Watching Despite Myself
Posted on February 27, 2021 Posted by Athena Scalzi 27 Comments
I am not someone who has ever thought of anything as “too mainstream.” I am not someone who has ascribed to the stereotype of a hipster by refusing the things in life that other people enjoy. Or, at least, I thought I wasn’t that person, until I realized the other day that maybe I am that person, subconsciously.
Maybe I am that person that thinks there’s too much hype over a show that doesn’t even look that good, or maybe I do think that something is overrated, even if I haven’t seen it or even given it a shot.
This was certainly the case with Bridgerton. The moment I saw posts about it on social media, I thought, “well that looks totally silly.” I thought it seemed overhyped. It couldn’t possibly be as good as everyone was saying. I don’t know why I was so adamant in my thinking, considering I didn’t even know what it was about. All I knew was that it was a period drama, and I don’t like period dramas. They’re too… dramatic.
So I thought everyone was way too into their silly little historical fiction show, and I called it a day. I wasn’t even going to bother trying to prove myself right or wrong by giving the show a watch.
That was, until, I walked into the living room while my mom had the first episode on. It was already like halfway through, but I sat with her and started half-paying attention as I was on my phone. I didn’t really want to watch it, but I didn’t hate that it was on. It seemed okay enough, but like I said I really wasn’t focusing on it.
Until one of my favorite tropes of all time came into play. Then, I was hooked.
And now, five episodes in, I am so happy I started watching it. I can’t believe I had almost missed such a wonderful show. I really almost completely and utterly bypassed this show, because I thought, without any basis, that it wasn’t actually good and was just being overhyped.
Another show I did that with in the past was The Office. I didn’t understand why everyone liked it so much. It didn’t seem good to me. I didn’t understand what it was about, and I hated seeing so many posts and merch of it all the time.
It was actually a ten-minute blooper video I saw on Facebook that persuaded me to watch it. The bloopers were so comical and the cast seemed so fun that I gave it a shot, and now I love The Office, like any other stereotypical, white, young millennial (I say young millennial because I’m either the absolute youngest of their generation or the oldest of the Gen Z’s).
Anyways, I feel like there’s a lot of things that are popular that I don’t give a second glance because I assume they’re not good and everyone else is just making too big a deal out of it. But I should realize that they’re popular for a reason! There has to be something to these things if everyone likes it, right? Or at least I should give it a chance and check it out myself before jumping to the conclusion that it’s automatically terrible.
One thing I actively do this with is Hamilton. It’s just been so popular for so long, I figure if I haven’t seen it by now, why bother? It’s also another period piece, and I’ve always thought I didn’t like those, but maybe I’ve been wrong all along.
I felt the same way about The Queen’s Gambit, and while I didn’t watch that in its entirety, the parts I did see were enjoyable enough, and it seemed like it was in fact a pretty good show.
Back to Bridgerton, this is the show that made me realize that maybe I do have a tendency to shun things that are popular for no reason. I don’t know why I do this. I don’t think my taste in anything is better than anyone else’s. Like I know my taste in music isn’t exactly amazing, and my taste in movies can be even worse (cough, Gods of Egypt, cough), but I guess I’m just skeptical of what the masses seem to enjoy.
In conclusion, this was just a short examination of why I deny myself things that could potentially bring me joy. Like Bridgerton. I’m happy I’ve been watching it, and I’m excited to finish it. So please don’t spoil anything in the comments! When I’m done with it I might do a piece over it because I just wanna gush! So many feelings! So much drama! (Turns out I do kinda like drama.)
What’s something you didn’t really think you’d like but then you actually loved it? Let me know in the comments, and have a great day!
You remind me of the famous quote from Yogi Berra (ask your dad): Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”
Hamilton! I work in the theatre … I felt buffeted by it for YEARS. Thought it couldn’t possibly be All That (though I’ve designed In the Heights twice and loved it). I’m not a hip-hop fan. But when they streamed it, I thought I should see what the fuss was about.
I don’t think I remembered to BREATHE for the first 20 minutes. Husband and I finally paused it, and looked at each other, and said something like “Wow – that’s intense! We’ve got to be almost intermission, right‽!” And it literally had been 20 minutes.
I was the same with Lis Miserables. It was on the stereo in every room in the theatre building in college. I was “So, what?” about it. Until I went to NYC for a few days and SAW it … and I was weeping so hard by the end I couldn’t get a cab back to my hotel so I walked 30 blocks.
But The Office was the opposite for me. Finally saw an episode, and nothing in it struck me as funny at all and I hated every character. (But I’ve long known my funny bone is broken! I just don’t get most comedy.)
