McCarthy: Openly discussing shortcomings in the people we admire

Your fave might be problematic, but you don’t have to be.

by Kate McCarthy

Do you remember when you found out that there are entire websites and blogs devoted to the phrase “your fave is problematic?” 

These “Aha!” moments of realization can range from seeing a dug up childhood photo of your favorite (white) celeb sporting cornrows on a tropical vacation, to the panic upon finding that most of the TV shows or movies you loved slip in casual uses of words like “tranny.” But the very nature of the phrase “your fave is problematic” suggests just that — though they may have messed up, big or small, you still guiltily love and have a bond with them. What does it mean to be a sort of reformed fan of problematic faves?

Only a few weeks ago, Taylor Swift dropped some new music, receiving uproar of all kinds. Swift detractors and lovers alike had something to say. I have never been a follower of Swift, but after poking around online, I got the sense that the overwhelming narrative was, as usual, that Swift was making tone-deaf moves and needed to “take a seat.” 

Curious for perspective, I texted an old best friend from high school for thoughts. This friend presented a classic problematic fave scenario: she is an incredibly intelligent, progressive and well-read college student who routinely educates herself and others through awareness of her own privilege as it stands in a failing capitalistic society … who secretly loves Taylor Swift. She was among the first of our high school friends to know of the Black Lives Matter movement, but still screams when Swift releases new music. It is a guilty pleasure dynamic that you nurse gently and fully acknowledge. My friend responded to me with several lengthy texts — all very thoughtful and considerate of every angle, never shying away from pointing out the flaws in her secret favorite singer. We ended up speaking at length, questioning and exchanging ideas. The process of being a wary fan gave way to more challenging conversation. Your fave may be problematic, but it is possible to recognize that and begin an important discussion of race, class, sex, gender or privilege. 

Like most 20-year-old white women, I have a major Tina Fey thing. I have been a high school nerd crying and laughing while watching 30 Rock, and I have been a college woman watching the show with boys I have dated. Tina Fey and her work has affected much of my young life. Looking back specifically at 30 Rock, the show has been a marker for my development. As a younger viewer, I liked a lot of the sillier, absurd jokes and generally the stuff that Tracy says. Then as I got older, I knowingly chuckled at the jabs to our interwoven government and corporations, and still at a lot of Tracy stuff. Now I watch the show and spot icky moments of problematic comedy, while still laughing at the witty writing, character dynamics and portrayal of New York City. 

None of us lives in a bubble of exclusively perfect favorites — virtually everyone has messed up at some point. I don’t have to pretend that I hate 30 Rock and always have. It’s imperfect, but a part of what shaped me, for good and for bad, and I think it’s important to acknowledge and then explore that. When your fave is problematic, it is an invitation to grow.