger villain that him while the original villain poses as a museum curator and woos the woman who he’d been kidnapping for years. When he defeats the super-villain, he gets the girl and the love f the whole city. This was the same issue i had with Despicable Me. I don’t get how villains who do bad things are suddenly absolved of all of those things because they fix a problem they created to begin with. I don’t get how abusive, violent men are absolved of all wrongdoing by doing a single good thing, not even necessarily related.

        • Patrick McGraw says

          Indeed. One of the few examples I can think of such a thing done well is Darth Vader in Star Wars. He sacrifices his life to destroy the Sith, and the only person who forgives him is his son. As far as the rest of the galaxy is concerned, what a mass-murdering monster did during the final moments of his life doesn’t matter.

          • says

            And that’s the way to do it, IMO. I don’t like when villains are dehumanized, when enemies are faceless, and nameless, and then they die and people cheer–I feel uncomfortable celebrating death in fictional circumstances (but I don’t know how I’d feel, for example, about Harris or Klebold if I were a Columbine survivor or if I lived in Iraq or in a concentration camp–in those cases I very may well celebrate the death of whoever did that to me), and especially because it seems like death is ALWAYS the outcome in Disney and other animated films. The few exceptions are Izma, and, well, that’s all I can think of off the bat.

            But not wanting them dead isn’t the same as not thinking they should be punished–I just find it troubling that death seems to be the GO TO punishment for fictional villains because it’s, well, easy. And that’s troubling. All you have to do is have them fall off a cliff into mist–and then you don’t even have to show the gory details.

          • says

            Yes, but it always bothered me that Luke thought Anakin did it ,i>to save him. That wasn’t it at all – Anakin just wanted to use Luke to extend his own power. Seeing that he couldn’t do that if Palpatine succeeded in killing him, he finally got the idea it was high time to kill Palpatine… but no part of this is heroic or admirable, and Luke always seemed to think it was.

            I have a feeling Lucas did, too.

          • Patrick McGraw says

            Jennifer, I strongly disagree with your reading there. While Vader had always planned to overthrow Palpatine – that’s actually part of Sith philosophy – his final act was clearly one of self-sacrifice.

            Vader knew exactly what would happen when he grabbed Palpatine – the reason he never used Force Lightning himself was because it would ground through his cybernetic life-support systems and kill him.

            Attackfish, I also love how Leia’s refusal to forgive her father is never seen as bitchy or judgmental, and how Luke never expects her (or anyone else) to forgive him.

            • Maria says

              In the books, isn’t her refusal to forgive also bound up in her refusal to use the force, and part of her denying of her heritage? IDK it’s been a while since I’ve looked at them.

          • says

            Patrick: I didn’t say it wasn’t self-sacrifice. I’m saying it had nothing to do with Luke, and it’s neither admirable nor heroic. In those final moments, Vader is just realizing he can’t get what he wants, and he’s pissed, and he’d rather die and take Palpatine with him than let Palpatine win.

            I’m sure Lucas intended the reading that Vader has a full-on turnaround at the last minute, but that’s not how human beings work. It’s probably what the people behind Unstoppable are thinking, too. But the fact is, unstable personalities are unstable and they don’t get better with age, and Anakin is seriously unstable in the prequels.

            Maria: yes, that’s a fair assessment. It’s also part of why she never developed enough for my taste (at least as far as I read, which I think was Vector Prime) and Mara Jade was far more interesting. It was presented more like Leia couldn’t accept that Vader died a good guy rather than that she had a legitimate opinion that he didn’t. I find the whole thing very disturbing, especially because I think those movies influenced my generation to think we could redeem authority figures consumed by lack of conscience and empathy if we just tried real hard to be heroes, and a lot of us learned the really fucking hard way that, no, you can’t. I think this is why there’s been a backlash of “serial killer/profiler” TV & movies, largely from my generation, teaching that you cannot change a person who’s “turned to the dark side” and they may not even be able to change themselves.

          • Patrick McGraw says

            Jennifer, I guess it depends on which texts you take into account. Going by the movies alone, it’s certainly a solid reading, but it’s incompatible with the larger canon. We know Anakin/Vader’s final thoughts from the novel, and he acted solely to save his son.

            But again, that’s a question of what text you’re reading.

