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  • Writer's pictureLauren Sauer

On Criticism

Quick question for everyone: Why are we so mad? Why do we so badly want to be pissed off all the time?

I've noticed this trend for a while now, where we (mostly those of us using social media) love to look for the negative. We love to hate on people who are just doing their best. At first I thought, "This is good, we should be holding people accountable for their actions. We should be educating others to be the best versions of themselves." But then eventually that turned into good never being good enough, and endlessly reaming people we don't know, all while sitting behind our computers and enjoying our anonymity. And like...yikes. It kind of sucks.

My initial thought, in a lot of ways, is still true. We really should be holding people accountable for their actions, and we really should be educating others to be the best versions of themselves. I mean, it's 2018. White dudes from the suburbs shouldn't be saying the N-word, and Netflix shouldn't be making an entire series that use a beautiful actress in a fat suit as the punchline. We should be speaking up when there are injustices. We should be telling lawmakers and industry heads when we're unhappy. But we should also chill out and stop trying to "expose" every influencer and shake our heads in disbelief when they try to apologize.

I want to really zoom in on a few key examples in the past few months when I think our need to critique has gone too far, but first I want to lay a foundation and set some ground rules. I want to clearly distinguish between the examples I'm citing and times when, yes, we absolutely should be asking the tough questions and not letting people off the hook so fast. I worry I will be unable to comprehensively cover all my bases here, and I'm sure someone reading will be quick to tell me about how very wrong I am. Of course, the irony there should be obvious, but anyway:

1) Let's keep being critical of criminals, sexual assailants, general shitheads, and the systems in place that keep them needlessly safe. For example, wow Louis C.K.'s "apology" was...a choice, and I'm glad we weren't quick to forgive and forget.

2) Let's continue to tell prominent people when they've said things that are racist, homophobic, sexist, etc. But let's try to do it in a positive way that might actually lend itself to change. Because, shockingly enough, when we create an environment--real or digital--that is overwhelmingly negative, angry, and hard to impress, it's not the most productive breeding ground for education and growth. You can see the cyclical impacts, I'm sure.

3) Let's agree that one of the beautiful things about the internet is its sense of democracy, and let's acknowledge that it's a huge privilege to have access to the tools to speak our minds. I think it's great that those of us who grew up online are digitally engaged and have the media literacy to think critically about the content we consume. I think it's amazing that we as a generation can say, "No thanks." We can decide what we want to lend our time to, and we can fairly easily communicate our feedback with those in charge, both in the public and private sectors. That's in a cool, trendy slang way. I, ultimately, am not poo-pooing that freedom, and I'm not telling anyone to shut up if they don't want to. That's far from the business I want to be in. But also, let's challenge ourselves to be a little nicer and allow ourselves to be pleasantly surprised every so often. Just a thought.

Anyway, not sure if my point is going to get across until I start pointing to some concrete examples, so let's do that.

1) Taylor Swift Donates $250,000 to Kesha, and That Makes Her a Witch

Set the scene. We have to go all the way back to 2016. In the grand scheme of things, that's not that long ago, but in internet time that might as well be eons. Kesha, who filed assault claims against her music producer Dr. Luke, is denied an injunction in court, and is therefore unable to leave her contract with Sony Records. The internet, specifically women, more specifically women in the music industry, are rightfully outraged. Kesha is forced to either no longer produce music or produce music with someone who has physically, emotionally, and sexually abused her for years.

Stars offer messages of support on social media: Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga, Demi Lovato, Kelly Clarkson, and many more. Notably absent: America's Sweetheart or America's Snake (it depends on the day), Taylor Swift. And people are pissed. Myself included. In the spirit of "exposing," I'll expose myself. I was livid with Taylor, my self-professed queen. I wanted her to publicly support Kesha, making good on her promises as a feminist. At the time I believed Taylor to be a feminist only when financially convenient for her, a sentiment shared by many. This is, honestly, probably true. She's gotten better in the past few years, mostly because she's been gracious and receptive when her privilege was showing, but that's not the point. ANYWAY!

