The 'just switch it off' advice / by Ailsa Fineron


At a fair few points in my life I have been told by various people to just not watch/listen to/consume media that upsets, offends, and/or angers me. And I get it. I don't watch things I find very problematic. I no longer consume media which I know will get to me too much, for my own good. This means that I barely watch any films, porn, tv shows or music videos. I don't expose myself to most adverts, nor do I listen to music I find to be deeply offensive to me. And, as a proponent of equality for everyone in every aspect of their lives, a hell of a lot of this stuff does offend me.

I do, though, think that there are two quite different reasons people have aimed the 'just switch it off' advice at me. The first is for my own good. The person cares for me and doesn't want to see me saddened and angered and generally frustrated at the world after consuming a particularly problematic piece of media. I completely understand where they're coming from, and, in fact, this is where I'm coming from when I decide not to watch a film, not to read that infuriating article or to stop watching Game of Thrones. It's for my own good. Both I, and my friend offering the advice only have my best interests in mind. 

However, the second reason is far more negative. It tends to come from someone who just does not want to hear what I have to say. And, whilst I respect them not wanting to hear, sometimes -when you are in a feminist space for instance- the advice can feel silencing instead of constructive. Here I will try and explain the issues I have with it.

 

Unfortunately (or fortunately- haven't decided which yet) I cannot turn off my 'critical voice' i.e. the part of me that points out the problematic stuff (portrayals of men and women, of violence, racism etc) to the other part of me which is trying to enjoy the -often very good in other respects- piece of media. My point so far is that I don't watch things just so I can get pissed off and rant because I don't enjoy doing that.

However, I do not think 'just switch it off' is a particularly helpful response to someone finding something troublesome, for various reasons.

1. it is not always possible to just 'switch it off'. Though I don't read any 'women's' magazines, I am still inundated with images of women and men representing an extremely narrow ideal of beauty from billboards, buses, music videos playing in shops

2. I feel the 'turn it off' response neglects to acknowledge those who don't have as much autonomy as I do. For instance, children and vulnerable adults. Unfortunately, I think that these people may also be more susceptible to influence from these media than others. Personally, I know that I am still negatively influenced now (mostly in terms of body image) despite being the most confident I've been in my body for a long time.

3. Even if I am not consuming media I find problematic, a lot of people around me are, and lots without questioning it. This means that I still have to deal with some of the consequences of an industry that is, overall, still pretty terrible at representation of people who deviate from white, cis, straight, able man, despite my efforts to distance myself from this industry.

4. Does everyone have the right to be represented without compromise? Why should I, as a biracial woman, have to just switch off offensive media, and get used to/be happy with endless representations of multi-faceted white men, who obviously represent me in some ways, but never in terms of background, gender or appearance. Or, when there are good, complex female characters, have to put up with gratuitous displays of one body type in order to access them.

5. I feel 'just switch it off' ignores the problem. To me, that piece of advice feels like what the person is trying to say is: 'Look. You don't like it. Just don't consume it. You not liking it and the reasons why is not something I should have to deal with as someone who doesn't mind it.' Obviously that's just the feeling I get. But it just reminds me of defences people use in response to racism in music videos & performances (Lily Allan, Katy Perry, Gwen Stefani, Robin Thicke and so on) and also of defences of micro aggressions and smaller examples of sexism with 'just ignore it', 'just don't talk to them anymore'. I don't think it is a valid response and ignores the problem at hand.

 

There you go. I am very interested to hear other people's thoughts. To clarify, I tend to not offer an analysis of something to someone unless they have either: asked for my opinion, or they are a friend and feminist who I regularly discuss these kinds of ideas with and who I know will get pissed off at the sexism/racism instead of me. I completely respect if someone does not want to hear/read my critique. But, as someone pointed out, there is a certain hypocrisy in saying 'just switch it off' to someone finding media problematic, without realising they can also just not read the critique they don't want to know about.