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We are what we like?

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It’s strange that we believe our tastes define who we are, even though to a great extent, they are the least important thing about us. Like Rob from Nick Hornby’s book High Fidelity, we feel superior to those whose tastes don’t measure up to our own idiosyncratic standards, and take any slight against our own tastes as personal attacks. But maybe we can also come to his semi-understanding that what CDs, DVDs, and books we own are not the definite guide to who we are.

I have songs on my iPod that embarrass me to admit, even as I sing aloud at the top of my lungs when no one is around to hear. The odd song by Barry Manilow, Roger Whitaker, and Harry Belafonte shuffles with Eminem, Avril Levigne, and Christina Aguilera. I am neither a grandmother nor a teen or twentysomething. Even my usual musical preferences are not impressive to those people who are cooler than I am – a demographic that comprises roughly 99% of the world. But I’m a good person. Really.

I call my love of romantic comedies, even bad romantic comedies, a guilty pleasure, even though I get more pleasure than guilt from them. I can still believe in equal rights for women and rejecting stereotyped gender roles and enjoy Pretty Woman and Bridget Jones’s Diary. Really.

It works the other way too – I hesitate to admit my not-so-lowbrow tastes in certain company. My brother sums it up by saying I like “boring” books and movies, because I read Dostoyevsky for fun and made him sit (or, more accurately, sleep) through a Whit Stillman movie. I am out of touch with the world of Nora Roberts and Janet Evanovich that some of my friends embrace, though I read my share of mind candy too. I’m not an intellectual snob. Really.

So if I know all this, why do I care if people turn up their noses at me and my shameful love of Julia Roberts movies and easy listening classics, or think I’m pretentious because I continue to read books I was forced to read in university?

It’s not just me. Get any two people into a discussion on Pulp Fiction versus Forrest Gump, or Grey’s Anatomy versus House, M.D., and they will act as though their very natures are dependent on defending their preference.

Maybe our tastes shouldn’t be defining characteristics, but maybe they are anyway. Maybe it’s another way that entertainment is important – it’s the conscious choice version of pheromones, drawing us to like-minded people. We can’t determine similar life philosophies based on a simple list of CDs, DVDs, TV shows, and books, but comparing Britney versus Christina, or great visceral movie with sentimental sweet movie, or soap opera medical drama with acerbically witty medical drama, or Ann-Marie MacDonald versus Diana Gabaldon is the shorthand way to what we can believe is the same end.

(Read more ramblings on why entertainment is important at my blog, Unified Theory of Nothing Much.)

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About Diane Kristine Wild

Diane travels. She doesn't tan.
  • Barry Manilow? Ick. Other than that I agree in principle. I don’t like people who are like the Jack Black character Barry in High Fidelity. In fact I don’t like to go into a record store because of them. I don’t like people sorting through my CD’s because they aren’t cool enough. I had a cool record collection when I was young that would be worth big bucks now, Sex Pistols, Ramones, the Clash, Motown, Rolling Stones, and a lot more but I sold it years ago and moved alot and my record collection doesn’t reflect me very well. I never took to post-album technology. I’m going to lock up my CD’s and casettes (yes I have them) when I get a proper home so people can’t sort through them and judge me (and they do judge you). It’s an affliction of certain generations. It can be dicey to deal with them when it’s “Barry” level, more so because their yardsticks can be obscure and ever changing, more of a coiled hostility than a set of criteria. I decided that it’s an insecurity issue. So you hestitate to go into a record store or some other cool business or enterprise. And your hesitation can be well-founded.

    Once I did a reverse on this Barry. He went Barry “because,” and I use the word loosely, of something I asked about a Tenacious D album. I just started spouting off some (probable) facts he didn’t know to sound cooler than thou like he was out of it. And it backed him down somewhat. It’s still not what I want to get involved with. I actually order music from Amazon because of those assholes. Hear that, Borders? Before that I ordered stuff from BMG specifically because of Barrys.

  • I think there’s something to be said for being defined by your tastes in pop culture.

    Pop culture is becoming so homogenous and uninteresting, however, that I have a hard time believing that kids are choosing cliques and hanging out based on what kind of music they listened to, as was the case when I was growing up in the 1990s. Back then, you DEFINITELY judged how cool people were by what they were rockin or groovin to.

    I still have that tendency, as do all older Gen Y-ers or even you geezers who are Gen X.

    I judge people’s coolness (or lameness) by their music, and I find I now often judge people’s intellect by their taste in film, simply because cinema is basically our popular literature now that literature as literature is dead creatively and commercially. Look at the best-seller lists and you’ll know what I mean.

    For what it’s worth, I love good all-or-nothing debates about music or movies. It’s a lot of fun and you really find out whether people have critical thinking skills and exactly what kind of consumers people are. There are plenty of otherwise smart people, for example, who like to turn their brains off and watch the dumbest films or listen to the dumbest, most mainstream bands because everyone else does. They don’t expect intellectual or artistic brilliance and don’t demand stimulation because they find enough of that elsewhere. And there’s a whole generation of wise-ass punks like me who find their careers and educations largely boring and unfulfilling and make it a mission to avoid all the mind-numbing, soulless crap out there passing as entertainment.

    Eric Berlin and I are going to write a screenplay about it called “Low Impedance.”

    That is all.

  • Sister Ray

    “I don’t like people sorting through my CD’s because they aren’t cool enough.”

    I plead guilty. I turn up my nose at any album cover with a guy in a cowboy hat. Just because I’m white and live in the Midwest, it doesn’t mean I’m “country.”

    That said, I admit to occasionally enjoying a bit of music, only to find out the performer is someone on my uncool list. Very embarrassing :->

  • Of course, we all have guilty pleasure CDs we hide from members of the opposite sex or from our buddies if you’re a guy.

    Ahem, Erasure.

    That is all.