I’m a tough sell on most things. My friends and family know that the likelihood of my enjoying a song, band, artist, movie, or show is very slim. This isn’t to say that I’m one of those people who hates everything, I just have discerning tastes and standards – this I consider to be a positive trait. Liking everything that’s “in” at a given moment isn’t necessarily the mark of someone going their own way. Sometimes hype is deserved, but sometimes it absolutely isn’t. You’re made to feel different if you don’t like something popular. “What? You didn’t like Lady Gaga’s Chromatica Album? You must not get it.”
There’s a lot in that phrase, believe it or not. “You don’t get it” is one of the most passive aggressive yet all too common phrases we have in our lexicon. It implies a lot while saying little, and it also happens to be quite possibly my biggest conversational pet peeve. To tell someone that they “don’t get it” is to assume something about their intelligence, that they’re ignorant or too unsophisticated to possibly get something you like. Sometimes, this phrase is completely warranted, especially in the case of trying to explain progressive politics to the uninitiated of a certain age. But “you don’t get it” is often used in relation to art. If you didn’t enjoy say an album or a movie, you’re treated as though your lack of enjoyment is a product of your lacking intelligence. You couldn’t possibly understand this album because if you did, you’d like it.
This is an intellectual failing on the other person’s part. They cannot conceive of a situation where what they like doesn’t receive universal acclaim. They like it, so must everyone else. After all, on social media, everyone is a tastemaker. Therefore, your lack of enjoyment can only mean that you didn’t understand it. Now, this may be true of the type of person to dislike something with no real reason. They’re on their own here; their ignorance is punishment in itself. No, I’m talking about a true, intellectually sound dislike of a given thing.
When I say I’m a tough sell, it is precisely because I when considering music, television, or films, I take into account the players and the writing. If one or both are askew, I check out. The trouble is, I more often than not find something to be askew – be it bad lyrics, bad acting, showboating, etc. Let’s take the earlier example of Lady Gaga. Lady Gaga is praised ceaselessly in the media for being a brilliant artist, writer, performer, and activist – her activism is not the subject of my ire. But, after years of exposure to Lady Gaga, her music, and worse still her persona, I’ve determined that I can’t stand her. She’s an artist, of that there can be no doubt. But, I detect a desperation for attention in her not unlike students in a high school drama class. The “look at me” quality really gets to me. The music doesn’t live up to the hype she herself generates with her over-the-top outfits and performances. A brief digression to prove my point: when Gaga performed with Bradley Cooper at the Oscars, the performance was subdued and sweet. But, when Gaga performed the same song at a different award show, one where Cooper wasn’t present, she took to headbanging and overperforming. The same went for her tribute to the late, brilliant David Bowie. A moving tribute turned into a performance all about her with a once again over-the-top romp about the stage. The point is, my dislike for Lady Gaga is based in a real perception, not blind dislike. I think the songwriting is silly at best, and the performances cover that up – not unlike KISS.
My dislike for Lady Gaga is often met with incredulity and the aforementioned “you don’t get it,” as though it’s impossible to dislike the woman. We’ve gotten to a point in our culture, in part because of social media, where the difference of opinion about even small things like pop culture becomes an insurmountable obstacle. To dislike Lady Gaga is to dislike everything she stands for. This just isn’t true. Lady Gaga and I share almost identical politics, but that has nothing to do with what I feel is her sub-par music. One of my favorite singers and songwriters, Rufus Wainwright, said it best: “I just wish that she [Lady Gaga] was better.”
Enough about Gaga, the point here is this: it’s fine to dislike things that everyone tells you to like. I thought “Bohemian Rhapsody” was one of the worst movies I’ve seen in years. The writing seemed to assume that I was stupid and wouldn’t recognize just how “VH1 Behind the Music” it truly was, that I wouldn’t see the revisionist history behind Queen themselves having such a strong hand in writing their own story. My distaste was met with utter outrage whenever I was asked whether I saw the movie and what my opinion was. But for me, I know my dislike is rooted in actual reasoning.
Our culture seems to dictate what’s good, but it’s not always right. The culture, especially progressive culture as of late, doesn’t allow for dissent among the ranks. What I’m saying is that it’s OK to have your own opinion that breaks away from the cultural gravitational pull. You’re not required to like anything, you won’t lose your “woke” membership if you dislike Lady Gaga or Kesha. What they represent and their creative output can be separated. To be told “you don’t get it” is a passive aggressive slight against your intelligence when really all that is called for is an “agree to disagree.” Our culture is getting more rigid, believe it or not. To disagree is to somehow betray your unintelligence and lack of culture – but that isn’t the case. It’s precisely because of my culturing – the reading I’ve done, the music I’ve come to like, the movies and television I enjoy – that I formulate the opinions I do. I know what I think is good because of what I’ve already seen, and I certainly know what’s bad. So, for this reason I’m a tough sell; but I’m proud of that. Allow me to leave you with this:
You’re allowed to dislike the things that everyone likes, it makes you you.