Once upon a time here at the University Book Store, I had a colleague who did not like The Great Gatsby. Gasp! F. Scott Fitzgerald’s great American novel is universally beloved, you say, as did many of her fellow employees whenever the subject came up. To her vast credit, my colleague owned up to her dislike by explaining that she had issues with cheating, and the adulterous nature of both Gatsby and Daisy acted as a barrier to her enjoyment of the novel. Her tone when explaining this was slightly apologetic—she understood the novel’s literary worth, but for her, personally, it wasn’t an enjoyable one, and the novel’s high stature made such feelings all the more acute.
I was reminded of my colleagues views following the announcement of the Oscar nominations. David O. Russell’s American Hustle received ten nominations, including nods for Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, and became only the second film since 1981 to be nominated in all four acting categories; it is poised to win big on Oscar night. And I, personally, don’t see what all the fuss is about. I saw the film about a week after its release, and while I enjoyed it, I’m still struggling to understand the effusive critical acclaim it received. The actors are all good, their performances enjoyable, but I found the plot to be overly convoluted, the pacing uneven, and much of the humor to be derived from the poor taste in fashion and décor endemic to the 70s (“Look at that ridiculous hair piece!” a fellow patron whispered to her companion).
These two instances have made me come to realize that it is much easier to like a “bad” book, movie, or song than it is to dislike a “good” one. In the case of the former you can always label your affection a “guilty pleasure.” And let’s be honest, defending a guilty pleasure is fairly easy: concede what you like/love isn’t very good (or down right awful) yet defiantly declare “I like it anyway!” Everyone has guilty pleasures, and 99% of the time, friends and family members alike will overlook such peccadilloes as your love affair for V.C. Andrews novels, Prog Rock, or Pauly Shore movies … so long as you don’t force said guilty pleasure upon them too regularly.
But when you dislike a book or movie or song that is a recent critical darling or a “beloved classic,” it becomes something of a shameful secret. Hate Star Wars? Loathe The Beatles? Think Shakespeare is overrated? These are opinions best not mentioned in mixed company lest you relish the role of contrarian. Sometimes these debates can be fun, say if you’re bored at a party and don’t want to talk about the local sports teams. More often than not, however, the discussion that follows is a tedious, repetitive one that fits the pattern I described below:
- Admit your dislike.
- Acknowledge that you know it’s a great/beloved work.
- Explain why you dislike said work.
- Endure a barrage of zealous arguments in enumerating the beloved classic’s merits.
- Resist any and all attempts to “revisit” the work in question; or, lie, by saying, “I’ll have to take another look [or listen] at it.”
- Apologize again.
- Option1: Change the topic, or Option 2: walk away.
Occasionally, you’ll even meet someone so enrapture by a beloved classic that they cannot tolerate, much less hear, a dissenting opinion—the so-called deal breaker response. When you meet this person, you will know them by the way they shout “HOW CAN YOU NOT LOVE TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD?” This will be followed by the person in question listening to half of step 4 before proceeding directly to the second option of step 8 while muttering disgustedly in reply to what you’ve just said and, quite possibly, your very existence.
This is not to say one should never disclose there antipathy towards a beloved classic but, as you’ve no doubt learned from experience, tread carefully. A roll of the eyes or a scoff at the mention of Catcher in the Rye can be enough to turn a night out sour, and soon you’re being defined by the very work you dislike:
“Where’s the punch?”
“Over there by the guy-who-hates-Catcher in the Rye.”
Be comforted. Everyone has their albatross to bear. Mine is American Hustle, your’s maybe the film version of The Wizard of Oz or Yann Martell’s Life of Pi. Actually, I don’t much care for Life of Pi either … we should get coffee sometime.