So last night I posted on Facebook that I get driven a bit crazy by articles like “10 books every woman/dog/man” should read because I think the only thing people should read for pleasure is the stuff that makes them happy. This morning I woke up to see that there had been yet another article (approximately the billionth such article) of the “Romance is stupid and the women who like it are stupid and why can’t you all just see the light and read literachoor that doesn’t rot your puny minds” variety. Over the last few months, I’ve been following the SFF blow ups about fake geek girls and other forms of “oh god, you’re doing it wrong and ruining it for everybody”.
Basically my take on this boils down to….hey, people are individuals. They like the stuff that pushes their happy buttons. The same stuff pushes individual folk’s happy buttons in different ways so that they react to it in individual ways (including the fact that it may not push their happy button at all or may actively push their unhappy button). Which is all good and is why the world is not very very very boring.
But the other thing that people are, thanks to the way we evolved as a species (or such is my in no way an anthropologist take on it), is tribal. We bond over stuff. We form groups. We align with others based on shared values or interests. Belonging to tribes validates us to a certain extent. Tribes are also good. Tribes help us survive the world in a lot of ways. But tribes (and individuals) that don’t recognise that their way is not the One True Way and therefore decide anyone not doing it that way is bad and must be stopped can be a problem.
Particularly when the thing you are going on a rampage about is a book/tv show/movie/genre of stuff aka entertainment and not something like racism/sexism/any other ism or big problem that needs to be overcome in society and deserves a bit of rampaging.
I get it. I know the feeling of loving something to the nth degree (and also being bored by or unable to see the appeal of other things). I’m a fan of many things. I develop geek crushes on stuff. I tell people about the stuff I love. Those of you who read this blog or interact with me know this already.
I’m a geek.
I was the smart, book loving kid whose parents loved SFF. I read LOTR when I was eight, I saw the original Star Wars movies at a drive in the year they were released (when I was about 7). Sunday nights we used to watch Doctor Who. I also read romance and girl stuff and classics and mysteries and most things I could get my hands on. Growing up I did ballet and calisthenics and played various sports badly and was in the school band. I wrote stories to entertain myself. I am an Australian who is largely bored by cricket and Aussie rules football and the cult of sport. I wasn’t the cool kid at school though I was lucky enough that I always had a bunch of good friends who were similar to me and and parents who supported me so that my teen years were no more than averagely teen angsty. I learned to kind of shrug off the fact that people didn’t always like the same stuff as me.
These days I am still a geek. I write books (both romance and fantasy and sometimes both together which, in the eyes of some people, makes me doubly deluded), I knit and do a few other crafty things (and that is a whole other group of tribes), I read a lot and I am pretty much a story addict so I watch a lot of TV and movies. I have a kind of nerdy day job and I’m a technical expert within that field. I still have a bunch of good friends (some of them those same high school buddies) and hey, none of them like exactly the stuff as me. But we’re still friends. We may tease each other a bit about the things we like or don’t like but then we laugh, eat chocolate and move on.
Take my critique group. There’s six of us. Any time we discuss a book/movie/tv show/actor/singer/thing, the reaction is likely to be a couple of us loved it, some thought it was okay, one didn’t like it or actively loathed it and one wasn’t interested enough to even try it. The relative percentages shift. Occasionally we all like or dislike something. Not often. (We don’t even all agree on the One True Chocolate. Shocking, I know.) There may be much dissection of why something works/doesn’t work for any of us is from a writerly point of view for books and movies (and from a relative hotness of dudes factor) but then hey, we shrug and move on to the next thing to talk about.
The thing is that consuming a piece of entertainment is not a binary experience. There’s not a right way to do it and there’s not a right response to it and the way I enjoy it doesn’t impact the way you do (unless I start screaming at you on the internet or I set fire to the only edition of a book in existence or I otherwise infringe on your rights). We should not react to the things we love by turning into the seagulls in Finding Nemo, screaming MINE MINE MINE MINE and fending off all comers.
If me enjoying a thing a certain way or not enjoying something that you do enjoy makes you get all “YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG”, then I suggest (unless you are younger than 18 in which case I may give you a temporary pass while you grow up a bit) that you take a good hard look at yourself and why you need the validation of feeling superior. When it comes to how I enjoy the stuff I love and which stuff I love, the only people who get to tell me I’m doing something wrong are scientists who’ve just made a breakthrough in something and proven I need to change (unlikely when it comes to entertainment), people enforcing a rule that protects my safety that I’m ignoring (again, unlikely when it comes to entertainment), or someone letting me know I’ve somehow caused a problem by doing something in reaction to the stuff I love. Which I try not to do but it may happen and then I will apologise and try and fix the situation. The reverse is also true. You go off and love the stuff that makes you happy and I will not interfere and will most likely be happy you’re doing something that makes you all squeee-happy (totally a word).
I like a good discussion about the stuff I love or even the stuff I don’t. I will listen to you about why you love something or how you react to it (as long as your reaction is not all “THIS IS STUPID TO ME AND THE PERSON WHO MADE IT IS STUPID AND ANYONE WHO LIKES IT IS STUPID” or some variation thereon). Your opinion may inform my views. It may change my opinion, make me think about something in a new way, it might make me try something new and either like or dislike it, or it may have no impact on me at all other than the temporary enjoyment of a good debate/rant. This is all okay. We may never be BFFs if the stuff I like and the stuff you like barely overlap or don’t even touch but that is also okay.
Humans spend a lot of time trying to teach young children and teens to share and get along and play nicely with others and respect differences. The ability to do these things important and if you’ve forgotten that, you may need (to badly misquote and paraphrase a few people, including the awesome Stephen Fry) to put on your big girl panties and get over it or receive a short sharp visit from the smack fairy. Wil Wheaton’s rule is “Don’t be a dick.” Listen to Wil. Trying to make people feel bad or inferior about things they enjoy, that make them happy and that aren’t hurting you or telling them that they shouldn’t even be allowed to like a thing because of who they are so that you can feel better about yourself/superior/all knowing and/or RIGHT breaks the rule. Don’t do it. Or Karma the vengeful elephant might just sit on you. Hard.