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See also: Ableism in Fandom, Cultural Imperialism in Fandom, Homophobia in Fandom, Misogyny in Fandom, Race and Fandom, Real World Events in Fanworks, Social Justice, Social Justice Warrior, Puriteen, Purity Culture in Fandom
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In its broader sense, problematic means anything that "in some way—through its meaning, or the unstated assumptions behind it—reinforces unjust beliefs or an unfair system".[1] It is largely tied to the Social Justice movement online. In its fannish context, this could be characters, creators, actors, casting decisions, storylines, quotes, costumes, or even fanart of racist, misogynistic, sexist, homophobic, or appropriative natures.

A problematic fave is a person or thing that has exhibited problematic behavior but for whom the speaker's affection has not diminished. A number of blogs titled "Your Fave Is Problematic" have been active over the years, and are dedicated to compiling evidence of celebrities' problematic behaviors. There have also been discussions of whether or not YFIP is in itself problematic.

To be an unproblematic fave is a high praise in fandom. This is a person or thing that has not exhibited any problematic behaviors and has probably, in fact, acted or spoken in an educated and self-aware manner. They are also often a Cinnamon Roll.

A ship can also be considered problematic. A ship can be flagged as problematic or "proship" (originally short for pro-shipper, but often used as an abbreviation for "problematic ship"), among other things, due to toxic dynamics, age gaps, power imbalances, or incestuous themes.

Fannish Usage and Discussion

In a March 2014 thread about "words you'd like to never see again" on Fail-Fandomanon, nonnies discussed the limitations of the term:[2]

[Nonnie 1]
problematic. it's just so vague. like, if something is racist and sexist, say "this is racist and sexist," not "this is problematic." it's too....cutesy, i guess. by not saying exactly what the problem is, it's like you're ignoring it. i can get using it certain ways, when talking about a group of things that have issues, but they don't all have the same issues, but it shouldn't be used as a replacement for actually saying that something is racist/sexist/homophobic/etc.
[Nonnie 2]

'Problematic' annoys me because it gets used online as though we're supposed to know what those problems are. The whole point of this stupid word is for academic-ese like: "There are several problematic aspects of [Measure for Measure] that make it difficult to classify as either comedy or tragedy..." In other words, those aspects cause problems for the Shakespeare scholar trying to classify the play. The only way to know what the problems are is to read on for a description. The writer literally means "has some kind of problem". The whole point is that it's nonspecific. It does not mean "All of the *isms"! Arrrgh. If you mean "morally bad", just say so!

[Nonnie 3]

Yes! It's also applied to things like "the sources for this dialogue are problematic, as no one mss. contains the entire work, and there are considerably divergent readings."

Now it just means "I don't like something in this."

Meta/Further Reading


  1. ^, The Problem with "Problematic", 15 May 2015)
  2. ^ fail-fandomanon comment. Posted on March 6, 2014. Accessed on February 14, 2019.