On Pedestals (It Will Make Sense, I Swear)

I love media. Whether it is movies, television, books, comics, video games, music, or anything outside of the known spectrum, I will probably consume and engage with it. Seriously, my Netflix queue never seems to dwindle. The same can be said of my Hulu and Amazon Prime accounts. I am constantly begging friends and random strangers for music recommendations. My phone and iPod also apparently have an ever growing list of podcasts that I must hear. Basically, if it is entertainment, I will check it out.

In my lifelong quest to view as much media as possible, I have come across example and pieces that resonated with me on an emotional and spiritual level that I have trouble expressing my love and attachment to them in words. As well, I have seen, heard, read, and interacted (yeah media can sometimes be weird) with art pieces that I would love to be able to lobotomize from my brain and never mention again.

During my mass consumption of media, I have noticed a disturbing trend in criticism of television and film. There seems to be an unfortunate and annoying  desire to place certain pieces of media on a pedestal and protect them from any disparaging critique. Now, this has always happened to some extent because people will glomp onto things they love and strike out in anger at anyone who would dare speak against their beloved show or movie. However, actual critics and artists/creators now do the same. To some degree this is understandable, particularly for shows and films that have more, or better, minority representation both on and off screen. Diversity in our media is a good thing, but should examples that attempt to bridge that gap be saved from legitimate criticism?

For example, examine the HBO program Girls. It is critically acclaimed and considered a darling of the network, but why? Before continuing on and in the interest of full fairness, Girls has received some criticism but that has been mostly on the lack of non-white characters (a fairly valid critique) and not on the quality of the show itself. Now, the program is not really bad, but it is not as good as one would think considering the amount of acclaim and attention it has received.

I had a long conversation with a friend about this program after having seen the entire first season. (Admittedly, the show does pick up a bit in the second season, but not by much). Basically, I compared the first aired episode of Girls to the first episode of Mad Men. Both critically acclaimed shows centered on broken, unlikeable characters, so they should in theory be comparable in quality. Yet, objectively and subjectively one is very much arguably better than the other. At least, I was able to argue why one was better than the other and it was all about the actual writing and narrative.

In one (Mad Men) every character is well developed through action and characterization. By the end of the first episode, the audience was keenly aware of who each major character was and what some of the major conflict was going to be throughout the series simply through seeing a few days in the lives of these ‘people’. They continued to develop and grow throughout the season. In the other (Girls) characters were literally narrating the personalities of other major character during the first episode. As in, the audience was actually straight up told how and what to think of the people and story they were watching. Really, this is the one show we want to protect and uphold above all criticism?

I get that people want more diversity and better representation in media, but shouldn’t we still desire quality? There are so many better shows and films with, and created by, women, POC, and minorities that deserve attention and the eyes and words of critiques. Frankly, I am going to take my own word and advice and go see some right now. You should too.

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