Critiquing media is our resistance

Enjoyment without critique is ignorant

English class tends to bury the lede.

There are well-settled questions within the realm of spelling, syntax and synonyms that make up the purpose of English Language Arts: What does it say? What does it mean? Why does it matter? These questions were  childhood companions, featured on posters within English classrooms. But like other components of childhood, we may appreciate their significance more with every passing year.

The questions affirm our moral obligation to critique the media we choose to consume, including television, movies and books. Critiquing media is vital to the fabric of democracy. It is our method to build resistance to propaganda and corruption. By critiquing narratives, we position ourselves to think critically, and we are compelled to support others in peril.

Conversely, enjoying media fulfils us and offers an escape for our souls. Thankfully, it is not necessary to avoid this enjoyment. As consumers, we may not have immediate control of the narratives that we are told. Yet by critiquing and enjoying media, we can command what we internalize from the narratives, which can amplify our satisfaction with the media. For example, we can revel in Game of Thrones’ fantastical elements while condemning its horrific depictions of violence against women.

However, the problems develop when our enjoyment is not coupled with critique. That becomes blissful ignorance. Simply put, if something is questionable, we must question it.

The film In the Heights received praise for capturing the Latinx experience with refreshing authenticity. Still, the film faced backlash due to its erasure of Afro-Latinos who occupy Washington Heights in real life. The backlash generated an important discussion about colourism that can inform future Latinx media. Without that critique, we could have accepted the film as a win for Latinx people without tackling its nuances.

Critiquing media in this isolated way can be useful, but we must also confront the narrative skeletons stacked up in our closets. The more often we see a narrative, the more familiar we become with it, and the more it informs our worldview.

With Apu from The Simpsons, Ravi from Jessie and Raj from The Big Bang Theory primarily representing Indian people on Western television over the years, how can people’s perception of Indian people be nuanced?

These are caricatures that, internalized over time, give people a false confidence that they know what Indian people are like. Thus, while enjoying this media, we must grapple with the understanding that we deserve better than rinse-and-repeat traditions.

These examples show that we must conduct overall critiques of the narratives and caricatures we are presented. However, I propose that we also critique individual characters and hold them to a high moral standard. We tend to idolize some characters and actively hate on others.

But what if we evaluate all of them with the principles of today, treating it as practice for the arena of life? Alice Cullen was beloved in Twilight for her easygoing demeanour and charming approach to life.

Yet, a brief evaluation of her actions reminds us of racism towards the Quileute shapeshifters and her inability to respect Bella’s boundaries. If we cannot critically examine our favourite waifish vampire girl, how will we oppose her attitudes when someone displays them in real life? The approach I am describing may feel daunting or extreme. Critique and nuance occupy a lot of brainpower, so must we do this all the time? The answer is yes, it is the least we can do.

You know what is truly daunting and extreme? In the hellish political climate of March 2024, Meta created a new setting on Instagram requiring users to opt into suggestions for political content from accounts they do not follow. This decision follows Meta banning content from Canadian news sources, which has been in effect since August 2023 as a response to Bill C-18.

The action taken by Meta  on Instagram limits our ability to engage critically on its platforms. We must train ourselves to resist these dystopian decisions by engaging critically in the critique of media. The choice to engage is a luxury most cannot afford. Thus, we must sooner exhaust ourselves with action than forsake our humanity under the guise of comfort.

If you feel overwhelmed by this responsibility, you can always refer to our three questions from English class. What does it say? We must critique media. What does it mean? We must confront the narratives and characters in the media presented by streaming services, television networks and publishers. Why does it matter? It matters because media is our vessel for messages. Without examining it, we allow narratives to define us as they are presented.

In 2024, critique is our resistance to a dystopian nightmare.