05 January 2010

Leave the Window Ajar

The other day, the IMDb linked to this rather innocuous short article posted by NPR. Its author, Linda Holmes, makes the perfectly reasonable argument that we should be more open-minded in our cultural pursuits, that we shouldn't dismiss out of hand entire genres or authors or whatnot just because we've decided to be prejudiced against them. Here, in my opinion, is the money paragraph:
People who have written off all Hollywood movies, or all television, or all popular music (or all rap, or all thrillers, or all romantic comedies), on the basis of a presupposition about quality that blankets an entire medium or genre are regrettable for their corrosive attitudes, yes. But they're even more regrettable for what they're missing. Rare indeed is the enormous vat of nothing but bathwater; there's almost always a baby in there somewhere.
I certainly agree with that. I doubt I know anyone who doesn't. Most people think they're perfectly open-minded and would nod in approval, all while blithely dismissing something they think they're above, or not interested in. "Old black and white movies? Those are so boring!" No, you're just visually illiterate.

The problem comes in when people take this argument a step further and start suggesting you take in specific films, books, songs, etc. "How do you know Twilight is stupid? You haven't seen it or read the books! So shut up!" "So what if all the reviews of Norbit were terrible? Watch it and make up your mind!" "Well, I like 'Rock of Love.' You shouldn't have an opinion unless you watch it too." We all know someone like this. We've all probably been someone like this. It's an irritating argument precisely because it is, in theory, correct. But in practice, as in, the way life is actually lived on this Earth, it is horribly wrong and leads to wasted lives and minds.

Why? Because there is too much shit out there. And I don't mean "shit" as in "bad." I mean "shit" as in "sheer volume." A quick count on the Wikipedia page for "2009 in Film" tells me that 273 films were released in the United States last year (no, I'm not recounting them to make sure I'm accurate). And those are just the major ones. Think about all the films that played in festivals, or that your friends made, or were only in a theater for one showing and then disappeared. No one saw every single one. I didn't even see 273 movies in total, and I watch a hell of a lot of movies. Now take all those movies and add in all the television shows you're supposed to be watching, the books you're supposed to reading, the music you're supposed to be listening, the podcasts you're supposed to be downloading, and the YouTube clips you're supposed to be forwarding.

That's all the media for you to consume in the short periods of time you have between work, sleep, family, friends, general mental-grabassery, and (maybe) exercise. And that's just the new media, by the way. Don't forget about all the old classics you should watch, and everything that came out the year before you still need to catch up on.

The sheer bulk of today's cultural output necessitates that we keep our windows closed a bit. Some discrimination must be wielded. I am not, however, advocating that we overlook entire swathes of culture willy-nilly. My argument is thus: We must not be outright, ignorant dismissers, but informed dismissers. We must work together to keep ourselves sane and our Netflix queues neat and orderly. How so? I'm sure most of you do it already. You read reviews, or hear what your friends have to say, or find articles analyzing and dissecting. This perks something in your mind - "Say, that sounds pretty cool" - and it leads you to seek out and conquer. Over time, you learn whose opinions and thoughts you generally agree with, or find most insightful, and you turn to them for their thoughts more frequently than other places. You become better at judging things from advance word, or based on what the artists have done previously, and this leads you to spend your time more fruitfully.

Ah, yes, of course there are problems with this. Namely that you run the risk of falling down the rabbit hole of taste, like those who only listen to indie music or only watch horror films. Also, I agree that it's better to know as little as possible about something before you go into it; that way you're free to judge/enjoy it on its own merits without your preconceived notions screwing the pooch. This is especially true in a day and age when, thanks to the proliferation of opinions on the Internet, everything is simultaneously over- and underrated before it's even been released.

Therefore, if you wish to remain a culturally broad individual, you have to keep an open mind whilst simultaneously judging things entirely on the scant amount of reports, trailers, and previews you must limit yourself to. In addition, you avoid entirely dismissing something. While it may not look good in the here and now, future thought may convincingly persuade you otherwise. Yes, "Bad Girls Club" looks like a complete waste of time that you would do well to skip, but if a person makes the argument that it's actually a compelling look at traumatically disturbed skanks suffering serious denial and indicative of the sad state of our society, well then, it might be worth a look or two.

Once again, though, caution must be taken. Whoever is making the argument that the shit sandwich really is peanut butter and jelly must give you sufficient reason to change your mind. "It's good" is not enough. They must offer "It was good because..." They must work to change minds and demonstrate why Object A is worth your precious time. (But then again, that's something everyone should be doing always. If you don't know why you like the things you do, even if most others agree with your opinion, then what good is it?)

And if they don't convince you? There's no reason to be snotty. Take a lesson from literature and stick with "I would prefer not to." They have their reasons for enjoying "Jersey Shore," and if they're not reasons you can get behind, so be it. At least it makes them happy. Let them be in peace. Basically, I can sum up this post with one sentence, the modern-day Golden Rule: Don't be a dick.

Unless they dismiss something you love. In which case, go full-on apeshit.


  1. Bravo, your finest post. Also, tonight's Bad Girls Club was CRAZY!

  2. Right on, J! Now cancel that shit or retool/repackage/remake that shit and sell it for more than its worth tomorrow.