            Also, IIRC, no living person but Luke ever forgave Vader. Including Leia.

            • says

              I know that’s what Lucas thinks and I know that’s what’s in the novel. What I’m saying is that it’s a dangerous myth that redemption works like that – the same as telling people, “John Sweeney must’ve really looooved Dominique Dunne to want to hurt her that much, and we’re sure if she’d just been patient and given endlessly, he’d have been Cured by the Power Of Love and become a Loving Person.” It’s not just Lucas – fiction has been perpetuating forever the idea that a thoroughly corrupt person can be redeemed and learn to love at the last minute, through one act. This is a very dangerous idea, and anyone who’s studied the harder aspects of psychology and neuroscience knows: the sociopath personality is not as flexible as a non-sociopathic personality. Someone who’s done bad things that weren’t terribly far outside her cultural norms can reform, yes (see Xena). But someone who slaughters children and turns on his wife at the first whiff she’s been near another man at whatever age he is in Ep III is not going to get MORE capable of empathy twenty years later.

              The only way to take the end of Jedi halfway seriously is to assume Vader has narcissistic personality disorder, sees Luke as an extension of himself rather than a human in his own right, and wants to symbolically “save” himself by saving Luke. This puts him back right with the Force and everything, but even if at this point he wants to love his children, all he can really feel is satisfied with how they will carry on his legacy (extend his ego), because the narcissistic brain just doesn’t bend any other way.

              To be clear, I’m not arguing that my read of the story is what Lucas intended. It isn’t. I’m arguing that what he gave us is a gross distortion that made a whole generation think you can fix the sociopaths in your life if you just give, give, give enough or put the right treatment programs into the prisons. And neither concept is at all true. We wasted the entire freakin’ 80s on both, hence (as I said before) the backlash of cultural representation about how you cannot cure these people. Even when they claim to sincerely want treatment, no one’s been successful at “curing” them. Downgrading the condition a little, but developing their empathy? Just can’t happen to any serious degree post-childhood.

          • Patrick McGraw says

            The problem we run into with trying to get a sense of any Dark Side character’s psychology is the phlebotinum issue – in this case, the fact that drawing on the Dark Side of the Force causes physical and psychological changes in a person.

            Which creates exactly the problem that you’re describing – a story in which human psychology is influenced by a fantastic, extra-personal for of evil still winds up looking an awful lot like so many of the supposedly “realistic” stories we see where a sociopath or an NPD can be changed and redeemed.

          • Ikkin says

            “The problem we run into with trying to get a sense of any Dark Side character’s psychology is the phlebotinum issue – in this case, the fact that drawing on the Dark Side of the Force causes physical and psychological changes in a person.”

            I think Anakin has a further problem in that, even given that his personality has been altered by the Dark Side phlebotinum, there doesn’t seem to be anything there to redeem.

            And that’s a failure of characterization, more than anything. He was intended, as far as I can tell, to have been capable of strong bonds of love and loyalty, which get twisted into desperation due to loss and lead him to the Dark Side, at which point Motive Decay ensues. If that was the case, he wouldn’t have any need to suddenly gain empathy, just have the initial empathetic side awakened by his son.

            But that’s not the Anakin we see in the movies. The Anakin from the movies is obsessive and arrogant even before he’s affected by the Dark Side. He’s never really allowed to be affectionate, just possessive, which makes him appear to lack true empathy altogether. And, if his violent reactions to his mother and Padme’s deaths are selfish, why should his decision to sacrifice himself for Luke be any different?

            Which leads me to this conclusion – George Lucas probably didn’t intend to write a story where a sociopath/NPD is redeemed due to one act. He just couldn’t tell the difference between that and the character Anakin was supposed to be.

          • Patrick McGraw says

            Yes, that’s very much a flaw with Lucas’ writing in the movies. Other writers (notably those on The Clone Wars) have done a much better job giving Anakin empathy and a moral center.

            And just to be clear, Jennifer, I absolutely agree with you that the redemption of sociopaths is a dangerous myth. The redemption of Force-users who have fallen to the Dark Side may be justified in Star Wars, but when they otherwise follow all the trappings of “he’ll change if I love him enough,” they are adding to the problem.

