Am I Still Allowed to Like Things in Trump's America?
So my boyfriend and I have a system. At any given time, we’re rotating between three streaming TV shows—“his show,” “my show,” and, of course, The Great British Baking Show. Depending on what we’re in the mood for, or whose “turn” it is at the helm (although I’ll admit he’s much more generous and flexible with sacrificing control of Netflix than I am), we choose from among the three each night. It’s a good system—we each get to watch a little of what we want, and be introduced to a new show that someone we love, loves.
But recently, we’ve been watching less and less of “his shows,” likely as a direct result of my inability to refrain from commentary while we “Netflix and chill.” We tried to watch “Curb Your Enthusiasm” but I couldn’t get over how women were objectified in the show, or how much Larry David seemed to hate his wife. We started season one of “Silicon Valley” but the lack of representation, the misogyny and the fact that the characters’ behavior mirroring that of people on the autism spectrum seemed to be the butt of every joke made me immediately dislike it.
I don’t mean to suggest that my personal favorite shows are faultless. Dramas from the early aughts are my television of choice, and they are not beyond reproach; characters are constantly making homophobic or racist jokes that absolutely would not be considered “politically correct” today. Even “The West Wing,” a show beloved across generations for offering an aspirational view of a better politics, has its shortcomings. Why isn’t Donna respected as the intelligent and capable woman she is? Why isn’t she ever promoted? Why does everything happen on Josh’s terms? And why aren’t Aaron Sorkin’s minority characters strong in their own right, but rather admirable because of how well they exemplify traditionally white and male characteristics?
I’ve been reflecting on this question a lot recently (out of concern for the health of my relationship, honestly, but then for more philosophical reasons): Am I still allowed to like things in Trump’s America? If you ask anyone who knew me in high school or college, they’ll confirm that I’ve never been quiet about things that bother me. In most cases, you don’t need to ask for my opinion—I’ll offer it unsolicited. But is there any value in pointing out the misogyny in my boyfriend’s favorite shows? Why should he be made to feel bad about things that bring him joy? Why should I?
I do think all of us have an obligation to be critical of the media we consume, because it is likely that media influences our behaviors and preconceptions. It is also a moral good, on balance, to speak truth to power and even to the people we love. It feels like a greater sin in the Trump era to ignore things we consider problematic—it feels like we are actively making the world worse if we are not actively making it better. Like we are complicit.
But few television shows, or books, or songs on the radio—or politicians or public servants, for that matter—are perfect, and feeling guilty about finding joy is tiresome. In an era where many people’s lives are becoming defined by politics and activism, don’t we deserve a respite? (I know that desire is one rooted in privilege—some people don’t have the opportunity for a respite, in any aspect of their lives.) But I don’t think it’s making my boyfriend a better person or a better feminist if I sour him on Curb Your Enthusiasm; I think he’s already a wonderful person, now with one less avenue to find happiness. I don’t want to deprive him of those pockets of peace in his life, and I’m not sure it accomplishes anything. I think it just makes us tired, and that in itself is dangerous. There’s so much more work to be done, work that feels more important than splitting hairs over Netflix dialogue.