Last week, The CW announced that Ruby Rose had been cast as Batwoman for her upcoming TV series, and my little corner of the internet had a lot of opinions about that. A few days ago, Ruby Rose deactivated her Twitter account, and we all know why.
I admit my own reaction to the casting news was something like, “yeah, that’s pretty safe.” Rose is an established name who will bring in mainstream (read: straight) viewers and she’s an out lesbian, as ordered. Then the backlash began.
Ugh, she can’t act.
Get ready for Round Two of “I’m gay for Ruby Rose: a straight woman’s story”.
To which I was like, wow, okay, did I miss something?
Then we got:
Why didn’t they support new queer actors and cast an unknown for this huge opportunity?
She’s not lesbian enough because straight people like her. (Wow.)
You know, she outed one of her ex-girlfriends.
Batwoman is Jewish and she should be played by a Jewish actor. (Sure, but I didn’t hear boo about this one until after everybody got mad about the casting.)
To digress for a minute: recently, James Robinson‘s tenure writing the ongoing Wonder Woman comic came thankfully to an end and he was replaced by Steve Orlando. I read Orlando’s first issue, which everyone was swooning over, and…I wasn’t into it. I thought he had a great concept, but I like writers with a bit more humour and spice. But I felt like I needed a “better” reason, so I spent ages trying to find some way it was problematic or the writing was low-quality. Turns out, there wasn’t one; it just wasn’t my personal jam.
This is an age of Cinema Sins, call-out posts and endless thinkpieces, and it’s got all of us feeling like we have to have an objective or moral argument to back up our dislike. Of course, blazing with righteous anger feels much better than being disappointed with no one to aim it at. Myself, I was already getting pretty tired of Johnny Depp when the news broke that he’d abused Amber Heard, and it gave me a convenient reason not to bother with his movies. Instead of just being a killjoy, I got to be a killjoy who had the moral high ground.
This is not to say that there aren’t very good reasons to be angry at your favourite pop culture things, or even to say that (some of) the people complaining about Ruby Rose don’t have valid points. But none of those arguments justify harassing the actor on social media, and several of them could have been easily replaced with “I just don’t like her much.”
I know it’s less interesting that way. As a journalist who’s trying to build both a career and a Twitter following, I’m well aware that you get more attention on this here internet if you have an argument vs a personal taste. Fights are fun to watch and as a culture we place value on being able to articulate opinions and debate them (which is a whole other pile of patriarchal bullshit that nerds have turned into “I’m going to attack you and whoever displays the least emotion wins.”)
I also know that this isn’t really new: fandom has always had a tendency to attach moral value to everything, back through Arthur Conan Doyle’s time to probably the Epic of Gilgamesh. We hold the things we love to high standards and we take it personally when they don’t meet them. Then we either tie ourselves in knots trying to defend our favourite thing or we feel horribly betrayed, which leads to anger, which leads to the Dark Side.
But right now it’s so easy to send your rage and disappointment directly to whoever you’ve decided to blame, regardless of whether it’s helpful. Now, more than ever, we need to think carefully about whether something really deserves our moral outrage and how we’re expressing it. Contacting showrunners/producers/networks to explain what they’ve done wrong? Great. Ranting to your group chat? Carry on. Tweeting at an actor to inform her that you don’t think she’s gay enough? Rude, and also completely pointless.
What I think I’m trying to say is that I wish we as fans took the time to distinguish between taste and morality. Taste is when you find something unsatisfying, annoying, pretentious, ugly, overdone, dull, weak, cloying, patronising, nails-on-a-chalkboard…there are so many words other than “problematic” that you can use to criticise something. It’s fun and you should try it!
People do shitty, hurtful things all the time, and of course we should call them out and encourage them to do better. But when it’s really just about you yourself and how much you don’t want to look at an actor’s face for 45 minutes a week, why borrow trouble? You can just go ahead and not like the thing. Own it the same way you’re proud of the things you love.
Don’t let anyone make you feel like you have to justify yourself with a deep moral argument when you’re just not into something. Go forth and feel free to be a petty curmudgeon. (Except that if you’re criticising someone, don’t @mention them. You’re better than that.)
[Header image credit: Stjepan Sejic]