            • says

              *nods* I think what I found most disturbing was that the sequels gave Anakin a textbook sociopath’s childhood. I’d been expecting his background to explain how he was redeemable in Jedi, but instead it confirmed the feeling I had the first time I saw the movie when I was 10: that he couldn’t see Luke as a person, let alone care about him. I took “It is too late for me” to mean something beyond his physical status – that he wished he’d never become this awful man, but he couldn’t go back and fix it now, so he was better off dying in this way, at this time.

        • Brand Robins says

          I can only assume its because more and more folks in North American culture suspect, at some level, that we’re the villains.

          We’re the ones who bombed the shit out of innocent people. We’re the ones who stole the oil. We’re the ones who did… well, fuck, look at the 20th century.

          So now in our pop culture we’re the vampire, we’re the villain, we’re the dark and tortured hero who is full of violent rage. But! And this is the important BUT! — we will do one good thing, just one, and that will make everything okay. If we use our crazed military might, our damaged ego-complexes, our unjustly held privilege for good just one time it will not only absolve us, it will justify us being that way in the first place.

          One series I can think of that played well on this was the Bourne movies. Despite trying to forget, despite having forgotten, the choices he made and the things he’d done kept hitting him until he faced them. And then he had to do the same things over again to make right the things he made wrong.

          It was problematic, but it was also compelling.

          At the very end of the third movie when he’s face down in the river, for that long paused moment, did you want him to be reborn by water or to stay drowned in all the things that he’d done? Can we be forgiven if we face it? If we try to make it right? If we try to make it right with a gun?

          Bourne at least posed the question, even if only for ten seconds. Most of the others want to answer it decisively YES WE’LL BE FINE.

          • says

            I never thought of this, but you’re so right. It’s compelling to think one good act can erase a ton of bad ones, but it’s just absolutely not true. Nothing can erase the wrongs we’ve done in the past – there’s only making amends and/or doing better in the future. But those are haaaard, so it’s much less challenging to imagine that one great act that will somehow fix everything.

            Very good point, very well said.

  4. Patrick McGraw says

    I sometimes worry about how I might have turned out of it weren’t for the television influence of Fred Rogers and Jim Henson. Pop culture affects everyone, but it affects children especially.

  5. Ray says

    And we tend to treat the pop culture of history as proof that people acted a certain way or thought certain things, so we ought to be questioning how our pop culture represents us.

  6. Scarlett says

    I don’t like diamond or gold jewelry. Have’t for as long as I can remember. (I even invented an acronym: STOP. Silver, Topaz, opal, pearl.) My ex knew this, but got me a gold-and-diamond engagement ring anyway. Now that I’ve read this, I can’t help but wonder if his mentality was ‘but ALL girls like gold and diamonds, TV says so!’

    • says

      I have just got to say, your acronym is fabulous. I’m fond of colored gemstones myself, and have been obsessing over blue amber, garnets, dark emeralds, and copper. That could be an ULTRA NATIVE ZOMG kick, but really it’s just because they’re pretty. Diamonds are so blah, and highly politicized, bloody, manufactured-“rarity” blah at that.


      • JMS says

        Yep, that was a thing: REGARD rings (ruby, emerald, garnet, amethyst, ruby, diamond) rings were the most popular, but there are others.

    • Robin says

      I dread the annual November-through-May (pre-Christmas through Mother’s Day) inundation of commercials proclaiming that the only way for a man to show how much he loves his woman is to buy her something that has no practical use and that he may not be able to afford.

      I don’t mind (properly certified) diamonds, but they’re not generally my first choice. I tend more toward non-precious stones like onyx, amethyst, and malachite. If I do want something sparkly, I prefer something less expensive that I won’t feel awkward about accepting or horribly guilty about losing (which has been known to happen with earrings in particular).

      I also have a similar aversion to gold. Once I learned about color compatibility with skin tone, I realized that I look a hell of a lot better in silver, which has the added benefit of being less expensive.

      The only time I will ever utter “He went to Jared” with a sincere sigh is during the scene in Alexander when the title character (played by Colin Farrell) pays a late night visit to his lover Hephaistion (Jared Leto). 😉

  7. Charlie says

    The most dangerous part of pop culture- especially television- is that teaches people what “normal” is. In real life, everyone is different, and some people feel scared and confused by the vast differences and complexities of society. Television makes them feel safe and secure, because they know what to expect- every character fits into a nice mold, and becomes normal. When someone acts outside of gender norms, I often hear people criticize them by saying “why can’t s/he just act normal!” meaning, why can’t they act the way tv characters do?

