In Defense Of Unabashedly Liking The Things You Like


A few days ago I was having a bad day. I won’t get into specifics for a couple of reasons, but I’ll just leave it at it was a combination of (a) why everyone seems to have bad days lately and (b) a weird thing happening in my life right now that I’d need a book to explain, so I won’t even attempt to do it in one sentence right here. Anyway, the point is, I was in a pretty lousy mood.

All that changed when I got into a conversation about Green Book. Now, Green Book is the surprise winner of the audience award at the Toronto International Film Festival – and when I say “surprise,” I mean it because no one was predicting a movie directed by Peter Farrelly (yes, one half of the Farrelly Brothers) to win at a prestigious film festival. Starring Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali, it’s the real-life story of acclaimed jazz pianist Don Shirley, a Jamaican jazz musician who hires a rough a rowdy New York bouncer named Tony Lip to serve as his driver as he tours in the still-segregated South of the early 1960s for the first time. The eventual friendship between Don Shirley and Tony Lip (Ali and Mortensen are great together) make it one of those movies that leaves the viewer in a good mood after. Yes, it’s a “feel good” movie. I felt good after. And talking about it again on that day was starting to cheer me up.

Then I got a text from a friend, “I saw Green Book and it sucks.”

First of all, I fully admit I overreacted in what I did next, but, yes, I kind of lost it. (I regret this!) But here was this one thing that was putting me in a better mood on this particular day and now here was a text making me feel bad for liking it. Though, in this particular instance, the sender thought I hadn’t liked Green Book and was looking for a kindred spirit. But the damage was done and I lost my temper and sent a whole slew of angry texts back. But what I’m writing about here isn’t as much about the incident, but more about why I reacted the way I did. Why did that bother me so much?

There’s always been a tendency to mock people for liking something other people think is bad. This isn’t a new phenomenon. What is new is feeling bad more often about things we can’t really control. So when we do find something that makes us happy in the world we live in right now, we latch onto it more. And then when someone tells us we are dumb for liking something, it feels that much worse.

Anyway, the whole point of this is: if you like something in this godforsaken world (within the normal bounds of reason like “it does no harm to others”), don’t let anyone take that away from you – including and especially yourself. If a movie makes you happy, then cherish that movie. We are losing our sense of nuance more and more every day. Something either has to be “awesome” or “terrible” for an opinion about a movie or TV show to gain traction. I realize it’s cliché to even point that out, but, look, a lot of us on the internet are guilty of that. But a result of this is that people stake out their positions on a subject and then pounce if your opinion is different. It used to be, “I like this,” followed by, “Well, I don’t.” Now it’s, “I like this,” followed by, “Well, I don’t and you’re an idiot.” (And I don’t mean from internet trolls, I mean from people you may know in real life.)

(Now, on the other hand, the above phrasing is what made something like Siskel & Ebert so much fun to watch. They’d take shots at each other and it was good entertainment. But that was theater. They were both getting paid a lot of money to insult each other on television.)

Once Green Book started getting mentioned in Oscar discussions my heart sank a little. This surprising movie I saw on a whim at a film festival that left me in a good mood will now probably be dissected and crapped on so many times it won’t feel anything like it does now when everyone is done dissecting it and crapping on it. And I love the Oscars! This isn’t tisk-tisking! I’m just pointing out that this is just way it is and it’s not changing. It’s become just like watching sports: people pick their favorite team and then disparage the other teams. Perhaps it’s a normal thing to do. It’s just weird it all got so personal.

But that doesn’t mean you or I have to pay attention to it or take it to heart. If your brain is telling you, “I feel happiness from this movie or television show or song,” then just go for it. Don’t listen to anyone else.

But that doesn’t mean you or I have to pay attention to it or take it to heart. If your body is telling you, “I feel enjoyment from this,” then just go for it. Don’t listen to anyone else. If you decide that the much-maligned movie Life Itself makes you happy … well, that is between you and your god. Look, I’m not sure I can help you with that one. But, you know what, you don’t have to listen to me. I’m certainly not here trying to make you feel bad about it. If you can watch Life Itself and somehow grasp enjoyment out of that movie and forget about whatever it is that ails you, then you should do that. It’s okay to find joy in things. And don’t let anyone talk you out of that right now.

You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.