There is this belief in many criticism and analysis fields, at least in the USA, that there are no wrong answers or analyses. It is a continuation of a misunderstood point in early English literary analysis education in middle and high school where the idea that there are no wrong answers when interpreting stories or literature. In actuality, the original point was that there are no wrong answers as long as you can find “evidence” in the text which is still incorrect. There are absolutely incorrect or wrong interpretations of media, and “evidence” is an odd metric since we have historically witnessed how people and audiences have convoluted the story and themselves to try to make a point. Either way there truly does seem to be an issue of personal projection involved in current media analysis and engagement that lowers the field and potential ongoing critiques.
Now, this is not to say that at times there are elements or metaphors that the original creators did not necessarily intend. There has been application of more modern concepts to past texts simply because more information about authors had been found or the time in which it was created lacked the appropriate language to properly discuss or analyze. As well, artists put part of themselves into their work by default. Art, of any medium, is not created in a vacuum, so there are instances where an artist or painter or writer puts something into their work that even they were not aware of at the time. However, there is a vast difference between what has been described above and completely ignoring and misconstruing what is shown because of personal preferences or projections. There are various examples I have seen but the one that piqued my attention was a scenario around characters on the popular television series Ted Lasso.
In the show, Rebecca Welton and Florence Collins were life long friends before Rebecca’s marriage and divorce. Rebecca basically left her life and friends behind due to her ex-husband’s emotional manipulation. They reunite in episode seven of the first season on the anniversary of Rebecca’s divorce. During this weekend reunion, there is a minor confrontation between the two women over Rebecca’s past actions and decisions. Outside of a karaoke bar, Rebecca tries to insinuate that Rupert, her ex-husband, is to blame for Rebecca’s removal from Florence’s and Nora’s, Florence’s daughter and Rebecca’s goddaughter, lives. In response, Florence quickly shuts down Rebecca’s explanation stating that while her ex-husband was a massive asshole, Rebecca was also partially to blame. She went on to state how Rebecca is an adult and had to take responsibility for her part in her life and choices. That in order for her to be part of Florence’s and Nora’s lives, she would have to be an adult and make concrete efforts in repairing the damage she had caused and that the first step was accepting that she held some responsibility. Audiences, or at least a significant part of them, did not seem to like this exchange.
The primary reasons for this outcome are that audiences see the character of Florence as a possible barrier for the potential romance between the characters of Rebecca and, titular, Ted Lasso. To be fair, there have been teases of something between Ted and Rebecca for quite some time both in the show and in interviews outside of it. Thus, it is perfectly understandable why some people would be unhappy with the twist of Ted and Florence having had a romantic encounter. However, this same level of vitriol and disgust does not appear to be leveled at Sam, another character that was a longer term romantic pairing with Rebecca. Which is odd because that romantic relationship should have had far more reaching negative consequences than virtually any other one in the show. And yet, as far as criticism of Sam or Rebecca on that front it was crickets.
The other reason, and the one that I think is the true cause, is that Florence completely shut down Rebecca and, unlike other characters, was utterly in the right. The only other characters to do this are Higgins and Keeley. Higgins, while not guilty of trying to take down the team, is culpable for his actions concerning Rupert and helping him cheat and lie to Rebecca. Keeley is blameless in the actions taken against her but her general attitude and demeanor around Rebecca always puts her in a submissive or apologetic position. Flo has none of that. She carries no baggage for past acts nor does she back down or act submissively when confronting Rebecca. She just rightly calls her out on her shit and audiences seem to hate that because it diminishes and tarnishes the image they hold concerning Rebecca Welton (an image mostly constructed from Hannah Waddingham’s personality and traits).
The thing is, again, that Florence was absolutely right, and her speech in the scene above was directly related to Rebecca’s actions in the first season. Rebecca was blaming Rupert for her trying to destroy AFC Richmond. She justified her actions by constantly bringing up the pain and hurt Rupert had gleefully cost her. And while this was all true, Florence was having none of it because at the end of the day it was Rebecca that stopped contacting Nora, that shut out her old life, that did not try to make any contact after the divorce, and that was actively sabotaging innocent men and women because of her petty rivalry with her ex-husband. That is inarguable as presented in the show. But again, audiences like Rebecca, so Florence has to be in the wrong regardless of the truth being shown on screen.
Thus, entire theories and justifications like Florence’s nickname for Rebecca (as though kids don’t make odd nicknames for one another that remain for decades), or blaming her for the lack of contact on Rebecca’s part (which even in the speech all attempts seemed to be made by Florence before stopping), or for not contacting after the divorce (even though Florence was the one to actually extend a hand), or for sleeping with Ted (as though two consenting adults having sex is wrong or that Rebecca has any say in it or that, again, Rebecca had an affair with a player for months). It really does seem like audience are trying to find or create some scenario in which Florence is the bad friend and Rebecca is in the right up to the point of being able to once again remove Florence from her life. It is odd to witness, and makes me question this desire. Why is it so awful for so many to have their “heroes” or “role models” be a little tarnished? Why is a confrontation between a clearly right and wrong side so hard to handle just because the one you like is in the wrong? And why is this criticism and turn on characters more prevalent and seen toward female characters above others? (The last question was rhetorical).
Still, this inability to remove personal biases and attempt to look at media from a more objective perspective makes me concerned for future engagement, critique, and fandom spaces. Fingers crossed for more thorough media literacy in the future.