    • says

      Yup, very much. Success defines normativity, but the successful don’t represent an accurate population cross-section even though they hold the power to shape everyone’s concept of what and who should be, and how. Argh.

  8. Sabrina says

    I have asthma and the portrayal of people with asthma always bothered me. Fuck, it kind of traumatized me! Seriously, there are so many characters out there that have asthma but I can’t think of one where it wasn’t played up as a comedic element and/or them being a victim. On TV, when people have asthma they’re socially awkward nerds that are always bullied, their inhalers are getting stolen/messed around with/used in a completely unrealistic manner, they have really weird asthma attacks or simply end up dead. Having asthma and living a perfectly normal live is apparently not possible.
    After seeing those tropes over and over again and receiving the bullying treatment I saw on TV while growing up it led to a kind of compulsive behaviour where I would try to hide my asthma at all costs. Still today I have problems using my inhaler in front of others.

    Just a show? SHUT YOUR DAMN FACE, IDIOT! /rage

    • says

      yeah, allergies and asthma is always portrayed as the mark of the geek… and the hypochondriac (unless in some cases, if there’s an anaphylactic reaction and someone dies), and the latter pisses me off even more than the former. Way to pretend serious illnesses aren’t real, Hollywood!

      • Sabrina says

        Exactly! I also have allergies – various pollen that bloom thorough the whole year. People automatically assume that allergies mean you have a little hay-fever for like 2 weeks and that’s all not too bad and not a real illness and that you just need to man up and get yourself together! In result you’re suffering for weeks and weeks and people won’t believe you because of some stupid Hollywood tropes.

        • says

          it gets worse. I have allergy induced seizures, and you have no idea how many times idiots have told me just to deal with cigarette smoke or demanded to know why I didn’t like their perfume. It smells lovely , dear, but I got to get out of here before I have to go to the hospital.

          And every year the hay fever leads to a sinus infection, and I’m oxygen dependent. Not a big deal, sure. My medical bills say otherwise.

          • says

            At least I have very supportive family. It doesn’t help that I’m a huge geek, and since I fit part of the stereotype, I must fit the rest.

            When I was a kid, my mom once called up the Disney channel after I saw an example of the allergy sufferer as hypochondriac on it and spent the day grumbling about it.

            Mom: No, I’m not a crazy moral guardian trying to protect my daughter from the real world. I’m a mom sick of seeing my daughter’s illness being portrayed in an unrealistic manner. *pause as the other person talks* No, my daughter isn’t traumatized. She’s pissed. Your bigotry pissed off my ten year old.

          • Sabrina says

            Haha, I’m also quite geeky. (Omg, you also like ATLA! *internethighfive*) I always felt that I was partly pressured into this role. When I was forced into isolation I thought I’d better pick up some hobbies.

            Your Mom is awesome! =D

          • says

            My parents said I was a very extroverted kid, but I was so isolated, that I turned inwards. At the same time, my dad is a huge geek, so the potential was always there.

            OMG, it’s the best show ever! (Well, one of them)

            Yes, she is! She and my grandmother are hard core liberal feminist anti-racists, and I grew up thinking all old people were like that. Sadly I was wrong…

          • says

            The refusal of people to understand about cigarette smoke and fragrances really pisses me off. Both can induce migraines in many people, and if you’ve ever had a migraine, you know that’s significant – especially if you’re swamped, or you’re on the way to a job interview when you pass through some asshole’s cloud of crap, etc. Another significant-sized group can get serious asthma attacks. I’ve never even heard of allergy induced seizures until now, but even without it, we have plenty of reasons why people should be able to understand: no one is just making shit up to force you to stop smoking/wearing scent or whatever it is you imagine in your deluded thick skull.

            Hmm, perhaps this issue could be used as a litmus test to determine who is simply too selfish to function in a cooperative civilization. I mean, seriously, if you think the urge to smoke or cloak yourself in scent outweighs someone else’s right not to have an unscheduled ER trip in the middle of their day, what kind of priorities do you have? We could then set them up on a (very stinky) moon colony or something. They’ll kill each other within a few months, and the rest of us will suddenly find 60% of society’s problems solved.

