Hello! I was wondering: how do you tell when criticism of a controversial/mediocre/problematic work is misogynistic or racist? I remember that when The Force Awakens and the Ghostbusters reboot came out, there was a lot of controversy between people panning the films, defenders claiming the criticism was prejudiced, and people criticizing the films for blatantly prejudiced reasons. Are there ways to tell whether criticism of a story is valid or not, especially when the detractor doesn’t use obviously prejudiced terms, or is it impossible to tell sometimes?
Thank you very much for your time and attention. I love your website.
Hey Quick, thanks for writing in!
We actually have two posts that address this very concern!
As you might imagine, this is a complicated question that doesn’t have a single answer. Sometimes it’s obvious. If a critic is throwing out slurs in in their review of Star Trek: Discovery or calling Captain Marvel a bitch, you can safely write off their take. But as you pointed out, it’s often more subtle than that. More complex still, often these big budget Hollywood productions have legitimate problems that are worth critiquing.
The main thing I look for is critique fairness. Like, if a reviewer has a problem with the fight scenes in Captain Marvel, do they acknowledge that nearly every MCU film has the same problem, or is it only a problem when Carol Danvers is doing it? If someone wants to critique the bad technobabble of Discovery, do they know that Star Trek in general has always had a similar issue, or do they think it just started now that there’s a Black woman lead?
From the critic side of things, it’s important to consider the optics of what you’re saying. It’s not always enough to be technically correct; you also have to consider the context. Whenever I critique the latest incarnation of Star Trek or Star Wars, I’m always careful to mention that most of these problems are not new, and we shouldn’t pretend like they are. Of course, no matter how conscientious you are, some fanragers will still reach for social justice language to dismiss legitimate critique of a story they like. This is annoying, but the best strategy is to ignore it. Be responsible, say what needs to be said, and don’t engage with people who insist you must be a bigot if you didn’t like their favorite show’s epic finale.
Hope that answers your question!