This will be the first in a series of posts about the words, expressions, and language commonly used by so-called “Social Justice” advocates, especially their degenerated version that is so common in today’s media. My main point is that such languages destroy communication and the ability to understand reality, and it’s a comeback to the worst kind of intellectual obscurantism.
Each article will be divided into five parts: (a) The origins and etymology of the word or expression in its SocJus manifestation. (b) Non-SocJus (if any) uses of the word. (C) Associations: This is a thesaurus, so here I will write those words, meanings, synonyms, or expressions that usually go with it (d) Why the word is used and why it’s so useful or powerful. And (e) Possible antidotes to that SocJus terminology.
This first post will be about one of the jewels of Social Justice jargon: Problematic.
Problematic is the adjective of problem, and it means “pertaining or related to a problem.” Therefore, to understand the word you need to know how or in what sense something is said to be a “problem.”
The word already existed in Latin, and it’s still used for animals of which we know little (e.g. Leedsichthys problematicus)
However, in its Social Justice version, the word’s origins are in the 60s French poststructuralist frenzy. You could say that modern “problematic” is a translation of the French problématique and all its connotations. Before the 60s, hardly anyone used those words.
In Derrida’s On Grammatology (1967), the foundational text of poststructuralism and deconstruction, the word appear 29 times. In fact, he was very fond of using its even more obscure plural form, problematics, as a noun.
Someone who also loved the word was Althusser. In his For Marx (1965), a 250 or so pages book, he used the word 100 times. The meaning of that word isn’t always clear, and it seems to mean something along the lines of “new philosophy” or “the questions or puzzles that a philosophy creates.” In those cases, problematic is used as a noun (e.g. The problematic of Derrida’s philosophy….)
In any event, contemporary usage of the word is confined to saying that something is a problem, but not a problem as in “that’s an interesting puzzle or problem to solve” but “that’s social danger.”
The word has grown and freed itself from its origins in critical theory, and now has become a staple of left-wing/progressive pseudointellectual rhetoric. Here you can see The Huffington Post claiming that basically everything is problematic, and now even video games journalists use it:
Problematic female armor—the kind of gear that battle-oriented characters wear that exists more for the viewer’s titillation than for protection—is kind of cliche. Really, was only a matter of time before someone came along and made up a bingo card as a means of critiquing this kind of armor.
Source: A Bingo Game For Ridiculous Female Armor by Patricia Hernandez
[Note that what the author is saying is basically this: “Bikini armor is a cliche, and I don’t like it.” Which is a valid statement, but not SocJus enough since SocJus is about elevating aesthetic differences to the level of moral transgressions.]
Part of what Sarkeesian finds problematic about the trope is that, in game narratives, these background women’s inclusion in the story don’t contribute anything meaningful to the story but are rather designed to elicit shock or titillation.
Source: The problem with casual cruelty against women in video games by Evan Narcisse
[Again, translated to normal language: “Part of what Sarkeesian doesn’t like is that, in games, SOME background women don’t contribute to the story and are designed to elicit shock or titillation.”
Well, they ARE background women, right?]
It should be said that this kind of language has become a virulent infection in the post-Gamergate world. Before that, Kotaku, Polygon, and similar web pages were a bit more skeptical of those claiming popular culture was “problematic” (i.e. dangerous.) I mentioned that shift in another post, but here are more examples:
But troubling as the book’s dynamics are, Bonomi is ascribing it a lot of power. Surely binge-drinking, disordered eating and abusive relationships involve many more risk factors than picking up one shoddily written piece of Twilight fanfic, no matter how popular or problematic.Source: No, Fifty Shades of Grey Does Not Cause Domestic Abuse (2014)
When you’re the only Marvel actor who isn’t problematic but you’re witnessing someone being problematic pic.twitter.com/ZOg1jzmwuH
— celebsconfess (@celebsconfesss) July 5, 2016
literally the only thing wrong with mcgriddles is that there’s one without egg or cheese on it (?!) and it’s v problematic when I’m hungover
— Katie Nolan (@katienolan) July 6, 2016
[I guess she wanted to say “there isn’t one”? I’m not sure, looks almost like an alien language sometimes.]
In other words: “Cheese and eggs are a problem when I’m hungover” or “Chess and eggs don’t sit well when you are hungover.” Also, obviously, a misuse of “literally.”