          • Patrick McGraw says

            Your mom does indeed sound awesome.

            IMHO, the only thing preventing ATLA from being the best show ever is that Babylon 5 and Justice League Unlimited tie with it.

          • says

            For me, it’s the Closer… and DVD boxed sets of Soap, and the firm conviction from way back in my childhood that nothing will ever be better than Mr. Rogers.

          • Patrick McGraw says

            Fred Rogers is one of my personal heroes. A few years after his death I started reading up on him, and discovered just what an amazing person he was.

          • Robin says

            Ugh. That’s awful. I only have a “mild” sensitivity to some perfumes. They just give me a headache for a few hours. I can’t imagine having to deal with an allergy that severe.

            Also? I second your mom’s awesomeness. :)

        • says

          Even when allergies are mild, they can significantly impact your life quality. Until about 7 years ago, when I discovered soy was my problem and cut it out of my diet, I had sinusitis about 10 months out of every year. Nothing scary like AttackFish is describing, but I had face aches, headaches, congestion, cough, fatigue – people thought I was anti-social, but the truth is I was too worn out to have fun (since school/work had to come first, of course), and people weren’t exactly patient whenever my symptoms interrupted things for a few minutes. I believe, “Can’t you just take a pill for that?” was the response about eleventy thousand times.

          Well, no, I can’t just take a fucking pill for it. If I did, I’d be out like a light from the side effects, anyway. And they usually didn’t really help, probably because it was a food sensitivity and not pollen or dust allergies after all. (And no, three years of allergy shots didn’t help at all, and they eventually sent me away as a hopeless case and advised me to move out west.)

          • Sabrina says

            Tell me about it! “Can’t you just take a pill for that?” is on my personal list of the most hated sentences. For me the side effects are sometimes even worse than the actual symptoms. D:

          • Patrick McGraw says

            I haven’t told to “take a pill or something,” but I’ve already got a response lined up:

            “I’m already on 12 different medications due to my other disabilities, but I guess risking deadly interactions is worth saving you the inconvenience of not smoking.”

          • says

            Nonono, because then it’s you either being deliberately hypochondriac to inconvenience them specifically and trying to get attention, not being “tough enough” with your other conditions to cope drug-free in silence, or clearly something you’ve done to cause your various maladies. That, or it’s your parents’ fault.

            Oh, or you’re crazy or incompetent or anti-vaccination or a hippie/religious nut for NOT wanting to take medicine because of side effects/drug interactions.

            Because you’re not really that sick, there’s no way!

          • Patrick McGraw says

            Exactly! My kidneys would work if I really wanted them to! I’ve gotten a transplant, so I should be all better now, and the fact that I’m on more medications now is a sign that I’m malingering!

          • Robin says

            We’ve been trying to convince my mother for years that “Can’t you take some cough medicine?” is not the proper response to my sister-in-law’s asthma-induced coughing. In fact, medical science says it’s precisely the wrong treatment.

      • The Other Patrick says

        Come on, people don’t die of anaphyliactic shock, they get giant needles stabbed into their hearts. That’s in almost any movie!

        • says

          Huh. It took a trip to the hospital when I was a child visiting my grandparents (who had a cat) for ANYone to take my cat allergy seriously. I couldn’t breath, and it got progressively worse the longer my siblings & I stayed at their home. I DID need a shot of a steriod so I could start breathing, and stop panicking. And it took the doctor to make sure they realized I couldn’t go back to their house, or I’d get another asthma attack. And my older sister STILL told me it was “all in my head”.

          I suppose now, I’d get the giant needle instead!

          • says

            My brother’s wife is the same way. She keeps trying to get me to take my brother’s dogs, and thinks I’m just being lazy and uncooperative when I say no. After all I have dogs.

            Yeah, non shedding low oil dogs. Every time I’m near my brother’s dogs, I break out in an ugly red rash, which she has seen.

