As Bob Dylan so astutely and melodically highlighted in the 60’s, the times of change are upon us. With the ability to judge yesterday by today’s standards, many creatives are finding themselves in the crosshairs of contemporary attitudes. So how can you avoid befalling a similar fate? Turns out, maybe you can’t.


Who Needs Enemies?

As an example, let’s take the nineties sitcom, Friends. During its hay-day, it was one of the biggest shows on the air, with the final episode played to adoring crowds in Times Square.

It then faded into fond memory until its re-release on the streaming service Netflix, to a new audience with new social norms. Joey, who was once a revered ‘player’, is now a misogynist womaniser. The now slim Monica is continually body-shamed for her past obesity. And the endless homophobic jokes have led to a backlash that includes a 50-minute montage on YouTube.

A tirade of disappointed Tweets summed up the re-release. Christine Carr commented, “I was a uni student in the 90s so looked forward to re-watching Friends on Netflix over New Year. But I agree – the ‘fat Monica’ and ‘gay Chandler’ ‘jokes’ feel very out of place now. And was Joey *always* that bit creepy?”


The Value of Context

Whether these things are right or wrong is a discussion best left for a thesis paper by a Sociology student. What is important to note, however, is that the success of the series was, in part, thanks to the writers’ abilities to write jokes that resonated with its audience.

And this is where the show left itself open to criticism. At its core, all creativity is intended to provoke an emotion. The unveiling of a work of art to the world requires the artist to relinquish the context in which it is viewed.


The Problem with Apu

This is a fate that recently befell The Simpsons with the 2017 movie ‘The Problem with Apu.’ In it, Hari Kondabolu raises the issues of the dated, offensive stereotype of the Quick-E-Mart owner, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, describing him as, “A white guy doing an impression of a white guy making fun of my father.”

The Simpsons responded in April 2018 with the episode ‘No Good Read Goes Unpunished’ where Lisa comments, “Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive, is now politically incorrect. What can you do?”


So, what can you do?

Creativity is only as good as its intention, and bland art will invoke a bland response. There is a reason you enjoy watching the meth producing husband and father of Breaking Bad, or the incestuous, raping and pillaging characters in Game of Thrones.

A piece of work will have the best reaction when it straddles the edgy line between acceptance and too far. The problem is, the line isn’t static.


About the Author

Ian Middleton completed the Magazine Journalism Course at NZ Writers College with distinction in 2018. Ian has had articles published in New Zealand outdoor adventure magazines, and has various other writing projects in the pipeline.





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