Welcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. Got a question you’d like us and the readers to answer? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We have so many pop-culture choices these days that it’s easy to drift away from a book or a show and not come back, or flip channels or stop streaming something that isn’t holding our interest. But how often do you hit a breaking point in the middle of something where you’re so frustrated, annoyed, or otherwise put off that you shove it away in disgust rather than finishing it? What pop culture did you metaphorically storm away from, feeling either that it couldn’t redeem itself, or that it wasn’t worth giving it the chance to try?
I normally never walk out of movies, doggedly finish books I’m not enjoying, finish out the disc from Netflix even if I don’t care about the show, etc. I just have a dogged need to see where the story goes, even if it’s a bad or boring story. Nonetheless, I tossed aside Stephen R. Donaldson’s Lord Foul’s Bane, the first of the popular (some would say classic) Thomas Covenant series, just a few chapters in. The protagonist is a leper who gets dragged from the mundane world into a magical one, where his leprosy is magically cured. Whereupon, refusing to believe any of this is really happening, he promptly rapes the woman who healed him. Then there’s a great deal of wangsting about his trauma, and his refusal to believe what’s happened to him, and his inability to cope with or accept magic and blah blah blah, and all I could think was “Why the fuck do I care how a self-absorbed, self-pitying rapist feels about his magical destiny?” The only reason I didn’t throw the book across the room was because it was a loaner from a classmate who’d told me it was one of his absolute favorites. We didn’t talk much after I gave it back. More recently, I tried to read Rachel Bertsche’s MWF Seeking BFF, a supposedly light, fun non-fiction book written by a Chicago transplant who realized she didn’t have a best friend anymore, and tried one of those lifestyle-journalism experiments to find one. It seemed like a slam-dunk enjoyable, breezy spring read for me—hey, I also live in Chicago and would like more friends, and I’m addicted to lifestyle-journalism experiment books—but I couldn’t make it a quarter of the way through, due to Bertsche’s explanations of what she was really looking for. Her description of a really good BFF—basically, someone who’s perpetually available yet never demanding, who’s always there to gladly accept your 2 a.m. phone calls, but passively disappears into the background when you don’t need her—made me kind of ill. She sounds like she’s describing a RealDoll. And her judgey series of BFF dates, where she meets new people and decides why they aren’t qualified to be her best friends, felt equally self-centered and demanding, like she was subjecting everyone to a test they didn’t know about and couldn’t pass. After a while, just reading it made me feel like one of the stars of Mean Girls, smugly looking down on everyone, and I had to get it out of my life and my headspace.
I can’t call it rage-quitting, because I don’t know that I’ve ever gone that far, but I sat down a few nights ago with my wife, both of us expecting to turn off our brains and enjoy the stupid, juvenile humor of American Reunion, the latest in the American Pie series. I have relatively fond memories of the first one (it was funny, right?), and I’m honestly not sure if I’ve seen any of the others (there are more than you think, many of which went straight to DVD). Anyway, the trailer looked sorta cute and brainless, and the reviews were more mixed than savage. This very site gave it a C, and our community gave it a C+. But about 45 minutes in, when Jason Biggs was struggling to convey a naked, passed-out girl from his car to her house without her parents finding out, we were just bored out of our skulls. The dirty stuff was a little funny—a joke about Biggs’ browser history (“Whenever I start typing ‘Amazon,’ it jumps to ‘amazingcollegesluts.com,’“ says his wife, played by Alyson Hannigan) made me laugh. But the acting was just so across-the-board atrocious (save for paycheck-cashing Eugene Levy) that it was impossible to muster the energy to continue watching. BLAH.