Taylor didn't take to Twitter to offer her well wishes to Kesha, but instead she silently donated $250,000 to help cover costly legal fees. I was, for some reason, SO mad. Look, I'll prove it to you:

I look back on those tweets now and cringe. I understand where I was coming from, but I also wasn't acknowledging the quarter million dollars Taylor privately donated to Kesha. I didn't consider the fact that this was an incredibly kind and generous thing to do, I was just focusing on the "Yes, and..." I was waiting for her to do something more. I was waiting for her to cross some arbitrary line so I could say "Okay, now you've done the right thing." Me, who has only ever donated $10 to Planned Parenthood and can't imagine the pressure of having to have a PR-perfected presence. I wasn't alone, though. Obviously so many people felt the same way. Demi Lovato even said via Twitter rant:

"Not everyone has 250k to just give to people. Would love to but I didn't grow up with money and def haven't made as much as her. At least I speak up about shit that's uncomfortable to talk about rather than trying to be politically correct 24/7...There's no 'rivalry' I just give more fucks than other people and would rather start a dialogue ABOUT WOMEN COMING FORWARD ABOUT BEING RAPED than throw money at one person."

I think Demi, myself, and everyone who screamed "NOT GOOD ENOUGH" made ourselves look stupid.

To put it in perspective, imagine you dine at a restaurant every single week. The service is great, and you're friendly with the waitress. One day, as you're leaving, you tip 20%, and even round up to the next dollar. A stranger taps you on the shoulder and says, "Y'know, I saw your bill. You really should tip more. Waitstaff relies on tips pretty much as their sole income." You're confused, because you always thought 20% was the right thing to do, but you take the stranger's comments in stride and realize that maybe what you thought was your best isn't actually good enough. The next week, you go back, and you tip 25%. The same stranger approaches you, this time with all of their friends. They're all screaming at you. "Twenty-five percent?! You think you can just tip twenty-five percent and you're suddenly a good person?! I personally only ever tip 15%, but this isn't about that! What you thought was one step beyond your best isn't actually good enough, and now we're mad at you!" You see what I mean? To quote Taylor: Ugh, this is exhausting, y'know?

2) Movies and TV Make Positive Strides to Diversify, Are Vilified

Okay, okay. Let's ease on into this one, like it's a freezing cold swimming pool where I'm very aware of my privilege. I am a white, cisgender, straight woman. I see myself in advertisements, TV, movies, and web video all the time. Sure, sometimes not in the most positive light, because sexism is omnipresent, but I have it pretty good in terms of representation. I have no qualms about relating demographically to characters in popular media, and I know for the literal majority of the world that is not the case. POC, LGBTQ+, individuals with disabilities, etc., are constantly seeking role models in media. Or at the very least, they're seeking people who look like them who don't solely exist to be the butt of the joke or the nonthreatening stereotype.

It's rare to find honest representation of a marginalized group, and almost impossible to find honest representation where a character belongs to more than one. For example, if the character is a person of color, the character is cisgendered, able-bodied, straight, etc. But (and it's a big, Kardashian-sized "but") it is great that we're making strides to diversify our media, and we don't necessarily have to shit on everything because it could be more diverse.

Hear me out. Not even twenty years ago, Friends was making awful transphobic jokes, casting Kathleen Turner as Chandler's dad. Two years ago, every single actor nominated in a major category at the Oscar's was white. Disney didn't have a diverse princess until 1992 (talk about A Whole New World). Since then, we've been massively turning the dial. We've seen Get Out spark a global conversation. We've seen Moonlight win Best Picture at the Oscars, even if the road to getting there was...secondhand embarrassing to say the least. Movies like Love, Simon and shows like RuPaul's Drag Race would never exist thirty years ago, and you can forget Orange is the New Black.

And, y'know, maybe it's just the optimist in me, but I really think we're getting better and better every day. Prominent actors, showrunners, and producers belonging to minority groups are calling out traditional media and raising the standard for diversity. Talented people are being given opportunities that would once be (poorly) solved for with wigs and darker foundation and horribly offensive accents and affectations. Hollywood is opening its doors, and the rise of nontraditional media is bringing with it a new wave of entertainment where our stars look like our neighborhoods. It's great. But in the meantime, there's an exciting amount of content made for and by marginalized people (example 1a/example 2a/example 3a), being attacked by people in that group (example 1b/example 2b/example 3b) because it could be better. But I would hope that existing at 75%, with the acknowledgment that we're not where we need to be yet, is better than not existing at all. Also, worth maybe mentioning that diversity is more than the boxes you tick off on paperwork. Diversity includes socioeconomic status, education, age, religion, etc. and with endless permutations of these, there's always room to push the boundaries. I'm just suggesting we frame our perspective with "How exciting, there's room to keep growing" and not "How crappy, we haven't grown enough."

3) Jaclyn Hill Releases a Makeup Palette, and Is Shunned Because of It

This example is more niche, but also what inspired this entire blog post. While the other two examples cited above offer reason for criticism that I can get behind to a certain extent, this "drama" is so stupid to me. A prime example of people just looking to be mad. This is also how you can tell I started this blog post weeks ago, wrote 90% of it, and then lost momentum for a little bit. But now we're back: Let's get back into the drama, even if it is a little stale now.

