Afflicting The Comfortable, Or, Why I Can’t ‘Just Enjoy’ Entertainment

After Kate Cox’s guest stint here, you all should know how phenomenal she is. But I wanted to pull out this passage from a recent post about why the idea that we can “just play” video games, or “just enjoy” any form of popular culture, is a privilege, not a default setting:

The ability never to be alienated by the games we play or by the people who play them is the very core of privilege. Bust out that p-word and gamers get riotous, but there’s no way around it. Despite all of the crap that’s been handed to me over the last three decades, I have privilege by the metric ton. I’m as white as white can be, identify perfectly well with the sex and gender I was born with, and have almost exclusively heterosexual attractions. In those senses, I’m pretty thoroughly represented in game worlds, plots, narratives, and characters. Further, I have two good hands, two good eyes, and two good ears — so I’m pretty thoroughly catered to in terms of game mechanics, audio-visual design, and control schemes. For a number of my friends and peers? The layers of crap to deal with just never end.

The golden days of everyone being able to “just play a game,” if any such days exist, are ahead of us still, not lying dormant in some sepia-tinted past. They are the same as the golden days of all our other pop culture and pop art: lying in a society that’s come to terms with understanding sex, gender, race, and a whole lot more.

And beyond that, I think it’s important to point out a larger assumption behind that language, which crops up periodically here in comments, when someone wants to tell me that Twilight is “just a movie” or that I’m “overthinking” something: that art is meant to reaffirm our sense of the world and to make us comfortable, rather than to shake us up. There’s no question that art can be used that way — looking at British painters in India makes it clear how eager the British were to reaffirm their own sense of their colonial project. But does that mean that’s the highest function to which art can aspire? I don’t particularly think so. Art can entertain and push at the same time. Telling the same old stories and reaffirming the same old ideas isn’t just boring. It’s anesthetizing.