Everyone’s got it. You form an opinion, you see a pattern, and your brain starts working to confirm it. Most of the time it’s no big deal. But it can be dangerous as soon as you encounter anything that seems to fall in an “other” category.
It’s how police officers overwhelmingly suspect people of color of crimes, even when the cops are 50 percent people of color themselves. It’s how shows like Black-ish or Fresh Off the Boat can become the black or asian (respectively) family show, even when their families are closer to the average American family unit than Modern Family. It’s also how you get reporting like this, from The Mary Sue about the rumors that Sony is passing on the Ghostbusters sequel because the first one lost them money:
In fact, within the body of the article it reports that Sony has made no such decision either way, but weirdly connects that to its other Ghostbusters plans in order to draw conclusions:
Sony won’t comment on whether it has banished a sequel to the netherworld, but perhaps tellingly, a rep says the studio actively is pursuing an animated Ghostbusters feature that could hit theaters in 2019 and an animated TV series,Ghostbusters: Ecto Force, which is eyeing an early 2018 bow. Both are being guided by Reitman, who firmly is back in charge of the Ghostbusters empire via Ghost Corps., a subsidiary with a mandate to expand the brand across platforms. (It was former Sony film chief Amy Pascal who first embraced Feig’s vision for the live-action reboot, not Reitman or Rothman.)
Now, we’ve known about this upcoming Ghostbusters animated film since the end of 2015, and reported on the film finding a director in March of this year. Yet, with the sly phrase “perhaps tellingly,” this article presents its existence, as well as the existence of Ghost Corps. as a direct result of Ghostbusters’ box office. Ghostbusters was also a Ghost Corps. project! And yet, if you were to read this with no other information or context, you’d think that Ivan Reitman had nothing to do with Ghostbusters as a film, and created Ghost Corps. as a response to its failure.
What’s “telling” is the unnecessary dig at Amy Pascal, separating Reitman and Rothman from her as if Reitman didn’t also produce this movie. Why did that need mentioning? Oh right, because we want to make sure that people know that it was the woman in the equation who thought this movie was a good idea, and let’s all remember she’s not working there anymore. What’s frustrating is that a female writer wrote this piece.
Confirmation bias can be a tricky drug to get a handle on. It takes constant checking of what we know to be true versus what we believe to be true. And it causes real damage, from police brutality all the way to showrunners and directors of color who feel afraid to make experiences around their lives (as opposed to white lives) because then it “wouldn’t be universal.”
And the fault can be spread everywhere: Even when critics, for instance, are trying to build momentum around a show lead by women or POC, they often do so at the sake of its universality. It goes from being the critically acclaimed new show on the block to the critically acclaimed girl show coming out. And in that sort of instance, anyone involved in making it who is that characteristic (girl, POC, LGBTQ, etc.) becomes implicated in its success—and more notably its failures.
Amy Pascal greenlit hundreds of movies during her time, will she be held to the fire on Spiderman: Homecoming? Fury? James Bond? Probably not.
Too often creators are conflated with the works they’ve done, if they’re anything aside from a straight white guy. Don’t let confirmation bias lead you to misunderstand what they’re doing.