Does Your Fave Is Problematic’s Creator Owe Anyone an Apology?
In a recent essay in The New York Times, Liat Kaplan paints her villain origin story. Or at least, that’s how many see her unmasking herself as the writer behind Your Fave Is Problematic, an early 2010s Tumblr blog naming and shaming beloved celebrities for past problematic behavior. Today, there’s an untenable drive for people on the internet to expose public—and not-so-public—figures for past wrongs, with little nuance and no ideas about what should come next for those figures. If Your Fave is not at the root of that drive, it certainly contributed to it.
Amy Poehler, Chris Cholfer, Justin Bieber, Nicki Minaj, and Zooey Deschanel were just a handful of celebrities whose misdeeds were documented on the Tumblr account, the crimes ranging from the use of the word “crazy” to brownface and cultural appropriation, all unfortunately grouped under the same umbrella of “problematic.” Does documenting the fact that Deschanel once used the hashtag #thuglife really mean “holding celebrities accountable,” or was it just chasing what we now know as that delicious feeling of learning someone we used to see as infallible has actually failed at something, anything?
In her essay, Kaplan confirms it was the latter. “Mostly, I was interested in knocking people off their pedestals,” she writes.
Kaplan, who shares little more about herself than her name, explains that she started the site, which at one point had 50,000 followers, as a way to document sexist behavior, some directed at her, by her high school classmates. If they apologized, she took down the call-out. The site’s original mission got her in trouble at school, so she refocused on celebrities.
Kaplan doesn’t waste much time acknowledging where things went wrong, and what her motivations were. “Who was I to lump together known misogynists with people who got tattoos in languages they didn’t speak?” she asks. She later writes that no one who has “lived publicly” has a spotless record.
Still, she had her reasons for doing all this: “I just wanted to see someone face consequences; no one who’d hurt me ever had,” she explains. She was also grieving her older sister, who had been killed in a bus crash in Bolivia.
When I tweeted the piece, my followers had mixed reactions—and for good reason. For all Kaplan’s valuable introspection, there were some more serious consequences from the blog that she skates right over.
“I got in a feud with a prominent young adult fiction author over his inclusion,” she writes. That’s a nice way of putting what actually happened. Anyone who was on Tumblr in 2014 is well aware that the author in question is John Green. As documented in a recent newsletter from Ryan Broderick’s Garbage Day, Green, who also had a prominent internet presence, left Tumblr entirely after the relentless harassment that resulted from the accusations that Your Fave Is Problematic documented. Legitimate criticism about past fat-shaming, slut-shaming, and use of racially insensitive terms in his writing inspired a years-long wave of backlash that included an unfounded accusation of him “stroking” a fan and being referred to as a predator.
“I’ve never sexually assaulted a fan,” Green wrote in a response. “That’s a very serious accusation, and it is completely, unambiguously untrue.”
But the damage was done. Green’s online reputation had gone from respected authority to what we now recognize as Lin-Manuel-Miranda-level cringe—an often unwarranted punching bag that it became “fun” to torment. He left Tumblr as a result, and later, social media almost entirely.
“This stops being a productive place for me to be in conversations if I’m not allowed to be wrong, if my apologies are not acknowledged alongside my misdeeds, and if I’m not treated like a person,” he wrote in his Tumblr exit.
You can still see him regularly on the Vlogbrothers channel that he shares with VidCon founder and brother Hank Green.
Some readers on Twitter wish Kaplan’s essay had included an apology. Not to Green, necessarily, but for broadly contributing to what is now—in the case of Bean Dad, to name a recent example—an exhausting culture of shame that’s too often unable to distinguish between, say, the use of an ill-advised hashtag and outright racism.
Calling out celebrities who have participated in legitimately horrifying acts is still important, and I am not saying there’s no place for that in online culture. But it’s easy to see how Your Fave Is Problematic stumbled in that regard when the entry on Louis CK has nothing about his masturbating in front of women (it was posted seven years ago; none had come forward at this time), but does include an entry about him saying something rude about people with nut allergies. Only one of those things would have been important to know, in the long run.
For Kaplan, though, I’m willing to extend her the grace we didn’t to many of the celebrities the blog named. After all, I’ve deleted most of my own high school social activity, and she’s decided to keep YFIP live as to not “erase” her own “errors of judgement,” which—as YFIP continuously pointed out—we’re all prone to making.