I went to see The Crow in 1994 with one of my best friends and my girlfriend, sitting between them in the theater. I’m not sure how long we made it into the film; the last thing I really remember is back-from-the-dead Brandon Lee confronting a group of thugs who murdered him and his girlfriend. I mostly remember the cringe-inducingly terrible dialogue, the wardrobe that looked like it was taken from the Nine Inch Nails video for “Wish,” and my increasingly annoyed girlfriend. Both of us hated the movie—she viscerally so—but my friend wanted to stay. In one ear, I had him saying “Don’t leave me here!” In the other, I had my girlfriend announcing, “Stay if you want, but I’m leaving.” I was torn between enduring an awful movie out of loyalty to my pal, or leaving with the person I made out with. So what I’m saying is, I still haven’t seen the rest of The Crow.
I come from a long line of pop culture rage-quitters: My grandparents stormed out of 2001: A Space Odyssey, my mother high-tailed it out of the original The Last House On The Left, and my father threw a TV Guide at the screen during the season-two première of Twin Peaks. (“I’ve had enough of this horseshit!”) Happily, I saved my freak-out for a piece of pop culture that actually deserved it: Napoleon Dynamite. I remember being dragged to the theater by my girlfriend and two of her friends, who assured me the movie would be the funniest thing ever—or, at the very least, on par with one of my favorite films at the time, Welcome To The Dollhouse. Oh, but funny or Welcome To The Dollhouse it was not. After what seemed like a lifetime of Jared Hess’ “laughing at you, not with you” style of filmmaking, I stormed out of the theater, and spent a good 20 minutes sulking in the lobby. I’m glad I did—if I’d stuck around for the final cloying, unearned, When In Rome-scored tetherball scene (I later saw the movie on DVD, and still hated it), I would have surely torn the screen to shreds.
I review audiobooks for a website that tends to publish recommendations only. I’ve realized I have a soft spot in my heart for books by comedians and performers, and I’ve come to be pleasantly surprised by a few from performers whose day jobs I don’t particularly follow. (See: Artie Lange.) So I figured Adam Carolla’s book In Fifty Years We’ll All Be Chicks… And Other Complaints From An Angry Middle-Aged White Guy would be a similar good-time listen. It only took me a chapter or two, though, to realize that I would be writing fiction if I wrote any sort of recommendation for the book. I fully admit that I probably was just not the audience for the book (Exhibit #1: I have a vagina) but Carolla’s rants on how everyone these days is a soft, weak-willed liberal pussy just didn’t make me laugh. I don’t have to agree with the premise of a work of humor to enjoy it, but that subject matter is so well-trod, it would have had to be fresh and new to be enjoyable, and it wasn’t. I wanted to stop listening to the book so badly that I asked my editor if I could give up a paying assignment to do so. Being another humorless dame, she agreed.
I’m not the world’s biggest Woody Allen fan—and those who know me will be shocked when they read this—but he’s done many films that I’ve enjoyed and consider some of the best examples of American cinema. But to me and my wife, Vicky Cristina Barcelona wasn’t one of those examples. We bought the movie from a Blockbuster used-DVD bin and played it in the bedroom one night, which was probably our first mistake. The narration, a pet peeve I mentioned in an AVQA a few weeks ago, was grating, and we found that the travelers played by Scarlett Johansson and Rebecca Hall were whiny and overprivileged (a trait that’s comedic when Allen played the role in his early films, but just comes off as annoying when conveyed by two beautiful movie stars). Though we liked Javier Bardem as the suave painter the women pursued, we were so bored by the movie that we turned it off and went to sleep well before Penelope Cruz showed up as his spitfire ex-wife. We have no doubt that her performance was Oscar-worthy, but I guess we’re never going to find out, because the DVD is now in the possession of my wife’s parents, and I have no intention of asking for it back.
In my mind, I turned off The Simpsons following the scene that implied Homer had been raped by a panda, and I never watched another first-run episode. But that’s actually not the case. (Although while recently catching up with the episode where the Simpsons family travels to Ireland, I kind of wished it was.) Other than that, I’m hard-pressed to remember a moment when disappointment curdled into rage. Maybe it was Liz Phair released her self-titled album in 2003. After loving her first two albums and defending her third, it was hard not feel betrayed by such a calculated piece of product. Then again, I know I did listen to the album after that, even if it was just because I had to review it. It wasn’t good, but I gave it a chance. In this profession, you have to give things chances, even if the instinct to give up remains powerful.
