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Media and Social Justice 101: How to Critique Responsibly

This is the final installment of the three-part series that is Media and Social Justice 101. There are a ton of things to cover in this topic, but hopefully this series is helpful if you’re looking for an introductory resource. Now before I send you off into the Internet, please have the following in mind if your aim is to discuss these things responsibly. This cheat sheet will effectively demonstrate how to not be a jackass.

For Part 1 of this series: How to Consume Responsibly

For Part 2 of this series: How to Create Responsibly

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Divorce yourself from the idea that you love this media

The amount of love that you have for something is 100% irrelevant in this conversation. You may love it, but it still has problems that mean something. Are you unsure about whether it has problems? Please go back and read the other two parts of this three-part series and come back. But the shorthand version is that yes, it has problems. And what we’re doing when we’re critiquing media is talking about those problems and putting those problems on the forefront of the conversation. When you can’t let go of how much you love a piece of media, you run the risk of going into a critique with blinders on, and defending what are probably legitimate issues. It actually puts you at a disadvantage in this conversation.


Derailing comes in a lot of different forms. Some of the most basic examples of derailing come in the form of denial or dismissal (“As a man, I’ve never witnessed any other man cat call a woman”), deflection (“This conversation is stupid and immature anyway!”), the tone argument (“You’re not going to convince anyone like that”), demanding education (“If you don’t want to explain it to me, how will I learn?”), the What-About-The-Privileged argument (“Well men have to live up to beauty standards too!), and special snowflaking (“I’m Asian and I don’t think this is racist!”).

Some more advanced derailing comes in the form of making accusations that aren’t present in the conversation (“Being part of the PC police and all, you’re probably not a fan of Cards Against Humanity”), spouting rhetorical fallacies meaninglessly (like this woman who does so while pretending it can stand on its own as an argument), oppression Olympics, which ignores intersectionality and turns oppression into a competition, magical intentions (“I never meant to hurt anyone by telling you to make me a sandwich!”).

Note: the examples listed above are all responses I’ve received while making an argument. They were extremely irrelevant. Derailing often works to bait the conversation away toward something that was not previously being discussed. DON’T DO IT. Know when your experience is relevant, and when you have no expertise or place on giving your input. And for a FULL list of derailing and all its forms, check out the Geek Feminism Wikia on “Silencing Tactics.”

Fear of confrontation

People who are afraid of confrontation will often try to defuse a debate in two ways: Finding “middle ground,” or saying that both sides are wrong. This is awful to do for three reasons. The first reason is that you are a weenie. The second is that you’re not doing it because you actually care about the issue or the ramifications it has on the world. You’re doing it to avoid participating in the argument (see Reason 1), all the while pretending you have everyone’s best interests at heart. This is disingenuous and not helpful. You don’t have everyone’s best interests at heart. You just want to look diplomatic and not like a weenie.

Third, and most importantly: When you find the supposed “middle ground,” or say that there is a problem with “both sides,” you are not only assuming that there are only two sides, but you’re also creating a false sense of equality. You’re ignoring the fact that there are power structures in the works, and making it seem like these two things would totally be able to work out their conflicts if they just found a middle ground like you did. You have a hand in creating and enforcing an illusion. You see this in any Israel/Palestine argument (“Israel and Palestine should take responsibility for innocent people who have been hurt”), arguments about whether creationism should be taught in schools (“students should hear both sides, the real side and the fake side”) discussions about police brutality (“the general societal attitude towards cops and the police system has the potential to aggravate the problems that be”), or any discussion about any protest (“if the protestors could only articulate exactly what they want and lay out a full-proof plan, then I’d support them”).

Don’t try to “win” on a semantic argument

Generally speaking, this makes you a dick and it means you aren’t understanding the whole picture. You’re trying to outwit the other person on a technicality. One of the most egregious examples of this was someone who looked up the definition of “racist” in the dictionary (“a person who believes that a particular race is superior to another”) so he could explain that his racist comment didn’t convey precisely the dictionary definition of racism, and therefore his joke about black people and AIDS and food stamps was evidence of him being a tolerant and racially sensitive person. I wish I could say I was joking about this.


I really don’t want to explain privilege here because it’s another thing that’s so 101, I wasn’t sure whether to include it. The reason for why you want to keep privilege in mind while in an argument is because if you’re of a privileged group, you benefit from society and have blind spots to experiences from people who are at a disadvantage due to societal biases. “Check your privilege” is quickly becoming a phrase that doesn’t mean anything (people make fun of the phrase, or start sentences with “I know I’m privileged, but”). I’ve read a good argument that checking your privilege is not an action, but a stopping of an action. A refusal to acknowledge these power differences and systems as legitimate. Learning to think outside the status quo is like flipping a switch, but that flipping the switch can be an incredibly long and tough process. Learn how to recognize it, understand the way it works. It’s the first step in actually being an empathetic human being.


5 thoughts on “Media and Social Justice 101: How to Critique Responsibly

  1. Pingback: Media and Social Justice 101: How to Consume Responsibly | Be Young & Shut Up

  2. Pingback: Media and Social Justice 101: How to Create Responsibly | Be Young & Shut Up

  3. Pingback: link farm #8: essay binge | massive hassle

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