With the recent release of the very controversial Blonde (2022) which has created waves of discourse among film reviewers and watchers alike, there was one particular tweet which inspired me to write this post. Many people have been divided by their thoughts on the film, either loving and appreciating the beauty of its artistic style, or absolutely despising the exploitative and sexist approach to Marilyn’s story. This one Twitter conversation I read regarding Blonde went a little something like this: someone who said they enjoyed the film was met with unkind responses that targeted them as a whole. There were comments along the lines of “if you enjoy a movie like that you must be sexist too”, “you must be a terrible person to like something like that”, and “no one should be watching this movie!” For liking a film that has been deemed controversial, this person was being completely bashed just for sharing their opinion. This got me thinking, is it okay to enjoy problematic media?

My short answer? Yes, it’s okay. It is very difficult to find a piece of media in today’s world that doesn’t have its share of faults or flaws. That being said, this is certainly a complicated question because while I don’t think it’s bad for people to enjoy problematic media, I definitely think there’s a right and wrong way to handle it. One Twitter user mentioned that films are sometimes meant to be problematic and that it can open our eyes to relevant issues, allowing us to critique them. For the most part, I do agree with this statement and I think it’s totally acceptable to enjoy something that is controversial while also fully acknowledging its faults.

Let’s take a look at Blonde for example. If you read my recent review on the movie, you’ll remember me saying that I found it to be demeaning in its portrayal of Marilyn and every bit as exploitative as I feared it would be. So no, long story short, I did not enjoy the film and that’s my own personal opinion. Was it because of the problematic themes? Well, for me it definitely play a part in why I disliked the film. In my perspective, it simply overshadowed everything else. But I’ve also read a plethora of reviews by individuals who did like the film and appreciated its chaotic beauty despite the polarizing plot. I may disagree, but that’s their opinion and I respect the commentary they’re offering. It’s important to remember that enjoying films is a subjective experience and we have to be open to the possibility that people will like things that we don’t. After all, our unique experiences shape how we see things differently from one another. And it’s not like they’re screaming to the world that they support sexism and self-destruction, they just saw the movie in a way that worked for them.

And that kind of leads us to a big issue regarding my question, “is it okay to enjoy problematic media?”. Living in a rather sensitive climate, I feel that people often struggle to differentiate between enjoying problematic media and agreeing with it. Just because some reviewers liked Blonde, doesn’t mean they stand behind the sexist and traumatic themes. You can’t judge someone’s character so easily like that. Liking a piece of troublesome media doesn’t mean you believe and value those issues too. So let’s not be rude and say mean things about other people so quickly, okay?

I’d now like to take the time to share one of my own experiences dealing with problematic media. When I was in my second year of university, I took a social justice course as an elective and about halfway through the semester, my professor announced we would be watching a film and analyzing it. She called it: “the worst movie ever made”. Do you have any guesses as it what that movie might be? It was in fact, the highly popular James Cameron film, Avatar (2009). Having only watched it the one time prior to this class, I remembered having an overall positive experience of the film. No, it’s not amazing by any means, but I remembered finding it entertaining and having some fantastic visuals. After hearing what my professor had to say about this movie, it certainly opened my eyes and allowed me to critique Avatar (2009) in a new light. In all honesty, it’s a fairly problematic movie – not only is there a strong focus on white saviourism, there’s an over-sexualization of female characters and the Na’vi people who are indigenous to Pandora were very stereotypically depicted as wild, violent, and animalistic. As I rewatched this movie with this new perspective, I struggled with the fact that I was, well, still enjoying the movie. My professor was so adamant about making us hate this movie that I almost felt guilty for still liking it. I saw all the problems, so why did I? And I think this is where I came to have an understanding of what it means to like problematic media. I grew to realize that these issues didn’t have to completely destroy my experience of a movie, as long as I could understand the issues and the problems that lie within it. I happily share these criticisms with friends when and if ever Avatar (2009) comes up in conversation, and because of that, they’re learning too. While I definitely see the issues involved with this film, I still appreciate the grand spectacle of the fictional world and some of the other more positive themes being explored.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s okay to feel guilty about enjoying a piece of problematic media. If anything, it shows you have an awareness of the implications those issues may have. And really, it depends from person to person. We all have a different tolerance level and based on our personal experiences, there may be some things we’re willing to tolerate more than others. The most important thing though? Remember to be respectful of others. If someone is truly uncomfortable with a piece of problematic media, don’t press it and force your opinion.

Thanks for reading my opinion piece and because I know this may be a bit of a controversial topic, I’m hoping I managed to get my message across very clearly. I’d love for you to share your thoughts (you don’t have to agree with me 100%!) in the comments below where we can have an open and respectful discussion 🙂 Is this something you’ve thought about before? How do you feel about the topic?