Monday, January 9, 2012

Questioning Your Taste: Is it them or me?

In the spring of 2010, the low-budget comedy Tiny Furniture premiered at the South by Southwest Festival and was hailed as a brilliant, insightful, funny coming-of-age story. It won the top prize, and its writer-director-star, 24-year-old newbie Lena Dunham, was called a fresh new voice in comedy. Critics adored the film. Judd Apatow is now producing a TV series Dunham created, Girls, which premieres on HBO in April. After hearing all of this hype and adulation for Tiny Furniture, I decided to watch it one night, excited about what I was going to see.
And I hated it.

The movie wasn't awful, but it was slow, plotless, and not funny. I was so confused. How was this film being hailed as the new coming of comedy? Why was Hollywood going gaga for this film and for Lena Dunham? Was it them or was it me?

Taste is subjective, but nowadays, it seems that it's only subjective if your opinion matches general consensus. If you don't like it, then you are not smart enough. Or you just suck. We see it with Oscar season. Critics fall over each other to slather a film with praise, and then I see it and am unimpressed. I always second guess myself: maybe I just didn't get it, maybe I have lofty expectations. Recently, I saw The Descendants with George Clooney. It's a frontrunner in this year's Oscar race, directed by Alexander Payne who did the sublime Election and Sideways. My reaction at the movie's end was "Meh." I couldn't understand why critics were drooling over this. Just like I couldn't understand why they loved Sideways -- a movie which I found good, not great.

My pet peeve is when people criticize me for not liking something they did. Last month, I saw The Muppets. Again, I enjoyed the film, but I didn't LOVE it, putting me in the minority amongst my friends. And at a party, one of the guests called my morals and my soul into question because I only liked it. Judging by the way The Muppets has nosedived at the box office, I wasn't the only one. Just because I don't like or love something doesn't mean I'm a heartless snob. When it comes to art, people were not meant to be lemmings.

I used to be like them, though. I used to get up in arms when someone didn't like a movie or book that I loved. I took it personally a little. But now I've learned that we all have different opinions, and nobody should make you feel like yours aren't valid. The key is backing up your opinions. Many times, we don't think about why we like or don't like something. We go with our gut. Since I've gotten into writing, I now work to articulate my reasoning. All writers should do this. Next time you read a great book, think about why you liked it so much, and not just because everyone else liked it. This will help you in your writing to figure out what works.

Over Christmas break, I read Franny and Zooey by JD Salinger. Catcher in the Rye is one of my favorite books, and I also loved Nine Stories, so I was excited to read F&Z. And I hated it. I rarely hate books, but I hated this one. I was afraid to say that, because F&Z is such a classic, it must be me. But this is why I so disliked the novel: It was 200 pages of people having extremely long, rambling conversations that went nowhere -- a short story idea that Salinger strained to stretch into a full-length. Maybe this just isn't my type of book. I realize that I prefer plot-driven novels. But that doesn't make my opinion invalid or my taste "off." 

What books/movies/shows have you hated that everyone else loved? And if you have opinions about any of the movies and books mentioned, please share!


  1. Phil, I agree with you. I belong to a writing group where I find most people have no interest in the books I love. This is why I like to explain in detail why I like a certain book or movie. But the truth of the matter is that we are all different. It happens in literature, art, music etc. Then there are trends. Keep in mind that Van Gogh sold nothing during his life. Now he would be a millionaire.

  2. And let me add that most of the writers and artists that I admire shrugged off the "trends"...

  3. See, there's just so much truth dripping from the words in this post. I haven't seen either of these movies. I doubt I will.

    I can say that the one book I had a hard time with was Twilight. I had people falling all over themselves to tell me how good it was and when I finally read it, I wanted to puke up the words and ask for a refund of my time. But I paid for it and forced myself to read it all the way through. I just figured that overly angsty, shiver-me, stalk-you just didn't fit well for me. Had quite a few bad looks from people who truly loved the book.

  4. I hated all of the Transformers movies, yet a lot of my co-workers really love them. They seemed like mindless drivel with bad acting.

    I blame the education system. Without education, people seem to be drawn to shiny things without any content.

  5. Julia - I had no idea Van Gogh sold nothing in his lifetime. And trends, schmends!

    Angela - There are just as many twilight-haters as there are twilight-lovers, so however you feel, you will always have company.

    Mike - Hello from the past! I don't get why people love the transformers films. They are awful! And I love loud, action films, but these are terrible. Yes, our society doesn't value education like it did. Now we champion those who can act like the biggest idiot. You should see the movie Idiocracy. It proves your theory about lack of education and them some.

  6. Probably the most famous 'you will love this' book that I hate, is 'Catcher in the Rye'. Sorry :-)

  7. I never read the Harry Potter book series nor have I seen the movies. They just simply never appealed to me.

    As for books of yesteryear, I would say the following never did it for me and I never saw what other people saw in them:

    1) Lord of the Rings.
    2) The Hobbit
    3) Dune
    4) 1984