Wait, what was the trope that made you want to keep watching? (Sorry if I missed this somehow in the post…)
I’m behind the curve on basically everything, but one that stands out at the moment is Avatar: The Last Airbender. It took me at least a year of hearing how great it was and it becoming available on Amazon Prime when I was in college for me to finally see it. Totally awesome show.
For me, it is more that the popularity of a given thing is a useless metric for predicting if I’ll like it. It is like using hair color to try to predict if I’ll enjoy someone’s company.
I like plenty of popular things. I also like many things that are very niche. So I just tend to ignore relative popularity of media when attempting to decide whether or not to waste time with it.
So what was your favorite trope? Fake dating? Gossip columns? Bad parenting?
My advice to you is that when people are raving about a thing, listen to WHY they are raving about a thing and what they like about it. If what they like about it is something that you would normally like yourself, you may want to give it a try. If what they like about it is something you hate (like me watching horror movies), then give it a miss.
Things are frequently popular BECAUSE they are either good, or there are at least some things that are good about it enough to hook people.
Which is to say: yeah, watch Hamilton.
You can’t just dangle the “one of my favorite tropes of all time came into play. Then, I was hooked” without explaining it! Ok, spill! Inquiring minds want to know!
I felt that way about The Good Place. Now everyone in my bubble is watching and it can be a challenge to find times when we all can cope with each other’s company so we can watch of it.
It’s never too late to be the last person to discover A Thing.
I recently watched Brigadoon on TCM and was stunned when Gene Kelly broke into “Almost Like Being in Love” — the same song played over the closing credits of one of my favorite movies, Groundhog Day. I’ll bet Harold Ramis knew that when he picked it. What a genius.
I used to have a related thing going on, not necessarily shunning the mainstream but gravitating toward fringier stuff, especially if it had a reputation for being difficult or challenging. I was the sort of music fan who would buy records from Captain Beefheart instead of the Rolling Stones, Cecil Taylor instead of Miles Davis, John Cage instead of Aaron Copland, like that.
Only it turns out that some of that “mainstream” stuff offers challenges of its own if you approach from the right angle. Miles Davis’s’ 1960s and 70s music isn’t as virtuosically atonal as Taylor’s, but it doesn’t go out of its way to be crowd-pleasing either. Copland’s Americana turns out to have affinities with Stravinsky’s neoclassicism, and he wrote some wilder stuff as well. And the Rolling Stones did a lot to explore the expressive potential of guitar/bass/drums/vocals in ways that many other bands picked up on.
(Though the Stones themselves would be the first to acknowledge their enormous debt to Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and many other mid-20th-century Black American rock and blues musicians. Come to think of it, some of those same figures – especially Howlin’ Wolf – inform a lot of Beefheart’s music as well, even his wilder stuff.)
I hope you give Hamilton a try in the near future, even though you may not (think you) care for 18th-century period pieces, hip-hop, or musical theater. I myself don’t much care for rye bread, Swiss cheese, or sauerkraut, but Reubens are among my favorite sandwiches. Sometimes the combination of unlikely ingredients leads to something no one could have expected.
I don’t think you should feel you have to watch anything just because it’s popular. There are a lot of movies I will never touch with a ten foot pole, because as well done as they might be, they just don’t appeal, or there is something about them that activates my ‘squick’ factor. Your time is valuable; why waste it on something that doesn’t make your socks go up and down?
I am sometimes guilty of not giving something a chance if it seems too popular. I think it’s just my brand of stubbornness: you can’t tell me what to like!
Puccini’s operas, because of their directness and popularity. He was an incredible composer, but it took until I was nearly 40 to figure that out.
I was kind of similar with Bridgerton. I’d seen that it was around and watched the trailer, but it seemed silly or something. Then I was not feeling well one day and sat in bed and pulled up my laptop for something to watch while I lay there, and there it was. In that moment I gave myself permission to watch silly eye candy and then it turned out to be not quite as silly as I expected (though Definitely eye candy), and I binge-watched the rest of it that week.
As far as something else I didn’t expect to like, the main one is Lilo and Stitch. I was very turned off by the teaser trailers for that, in which Stitch was basically just destructive and annoying to other Disney characters, but I love, love, LOVE the movie itself.
I was one of the people who was really angry with the decision to move it from short form to the long form Hugo Award category, which may have bumped it off the ballot. I think it could have won the short form award if it was on the ballot and more people like me who didn’t realize what a little gem it is had actually watched it.
Also, FWIW … speaking just for myself, I don’t especially care if something’s popular. More often, I don’t even KNOW if it’s popular! If something becomes popular among my geeky set that often share my tastes in things, then perhaps I’ll pay attention and maybe check something out if it looks like it might appeal. (That is, after all, how I stumbled onto Old Man’s War! One of my happier stumbles.)
