Have you noticed how, on the Interwebbies, if you’re not fond of a film or book or song that someone else loves, you are a “moron,” and if someone else hates something you love, that thing “sucks?” (I’m using the most polite versions of the terms one stumbles across). What ever happened to celebrating variances in taste? What ever happened to the art of the thoughtful critique?
When we’re younger, sure, things we like are universally “amazing” and things we don’t like “blow.” Not only that, but when I was younger, I was mocked mercilessly for enjoying anything that was too popular (with the exception of those certain cultural tent poles that everyone MUST love, like Star Wars or Monty Python), or too cheesy, without being ironically so. I therefore kept my bourgeois opinions to myself, and instead touted the brilliance of your Akira Kurosawas and David Foster Wallaces. Also, I didn’t dare say I was bored, turned off or unimpressed with anything that had reached culty cool status, like the movie Blue Velvet or the graphic novel Watchmen.
What set me free: The band U2. I don’t like the band U2. There’s something about the repetitive thrum of guitar in the background and Bono’s wailing voice that sets my teeth on edge. Nearly every person (okay: male person) of my generation likes-to-WORSHIPS U2. In my early 20s, whenever I would tentatively state that I disliked the band, I was more often than not told I was an idiot, that I didn’t understand, that I was wrong. Like most people in their early 20’s I took this hard, until I had an epiphany: I started telling people that I fully understand that, yes, U2 is a band for the ages, but, well, gosh, I just don’t like them personally, and then I would proceed to explain why I felt this way. You know: I strove for a little more eloquence than "your band blows." This tact confused young U2philes, angered them, and then eventually shut them up. Also, it’s completely honest. There are bands out there that are truly terrible, and U2 is not one of them.
Likewise, in my old age wisdom, I proudly (and in some cases, sheepishly), proclaim my right to take pleasure in things that are geeky, cheesy, flawed, or, heaven forefend, insanely popular. I enjoy me some John Denver. I adore the movie Joe Vs. the Volcano. The Harry Potter series ranks amongst my favorite things in the universe. Whew. There. That was liberating. Liking these things doesn't make me stupid or tacky or a Philistine (okay, maybe a little with the John Denver); I simply now allow myself to enjoy some stuff that the little intellectual hipster voices in my head have heretofore pooh-poohed.
Fill up my senses like a night in the forest, baby.
That’s not to say I don’t think there’s a place in the world, or on the Internet, for criticism. As much as we writers often hate or fear it, it’s an essential part of art. Without a critical observer, what is art? It’s a whole tree/forest thing, to be sure. I welcome critique, of my opinions, and yes, even my own creations. Without my writing group, the Scribblerati, my novel wouldn’t be coming along nearly as well as it is. Thank you, gentle critic friends.
It’s the personal attack aspect that gets me down, and the black-and-whiteness of it all. I read the first Twilight book, and I pretty much detested it, but I know plenty of intelligent, well-adjusted women who find the series to be a terrific fantasy escape. They don’t “suck” for liking the books, but folks on the Intertubes might tell them as much.
So, maybe this “you suck for liking, or for not liking that” attitude floating around out there is due to the fact that most people leaving comments on the Internet are young, or perhaps it’s worse than that, perhaps anonymity is the death of graciousness. Whichever: It just makes me appreciate the rare insightful, fleshed out and civil critique all the more.