Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Just a little pretentious?

I had a thought: Is it wrong to look down on someone else for the way in which they enjoy a piece of media? The knee-jerk answer is "Yes, you pretentious jerk," but I'd like to explore it a bit. Maybe I just love to hear myself write.

Now, this question doesn't come out of the clear blue sky. For me at least, the thought surfaced as I was enjoying and discussing The Walking Dead television series. For those not aware of it, said television series originated as a long-running series of graphic novels (which I have not read), and a couple of video games (which I have not played) were also spawned from this very popular IP (that's a bit of hip gamer shorthand for "intellectual property"). There's a huge following of fans, and as it turns out, Walking Dead fans are a pretty diverse group. People actually enjoy the books, show, and games for different reasons, and this can put some of us at odds.


What spurred my thought processes today was an episode of Extra Credits, in which Dan Floyd and company opine on the deeper philosophical meaning of the first Walking Dead video game. You should probably watch it if you like video game talk, The Walking Dead, or just unadulterated intellectual brilliance. It's been said that people named Daniel are exceptionally smart; between Floyd and myself, I'd say the case has been made.

Anyway, my egotism and fanboy tendencies aside, not everyone who enjoys The Walking Dead would appreciate that assessment. At least one person described the video (and presumably people who enjoyed it) as "pretentious." I was about to question whether that person even knows what the word means, but stopped myself. Even if it would've been a bit of delicious irony, I didn't want to make his point for him.

I've seen this before, though. In discussions about the second season of the show, numerous fans complained that the show got boring; that there wasn't enough action. In my conversations with these people, I failed to get them to adequately define "action" in that context. Given the number of lives hanging in the balance, the drama, the betrayal, the close calls, and everything Shane-related, I thought there was plenty of "action" as I understood it. I conceded that the pacing of the show had slowed from the first season, but that never bothered me. As it turns out, it did bother a lot of people who are not me.

Beyond that, I've seen an air of superiority being taken up by fans of the graphic novel series. Some of them feel that by having read the novels before watching the show (which deviates greatly from the plot of the novels), they are somehow better fans. I had the misfortune of encountering one such fan who inadvertently spoiled the death of a main character in the series because they were talking about the novels. When asked to be more careful about spoilers when talking with people who had not read them, his response was basically, "Well, that's stupid! I shouldn't have to avoid talking about major plot points just because you didn't read the books like I did!" He didn't care if he spoiled plot points for us, and was actually somehow offended by the notion that he, a noble veteran novel-reader, should be forced to act considerately toward we lowly television-watcher folks. From what I could gather, he seemed to be of the opinion that his personal enjoyment of the IP was somehow better and more important than ours was.

Dissecting the Appeal:

So, here's the thing: on its surface, The Walking Dead is about zombies. Zombies on their own attract a certain kind of fans. Beyond that, though, it is also about the struggles and drama surrounding the survivors of an apocalyptic event, and that drama attracts a different kind of fan. If you're unfamiliar with the series, it might surprise you to hear me say that one of my favorite things about the zombie apocalypse show is the gripping dialogue and suspense. The character development and plot, the writing, the acting, the music, the editing, the direction... all aspects of the show are very impressive.

On the other hand, it is largely geared toward fans of "zombie fiction" (for lack of a better genre title). As such, the make-up and special effects are great, and the show tends to feature a lot of very graphic violence and gore. Some fans of the show find it a bit excessive, but fans of zombie fiction not only expect that amount of gore, they demand it.

Now, on the one hand, it's great that a single IP can appeal to geeky teenagers, middle-aged film buffs,  horror aficionados, and my mom all at once. On the other hand, if these people were to all meet and talk about the show, how likely would they be to get along or agree on anything?

So, here is the question I ponder:

Who is the "better" fan?

Is it fair to compare the differing enjoyment of different fans? Can one intrinsically be superior?

As you've seen, I have been on both sides of this. I've had my moment of pretension, thinking myself superior for appreciating the series on a deeper level than just the action and effects, but I've also been condescended to because I wasn't a faithful reader of the graphic novels.

If one wants to assume that being the better fan comes down to spending more time and money on the IP, the question becomes fairly straightforward, but somehow the thought of some spoiled kid who spends all his time and money on The Walking Dead and believes he's intrinsically a better fan than I am leaves a sour taste in my mouth.

Instead, we could try to make the argument that one fan has more thoroughly appreciated the IP than the other. People who have put a lot more time, money, and thought into their enjoyment could arguably be called better fans on the grounds that they have acquired greater understanding of and appreciation for the work over time. It's like having expert artistic knowledge when appraising a painting, being an experienced economist when commenting on financial news, or maybe even just being in on the jokes when appraising comedy. We hold some people's opinions in higher regard than others; there's clearly a reason for that, and it isn't purely a matter of pretension. Sometimes it's a matter of one person knowing something that others don't.

The Verdict?

Really, this was just a bit of idle curiosity for me. It changes nothing, for one simple reason:

No matter how much of an expert or aficionado you may be on the subject matter being discussed, there's no good reason to be a conceited dick about it.

That's the heart of it. What annoys us about pretentious people is not their self-confidence, it's their exclusionary attitude. Even if you honestly think you're smarter or more knowledgeable than the person you are talking to, there's just no excuse for being dismissive of them, making fun or them, or trying to make them feel stupid.

So, while I may personally feel my way of enjoying The Walking Dead is arguably "better" than some, and there may still be other ways "better" than mine, there's still no "right" way to do it. Everyone who enjoys it is doing it right (even if, God forbid, you bought and enjoyed TWD: Survival Instinct; ugh...). That's the point of entertainment, and that's what is great about a series that appeals to a lot of different people for different reasons. Rather than draw lines in the sand, we should just embrace the fact that one collection of media found ways to speak to so many of us.

Alright, this got a bit longer than I expected. And I'm supposed to be the guy who opposes needless verbosity. What a hypocrite, right? Well, I guess it's fine. Once the zombies come and eat my brains, I won't be doing much typing anymore, so I might as well get it all out now.

I hope you found this mildly enjoyable. Peace and love, you brave survivors of the readerpocalypse. Don't forget: aim for the head.

No comments:

Post a Comment