Tumblr, Fans and Media Analysis: Part 2

So maybe in my last post I was being a little unfair to TV Tropes and all the people who use it. After all, it’s not necessarily being used for media analysis. Some people just like categorizing things.

Let’s move on to something a bit different. The fans I want to talk about today have some idea of what analysis is and how to do it, but their worldview is, shall we say … limited.

Most of these fans are coming from a unique website: a site where identity is the first and foremost thing listed in your profile. You are judged solely on your gender, race, sexual orientation, class, religion … no, it’s not a hate site. It’s Tumblr.

Oh, Tumblr. This isn’t the first time I’ve talked about it, and it won’t be the last. I have an account there myself. So the first thing I want to say is NOT ALL TUMBLR USERS.

OK? OK. Let’s move on.

Tumblr is rather infamous for its strong and active social justice community. These are people spreading information about the marginalized and the oppressed, doing all they can to give their communities a voice. This has carried into the Tumblr fandom, where a lot of their focus lies in critiquing media in terms of minority representation.

tumblr_n67jpkl9jL1ryeto5o1_400To me, this is 100 percent a good thing, at least in theory. I have strong feelings about women in media myself and occasionally participate in feminist discussions revolving around video games (I can’t believe I just typed that sentence with a straight face). But I have training in literary analysis and that’s how I approach things. Tumblr most often does not.

To many, the foremost reason for appreciating a work—in fact, the only reason—is how “progressive” it is compared to others in its genre. Or, well, anything.

tumblr_m768xq4LlA1rp5jfvo1_400I told you already I have an account on Tumblr, and I see this all the time: a post spreads around detailing a lesser-known new movie, or video game, or TV show. “It has all-female leads!” The post announces. “It was written/directed by a person of color!” Or, “It has LGBT characters played by actual LGBT people!”

That’s great! So is it any good?

“Well, it has this and this in it, so of course it’s good!”

No, I mean, is it good as a piece of media? How does it look? How is the writing, the directing, the acting? How is the gameplay? What makes it special?

This frustrates me quite a bit.

I see most often two basic assumptions: one, a work with more minority representation is inherently better than one without; two, that particular Tumblr user is the one to define what that means. And what it usually means is what they like is more feminist, less racist, and more supportive of gay rights than what other people like.

It’s an easy trap to fall into. A lot of Tumblr users are teenagers who are just starting to learn of the world around them, and they want to find a cause they believe in. They want to support feminism! So that TV show with the female characters they like, the ones who are cool and fight a lot, that’s feminist! Never mind that below-surface streak of sexism that they could detect with, say, some background in literary analysis.

tumblr-user-agesI would rather not get into specific examples, because we’d be here all day. I just want to emphasize that it’s OK for them to like that show. People’s tastes are totally subjective, and I admit to enjoying a lot of things with ideas and messages I find reprehensible (As long as you acknowledge that it’s reprehensible instead of denying there could be a single thing wrong with it).

But sometimes, a feminist critique is not the best way to approach something. Or a race critique, or whatever. Tumblr, there are so many other ways to approach media analysis. So many! I mean, I’m not encouraging people to go into the academic echo chamber and write jargon-y papers that can only be understood by people with a Ph.D. in literature, but there is something in approaching things from an academic standpoint.

I guess people want to write about the things they’re passionate about. But you have to remember the other things in life, too. Tumblr is not the world. The internet is not the world.

Next week, for the final part of this series, I’ll be talking about an offense that even I admit to being guilty of. Something that predates the internet, and has probably been around as long as fandom has existed.

See you then.