As you might have heard, Green Book has “received its fair share of backlash” during this awards season. The buddy film about a black piano player (Mahershala Ali) and his white driver (Viggo Mortensen) is a “whitewash” that “spoon-feeds racism to white people.” It’s a film that “purports to be about racial reconciliation, a popular sentiment among people who want everyone, holding hands, to take responsibility for ending white supremacy—not just its beneficiaries.” Ultimately, Green Book “comes from the Forrest Gump and Driving Miss Daisy School of Simplistic History and Sentimentality with a curriculum that boasts discussion of important, relevant issues (race, politics, prejudice, etc.) in a syrupy, candy coating with all the comforts of being set firmly in the past.”
I believe all of these things because I have definitely seen Green Book, which qualifies me to be part of the cultural conversation about it. Who would dare talk about something that he or she has not personally experienced? I have no idea, because I have without question witnessed Green Book with my own two eyes. For instance [frantically checks notes] what is the deal with the fried chicken scene? Seriously [clears throat nervously] what’s up with that? Green Book actually “determines that dining with racists is better than dining alone.” That insightful observation, perfectly phrased, sums up how I feel about this corny movie that I absolutely paid money to see in a theater.
Okay, fine, I admit it: I’m just regurgitating things I’ve read about Green Book, a movie I haven’t seen yet. In fact, “yet” is wildly optimistic, as I will only ever see this movie if I’m on an extremely long flight with extremely limited in-flight options. (Please, our nation’s airlines, don’t ever take away Crazy Rich Asians or American Made.) I have nothing against Green Book, it’s just that there’s only so much time in the day, and carving out two hours to watch a prestige film made by the co-director of Me, Myself & Irene isn’t a priority for me.
However, I will make time to read about Green Book. Ironically, I’ve spent more hours processing words about this film than it would take to actually watch it. Any time a link to a new thinkpiece about Green Book comes across my social media feed, I instantly click on it. I have little interest in the actual film, but the takes about Green Book by some of our finest and most eloquent cultural critics continue to hook me in. The result is that I vaguely know the narrative basics of a movie I don’t plan on seeing, while also being intimately aware of Green Book‘s media narrative, i.e. it’s an old-fashioned Hollywood liberal movie about race relations that seems patronizing and even somewhat racist in our current context.
Are you thinkperienced? Have you ever been thinkperienced? A thinkperience is when you “see” or “hear” something strictly via the rhetorical filters of others, informing your view of that something you haven’t personally seen or heard. There are many things that I (and probably you) have consumed this way, whether via social media or critical essays.
Typically, this content falls under a category I refer to as “This Stinks, Smell It,” which are things I know I’ll probably hate and yet still want to experience through a mediator. For instance, dozens of people that I follow on Twitter are obsessed with the work of conservative New York Times columnist Bari Weiss. Following anyone who works in New York City media basically equates to signing up for an RSS feed of Bari Weiss’ columns, or at least really mean subtweets of those columns. Therefore, in spite of never having read a single article written by Bari Weiss, I have a solid grasp of her primary thematic concerns as well as general knowledge of her background. That’s all I need!
When I was a younger man, without a family to spend a time with or a mortgage to pay for, I didn’t have to lean so much on thinkperiences. I could invest my full attention in a shaky proposition like the new season of True Detective and laugh it off if my time was ultimately wasted. But now that I am required to be more frugal with my minutes and hours, it’s hard to commit to something you know will likely fail you. But thanks to thinkperiencing True Detective, I know that a prominent female character claimed in this week’s episode that she has “the soul of a whore.” Thinkperiencing this sort of thing instead of actually watching really removes the sting of having blown an hour of your life!
Another activity I once had time for was watching things ironically, but I can’t really do that now. Luckily, I don’t have to — I follow people who have live-tweeted entire seasons of The Bachelor, so what’s the point of watching it myself? I have also read multiple appreciations of Fox’s recent talent show The Masked Singer, which I’m told is not good but “is a spectacle,” and that’s good enough for me. I also find myself thinkperiencing sports more and more — the NBA these days seems designed to be enjoyed via the tweets of about four dozen dudes who obsessively watch NBA League Pass and turn every notable play into digestible 15-second videos. I also follow many writers who used to participate in music criticism, a dying industry, and now seem to talk exclusively about pro wrestling. So now I have loads of superficial knowledge about that, too.
Is thinkperiencing lazy? I don’t think a judgmental word like lazy should apply to anyone trying to keep their head above water during the desperate final throes of late capitalism. I prefer “practical.” It’s lazy when a high school junior reads the CliffsNotes of Jane Eyre instead of toughing it out through Charlotte Brontë’s 172-year-old classic. It’s practical for me to decide that watching all 192 hours of the MAGA Teen confrontation in order to get “the full story” is not good self-care.
The obvious downfall of thinkperiencing is that everyone is an unreliable narrator. People exaggerate, they flub facts, they let their own biases color their opinions, and they sometimes are just flat-out wrong. Recently, it seemed as though every person whose opinion I care about suddenly cared a lot about the home improvement guru Marie Kondo, whose Netflix series Tidying Up With Marie Kondo premiered earlier this month. Many people were fixated on Kondo’s apparent assertion that a person should own only 30 books. What an outrage! I saw people complain about this again and again. But when I asked my extremely not online wife, a Kondo fan, about it, she assured me it was all B.S., as did other sources.
(By the way, I still haven’t watched Tidying Up With Marie Kondo. I fact-checked my thinkperience with another thinkperiences.)
When I can, I prefer to see things for myself, so I can make up my own mind. But I’ve also decided to forgive myself for relying on the occasional thinkperience in order to keep up with this maniacally overstuffed world. I just try to keep in mind what might be lost in translation. The discourse has a way of reducing art to devices in larger, ongoing conversations. These conversations — which, in the case of Green Book, center on race, privilege, and the power of storytelling to illuminate and distort differing perspectives — are crucial. But your own reactions to art might not always line up with the overriding dialogue. It’s worth finding out whether Green Book speaks to you in a way it hasn’t to others.
Don’t take it from me, though. I haven’t seen it.