AVQ&A: Art we've resisted
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.
This month, we finally start answering the questions you've been sending in for us. Keep those questions coming by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week's question, courtesy of Timothy Horna (a.k.a. "Lincolns Revenge"): Do you have a well-known film/album/show that you've specifically resisted from viewing, etc. for whatever reason? For example, a friend of mine has refuses to watch any of the remade Mummy films, since as he puts it, "There can't possibly be anything in there for me."
We're all busy enough and so buried under new releases and a gigantic back catalog of canon that we could probably each go on about this all day; the reason there's a Better Late Than Never column is because we're constantly playing catch-up, and with so much to read, watch, and listen to, we have to be selective. But with that in mind, a few things just off the top of my head: A lot of my friends have sworn, up one side and down the other, that no matter how much Adam Sandler's wacky man-child antics normally irritate or bore me, that he's still made a few films that would utterly win me over: Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison. Both, I'm told, are hilarious movies that use him well and that transcend his goofy-ass lowest-common-denominator genre. I'm not buying it. Life is short, and even though both these movies have come recommended by sophisticated adults whose taste and humor I normally respect, I just can't bring myself to voluntarily watch more Adam Sandler comedies. Going in a completely different direction, virtually every science-fiction fan I know has taken time to sing the praises of Babylon 5 at me. I spent half the '90s listening to people say it was the best thing on television and that I was really missing out. In this case, I didn't get started at the right time, and now I look at the completed series—all 110 episodes—and see a mountain I just don't have time to climb. Especially since even the biggest fans admit that the first year or two is some rough trekking. As my boyfriend says whenever fans wistfully bring it up, "We'll watch it when we retire, at which point it'll probably be available in pill form."
First off, Tasha, you should really see Billy Madison. I'll bring it in for you. I can't think of a great answer myself, so maybe I should beg off this completely, but here goes... I've always refused to watch Terms Of Endearment because it violates one of my two fundamental movie no-nos: I don't like movies about terminal illness, and I don't like movies about dancing. It's probably awesome, I'm sure I'll love it someday. I have studiously avoided watching Buffy The Vampire Slayer, even though people with exactly the same taste in TV tell me that I'll love it. This embargo may end soon, though, since Tasha loaned me the first season on DVD. (But then I have people telling me that I'll have to suffer through the first season to get to the good stuff—why would I want to do that?) But I'll pretty much watch anything if the right people tell me it's good. And it's not a rom-com.
In my Better Late Than Never for Alien, I mentioned my general aversion to science fiction, superceded only by my distaste for anything with wizards and shit. So it will come as no surprise to anyone that I've never seen a single episode of Star Trek (any iteration), nor any of the films it spawned. (I did enjoy the documentary Trekkies, though.) The closest I came was seeing parts of The Voyage Home while working on my sophomore history project at my friend's house in high school. I just have next to no interest in sci-fi, and I'm not entirely sure why. Is it the cheesy futurist sets that somehow manage to look dated? The goofy aliens? The clumsy symbolism? The confusing plots and characters? It's all of that and more. The exception, of course, is Star Wars, but that stems more from growing up in the '80s than anything else. And no matter how many people tell me how great it is, I have zero interest in Battlestar Galactica. I don't know what a Cylon is, and I don't care who the last one is.
I'll probably go the rest of my life without seeing Crash or its recent televised iteration, and I'm completely fine with that. Really. I wasn't particularly interested when it hit theaters a few years back, and nothing I've heard about it exactly inspires me to put forth the effort of adding it to a Netflix queue or giving into peer pressure from family and friends to sit down and watch it. I've been told it'll change my life, make me a different person, blah blah blah, but I've also pieced together what I understand the movie basically is: scene after scene of a racist of one ethnicity who's put in a disastrous, life-changing situation with a racist of another ethnicity, whereupon one of them makes a sudden, humanitarian-oriented decision—only to turn around in their next interaction to being the world's biggest asshole-ish bigot. Also, apparently Tony Danza is in it for about two seconds, and I just can't bear the sight of seeing The Boss hating another of God's creatures. Count me out. Also, until very recently (due to Decider.com, actually), I've resisted the horror that is Facebook and all other social-networking sites (Friendster, Twitter, MySpace, you name it). I'm not a Luddite, but the fact that these well-meaning but creepy, habit-forming sites pervade many day-to-day interactions not only on the Internet but also off it—like a recent party I attended wherein all the guests did nothing but talk about their Facebook accounts—makes them even less appealing. Now that I've joined Facebook, I'm 99 percent sure it's 75 percent evil—but at least I've got more friends. Also, to this day, I've never seen an episode of MADtv; do I really need a reason why?
