Recently, I received a message from a friend and colleague of mine confronting me for liking something that he did not like at all. I think it’s still the Midwesterner in me who hates confrontations – even friendly confrontations like this one. I’d much prefer to subtweet someone (tweeting vaguely about someone who is bothering you without ever mentioning the person, which honestly creates a lot more interest than just calling someone an asshole) than actually confront another human being.
As a child in Missouri, I was given the best education possible on how to be terribly passive aggressive. Midwesterners thrive on it. I honestly think that’s a big reason Trump won (among a lot of other terrible reasons) – that a lot of people voted with some sort of passive-aggressive chip on their shoulder, as some sort of retribution against anyone who has ever uttered the phrase “flyover county.” It’s a big reason I moved. I prefer the direct insult to wondering if it was an insult at all – even though, yes, direct confrontation still makes me anxious.
And to be fair to this person I won’t mention (it was Indiewire‘s David Ehrlich), I ribbed him pretty hard in December for liking the atrocious Assassin’s Creed, so I kind of deserved this conversation and knew it was eventually coming. But we lived in a different world then. Sure, Trump had won the White House a month before, but we didn’t quite know what that meant yet. Oh, now we know. Every day is basically a living nightmare of draconian travel bans, court injunctions, threats to health care, having our browsing history up for sale, and possible treason. (This guy has only been president for about 10 weeks.) In the past, a back and forth about the merits of a movie would either make me “dig in” and defend myself, or maybe just concede I’m wrong. But in this world we live in now, I just can’t apologize for things I like. There are so few actual moments of joy in this world right now, the last thing I’m going to do is apologize for feeling a moment of pleasure.
Everything about the world we live in has unwittingly, drastically changed how I watch entertainment. I do focus more on the things I like.
I’m strangely finding more joy in movies lately, even the bad movies. I’m having a more and more difficult time to just hate something. Right now, anything that takes my mind off the outside world is something to be heralded. Even a movie I didn’t like, like Power Rangers, still had enough moments that at least made me forget about “the world.” Some people really, really liked Power Rangers. In the past that might have bugged me a bit because it goes against everything I witnessed in front of my own eyes with that movie – why don’t you agree with me! – but now I’m just happy someone else found some joy in this world for over a couple of hours (boy, that’s a long movie). I honestly think it’s why I liked Kong: Skull Island so much. And I do wonder if I’d have felt the same way about that movie a year ago, but right now I really like it.
I am not at all suggesting we should like a bad product. I just wish, at least for a while, we could put a moratorium on shitting on others for liking something – at least until the world goes back to normal, whenever that may be. In this world we live in, why would anyone want to take some fleeting happiness away from another person?
Even with movies most people love, it always seems to kind of go like this: Something gets almost universal praise, then like clockwork someone comes along and writes, “Here’s why that thing you like sucks.” Then people get mad and it gets attention. And it’s not so much the opinion as it is the attack on the people who like something, and then people start feeling bad about why they liked something to begin with. “I don’t like this” (which is always fair) becomes “Here’s why you’re wrong,” which just makes everyone feel lousy. A bad review is a bad review and there are a lot of those, but going after something that people like and the people who like it… now that sells.
Back in 2009, S.T. VanAirsdale (who a year later would become my editor and friend, then eventually burn out from writing about popular culture on the internet and move away from New York to go back to his hometown of Sacramento and teach journalism), with his last piece at the now-defunct website Defamer, wrote a piece I still tweet once every few months or so, “It’s OK To Like Things.” (And, yes, I kind of co-opted the title for this piece.) It’s one of the most honest pieces of writing about writing about culture I’ve read. And at the time I know he got a lot of heat for writing it. But it’s almost a piece that was written eight years too soon:
It also made me lazy. “If I talk to you,” John Cusack began an interview last May, “will you stop writing nasty shit about me?” I didn’t know what the fuck he was talking about, but I learned soon enough, rediscovering some tossed-off, machine-feeding item about his upcoming film 2012. Just stupid. And there were others like it — maybe even hundreds of them, too embarrassing to exhume now, but apparently not too awful to stop, you know, doing. They continued unabated, in fact, until a couple weeks ago, when one of the less egregious examples prompted a commenter to ask sincerely, “Do you like anything?”
What do I like? That any answer at all took longer than a few seconds to conjure was my first clue that I might require some adjustment.
Holy Christ, yes. Yes. I like Synecdoche, New York. I like An Education. Actually, the whole Sundance Film Festival was pretty great this year. I like Man on Wire. I like Tyler Perry. I like Iron Man. I like Harvey Weinstein, even if he’ll never believe me. I like Manoj, even if he’ll really never believe me.
I like Clint Eastwood and Mickey Rourke. I like The Spirit — in a backhanded sort of way, but still. I like Josh Groban, at least for one performance. I like Hunger. The Dark Knight was pretty good. Frozen River was solid. Did you ever hear of Able Danger or Toots? They were impressive. And surprisingly — happily, even, after all that digging — I could go on.
I don’t think I’m an overly negative writer (but I have an occasional mean streak), so this isn’t for me some sort of epiphany on my writing style, but I am going to do a better job of letting people like what they like without making some sort of verbal or internal judgment about their tastes. This week, the aforementioned David Ehrlich wrote a reassessment of Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby that I don’t totally agree with. (Here’s your obligatory “old sport” quote.) And of course David got some grief online for this opinion. But now I’m just happy he found some joy in something he previously hadn’t in a world that is going to hell. And I’ll never understand what he saw in Assassin’s Creed, but I’m glad he was happy while watching it.
Speaking of, as I was writing this I got another message from David about the movie we were arguing about, “I was just declaring that the thing you like is bad. I’m okay with you liking it.” In the eight years I’ve known David, this is the closest we’ve come to some sort of agreement on a movie we disagree on. It’s a different world out there. People are looking for anything to clutch onto, for just a moment, as a semblance of normalcy or escapism. It just doesn’t even seem fair to try and take that away. It’s not just okay to like things, It’s more important than ever to find the things we like and hold on to them desperately.
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