Sini Eikonsalo | February 12, 2018
TV shows and movies can be like your favorite books: something you want to get back to time and time again and let the familiar world draw you in once more. Unfortunately, time is not always kind to these favorites.
Around Christmas, I decided to get back to an old favorite and watch the movie Groundhog Day again. I had last seen it over a decade ago and remembered it being a nice, happy, Christmassy movie. Right?
Wrong. It is actually a movie where the main character Phil uses the fact that he is living the same day over and over again to manipulate women into sleeping with him—not exactly the Christmas spirit I was looking for. Also, his insistent pursuing of the reluctant Rita is supposed to be, of course, romantic, and in the end, unsurprisingly, the love of this good woman changes him for better and he is awarded with the pretty lady. So let’s all be merry and forget what a jackass he was for the most of the movie.
I encountered a similar problem a few months ago when I decided to get back to a TV show I remembered liking a decade ago: House. I recall watching the show and admiring what a great character that grumpy, rude, but oh-so-brilliant Doctor House was.
But I was in for a surprise yet again, as it quickly became evident to me that Doctor House spouts out misogynist and racist comments like a certain buffoonish president—and the worst thing is that the show portrays these things as funny, eccentric features of his personality that the other characters find charming rather than outrageous.
After these experiences, my first thought was: how did I not notice this in the first place? Is it because I was less knowledgeable and had a less developed worldview when watching them? Or is it because 10-15 years ago it was more acceptable to see casual sexism or racism as a funny feature in a character?
I suppose both aspects are at fault: the things that were hilarious to you as a teenager can look very different now, and the world certainly has changed a lot in the past decade or so. The 21st century has brought with it a wave of cultural criticism that has recognized problems in TV and movies with their implicit ideological structures, with the representation of different minorities, and with the portrayal of women and men.
For example, the romantic pursuit in Groundhog Day can be seen as part of a bigger phenomenon in the romantic pop culture: how stalking is often framed to be a romantic gesture, how “no” (or, in the case of Groundhog Day, a slap in the face) really means please try harder, and how this persistence will eventually get you the girl .
Doctor House can be now recognized to represent the trope of a “lovable misogynist”: a character commonly found in dramas and sitcoms alike who constantly sexualizes women, makes inappropriate comments, and does not take no for an answer—and yet, is ultimately portrayed as the good guy .
If we recognize these problems in our old favorites, does it mean we should leave them behind, or accept them as the products of a different time and continue loving them as we did?
Letting go of offensive all-time favorites, or even acknowledging that there are problems in the first place, can be difficult. Fierce defensiveness has emerged, for example, in the case of The Simpsons and “the problem with Apu”. While many have accepted that there indeed might be something wrong with laughing at this glaringly obvious Indian stereotype, many refuse to see this .
The way I see it, the main thing is to at least acknowledge that these problems exist. Whether you want to try to recreate the safe and happy feeling you used to get from your old favorite program or keep them dead and buried, is up to you.
I have, for example, seen Friends more times than I can count—but I would not be thrilled to return to its very white, sexist, and homophobic world now. While watching Friends, even with its problems, could be a nice, nostalgic experience worth trying, I would rather reserve my love for something that actually creates tolerance and watch the heartwarmingly humane Sense8.
I’m a first year English literature PhD student at the University of Edinburgh. My research focuses on the development of American 9/11 novels in relation to the social and political atmosphere and discourse of the time. My research interests include postcolonial studies, the representation of Islam and Muslims, and 21st century literature, popular culture, and politics.
Article edited by Christa Burgin, June L. Laurenson, and Mary A. Pura.
- Dianalydia27.”The Lovable Misogynist.” Fervid Femme, July 1st 2015,
- Beck, Julie. “Romantic Comedies: When Stalking Has a Happy Ending.” The Atlantic, Feb 5th 2016, https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2016/02/romantic-comedies-where-stalking-meets-love/460179/
- Drum, Nicole. “Internet Reacts to ‘The Problem With Apu’.” Comicbook, Nov 12th 2017, http://comicbook.com/tv-shows/2017/11/13/apu-the-simpsons-reactions/ImagesBroken TV: title of the work Reality TV, creator Charles Nadeau, ©Charles Nadeau 2012,Images
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