There are dozens of so-called essential horror films I'll cop to resolutely avoiding, due to the fact that I'm a big ol' baby, and several others I won't see because of my aversion to gore, no matter how cinematic or stylized it may be. Grindhouse springs immediately to mind as one I get a lot of flak for missing, but if blood and guts are prominently featured, chances are good I haven't seen it. Most people can accept that I don't watch those types of movies, but the holdout film I get the most shit for not seeing is one that I don't even have that great of a reason for avoiding: The Goonies. It seems that pretty much everyone near my age considers The Goonies to be the pinnacle of their childhood movie-viewing experience, yet I somehow missed it both during its heyday on VHS and later when it reran constantly on cable, despite the fact that I pretty much never turn off the TV. As I said, there is no good reason for this omission, but at this point I've gotten the "You haven't seen Goonies? My God, what is wrong with you?" rant so many times that now I avoid it just to be a contrary brat. I can't say I won't ever see it—I long held the same attitude toward the Indiana Jones movies, yet I ended up watching those this year for a Better Late Than Never feature—but I kind of want to see how long I can keep this streak going.
For some reason, I've never gotten around to giving a serious listen to TV On The Radio. I've heard some songs here and there and thought they were pretty good, but I don't feel any desire to do more investigating. And I honestly have no idea why. This seems to happen a lot with me lately when it comes to scarf-and-sweater-donning indie-rock bands from New York City. (The Vampire Weekend record also sits unplayed in my iTunes library.) It's not like I'm taking some stand against one of the decade's biggest critical darlings. TV On The Radio is probably a great band. If I ever get around to listening to a TV On The Radio album, I'm sure I'd like it more than actually listening to my television on my radio. But for now, I'm too busy playing Sun Kil Moon and Grateful Dead records to find time for them.
In this era of hope and change and never-ending optimism, there's a good chance my dislike for all things Bob Marley might not fit the bill. I've avoided becoming a fan of the almighty reggae icon for so many years now that I do feel a strange sense of pride about it, even though reggae has never been my music of choice. I probably consider it noteworthy because, like so many college towns, mine absolutely cherished Marley—particularly in wall-size poster form. The record store I worked at made most of its money at the beginning of each school quarter, when students flocked in to buy the same three posters, year after year: Pink Floyd's "Back Catalogue," Biggie & Tupac flashing "West Side," and the king of them all, Bob Marley's "Photomosaic." We sold so many of the giant Marley posters that the store's owner charged $5 more for it, just because he could. In my mind, it and his music became eternally entrenched in the faux-hippie culture of college students from Orange County, living by the beach and getting in touch with their jah-ness by way of bong-ness. And though his songs aren't exactly tough to listen to, they just remind me of unshowered 19-year-olds wearing hemp necklaces, attempting to talk politics and shit that, you know, really matters. I've grown to appreciate a good bit of reggae in the years since school, but can't quite forgive the white-people-with-dreds syndrome that Marley inspires among so many young people across this great land. It's probably pretty unfair, too, because I sort of know that if he wasn't the King of Stonerdom in my mind, I might like at least some of his music. As long as he's so closely tethered to the patchouli and puka-shell set, though, I'm steering clear.
This is a tough one for me, because there is a seemingly endless list of films, books, television shows, and albums I'd love to check out, but have never found the time to explore. I work slavishly day and night to find a cure for cancer, you see. So finally catching up with Buffy The Vampire Slayer, The Wire, and all sorts of other next-level shit that people whose taste and judgment I respect assure me are all kinds of awesome takes a back seat to my achingly important scientific endeavors. Yes, I somehow find time to read all of Karrine "Superhead" Steffans' books—even the ones that haven't won Pulitzers—yet I keep dragging my feet on Netflixing The Wire, a show I'm sure I'd love, which is often bandied about as the supreme achievement of Western civilization, if not mankind as a whole. If I had to single out a big pop-culture touchstone from the past 20 years I've consciously avoided, it would be Mel Gibson's Braveheart. I'm not a big fan of testosterone-poisoned period epics in general, and even before Mel Gibson drunkenly slurred to the world that he was not, in fact, a friend of the Jews, I hated him with the passion of the proverbial thousand white-hot burning suns. I go out of my way to avoid all of Gibson's films, even the good ones. I would never have seen The Passion Of The Christ if I wasn't professionally obligated to do so. Unless someone forces me to watch Braveheart, I'll never find out for myself whether it merits its Best Picture Oscar or its status as the favorite film of people whose taste and judgment I most assuredly do not respect.