          • says

            Attackfish, having stated that I still resent that my sister said oh-so-long-ago (when she was a child) that my asthma was “all in my head”-she probably doesn’t remember saying it- I admit that I’ve caught *myself* questioning other people who say THEY have allergies. It’s not because I don’t remember, or know, what it feels like to be poo-pooed and have my possibly deadly condition *minimized* by my own family, mostly extended. It’s a knee-jerk reaction. It’s like a programmed reaction given so much exposure to that attitude–kind of like the one mentioned by another poster in another thread, where the commenter’s liberal feminist boyfriend said something about women not being funny, and she shoved it back in it face that he was repeating something he knew wasn’t true.

            That’s a huge reason why I love this site, and why I think Jenn & the other writers here are doing something important. How can you question your own reactions if you *don’t realize you’re doing them* in the first place, and that there’s a *reason* why you have them unthinkingly?

        • says

          Having grown up in an incredibly feminist home, I don’t do it much on a feminist level, or a disabled level, but I had a hard time as a monogamous bisexual not implying that non monogamous people were somehow less than when trying to explain that not all bi and poly sexuals want to simultaneously have a partner of each of the sexes they’re attracted to. Also, I kept having to quash a suspicion that part of the reason my best friend who is a trans man was so unable to see anything feminine in himself was the deeply warped idea of womanhood and manipulative passivity his family raised him with. I still think that the idea of womanhood his family tried to instill in him is damaging, but have come to realize that it didn’t cause his transsexuality,

          • Patrick McGraw says

            I really think that the drive towards monogamy/non-monogamy is hard-wired, just like sexual orientation and identity.

          • says

            I had a hard time as a monogamous bisexual not implying that non monogamous people were somehow less than when trying to explain that not all bi and poly sexuals want to simultaneously have a partner of each of the sexes they’re attracted to.

            I had – still have, actually – a problem with people conflating bisexuality with polyamory. (Problem not meaning that I’m angry, but that it makes my life difficult.) They are overlapping Venn circles, sometimes the same and sometimes not.

            I was raised in a very conservative, very Catholic household. Consequently, everything from masturbation to homosexuality to married, heterosexual oral sex was lumped together under “sexual deviancy”. When I got into high school, I became friends with a network that included several bisexual, polyamorous teens. Consequently, I was told that bisexual = both a boy- and a girlfriend.

            I was 14 when I realized that looking at naked women gave me squiggly feelings. I immediately self-identified as a lesbian, because that was the only word I had for “likes women”. For several years I dismissed all attraction to men as part of society’s happily-ever-after brainwashing. Finally I couldn’t deny any longer that men gave me squiggly feelings too and decided I was straight but sexually deviant. My attraction to women still bothered me; I thought there was something wrong with me. I automatically dismissed the possibility of bisexuality because through my friends I associated it with polyamory and I knew I wanted a single partner. It was several more years before I heard of people who were both bisexual and monogamous and realized that’s what I was.

            Which is in a roundabout way why I believe in the importance of sites like The Hathor Legacy. I had ideas about things like “attracted to both genders” and “men just don’t understand women” and “society’s happily-ever-after brainwashing”. But until I had words like bisexuality, privilege and heteronormativity to work with, I had nothing to build on. I was stuck re-inventing the wheel.

            • says

              Orwell was onto something – we control thoughts by controlling words. It’s amazing how difficult we manage to make it for people to figure out their sexuality – and not just for “deviants.” I really think there are varying forms of heterosexuality, which are easily confused with asexuality, emotional issues/hangups (not everyone who fails to obsess on sex is “damaged”), etc. But all of these are topics it’s not nice to talk about, so you end up with virtually no info, or really bad info coming from people who are almost as ignorant as you, or sources like porn which are at right angles to reality.

  9. says

    Great post. I have never commented in TV or movie related posts, because being on the “it’s just a tv show!” side most of the times, I know better than saying so here 😉
    But reading at your arguments (I’ve a lot of gender-expectation-defying interests myself, and cultural ones too) I understand your point better. That doesn’t mean I will start being outraged by Disney movies… but I get why some do.

  10. Finbarr Ryan says

    I was arguing about the prevalence of sexism in movies with a some friends a few weeks ago, and one of them made the outrageous claim that if sexist tropes are so prevalent that they appear everywhere then they can’t be sexist, because their omnipresence makes them normal. Or something.

