Sunday, May 23, 2010

Team "Man in Black" (Or "What if everything were stupid?")

Remember around the time the last Twilight movie came out, when everybody was all "Team Jacob or Team Edward?"

I wanted to get a T-shirt that said "Team Jacob" on it.  I'm not a fan of Twilight.  In fact, I have never read any of the books nor seen any of the movies, so it would be irresponsible of me to say anything for or against it.  My idea was that I would wait ten years and, once nobody cared about Twilight, I would only then start wearing the shirt ironically.

I have had to discard that plan, however, in light of developments in this season of Lost.  You see, there is a character on Lost named Jacob, who embodies one of two sides on that show.  I don't follow the Lost fandom enough to know if anyone else has made this connection, but I fear that, even ten years from now, someone might see me wearing the shirt and correctly guess that I was a fan of Lost (and obviously not Twilight), but then incorrectly surmise that I was making some cute joke.  The over-imagined future scenario continues with me slapping this person for getting the non-joke, then slapping myself for inadvertently making it.

I'm not ashamed to call myself a fan of Lost.  Rather, I regularly feel shame for being enthusiastic about anything.  That's what society has done to me, though perhaps not directly.  When I hear people obsess over Twilight, I cannot help but cringe at the pathetic display of fanaticism over something fictional that I do not understand.  I think, almost as bad as making the cute jokes is being "that guy," and so I promise myself that I'll never care that much about anything.  The rational part of me bestowed with perspective, however, reaches for a mirror.  What if I already am that guy?

One of the greatest dangers of being a fan of anything is that you risk exposure to fellow fans.  Even if you are not fans of the same thing, the more another person cares, the less you want to recognize of yourself in their useless passion.

You might look over this blog and wonder, "But Henry, you readily admit to liking all manner of shameful stuff, so how can you be suffering from these feelings?"

Well, it takes a strong sense of self, a confidence in one's own ego, to overcome what is an unavoidable stage--but merely a stage--in becoming invested in any fiction.  Some who can't make it to that peace might instead respond to these feelings by lashing out at the property and mocking its fans (especially if you yourself liked that thing prior to meeting other fans).  Others might try to passive-aggressively ignore it, maybe by whistling loudly to themselves--a "two birds with one stone" approach that protects you from having to acknowledge it, while annoying the people who do care, so that they too are unable to enjoy it.  Me, I still come up against these feelings every time I start talking about what I like, but I guess eventually I just like what I like.

Anyway, the Lost finale is tonight, and that is how I intend to spend my evening.  You don't have to like it, but as Liz Lemon says, know to just shut your mouth when I'm watching.


Czardoz said...

"the more another person cares, the less you want to recognize of yourself in their useless passion"

Is this why you stopped liking wrestling?

Henry said...

No, as I went on to say, the feelings of shame, for me, always pass and never ultimately dictate what I consume. I like what I like, and I try not to judge others for the things they enjoy.

I stopped following pro wrestling because the stories were cyclical and neverending, and dropping those TV hours freed up my weekly schedule, which I am always wanting to be more free, less schedule. I only started to actively dislike it, however, after wrestlers started killing people.

Are you satisfied? You know, we don't have to make this just about me. Sometimes I use myself as the example in these stories because I don't want to incriminate anyone else. But the message I'm trying to get across is that, if you have these feelings, that's okay, because I have them too, but we can overcome them and maybe together make this world a little less mean and cannibalistic. But am I alone in this after all?

Czardoz said...

Long ago, when I went to many concerts (and rarely to see artists with names like Britney or Gaga), I regularly had the very feeling you described when I found myself in a dark, sweaty room with my fellow fans as they alternated between lighting joints and shouldering each other in the chest. My question to myself was always, “How is it possible that these numbskulls like the same music I like?” Especially considering the relative obscurity of the music I listened to, there was a certain possessive jealousy at play.

I suspect the same feelings arose for some among us when we went to Anime Expo, and some fanboy, like a modern day Homer, laboriously and orally recited the entire Metal Gear saga to the guy next to him, while in line to see David Hayter. Or when I ran into another guy dressed up as Indiana Jones – perhaps there was a natural and unavoidable urge to take him down a peg by whipping his hide and showing him that you shouldn’t dress like Indy unless you’re ready to be hardcore.

But like you said, these feelings pass, and I think growing up and becoming more self-assured is a big part of it. I realize that I’m not defined by the things I like, no matter how much I like them, so if I feel no particular resonance when meeting fans of the things I like, it’s no reflection on us as people. And as far as fans of other things, why should their passion, no matter how misguided it may seem, be offensive to me? Hell, I don’t know the difference between a Nabuto and a Nidoran, but I applaud anyone who does, as long as they’re having a good time with their Digimon. I’m sure there are plenty of people who don’t know the difference between a Flox and a Tuvoknix, but why should they scorn me for knowing?

