What’s it like when you can’t share the things you love?
During my tenure as a No Shame Theatre showrunner, I saw a board member’s brother attend a show. He enjoyed our performances, and we had fun hanging out with him afterwards. He never returned. I asked the board member why his sibling never came back. The board member told me that his brother, despite liking the show, felt he couldn’t recommend No Shame to anyone he knew.
That sentiment defines most of the media I consume. Most of the shows I watch on YouTube (Loose Canon, Todd in the Shadows, Zero Punctuation, hbomberguy) cover esoteric topics and use unconventional humor. It’s hard to judge, on sight, who would enjoy these videos. Other stuff I peruse on my free time (Nostalgia Critic, Darths and Droids) haven’t been good in a long while. I view those out of habit. My odd pastimes extend beyond movie criticism on YouTube. Each time I extol the artistic merits of Pale Fire and “This Is Not A Film” (two examples), I have to follow up my praise with a “I like this because I’m kind of weird.”
We have turned our leisure time into a social activity. It seems like we choose to go see a popular Netflix show, or a Marvel movie, just so we can talk about it later. This attitude turns our relaxing activities into mounting to-do lists. I’m glad that people like talking about popular media— as conversation fillers go, it’s much better than the weather. I wonder if some book junkies wish they could skip right past the “actually read the damn book” part and go straight to discussing it, analyzing it, or blaming it for all the world’s problems.
Let’s get the obvious morals out of the way. Like what you like, enjoy media for its own sake, don’t let others dictate what you enjoy, etc. Here’s the question I’m interested in. How do you maintain your weird hobbies, yet still talk with your friends about them?
When it comes to recommending weird things, it might be best to make like Shia LaBeouf holding a sword over the Gordian Knot. To wit: JUST DO IT!!! The purpose of personal endorsement is to get a discussion going, right? It’s not like your friends will run out of media to enjoy without your input. If your goal is to talk with people, does it matter how “bad” someone thinks your favorite movie is? The risk with devil-may-care suggestions is that you’ll feel crummy about your own taste if someone despises a favorite of yours. This happened to me when I told some friends to watch “My Fair Lady,” the queen of I-and-a-few-others-love-this-and-no-one-else-can. My friends’ derision of “My Fair Lady” doesn’t make any of us right or wrong. And if your friend watched an entire movie without going into PTSD or something, then your recommendation was at least worth sitting through.
Option 2: recommend things to people already within a sphere of significance (or, rather, their own sub-sub-culture). You’d only bring up your bizarre tastes so you can say, “If you like X, you’ll enjoy Y.” Of course, this approach led me to once tell a friend, “If you like musicals, you’ll enjoy ‘My Fair Lady.’” Six years after I advised a high school senior to watch a three-hour comedy of manners… did any of our lives get ruined? I know MST3K trained us all to compare watching a bad movie to tonguing a disposal sink, but perspective, people, please. A bad movie is better than a good day at work.
So what about recommending books in particular? Your friends might stick with an un-engaging story so they can say they “beat it.” Here’s my final piece of advice: learn to talk. If your friend loathes your favorites, find out why! “I love this” and “I hate this” should be conversation starters, not conversation enders. Instead of defending your favorite Thomas Pynchon or whatever, ask your friend this: when you think about your hatred, what scene comes to mind? What would have to change for you to like this book? Was there any part that confused you? If you’re good enough at asking questions, the conversation will override any ill-will your friend might have. It can be fun to hate things at times. Someone raging at a book you love isn’t someone raging at you. You’re probably too weird to hate anyways.
Tell me your favorite esoteric piece of art in the comments. I’ll give it an honest try, and report back on what I think.