    I was too shocked at this statement to argue the point, and by the time I figured out what to say the conversation had moved on. Reflecting on the conversation later that day, my offence turned personal, as it occurred to me that the same logic could apply to the invisibility of asexuality. I guess his cowardly approval of the status quo overrides the fact that I spent years in distress because my aversion to sex must have meant there was something wrong with me.

    • says

      “Normality” =/= accurate, fair, or equal representation/portrayal. Hell, Normal A =/= Normal B. I always wonder what it must be like in the heads of people who think their baseline is universal and everyone else, worldwide, who doesn’t agree with them is in some way deviant. It’s mind-bogglingly arrogant.

  11. sbg says

    I seem to recall getting that a lot on commercial/ad posts, when I did them more. “It’s only 30 seconds, jeez!” Okay, sure. But think about how many 30 second spots you watch in an hour, a day, a week…many of them reinforcing these stereotypes and other things.

    Well, it’s not just a 30 second spot anymore, is it?

    • Jen says

      yeah and the fact that these ads can be transmitted directly into our homes, on our streets, everywhere really. We can’t avoid them AT ALL. Yet a critique of them is openly discouraged, like we have to just take it and we aren’t allowed to even engage with it on a critical level because that would be ‘OVER-REACTING’.

  12. says

    Oh yes. And anyone who tries to argue that most people can be trusted to distinguish TV from real life needs to ask actors like Alison Arngrim how often they get fearful/dirty looks from people who think they’re just like their famously nasty characters. You’d think, you’d THINK people know better, but clearly TV does something to viewers on a visceral level.

    • says

      I’ve been saying for YEARS that people must, must, MUST individually and aggressively teach children, from a young age, to recognize the difference between reality and fiction, and to think critically about both.

      It doesn’t mean what people choose to expose themselves and others to, especially children, shouldn’t be monitored (again on an individual-by-individual basis), but because so much media exposure is inadvertent or uncontrollable, or just unpedictable or impractical, those skills need to be taught. How else will you get discerning adults when their media exposure suddenly becomes SELF-monitored??

      • Patrick McGraw says

        I suspect that this inability to distinguish between reality and fiction is a major factor in the villification of role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons.

        Of course, the detractors also accuse roleplayers of being unable to distinguish between reality and fiction. While accusing us of learning real spells from our games.

        • says

          Not that there isn’t delusional behavior on both sides of that argument…

          I never “got” the D&D = Satanism argument (remember back when devil-worshippers were the thing to be afraid of a few years back, and then it was atheists, and now it’s Muslims? *sigh*), but every time I see a story linking video games and violence or the internet and bullying, I just have to think people are deliberately finding excuses. It’s easier to vilify Facebook than it is to teach people about online safety and take responsibility for their own and their children’s actions, and it’s easier to blame Grand Theft Auto for a school shooting than it is to analyze a culture that glorifies violence and the confront how people are treating each other generally.

          • says

            I think the reason people shout so loud about video games is to drown out the quieter voice from those who know the truth: bad parenting is probably the most common factor in kids turning out to be really sick adults.

          • says

            Well, the issue is it’s not just the bad parenting. That’s a factor, but when the social structures in place that promote shoot-’em-up games in the first place are constantly present and manifest themselves tangibly or reinforce that paradigm via that cultural media like video games, there’s bigger issues at play.

            The video games themselves aren’t making people behave a certain way, or even promoting certain behaviors, but are rather indicative of a set of cultural attitudes that do.

            • says

              Right, absolutely. But like you were talking about yesterday, good parenting is what teaches a kid to filter cultural influences through personal values. The parents who neglect those teachings the most tend to be the most anxious to deflect the responsibility elsewhere.

              Also, I can’t imagine a “bigger issue” than bad parenting. Broader, maybe, if that’s what you meant. But we treat kids like property, and that’s the root cause of so much dysfunction. There’s a back and forth flow between cultural problems and familial problems (a culture is, in many ways, just a huge family), so what’s rotten in one generally causes something rotten in the other, and I believe removing a bit of rottenness from either can remove a corresponding bit from the other.

