TW: blah, blah, blah.
have you ever woken up and felt like you've just suffered through Theresa May lecturing u for about 29k years on how she's #Girlpower?
yup. that was me a couple weeks back. rocking up to my 'Critically Queer' seminar, a class that was tightly focusing on one of the more rawer, sore words in the english language rn; sex.
everything was problematic in that classroom. we were focusing on queer porn star Scott O'Hara's 'Autopornography', and how when he did blah it was problematic, and when he said blah it was problematic. also, this Leo Bersani, 'Is the Rectum a Grave?' essay was problematic when he suggested blah. honestly, if i had to have a shot of vodka every time someone there said the word 'problematic', you would soon enough see me in a ditch somewhere in salty Soho. G-A-Y L8 leaflet in hand, M&S's to-go red wine glass in the other.
but the word slots nicely into that classroom, as a space situated in an elite(ist) institution, full of white folks abstracting about literally lived experiences, defining and conceptualising things they'll never be able to cross the sympathetic | empathetic threshold into. and as much as our bubbly sem leader can remind us to privilege check (!!!) ourselves, navigating these irl things from our preppy enclave is just unsettling tbh.
often used by People Of A Certain Education™, 'problematic' has emerged as rally cry of a world-view that i would slot myself into. 'problematic' (yh i'm already sick of typing this goddamn word out) in its base meaning, is an adjective to describe something this presents a problem. in its increased application over the years, it's had a context clipped to its usage. becoming a word that is more concerned with describing a situ that, in some way or another, reinforces and re-perpetuates unjust values, beliefs and ideologies. the problematic starter kit includes racism, sexism, homophobia, and abelism, but extends itself to any marganlised or oppressed people and peoples. it doesn't always mean racist / homophobic / etc, but it certainly can when deployed in that way.
tl;dr: problematic = anything that's part of the problem, rather than the solution.
in this circa Tumblr age of knowledge, truths, and speak, academic spaces and those reserved for the general public have blended with the meme filled shitposting of the Tumblr crowd. bringing a language once tethered to a floaty cloud of Butlers and Sedgwicks to the everyday. "male gaze", "erasure", 'discourse" - these were words that i used to only hear spoken in my sociology classes way back in AS. lol @ my lyf choices for choosing that subject. but lol @life, and the ways in which the subjectivities we hold are merely manufactured truths we let ourselves be wrapped into and believe. in other words, many institutions that want to remain operative by limiting us regular folk to prescribed ways to be. they actively work to shape, select and present what things mean, labouring not to reflect the truth, but to represent a framed, slanted truth that'll help them, but not us.
"them" here, can mean all sorts of ppl. white, male, str8, middle-class, cisgendered, english-speakers, being born in a developed place, having higher-education, being charismatic, looking like a model, neuro-typical, common-bodied, holding a (Western) passport, renting or owning a house; the more you can tick, the more privileged you are in most contexts and situs. these aren't privileges you earned or chose, but merely advantages you can occupy and access bc of how the cultural discourses you are located in is oriented. and that's just whack ngl.
i have my own sets of invisibility cloaks / privileges: whiteness, maleness, amongst others. these translate to being able to skate around and ever rly have to worry "will i be harassed on my way home", "will i be flagged up by that white policeman over there" etc etc. these are thoughts that are encountered by certain groups and come to constitute their reserved lived experiences. heck i feel a little queasy even typing out the facts of the conditions that i occupy, a privileged little white boy. but how i feel doesn't compare to the hurts of others that my own privileges work to erase.
when privileges are actualised, it makes those w/ the privileges uncomfortable. bc if a white guy got the job over the black contender, some SJPs will shout "he only got it bc he's ~white~ ya know." no-one likes tfw they realise that their pasty skin is, at least in part, a reason they've achieved something. it's an uncomfortable convo to have with someone, and uncomfortable grade 99+++ when it's directed at a someone who's just said something potentially racist.
'problematic' swoops in as the true MVP of these dialogues, a way to discuss the wider issues of systematic racism that has lead to the constitution of that potentially racist comment, yet also dislodging the convo from the specificity of that debatable racist comment. side-stepping it all, and dodging the hard work of why that comment was racist. i'd say that it being pulled from the Tumblogs to irl, the intention was for it to be a safe, vague word that's not loaded with bad intent (such as outright saying 'racist') that wouldn't hurt anyones feelings and promote civil, smooth debates. instead it's been thrown into forums and chats as a word charged by implications. reconfigured as a word that says "yo pal, u not only said a racist thing, but u r part of the wider problem of racism. u r the enemy of all progress and i, it's moral saviour. educate urself b4 u wreck urself pls and thx xoxox."
the saturation of Fb groups and campuses of this word is a blessing and a curse. it's crazy to think that we live in an age that's becoming self-aware in our own warped and indoctrinated reflexivities and how we're not rly all in this together @David_Cameron. language has no relation to the outside world. it's a system we've carved out for ourself to understand and pattern the meaningless place we've been cast into. a leaf is only constituted as a leaf within the system of language. outside of it, and it isn't a 'leaf' in a lexical dimension at all. alognside how the word 'leaf' may taxi certain semantics, such as when you think of leaf, you may concisely think of Autumn. language as a distortion is something we can't neglect, and decoding and re-coding it of hegemonically thrusted bisases, whether that's through re-appropriation of slurs to the muffling of others, is one direction we can take to liberate ourselves. when pretty much everything is, in some way, problematic, we've got a w h o l e lot of work ahead of us.
whilst it's gross to realise you're a privileged white guy, it's even grosser to think that FreeSpeech© is an excuse to suppress ppl. be nice kiddos.
copyright © josh milton 2017