Letters to the Editor: ‘Problematic,’ the weasel word that separates us from them

Actor Ben Stiller promotes his movie "Tropic Thunder."
Ben Stiller promotes his movie “Tropic Thunder,” deemed by some as “problematic” for its portrayal of certain characters, in Paris in 2008.
(Jacques Brinon / Associated Press)
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To the editor: Thanks to Robin Abcarian for her column on the weasel word “problematic.” For years the use — now ubiquitous — of the word itself been deeply, well, problematic.

The best demonstration of why would be to say it, but don’t explain why it’s problematic. And that’s exactly the problem. Rarely does a user explain the problem. The label is considered sufficient to condemn and render the subject beyond discussion.

Fail to sagely nod in agreement and dare to ask why something is “problematic,” and people will view you with suspicion, even loathing. You have now made yourself known to them as one of those people, an untouchable.


People instinctively create new in- and out-groups when old ones are suppressed or wither away.

Chuck Almdale, North Hills


To the editor: Abcarian finds the word “problematic” an effective insult and discovers its usage has “soared” in the last few decades. She recounts an actor’s movie role (one her interlocutor deemed problematic) and describes him in disparaging terms, including the insult “balding.”

Am I too sensitive to being bald? No — merely pointing out that describing a man to include bald should not be done without considering it is usually used as an insult.

Kevin H. Park, Oklahoma City


To the editor: Abcarian’s understanding of what, in her view, is “problematic” misses her point. While the movie “Tropic Thunder” is a satirical film at other war movies, the characters mentioned in Abcarian’s column, if taken with a shred of seriousness, cause significant harm.


If we as a society allow these stereotypes to continue even for supposed comedic value, then I dare say we will end up with more Kanye Wests and Kyrie Irvings, which will lead to far worse stuff.

Educate yourself before it becomes, well, problematic.

Alex Heldman, Culver City