I almost never watch broadcast TV, so I’m largely out of touch with mainstream culture, and I’m content with that. I like finding my own books/movie/shows. Though it does mean I’m often last to the party, like with Hamilton! But that’s OK.
Feel the same — and sometimes, justified. Did not enjoy Big Bang Theory ( it seemed to have the same six jokes recycled over ‘x’ seasons).
But Bridgerton is on my short list with Good Lord Bird and anything written by Cord Jefferson (one of the writers on shows such as The Watchmen HBO Series and The Good Place) or Damon Lindelof (The Leftovers, The Hunt, etc.).
As I get older, I seem to follow creators more so than properties or pop culture explosions. After all, the creators drive the shows, invert the tropes, and structure the narratives in ways that are compelling and/or surprising.
I have not and probably will never get into Game of Thrones. So there.
I can’t remember any examples off hand, but I can remember the opposite: Liking what other don’t YET.
For my part, I would distrust society’s taste because as a teenager I mistrusted my fellow teens.
I read Les Mis decades before anyone else thought it was a good story; I read Game of Thrones long before it was a TV show—I can relate to G.R.R. Martin saying, after a certain deadly episode, “Now you know why the nerds were so depressed a few years back.”
I can relate to G.R.R.M. because I have a similar frustration with non-readers in general, and frustrated in particular with them having to be middle aged before sheer life experience gives them an ability to escape from eternal “now-time” into different time-space locations, a perspective I picked up so naturally from reading.
I remain wary of the public’s taste in art and entertainment.
Marvel Movies! I didn’t see the point of superhero movies and managed to avoid most of them until my younger son needed a parent to go see Ant Man with him. (It was a 12A certificate in the UK – under 12s OK if accompanied.)
That was all the slippery slope I needed ….
I had been thinking that I didn’t want to watch that, either. My avoidance of historical dramas are basically history-nerd based. But, I saw the lead actor host SNL, and I liked him a lot.
Sometimes, though, I just don’t like them. I never could get into “Downton Abbey”, in spite of my love for Maggie Smith.
But, I did like “Hamilton” when I finally saw it. I generally avoid live musicals because the story comes to a screeching halt every time someone starts singing. But in “Hamilton”, I’m never taken out of the story. Even when they’re on a black stage, alone, like in King George’s numbers, the story keeps going. It’s not strange to see him alone in a spotlight – he’s not even on the same side of the ocean as all the other characters, he’s way off in the distance. 10/10 would recommend. The Disney+ version was really well done.
What was the trope that hooked you?
I put off reading The Three Body Problem partly because of popularity and partly because I read an excerpt and didn’t like it, but I’m reading it now and it’s great. (Also the excerpt was quite unrepresentative IMHO (I’m only about 3/4ths done).)
Hey Athena, I just had to comment because I’ve done this, myself: My learning moment was Seinfeld, which was so hugely, disgustingly popular, I chose to avoid it completely. Perhaps halfway through its run, I decided to give it a chance and got immediately hooked. It became a tradition for me to watch it with my friends in college.
This cracked me up, because I do it too. “A Discovery of Witches” was my most recent one.
And I may have watched “Gods of Egypt” a time or two… It’s kinda like “The Highlander” was back on the day. Although “Highlander” is a classic now, so who knows.
How could I forget!! Also “Big Bang Theory”
The quickest way to get me to NOT watch something is for multiple people to tell me that I NEED to watch it. The more who tell me, the more I will resist.
But I put that down to being old and curmudgeonly – I don’t remember doing this in my twenties. Maybe you’re doomed to be even more recalcitrant than I am!
I’m glad you gave it a try! I avoided anything in the romance genre for years because I was a feminist. But now that I read and watch occasional things in the romance genre, I’ve found that some of the most interesting and feminist discussion of straight relationships is happening in modern romance. Since I’m biologically condemned to be straight, I’m glad there are some writers wrestling with the important questions of how to make straight relationships work. There are also great romance writers who write about LGBTQ+ relationships too–and reading them occasionally has expanded my world a great deal. Romance is an undervalued genre because it’s written and published by women, and as a feminist I’ve come to believe it’s under-rated.
I have not watched Bridgerton, despite my friends exhorting me to do so, because it’s a question of WHAT THE BLIMMIN’ HECK DO I WATCH NOW!
It’s a question of so much content across so many platforms that one has to make a choice. We literally do not live long enough to watch all the new stuff, catch up on the old stuff and rewatch our faves!
When I was growing up in the UK, we had but three broadcast TV channels; no cable, no satellite. Three! When a fourth appeared it was a major life event! We gazed in envy across the pond at you Americans and your cable services… Little did we know how good we had it.