Instead of Spotlight Sunday, today I want to talk a little bit about the word “problematic,” as regards the publishing industry and Book Twitter.
I struggle with using this word as a descriptor when speaking out about harmful content.
When it was originally adapted to use for discussion and call outs, it was very clearly meant in a way to indicate “this book/series/story/etc contains material that is harmful, offensive, and at times, dangerous for readers.” Notable examples are the multitude of Nazi apologism stories, novels like The Continent that employ the White Savior narrative while black and indigenous characters are pitted as vicious aggressors, books with queer main characters that features a romance between an openly queer person and the person who victimized them (usually because the bully themselves was so deeply in the closet they had to lash out), and a plethora of other narratives and themes.
I believe in call out culture. I believe that these harmful narratives need to be dragged kicking and screaming to the attention of as many people as possible so that there can be some kind of change (or at the very least, so we know who to avoid within the industry).
But a result of call out culture is the development of “buzzwords.” Words or phrases that, after a while, few people take seriously anymore. They lose their meaning. And I think that’s what’s happened with the word “problematic.” Now when people see that word, there is less of “wow this book has a lot of issues that need to be taken care of and fixed” and more of “here come the SJWs again, out to ruin something else.” The latter is in no way the goal, but that’s where we’re at. The word “problematic” is almost more a term used for ridicule than cause for concern and attention.
I don’t know what the solution to this is, if there even is one. Maybe it’s as simple as finding a new term to use. Maybe it’s finding a way to redirect the meaning to the original intention. I don’t really even know if there’s a point to this post other than me rambling, but I do think this is something we need to be conscientious of and work on.