Made this thread last year on why saying ISIS has nothing to do with Islam is problematic. https://t.co/81E4OAWlvz
— Shafiqah Othman (@sfqomhz) July 5, 2016
The meaning is clear, but it’s a weird wording. Not only she could have said “it’s a problem,” but stating that something is a problem doesn’t give enough information about what kind of problem. Is it a problem because it’s morally wrong, because it’s a lie, because it’s short on content or information, or because it’s misleading? Here are better versions:
In problematic situations you have three options:
1. Change it
2. accept it
3. move on
Pick one, either way stop talking about it!
— Top Islamic Tweets™ (@Maestrouzy) July 2, 2016
“Problematic situations.” What kind of freak speaks like that in real life? College jargon has done a lot of harm to young people. Anyway, why not say “If you have a problem” which is certainly more natural and doesn’t make you look like a robot trying to learn human communication?
Problematic would be a useless word if it were used alone. Its strength comes from its associations with other, real-life, colossal problems. After all, if problematic means “related to a problem” the questions are “what problem?” and “why should I care?”
You simply can’t expect anyone to take you seriously if you say bikini-clad warriors in a degenerate Japanese video game is something ‘problematic’ or, in other words, a problem worthy of study AND moral condemnation. It’s even worse if you are so joyless you don’t understand the mischevious element in those representations.
[It’s a common SJW delusion that they have discovered those problematic tropes when, in fact, they have been known for ages. It’s just that people laughed with & at them. SocJus cultural critique consists in taking those tropes and cliches deadly seriously.]
You have to link that problematic content to something bigger, to real-world sexism or misogyny. You don’t have to make the connection explicit, just drop those words somewhere in you article or, ideally, in your click-baiting headline:
Women are prizes in video games-and that should bother you. the Huffington Post
Note the words used and the meaning they evoke. Women. Not Some Women, but Women, in plural, as the whole category of real-world, breathing women. You, yes, YOU are a Woman and, there a Prize. For those gamers, YOU are a prize. What mental image does the phrase “women are prizes” creates in your head? Not something pretty, I’m sure. Finally, why this whole thing should bother you. Scratch the why; it should bother you. Period.
I’ve talked about this before at length, but the automatic inclination of so many to shut down meaningful conversation about problematic elements in the things they love isn’t just immature. It’s cowardly, short-sighted, narrow-minded, and unhelpful.
Sexism. And denying the accusation is immature, cowardly, short-sighted, narrow-minded, and unhelpful (for who?) Therefore, the only way of not being slandered is accepting the premise the writer should have proven: that the game is sexist. Not sexist in her own particular definition, of course (that’s easy,) but the same definition used for real-world discrimination. Seriously, can a painted or animated human figure be sexist? That’s the question that should be asnwered first, along the common-sensical one: If yes, who is the one being discriminated?
Sexism, a word that can be used to mean things from active discrimination to honor killings is now used because a game uses very softcore naughty “erotica” as ONE of its selling points. Note that I’m not trying to justify or rationalize anything. I don’t even know if the game is good as a game. I’m just describing it as it is: Yes, the game shows virtual women in ridiculous attire. So what?
“But that has no function; they could dress in a non-problematic way!”
Yes, they could, but they don’t. And that’s the function, by the way. Dressing in a ridiculous manner is the function, like half naked men in silly poses is the whole point of a firemen calendar. All healthy cultures have a playful relationship with erotic representations of the human body, but that’s something SJWs can’t understand.
Give a man something to draw, and he will draw naked women with outrageous and ridiculous curves. And yes, we are aware of how silly and unrealistic they are. So what? I really don’t know why this is so difficult to understand or why it’s a moral hazard, especially when the context of that representation is not public art or pornography shoved down your thorat but a game, in other words, a playful pastime that YOU bought and that YOU enjoy in the solitude of your home.
Why is the word problematic so powerful, and why did it grow so much, from an obscure critical theory term to mainstream journalists? Well, if you answer the first question you will also answer the second one. Words become popular because they are powerful or useful. Useful for what? Well, usually, useful to crush or intimidate your opponents. Words that can end or kill a debate in your favor usually become immensely powerful in short time.
Problematic is powerful because it allows you to claim something is a social problem without having to explain how or why. They keyword being social, because if it’s social it needs a solution; it needs YOU, a busybody, the Social Justice Advocate. You can pick everyday stuff and create and ideological dividing line around it, forcing people to take sides on something that once was normal.
In today’s social media-driven world, problematic allows you to create drama out of nowhere, and it’s a word with almost magical properties. Compare these two statements:
“This post is a problem.”
“This post is problematic.”
