I don’t often love movies, TV, or books earnestly. It does happen occasionally – my obsession over Scavengers Reign is intense – but I’m someone who gets the most enjoyment out of critical dissection.
I’ve grown up in an era of American anti-intellectualism where I can’t go five steps without meeting disdain for anything with literary aspirations, and people often defend stuff *for* being brainless rather than despite it. Sympathy for the palliative effects of mindless media should subsume other concerns. Hence, folks have always said that if you don’t like the popular thing, you are [insert various insults here]. Elitist? Sexist? A jerk? Whatever.
With these influences, I used to think my preference to engage with media critically is because I’m a big snooty crank who doesn’t want people to have fun.
The experience is a little more complicated.
With recent autism diagnoses in the family, and seeing neuropsychologist analyses of the exact pathology of our brain miswiring, it’s become obvious how much of my disability is social. Humans are social animals, so disrupting social functions (like emotional regulation, filtering one’s language to be appropriate, and bonding with a social group) is kind of a big deal, and it manifests in multitude ways.
You might have already noticed my vocabulary trends over-formal or -complicated on one end of the spectrum; on the other end, I can get extremely crass, un-punctuated, and messy. I switch based on the tone in which I intend to speak rather than situational appropriateness, which I find difficult to meter.
It also means that I struggle to “hook into” popular things. Something that is very popular socially (say, Taylor Swift) will generally clear a bar on quality where there’s no big criticisms to be made on craft, so it’s easy to fall in love with the work because everyone you know loves it. It’s fun! Everyone’s having a good time!
Because my personal tastes skew esoteric, and I can’t feel part of any in-group, I don’t get pulled into the fervor. And then I get frustrated because everyone is talking about something I can’t genuinely enjoy.
With repeated exposures to something popular – Barbenheimer, the TikTok book du jour, American football – I find it difficult to avoid having *any* opinion about something that was not intended for me, does not appeal to me, and sometimes is overtly offensive. Billions in advertising dollars have been spent to make sure that certain things remain in my face.
Likewise, the conversations are omni-present. The internet water cooler always wants to talk about something I don’t like, and I live on the internet water cooler. Nobody likes having something they love criticized. But as a social animal, any sort of social interaction is better than none, even if it’s a bit antipathetic.
I’d live and let live if all that stuff would let me go. There are fewer places to escape these advertising machines than ever. It makes me wonder if I belong on the internet at all anymore, sometimes.
Another fun feature of autism is moral rigidity. Also, a rigid adherence to rules, which may or may not be rules that anyone other than the autistic individual is familiar with.
One of my Special Interests is the intersection of media analysis with social justice. I believe fiercely that stories are one of the oldest social technologies that humans have, and must be wielded consciously for the good of humanity; I take my art very seriously. I’d prefer to think of myself alongside the likes of radical author-activists of previous generations than think of myself as a content creator for the internet.
While I want to entertain foremost (since that’s core to the technology), I also have a whole lot to say, and I find that I say it best in fiction. I like people. Humans are my favorite animals. I hate systems and hierarchies. I want to help other people see how the problem is always a ruling class, not the individuals, and how working together can save us.
I receive negativity expressing these ambitions, too. Because every feisty opinion I share *feels* like it’s In Defense of Humans, Opposed to Hierarchies, I’m always baffled and wounded by the reactions and find myself incapable of communicating context effectively.
Somehow, this does nothing to discourage me. My brain has welded together art and morality. I’m wired to love this much more than I would love acceptance.
It also means I have a negative reaction to media with lower ambitions, sometimes. I don’t mean that the project aspires to be simpler. I mean lower ambitions, like making a project so bland as to appease a fascist model. I mean putting no hint of soul into something humans spent hours of their lives creating, and will spend hours more consuming.
When people are Just Having Fun with the Popular Thing, it’s pretty offensive that I would be Mister Buzzkillington about it because I think the creator has (say) a painfully white heteronormative lens in subservience to the capitalist machine of advertising.
I get why people don’t like that I do that! I don’t love it either.
And yet here we are.
These priorities have put me into a place where I can sometimes *love* media that is badly made, in poor taste, and broadly disliked, but somehow interesting to me. But might have nothing good to say about something very popular that treads extremely dull ground.
Sometimes, I can jump in on bandwagons by engaging critically. It allows me to pick apart a given piece of media and say, “These parts work for me. These parts don’t. This is why.”
The effort it requires to tease apart creator intent and execution, meaning and impact, and all those other elements that go into a finished product–that can be fascinating to me regardless of the finished product. Every single story has a story behind it. No movie is produced in total isolation; no book is published without cultural influence and without responding to some call from another book.
Which might help answer the question nobody was asking: “Why do you have such developed opinions on something you don’t like?”
Because reaching the opinion is the entertaining part. Sometimes the *only* entertaining part.
But hey, I’m enjoying the thing you’re enjoying, too. Just from a different angle. Isn’t that kinda nice?
Sometimes something I find terrible for xyz reasons will be *so* interesting that I’ll get hooked and become a Hate-Fan.
I could write essays about the terrible things I’ve loved before.
Venom 2: Let There Be Carnage, I’m looking at you.
Hate-fanning might not be ideal, but I see no harm in the practice with healthy boundaries. Getting wrapped up in the criticism is no good if the criticism makes you feel bad.
We’ve got a toxic outrage culture surrounding pseudo-criticism right now, especially on YouTube. If you want to talk about places that eviscerate low-intensity media in bad faith, you can go type the name of any movie starring a woman and “review” into the search bar and catapult yourself into algorithmic Hell.
Toxicity is great for clicks. It’s really bad for your soul.
Well, my soul anyway. I’m basically just a weird lil crochet mummy these days. I don’t want anything but good vibes in my zone.
I defend the ability to find joy in dissecting media. I don’t defend being aggressive about it, or any part of the algorithm machines to which the internet is enslaved, but I defend the value in taking an intellectual approach to all the art we engage with. An intellectual approach should never delegitimize the emotional approach; we don’t harsh others’ mellows, kinkshame, or diminish folks for enjoying something no matter how problematic it might be.
There is a difference between “this is a terrible, racist movie” and “everyone who loves this movie is terrible and racist,” and we’ve completely lost that nuance in the clickbait era of the internet.
There is room for grouchy, snooty, intellectualist cranks like me.
Having an opinion isn’t a big deal. You know, with boundaries.