Sep 17 2013
“Everybody’s entitled to his/her own opinion” is one of the sneakier axioms we have in the geek community. Oh, sure, it’s true to an extent. Even if opinions have different degrees of validity in a lot of cases, nobody would really argue your right to have one.
The sneaky part comes in because what ISN’T said in that phrase is that, “And the rest of us use this opinion to make judgements about whether or not you’re the type of person who matters to me.”
Geeks take stuff personally. As Indy Zoeller pointed out last week, pretty much all of us have those properties that seem to be a part of us; certain works of art seem to in some small way define who we are. For me, though, the ways in which we talk about them often seem a little off-target.
Now, before we get started, a clarification: I get that the piece I’m referencing was meant in fun, and didn’t quite make ALL the claims I’m talking about, but it came to me at a time when I’d already been turning this issue over in my head a lot. In other words, I’m not picking on anybody in the comments on that post; it just provides a handy starting point for something that’s been bugging me.
Anyway, it seems perfectly natural to take criticisms of those things to heart. When you make something personal, then it’s personal. If it garners praise, some of that seems to reflect back on the fans; when it comes under attack, it feels like an insult.*
The ultimate implication of geek segregationists is that the people who are fans of different properties are fundamentally different types of people. Which… strikes me as a little far-fetched. It’s a cliche example, but I far prefer Star Wars to that other famous “Star” series. Does that make me a fundamentally different type of person than a Trekkie?
(Ignore, for a moment, that I’ve liked a decent amount of Star Trek stuff and the fact that it’s perfectly possible to like both.)
I submit that it doesn’t. In fact, if you back up a bit, you’d find that myself and the Trekkie are in firm agreement that space adventure fiction matters. Which, is a pretty specific thing to have in common. Furthermore, every single person who reads this site knows that these “geek culture” items — comics, movies, games, books — can be absolutely transformative works of art. A small nation of people exist who dedicate their lives to telling great stories through these mediums; we are the ones who get to appreciate it.
That’s a pretty cool thing to share.
I could be wrong, but I suspect most of these fan-favorite content creators — Lucas, Spielberg, Jackson, Moffat, Nolan, whoever — aren’t in the business to create rifts between people. I mean, probably someone somewhere is, but I bet most folks get into storytelling as a way to foster communication. Whether it’s showing us another culture, challenging us with an idea, or simply taking us for a ride. These people do their work to give us a common touchstone** for our dialogue. And the thing about a dialogue is that in no way does it require people to agree.
(I’d also be remiss, in my opinion, if I didn’t point out that a hell of a lot of these stories we love are ultimately about overlooking differences, the importance of respect, and other such community-building things. So it’s hard for me to be a fan of Lord of the Rings, but still dismiss people who aren’t fans of Lord of the Rings. Seems a bit hypocritical.)
Because the truth is, people like what they like for different reasons. Especially as we talk about some of the more ubiquitous properties, people connect to all sorts of different things.
Take Star Wars. Some people love the underdog story; the noble Rebels taking on the evil Empire. Others love the genre; who couldn’t love a chance to visit new worlds? Still others love the mythological underpinnings; the allusions to legends go far beyond the Hero’s Journey. And of course there are those who dig the technical innovation, or the narrative ingenuity, or even something as simple as a handful of likeable characters.
On the other hand, a lot of my good friends think it’s kind of weird that I even care about Star Wars that much. In the end, I’ve found that my relationship with Star Wars — though it’s something that provides a lot of raw material for conversations — has very little to say about my relationships to other people.
It’s not what these properties say about us, it’s what they say to us.
Now, it’s still super-cool to find someone who shares a lot of your tastes and opinions. It’s even cooler when the shared opinion is over one of those personally defining works. Indy’s article from last week, and more accurately the comment by ‘Chris,’ raised an interesting point: These types of pop culture entities can serve as a handy barometer to see what sort of thing a person is into or finds important at a glance.
There’s a certain way in which this really works. For instance, I felt a connection to that random guy on Youtube who posted a video essay on why Superman Returns is one of the greatest superhero movies of all time (my own essay is forthcoming, by the way).
A big thing this doesn’t account for is the way that tastes always evolve. If you don’t involve yourself with people who think differently than you, you do both parties a disservice. Your impassioned argument for the relative merits of Community or whatever might be just the thing that gets that show another fan. Likewise, they might bring up an issue with The Hunger Games that you’d never considered before.
For me, that moment of profound disagreement is the exact moment when somebody absolutely DOES have something to say that the other person needs to hear.
But the biggest thing that comment misses is the point I made earlier. We already have a ton in common simply by being the types of people who give up part of a day to visit (And comment! Below!) a site like Unreality. Let’s not forget how much we have to agree on to even get to the point where we can have these disagreements.
And let’s not cut off the conversation right when it gets interesting.
*And there are certainly times where it IS an insult. For the sake of this post, I’m not talking about flame wars or truly hateful opinions.
**To borrow a phrase.
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