Theoretically, both sentences should mean the same, but I think the first sentence probably prompted you to ask “Why?” I’m also sure the second one didn’t. Saying that something is a problem forces you to explain why, but saying something is problematic already states its “problemness” as an obvious conclusion. And because those problems are shameful things that nobody wants to be associated with (like misogyny, racism, and so on,) people get defensive and forget to ask the simple question: Why?
To pronounce something “problematical” is not a conclusion nor is it an intellectual achievement; […] It is not the end of a train of thought but a beginning. […] The real intellectual work should begin now; pronouncing something problematical, or putting it in question, and then stopping there is far too easy.
Against Deconstruction (1989), by John M. Ellis, pag 41.
Naturally, that makes the word extremely powerful, which explains its success. It’s an academic wet dream:
(1) It allows you to sperg about anything, from stupid games to movies, while still claiming you are tackling massive social issues or the very foundations of society and oppression. It gives you omniscience and omnipotence over the whole fabric of culture. You can pick anything, focus on its most minute detail (and always those that makes their object of study look worse), and state that it’s a problem… and you the fixer.
(2) It allows to study particulars and deduce universals from them, which means it’s the perfect trick for armchair intellectuals. True, some real intellectuals do that, but that requires intelligence, wisdom, and a sense of proportion. SocJus intellectuals have none of those. For example, this is how a normal human would describe a movie:
“In this movie, one of the characters (Veronica) is prone to hysterical outbursts.”
But this is how a SocJust academic would do it:
“This movie reinforces the problematic belief that women are prone to hysterical outbursts.”
Now, try to prove that it doesn’t.
The trick of the argument is that the SocJus intellectual has jumped from the representation of a individual character to an alleged statement about the whole female class. Basically, SocJus cultural critique is the death of art and literature.
3) You can make problems out of nowhere. Problematic content is always something that wouldn’t be considered a problem without the ‘problematic’ label. Note that nobody says rape or genocide are problematic. There are stronger words for those things. Problematic is only used for stuff that, if described using natural language, would not arouse any reaction. Saving a princess in a video game, for example, can only be a problem for someone who really, really wants it to be a problem.
and 4) It allows you to become a moral authority figure while denying it. You are not finger-pointing people and their hobbies, you are just scientifically studying cultural products.
Everything can be problematic as long as you associate it with a REAL problem. The mere mention of those problems and that, somehow, they may be related to what you enjoy in your free time is a very anxiety-inducing accusation. It’s like going back to those years when your parents burned you D&D books because they were satanic, or hid your comic books, or became hysterical when they saw you playing “violent” video games.
They are telling you that you enjoy evil things, dangerous things that sustain and legitimize the evils of our society. Sure, they don’t use the word “evil” (nobody uses it anymore) but that’s how your brain understands it. Many people, naturally, react with anger or fear to those accusations, even if they don’t understand exactly why. Other are so afraid of being branded “problematic” that they will submit to the will of the accusers. And that’s why many video games journalists defended games from accusations of teaching violence or Satanism, but they folded down when the accusation was misogyny. Because in today’s society being branded a misogynyst is one of the worst thought crimes in existence.
Remember, something is problematic in relation to some bigger social evil. The whole point of problematizing something is implying such a connection without having to explain why.
Problematic is a dangerous word, and without its SocJus meanings, it’s a useless one. At best, it’s intellectual laziness. At worst, it’s a witch hunt.
In a witch hunt, people become paranoid of pernicious magical influences and subtle witchcraft tricks that may lead even the strongest soul astray. When something is branded “Problematic”, the message is that such product may corrupt your mind without you even realizing it, and that’s why you need the Expert to point out the Moral Sins in your everyday cultural consumption. And that corruption is not because the product has a clear message (lol let’s kill the jews,) but because it uses subtle, sometimes invisible (except to the Social Justice Warrior) implications of evil thoughts and behavior (like misogyny and racism.)
I think that problematic is a word that should be purged from human languages. Still, if someone uses it against you, remember this: they are only trying to (mis)use fictional make-believe entertainment to make you feel guilty for real world events that have nothing to do with it or with you. As long as you remember that they don’t have any proof of the link between both, you should be safe. Do not try to justify yourself or the product, you would just play into their hands, just keep asking these simple questions: Why? Why is it a problem? Why is it dangerous? Why? Why? Why? Sooner or later, the SocJus warrior will collapse and start crying.
Another trick is to remove the word problematic and its associated concepts from the text you are reading. In most cases, you will see that the text is empty, that is has no meaning and it’s just an exercise in shaming and word-play.