I am a sucker for tales of schadenfreude and the media, so I should have been the ideal audience for How To Lose Friends & Alienate People, Toby Young’s waggish account of getting hired and fired by Greydon Carter and Vanity Fair for his waggish misadventures in douchebaggery. After about 30 pages, however, I hurled the book against a wall in visceral disgust, or at least that’s how I remember it. How To Lose Friends is an unbearable exercise in smug self-aggrandizement masquerading as self-deprecation, a nauseatingly self-satisfied tale of how Young was just too damn awesome and punk rock and incorrigible for those stuffed shirts over at Vanity Fair. Young is supposed to come off as a charming asshole so damn entertaining we’re willing to overlook his obnoxiousness, sexism, and boorish antics, but I instead found him unbearable. The film version tried to make Young’s toxic personality palatable by casting the likeable Simon Pegg as the Young surrogate, but the project was doomed from its inception by its rancid source material.
I feel like this is cheating a little, since I was fairly sure going into it that Whitney was not going to be the show for me. But I have a low threshold for entertainment, and it was on after The Office, which I still watch because of said low threshold. I figured I’d try out an episode or two and give up if it wasn’t for me. What I ended up doing, however, was yelling at my television. I guess I thought I could argue it out of reducing men and women to odious caricatures and adversaries united only by their love of saying the word “vagina.” After about 10 minutes, I realized my strategy was not working, so I turned it off, flung the remote on the couch, and huffed and puffed around my house for another hour. It wasn’t just that it’s a hacky, poorly made sitcom that’s lazily sexist in every direction. It’s that it doesn’t even try to be more than that. I choose to live in an A.V. Club bubble where T.V. is ambitious and evolving, and Whitney’s shrill stereotypes hurl themselves at those walls. It’s a bleak reminder that we live in a world where Two And A Half Men will always be more popular than Parks And Recreation, and that the smart money will always regurgitate the same sets, the same jokes, and the same two-dimensional characters. It’s cynical, and knowing it will be there every Friday after Community to shoot me a fake-exasperated smirk is exceptionally depressing.
When I picked up a brand new paperback copy of Stephen King’s The Tommyknockers, I was completely obsessed with his work. I’d read my way through the vast majority of his existing catalog and had found nothing but genius (or what my teenage self took for genius, anyway). That all went in the toilet a few hundred pages into The Tommyknockers. The leaden pacing and unappealing characters made for a difficult slog, but the fact that King seemed far more interested in delivering detailed descriptions of the ludicrous inventions created by the alien-affected townsfolk than in telling any kind of actual story finally killed the book for me. A little more than halfway through, I just stopped in disgust. Considering I bought the book at retail at a time that I had no income, and the fact that at that point, I considered finishing a book I’d started as something akin to a sacred duty, this was a pretty big deal to me. Since then, not only have I never been tempted to pick it back up, I feel a little shudder of revulsion every time I see it on someone’s bookshelf.
The sheer economics of trying to pick up all of the comic books I wanted to follow while making mortgage and car payments and raising a daughter had already led me to start making far fewer Wednesday-lunchtime trips to my local comic shop, but when I found out about DC Comics’ New 52, which found the publisher cancelling all of its titles, starting 52 new series, and effectively rebooting the entire universe and starting it all over from scratch, I may have literally said, “No way, fuck this, I’m out.” I’m in no way suggesting that the subsequent series and reinvention of DC’s existing properties aren’t creatively viable. Heck, some of them might even be better now than they were before. But I don’t care. Even if I did have the money to start collecting again, I had 40 years invested in the characters, and the idea of having to adjust to new origins and revised characterizations just doesn’t interest me. I’ll still occasionally pick up an issue and flip through it, but there are just way too many trade paperbacks worth of stories from the pre-New 52 era out there that I’ve never read for me to have any interest in trying to start all over again.