In an online space where "dragged", "exposed", and "cancelled" are peppered across everyone's timeline, we need to sit down and really talk. Is it possible that perhaps we're looking to get riled up? And is it possible that doing so isn't productive or good for our mental health? I know I sound like a condescending mom, but I worry about a future where no one wants to be excited or receptive, and if they are, it's dampened by the fear that something will come out of the woodwork to ruin it.

Jaclyn Hill is a makeup artist and online influencer. Starting out making beauty tutorials and harmless lifestyle videos, Jaclyn quickly rose to prominence, attracting big-box beauty brands and scoring lucrative partnerships. I'm not inundated with the timeline of her career, and I'm not a regular viewer of her videos, but I did watch her 45-minute "apology" video--in multiple sittings--and I found myself kind of...sorry for her? Because what she felt the need to apologize for was so stupid and born out of peoples' desire to criticize. Let's rewind.

Jaclyn came out with a collection of makeup palettes, in collaboration with Morphe, a very popular cosmetics brand among the youths. This is I believe her second big launch with the company, the first of which sold very well. I remember back when I was working at Ulta, the Jaclyn Hill palette was a coveted item that we couldn't keep on the shelves. So it's fair to assume that her second release was much anticipated and people had high hopes. And turns out this batch of product wasn't great.

As other influencers and everyday consumers started sharing their thoughts, the overwhelming response was negative. The shadows were chalky, didn't blend well, and didn't live up to the hype.

That's totally cool. Not mad at that. As a frequent consumer of makeup, I know how much of a bummer it is when a product you look forward to doesn't perform like you'd hoped. It might sound silly, because makeup is ultimately a superfluous purchase, but some cosmetics (like these palettes) are pricey enough that they should without a doubt work.

Jaclyn and the Morphe team heard people's complaints loud and clear. They immediately pulled all the palettes that were still up for sale and offered refunds or exchanges for disappointed customers. They claimed there was an unexpected defect in the factory production, which is valid and completely possible. Personally working for a company that also outsources production to factories, I can tell you there's plenty of room for error when you're dealing with third-party manufacturing, and when that happens it's hard to accurately determine the scope of the issue. SO! All of that logistical mumbo jumbo out of the way, let's agree that the launch sucked, Morphe as a company ate thousands of dollars in damage control costs, and it wasn't a good look for Jaclyn. But I do think they handled the unfortunate instance as best they could from a business perspective. I also think people were exceedingly mad about it.

What happened next in this "scandal" (if you even want to call it that) was a relaunch of the palettes after Morphe assured fans they had corrected the error and moved the bad product out of their fulfillment warehouse. They did admit to reusing some product packaging where possible to save on costs, but the actual eye shadows were new. And this time people, instead of being excited, were almost hoping to be pissed. Now I get being cautious and being a bit harder to convince the second go-around, but actively seeking out issues with the product and almost hoping for negative results just for the drama feels like a waste of energy to me. Doesn't it seem silly to spend $50 looking to be upset? I wouldn't spend money on a movie ticket for a movie I wanted to hate. I wouldn't book a vacation for a destination I wasn't excited about. I wouldn't willingly spend my money hoping to be let down all in the name of "exposing" someone on social media. Can y'all just, I don't know, succumb to the possibility that businesses sometimes make poor decisions, and there's only so much damage control they can do?

In her apology video, Jaclyn kept saying how sorry she was for letting people down, and how she was losing sleep at night because of it. I think it's crazy that consumers would be so outraged over a makeup palette that it would cause the spokesmodel so much stress. I understand Kendall Jenner taking ownership and being upset about that super unfortunate Pepsi ad, because sis that was a bad look, but this feels different. This feels like the masses attacking someone for something ultimately very stupid. It's okay to be disappointed in a product, but starting a witch hunt because your bright yellow eyeshadow isn't bright yellow enough is when I think it's gone too far.

Overall, I think we're all generally trying our best. Individuals, businesses, groups...we're all just putting out content and information with the best of intentions. Generally speaking, of course. There's still unfortunately a lot of inherently messed up stuff out there, and let's be rightfully critical of it. But in terms of people just not doing things well enough, maybe let's take a deep breath. I'm not sure how this will be received, and I hope I haven't belittled any causes that you feel strongly about, because that's not what I'm trying to do. Wow, look at me, worried that the response to this blog post will be needlessly aggressive. The irony.


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