Problematizing Our Faves


BY Shanna Bowie

In this day and age, we know so much about our celebrities. Their accessibility is what makes them both appealing and easy fodder for ridicule. One of the biggest problems with our celebrity saturated culture is that it becomes hard to divorce the person from the character they play or the music they make. So what do you do when Robert Downey Jr. says something that would make even Tony Stark cringe?

The rise of the problematic fave means navigating how to be a critical fan in a time when it’s more likely that your fave will be problematic. And there’s levels to this ish. Recently, Amy Poehler came under fire because the show she executive produces, Difficult People, made a joke about R. Kelly peeing on Blue Ivy Carter. For some this was just the tip of the side-eye since she’s been called out for being problematic in the past. But for her fans it feels like there’s a choice to make. Do you defend Amy Poehler’s right to make a joke, no matter how insensitive, at the expense of a toddler or do you call out your fave for being in the wrong?

This is the thing, I never want to be an uncritical fan. I can rock with a lot but I never want my love as a fan to be based on whether or not the celebrity that I love (or show or book or author) can say or do anything and I’ll still love them regardless. The truth is that everyone has a line and you can like, love or fan out for someone but also step away or call them out if they cross that line. It doesn’t make you “too sensitive” or “too PC” if you can’t help but look at Anthony Mackie sideways after that “get daddy a sandwich” crack or if you vowed never to buy another John Mayer CD after he talked about having a racist dick. And you can continue to be a fan of someone who is problematic. I think part of being a true fan is acknowledging that your fave is a person, they won’t always be perfect and saying I’m still a fan but this is a place where I think you can do better rather than turning a blind eye to your fave’s shortcomings.

It’s easy to jump on the bandwagon to hate or love a celebrity but when you love them it’s harder to jump off and look critically at what they’re doing. Maybe you’re someone who always wants to keep the work separate from the person, or maybe you have a list of non-negotiables that will make you walk away such as pedophilia and rape (guess who I’m referring to there. No really guess there’s a ton of names). Maybe you don’t want to give up on Joss Whedon because his feminism is one-dimensional or maybe you still have faith that Katy Perry won’t appropriate a new culture in her next video (spoiler alert: she probably already has). Either way, being a fan means navigating where your line is and sometimes it means taking a step back when others have hit their line and letting them vent because we’re all learning and unlearning things and we’re all pretty problematic.


Note: Some of these examples were some of my own problematic faves. The ones who weren’t are horrible and I can’t believe you’re a fan of that guy. 😉