          • says

            Yeah, bigger was probably a poor word choice. I just wanted to be clear that I wasn’t saying, “It’s not just a show… but it is just a video game,” you know? :)

            I wish Privilege Denying Dude hadn’t been taken down, there was a really excellent one saying, “Context doesn’t matter, we live in a vacuum.” It was going to be my go-to macro!!

        • says

          Oh, DON’T get me started bro, I am a D&D and other type role-player 😉 When I worked at Borders I had one Juicy-couture-wearing mother demand to know if the It Girl series was “some kind of cult like Dungeons and Dragons”. I fought many potential facial expressions down to say politely, “No, they’re nothing alike,” and as I could not in fact cast Magic Missile at her retreating back I settled for a furtive stink-eye. 😛

          Jack Chick and his Christian-extremist ilk are the main culprits behind the anti-D&D campaign, along with that one notable suicide that involved a teen boy standing on a stack of Monster Manuals and Player Handbooks in order to hang himself in his closet. A book or game that so much as pretends that magic and/or other “gods” exist + volatile youth showing an interest = moral panic.

          Thanks to that one Chick tract, my friends and I like to wail, “BLACKLEAF, NOOOOO!” whenever a character dies in game.

          • Patrick McGraw says

            I’ve been roleplaying for almost twenty years, and I still can’t cast Magic Missile. Jack Chick lied to me!

          • Robin says

            It’s a shame, really, because there are a lot of situations in which Magic Missile would come in really handy.

            I don’t think the Jack Chicks of the world get that D&D generally doesn’t harm people, but in fact acts as a place to socialize and can even help them work out their aggressive impulses in a non-aggressive way.

          • Patrick McGraw says

            What really amazes me is the “RPGs keep people from learning social skills.” Because spending hours at a time working together with other people to solve problems doesn’t teach any useful social skills.

  13. Elee says

    That would actually be a nightmare-come-true for me, because I lose rings. I like buying them, I have two dozens of them, I even wear now and then some, but to tell a fiance “Oh honey, it is a nice gesture, but are you aware that 1. the big rock looks butt-ugly 2. I will probably wear the ring only once or twice a year, so this was propably the worst investment since pumping money into bad banks and 3. if I happen to wear it, it will probably end up in canalisation and I wouldn’t even be aware of it?” Back to the topic at hand: “It’s just a show is such a strawman-argument.” If it were just a show and as such oh so insignifikant, there wouldn’t be so many people so invested in them. As there are only noble causes worth fighting for. Sometimes the causes are so la la on the scale of importance but nontheless make our lives better and richer.

  14. SunlessNick says

    Mental illness is another facet I’d add to this. The equivalence given with poor character or morals, or weakness, or stupidity, or wackiness. The idea that it can be cured simply by deciding that it should be, and making the effort of will.

    More specifically, the idea that depression can be cured just by deciding to do stuff, or that it can’t really be depression if you ever even once have a good day.

    • says

      Yeah, the idea of depression as a plastic, chemically fluctuating state doesn’t occur to people who haven’t gone through it themselves, or sometimes if they’ve seen a loved one go through it. Even situational depression, people tell you to just suck it up, move on with your life, etc. and everything will be better, because apparently we live in a world without far-reaching repercussions to anything at all ever.

      • says

        More sadly, a world wherein people absolve themselves of having to show genuine compassion to others by pelting them with platitudes. :(

  15. Jen says

    Also, the issue isn’t even whether we can prove that pop-culture is a ‘dangerous’ or even and ‘influential’ force. Cos while we do all that research and analysis, the discussion usually gets derailed; which is what the TROLL wants, clearly.

    The issue is whether it is OVER REACTING to write a critique, type a blog, make a video or have a little rant about a pervasive or at least heavily consumed thing such as ‘pop-culture’. Which it, of course, is not.

    I think it is a derailing tactic: to create a straw-(wo)man whose blogs are MORE influential or more real or more harmful than pop-culture. In creating this straw-man, the status-quo loving troll can ignore power structures; putting what a blogger says on a par with what an internationally syndicated TV show character says (or even above).

    It’s like attacking a homeless person for saying ‘I hate the government’ but turning a blind eye when the president says ‘I hate homeless people’.

  16. The Other Patrick says

    Are any of you planning on writing about “Nikita”? I’d love to share my thoughts, but if there’s a post upcoming, I’ll wait for the comment section there.

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