Discussion: Problematic Content & What To Do About It

Problematic content, we probably all have gotten in touch with it. Whether it was the problematic love story of Twilight (which I still haven’t read btw) or the problematic representation of a certain sexuality or the constantly killing of characters of color, problematic content is everywhere. Most people probably don’t even notice that it’s problematic and that is exactly what makes it even more problematic.

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What is problematic content and why is it problematic?

If you’re a little vague on the whole idea of “problematic content”, that is because it is vague. And I think it should be vague because basically, anything can be problematic. If it gives people the wrong idea about something, it’s problematic. If the main character says it’s okay that someone kills themselves, it’s problematic (*cough* Solitaire *cough*). If the only person of color is killed off in the first 10 minutes of the movie, it’s problematic (*cough* Jurassic Park 3 *cough*). If abuse is romanticised, it’s problematic (*cough* 50 Shades of Grey *cough*). There are so many ways in which a book or movie can give out the wrong idea, and those ideas influence our own ideas.

The most important issue with problematic content is, if you ask me, that most people won’t notice it. In the world of readers and watchers, only a very small amount of people are aware of these issues that arise. There are many readers that have never even heard of the term “diversity”, just because they’ve never gotten in contact with it. The same goes for many of the issues in books. I mean, a lot of the “regular readers” as I dub people who read but are not part of the online community to keep this simple, have figured out by now that the fact that an hundred-something-year-old vampire staring at a sleeping teenager is not an okay thing. But, for the most part, problematic content is only gaining awareness in the online bookish community.

If I would ask my friend, who is a “regular reader”, to tell me what she thinks of Carve The Mark after reading it, I think there would be a very small chance she’d say something along the lines of “the representation of POC as the inferior race is problematic”. And that has nothing to do with the fact that my friend would be dumb or racist. She just wouldn’t have noticed. The same would go for so many of the readers in this world.

[note: I’m not saying that “regular readers” are lesser readers. Not at all! You read? = You’re awesome]

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Is it okay to like problematic books/movies?

The thing that inspired this discussion was actually a movie and not a book but I’m talking mainly about books in this discussion. I don’t even know what the movie was called, I just know it had the worst mental health trope (you know, the one in which falling in love fixes the main character’s OCD) and the love interest was a manipulative ass (he just pushed himself on her even though she clearly wasn’t ready or interested). And the thing was, my friends enjoyed it, even I enjoyed it. Even though it has some strong issues.

This has lead me to question: is it okay to read/watch and enjoy problematic books and movies? If a book or movie gives out all the wrong ideas, is it still okay to like it? Or should we condone them to the bottom drawer, destined to never see the daylight again? (honestly, so many things in my bottom drawer almost never see the daylight, I’m not even sure what’s in there).

I think that, after some consideration, I have found the answer. I think it is okay to read and like a problematic book. BUT, I think it’s our duty and only common sense as fervent readers, to be aware of the problems a book has and to share this with others. As book bloggers, booktubers, bookstagrammers and book-anythings, we have a lot of influence on the publishers, writers, and readers of the world. If we as a community get together and share our problems, then changes can be made.

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The downside & how to do it right

There is also a downside to online awareness, often, I think, things get a life of its own. Problematic books are discussed online, but sometimes, people assume something is problematic, and don’t do the research themselves. I remember once talking to someone on twitter (I’m not naming people) who said something was problematic about a book. I asked them, what is problematic about it? And they replied with, something vague and saying that they haven’t read it. And I wondered, how can you judge something, if you haven’t read it?

[note: if you were this person or you’ve done the same, I’m not trying to make you feel bad. I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings.]

I think that there should be a line between reading something and finding it problematic, and hearing about something and portraying it as problematic. Have your sources. If your point of view is based off something you haven’t read, then, make sure to at least check with people who did read it. Before saying something is problematic and possibly causing a major upheave, makes sure it actually is problematic. It might seem like common sense, but apparently, it isn’t.

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In a sea of problematic books (or presumably problematic books), you might get a little lost: what can I read? Well, technically, you can read anything you want. But if people have talked about problems in the book, be aware of it and don’t just shove it off as if it doesn’t matter. I think we, as avid readers, can really make a difference in the bookish world and we should take that opportunity to give well-grounded feedback about what is problematic about something. Don’t just read a synopsis and decide it is problematic. Base it off facts and check with others what they think.

What do you think we can do about problematic books? Do you always hate a book that is problematic? Or do you have such flawed favourites, that have problematic content but you love them nonetheless? What was the last book you read that made you shudder from how problematic it was?

14 thoughts on “Discussion: Problematic Content & What To Do About It

  1. I agree with everything you said here. I think it is okay to love a book or movie that is problematic as long as you are aware of the problems and don’t ignore them. For example, I obviously adore Harry Potter but I also wish there was more diversity. I will admit that I enjoy Twilight but I am not blind to the many issues!

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  2. I definitely think that it is necessary to read / experience books for yourself before you’re able to label something as problematic. It can be hard to know whether the reviewer who is claiming that the book is problematic has personal biases / a grudge against the author / a personal vendetta that they’re trying to enforce in their review. Especially if you hadn’t heard of them prior to this review!

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  3. I wholeheartedly agree with everything you said here. I have been more and more involved with noticing problematic content in books. Being aware of it as both a reader and as a potential reader.
    I think reading what you want is perfectly fine, however, I believe that in essence we should all be critical about what we consume in our daily lives and practice sympathy and empathy for others and think twice.

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  4. As you said problematic is personal. Walking without veil is not a problem for me but would be for someone else. Not talking about problematic books or things won’t make them disappear or not exist. Staying silent about some things can even give power to said things. Speaking about them allow us to get some perspective. What wa have to do is remain critic and not get manipulated. It’s our inner moral compass.

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  5. I completely agree. Before I started my blog I didn’t even think about problematic content all that much. I’d have the occasional thought when reading and that would be it. But reading what other bloggers have said has opened my eyes quite a bit. I still don’t think I’m as aware as I’d like to be but blogs are a great place to improve awareness! I’ve been put off reading books because of problematic content in the past but I don’t like to discuss a book if I haven’t read it. Great post!

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  6. I agree that people can still enjoy a book if it contains problematic content.

    However, about not reading a book because of problematic content – I’ve read some reviews and heard a lot of criticism about “Carve the Mark” having problematic content in it so I just chose not to read it (plus it doesn’t sound like something I’d enjoy to begin with), but I’m still standing by that decision because if a book is racist, but the author doesn’t think it is (is this making sense???) then I don’t think we should be promoting it as a good read or whatever… because then it subtlety promotes racial microaggressions to teenagers who are reading this book and I don’t think that’s something we should encourage…

    But then again I always encourage people to think for themselves and form their own conclusions sooo I dunno! It’s all problematic! LOL!

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    1. I also choose not to read Carve the Mark, partially because of the problematic content but also that I think the book just isn’t for me. Yes definitely, if an author unknowingly writes something problematic, it is in a way okay. But if the author still stands with it, after people said it was problematic, it’s not!

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  7. I think it’s okay to like something problematic as long as you don’t defend it’s problematic aspects. I watched a movie a few days ago that I really enjoyed, but I found something in it to be problematic. There was an asian character and I guessed he’d be the first to die… and he was. But, his death was just so stupid and only caused as motivation for the other characters to realize just how serious the situation they were in was.

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    1. Oh yes definitely! Defending problematic aspects is really not okay. I hate it when they kill off not-white characters, it’s so stupid. Like, why can’t the annoying white person die instead of the cool POC character??

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