Friday, May 9, 2014

What's my cultural dealbreaker?

Vintage Television by Gary Lund is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.
This article on the A.V. Club got me thinking - what is my cultural dealbreaker? What is something that, if a new acquaintance came up to me and said, "Hey, I like this," I would roll my eyes at and walk away?

I'm going to start with one of the answers I more or less agree with:
Caroline Siede
I’m going to get a bit meta here and say that my pop culture dealbreaker is a person with a pop culture dealbreaker. While that might seem like conflict avoidance, it’s actually just a way for me to defend my horrible, horrible taste. I have a high tolerance—perhaps even a sadistic fondness—for truly terrible entertainment. 
My taste in pop culture is legendarily bad. I bought a TJ Hooker DVD box set that is at a friend's house because, if I tried to watch it at home, I'd no longer have someone to sleep next to or share the rent with (slight exaggeration, but still). I own several They Might Be Giants and Weird Al Yankovic albums. I've also been spending more time focusing on family, work and politics and less time following pop culture - note that this isn't some sort of grand statement of maturity or superiority but simply an acknowledgement that my priorities have changed and I have responsibilities now that I didn't have previously. Consequently, I'm not going to begrudge someone their opinion on pop culture - there are things I like, there are things others like, and I'm secure enough in my own taste where I don't feel particularly threatened by what others like if it happens to differ from my own. To be honest, given the virtually nonexistent amount of time I have to keep track of what's new and exciting, finding someone who likes something I don't gives me a rare opportunity to expand my horizons a bit.

That's not to say that I don't have strong opinions about certain pop culture products, though. First, someone else from the original article that I agree with:
Caroline Framke
I agree with 90 percent of what Other Caroline said about not liking pop culture dealbreakers, except that I totally have a pop culture dealbreaker. I do an actual, physical double take when someone tells me they like the Saw movies. It’s one thing to like horror—I don’t, but only because I’m too skittish for a genre that thrives on sudden movements—but torture porn is vile. I just can’t see the appeal or the point of watching a demented psychopath peel co-eds’ knuckles off with a rusty fishing hook. So while anyone who does like Saw won’t necessarily lose my respect, they will make me back away slowly.
One of the reasons I enjoy reading, whether you're talking about blogs, books, or whatever, is that I oftentimes find myself experiencing a feeling about something that I can't quite put into words. When I watched the first Saw movie, something about it felt almost morally offensive to me in a way that I couldn't quite pin down. Then, I watched Saw 2, and felt the same feeling even more strongly than before. What frustrated me about the feeling was that it was different from my usual objections to most horror movies - they're mindless, they require a suspension of disbelief I have troubles reaching, they're thinly veiled morality plays. Then I started reading some of Bob Grimm's reviews about the Saw movies and that's when it hit me - torture porn. The Saw movies were nothing more than porn, only instead of sex, it was torture. There was no plot. There was no acting. It wasn't even all that scary. It was just people getting tortured for no particular reason. Now I finally had a term I could use to sum up my feelings, an anchor that I could use to ground the emotional state those movies created in me. Without reading those reviews, I would have labored under an endlessly inchoate sense that something was wrong with those movies, a wrong I wasn't previously familiar with.

No, I didn't like Hostel, either. Thanks for asking.

Another cultural touchstone that I'm not particularly fond of is The Big Bang Theory. I'm not going to go into lengthy detail about why - that's something other people have dug into far better than I can. However, if I had to sum my feelings up in a sentence, I'd say that I'm not sure if the show's laughing with me or at me, and I'm quite certain I know what the audience is doing. I've been compared to Sheldon enough times by enough people to know that it's not a good-natured comparison, which tells me plenty about the audience for that particular show.

Finally, there's news television. I'm lumping MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, RT and the rest in this pile - I don't care what your ideological spectrum is, it's all crap. At its best, it's affirmation, not information. At its worst, it's repetitive sports television for people that want to feel "smarter" than people that watch SportsCenter. Go ahead, explain to me the difference between analyzing a late-April baseball game for half an hour, inning by inning, and masticating on the latest developments in the Benghazi "scandal". Explain to me how one has more impact on the world than the other. Take your time. Or perhaps you'd like to explain to me why I should care that some cute American girl may or may not have killed someone in Italy. Don't get me wrong, I follow the news. I just read it. I can skim news, filtering out the time-filling outrage fuel, a lot faster than I can sit through a commercial-laden news show. I can draw my own conclusions without having some talking head somewhere explain to me which side "lost" this particular down possession inning... er... news cycle.

Even so, I have friends that liked the Saw movies (at least the first couple, anyway), I have more than a few friends that enjoy The Big Bang Theory - and yes, they even remained friends after comparing me to Sheldon - and I even have friends that watch news television from time to time. Different people are into different things and different people are not into different things. That's part of what people interesting - learning not only what we like from each other but also discovering what we don't like.

Now, if you'll excuse me, someone on the Internet just said that Scream Blacula Scream is vapid and unwatchable. I'll be back after I explain via geometrical proof why they are hopelessly wrong.

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