It's never been a purposeful dodge, but I've never at any point read comics of any kind. I stared into a formidable collection of Garfield books as a kid, but beyond that nothing, really. I never thought much of it until interviewing for an A.V. Club job long ago, and suddenly feeling like I was a heretic whose soul was so far beyond saving that everyone involved would just be better off pretending not to know what was suddenly so painfully apparent. (I also got mooned during that job interview.) I still haven't corrected for comics, but I fear I might have become even worse: a devoted follower who thinks Chris Ware is a genius and can name no more than two or three others working in the same field. Someday
I love crime fiction, stories with main characters who are anti-heroic to the point of outright villainy, and most of HBO's lineup, and yet I've never had much interest in watching The Sopranos, because what I've read about Tony Soprano and his family leaves me feeling faintly disgusted. It's probably irrational to feel that way, but I've just never found the time to get into the show instead of watching The Wire all the way through for a second time.
I'm a sponge. I check out whatever anyone tells me to at least once. I even tried watching Sex And The City and listening to Mastodon, even though neither seemed like they'd be to my taste. (They weren't, but I'd listen to Mastodon again any day before watching Sex And The City again.) That said, I have a reality-show block I can't get past. I watched Survivor when it first came out and didn't mind it. I watched Top Chef last year because it was filmed in Chicago. That was fine, I guess. I liked Queer Eye For The Straight Guy when it first came on, because that actually seemed to be about improving people's lives, and it featured people living in filth. But mostly, when I watch those shows I see the constructive editing involved in putting them together. They play like bastardized documentaries all set to the same terrible dramatic score, and all featuring variations on the same characters. I trust people when they tell me there are "good" and "bad" reality shows—I've caught enough of Rock Of Love to know how bad it can get—but there's not that big of a difference to my eyes.
I guess since I no longer work at the video store, I can finally safely admit this: I have never seen an Akira Kurosawa film. Not one. Not Ran, not Rashomon, and nope, not even Seven Samurai. Oh sure, I've taken them home before. I've let them sit on the shelf and mock me, saying, "You pretend to be a film fan, yet you'd rather watch the basic-cable edit of Casino for the 50th time than put me in your DVD player. Pray no one finds out your pathetic little secret." Even right now, they're currently all hanging out in the middle of my Netflix queue, bumped time and again for just-released, forgettable blockbusters I know I'll probably hate, and other films that just seem like so much less of a chore, that don't come burdened with all the expectations of a "masterpiece." But it isn't just the fact that watching them now feels like so much homework: Truth be told, while I'm not as bad as the girl I once briefly dated who took a look at Ran and sniffed, "I hate kung-fu movies," I'm, well I'm honestly not too crazy about most Japanese cinema. Maybe it's because I'm a fat, lazy, selfish American who wouldn't know honor if it came wedged between two all-beef patties, but stuffy notions like the "samurai code" have always bored me to tears—as has anything involving swords, quests, and the like. (I guess I'm more of a "wallowing in ennui" guy.) Anyway, I know these things are just props and motives and McGuffins and so on, and the real triumph of Kurosawa's films is his way with cinematography (something else I kinda couldn't care less about) and telling a deeply resonant, "Shakespearean" story and yadda yadda. Yeah, yeah. So I've been told, and so I expect to be told again. And okay, maybe someday I'll break down and discover what I've been missing. At least I'm finally making the effort to catch up on Dexter, right?
I have a total blind spot when it comes to most manga and anime. I love Hayao Miyazaki and all his Ghibli cohorts, and I like a few other of the big feature animated films that have come out of Japan over the past two decades, but when it comes to the vast archives of Japanese animation that pops up on Adult Swim and in video stores, I'm largely clueless. I'm even more at sea when it comes to manga, which I've read only sparingly over the years, despite my lifelong love of comics. I could argue that I find the look of manga and anime largely unappealing and the storytelling style confusing, but the truth is that I'm a little cowed by the enormity of product available. I know that if I took some time to sort out what's what, I'd start to see the distinctions, and I'd find a lot I'd enjoy. But I also know that I'd never be able to develop any kind of expertise unless I totally devoted myself to the project, and there are so many other books, movies and TV shows that I want to get to first—in genres and styles I already know I like.