It often takes either a thick skin or the innocence of a babe to be forthright and enthusiastic about one’s own passions, but I am happy to say that we, the ardent fans, are not the desperate ones. We actually have something we care about. It’s the cynical “too-cool-for-school” types who are desperate, because they care about nothing. So you are not alone, and I think if people would just open themselves to simply being happy about the things they like, then they wouldn’t waste their lives on things that ultimately don’t matter.

* * *

On a related issue, I don’t have a problem with people liking Lost, but I always felt that there was a unique and distasteful reverence among Lost fans. These are the types who insist that unless you’re a huge fan, you’re not “with it,” and what’s worse, that there’s no explaining the show to non-fans, like the show itself is written in mystical hieroglyphics combined with magical vapors steamed onto scrolls that only blind monks can decipher, and only acolytes like themselves can inhale.

I’m sorry, but that doesn’t fly with me. I’m not asking anyone to summarize the whole thing to me (even the writers probably are too confused to do that), just to tell me what makes the show good. And if they’re too proud to even try to explain, then how can I take their enthusiasm seriously? What then makes it any different from a religion or a cult?

* * *

That's a funny idea, waiting ten years, but I have a question. In ten years, when you tell everyone you're on Team Jacob, do you think the first thing on their minds will be Lost or Twilight? Which property will have more longevity, in your opinion?

As you know, I’ve read about as little Twilight as I have watched Lost, so I’m not particularly qualified to make conjecture. Then again, perhaps I’m perfectly poised to state an opinion, since brilliance should make itself known even with a small taste. I thought that last episode of Lost was pretty good, but then, those few lines I read aloud from Twilight a while back were, well, rather fragrant, like a girl.

Henry said...

There are two sides to this Lost situation that you describe, and while I too have a lot of problems with "Lost fans," I will now try to speak on their behalf as a fan myself.

You say that you are grown up enough to know that you are not defined by the things you like, but I'm sure you've met many adults who have never thus grown up.  Worse by far, however, are those who try to define themselves according to what things they choose NOT to like, and again I'm sure you know the sorts of people I mean.  Lost, like Star Wars or Final Fantasy or Lady Gaga, is one of those things that, due to the fervency of its fandom, cannot help but generate an opposing reaction of these types of people, who will proudly dismiss it without having ever seriously tried it, just for the sake of being contrarian.  I'm not necessarily accusing you of this, but I think most Lost fans, myself included, have at some point been confronted by such people asking to know what makes the show so good.  Usually it's pretty obvious that these people have already made up their minds and are not motivated by a genuine interest (because if they really want recommendations, there are any number of positive reviews just clicks away on the Internet), but by a spiteful desire to test you by demanding that you justify your love on-the-spot.  That's not an attitude that is likely to elicit a considered response.  Only a hopeless fool wastes his own energy on an unreceptive audience.  Perhaps you're just an innocent victim caught in the crossfire between devotees and haters, but I think what you perceive as elitism is actually the heightened defensiveness of a fanbase that feels itself under siege.  Or maybe these specific fans you speak of are just insane, but that sort of following is hardly unique to Lost.

I did once (and will again) try to briefly summarize what I liked about Lost.  You'll note that I for one never called it unexplainable to non-fans.  Rather, my position was that a newcomer could not jump into the middle of such a dense and serialized drama without, maybe, feeling "like a jogger crossing the street and accidentally running into the Chicago Marathon."   If you didn't find my words convincing, I don't blame you.  Prove me wrong if you can, but I don't believe that it is possible, in just a few sentences, to convince a person of any work's superior quality, unless that person is already inclined to take your word for it.  I tried many times to get into the new Battlestar Galactica, not because the people recommending it were offering anything more than generic praise (e.g. "enthralling," "complex characters," "transcends its genre") that should have demanded elaboration, but because the praise came from people I respected.  In the end, I wanted to like that show but couldn't.  Still, I am more likely to listen to a recommendation based on its source than on any superlatives it might be packing. A brief plot summary is often an even better, more informative hook, but Lost is hard to boil down in that way because its essential ideas are not concrete.

Henry said...

Ideally, the shirt should have a large picture of Taylor Lautner's face on it, so there should be no question what it is referring to.

But Lost will for sure be remembered more fondly than Twilight. I predict eventually everyone will hate Twilight, which is less a comment on its quality than on the mercurial nature of its key demographic.