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Culture Wars

Culture Wars

Can a friendship survive different tastes in TV?

Picture yourself discussing the recent late night debacle involving everyone's favorite ginger Conan O'Brien and a large chin named Jay Leno. Your boyfriend tells you that he can't possibly understand why people love Conan so much, insisting that Leno's humor is far more clever and original. In his opinion, Leno deserved to reclaim his Tonight Show desk, while O'Brien got the boot he deserved. That's when your body becomes an incubator of irritation and frustration. You are overpowered by a sudden urge to use the steak knife that is conveniently staring at you in the distance.

Many might feel that picking a fight with a friend or even breaking up with a girlfriend over pop culture preferences is idiotic.  But pop culture addicts know the truth.  Far too often, a friend, loved one or complete stranger names a television show, movie or band that they absolutely love, and you can’t help but cringe at the sound of the name. Next come the eye rolling, fist-clenching and panic attacks as someone tells you they love The Big Bang Theory for its wit, but despise South Park because of its shoddy animation. The words associated with your frustration are at the tip of your tongue, but you can't utter them for fear that your friendship might be ruined if you call a pal an idiot for “just not getting” Arrested Development.

French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu argued that one’s taste in culture “functions as a sort of social orientation, a ‘sense of one’s place.’”  He meant that it separated the economic classes, but it might also just keep you from sharing a meal.  Charles Foucreault, a corporate lawyer, was enjoying a comfortable dinner with friends when he and a friend who shall remain nameless entered an emotionally-fuelled conversation about the comical merits behind CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men.  The nameless friend didn't unequivocally say he liked the show, but affirmed that the program about Charlie Sheen whoring himself on camera “wasn’t bad”.

Charles lost it. For him, anyone who even attempts to justify the thinking behind Two and a Half Men deserves to be forced into a shouting match he or she will inevitably lose.  Charles’ irritation came to a head as his friend tried to prove that two men and a child living together could make for brilliant situational comedy. Their friendship has not been the same since.

Charles still says with absolute confidence that he will never respect a human being who even remotely enjoys Two and a Half Men.

“I just can't let go of people liking shows like Friends or Two and a Half Men, because when someone tells me they like these shows, it's like they're telling me that they enjoy turning off their brains while watching television,” he explains.

“What really matters is what you like, not what you are like,” says Rob Gordon, the music obsessive at the center of 2000 movie High Fidelity.  Journalist Joanne Latimer might have to agree.  She says that had her husband Mark liked the film Titanic, they wouldn't be married today.

“One day, we were in a car together, and he asked me in a very even tone if I liked Titanic,” she remembers.  “I knew that this was a very important question, and I told him I absolutely hated it. It was a very good moment in our relationship.” Joanne cites the sap, ridiculous plot line, corny music and the impossibility of a poor vagrant named Jack Dawson finding love with the aristocratic Rose as reasons for her disdain. “There's a chance that if either of us liked that movie, we wouldn't get along very well. I'm very grateful that that wasn't the case,” Joanne says.

Kristen Theodore wasn't so lucky in love. Instead, she was pushed over the edge when her boyfriend insisted that anyone who likes Lady Gaga must be stupid. Kristen felt forced to defend someone who she believes is a great musical talent. “I had to tell him that she can actually play piano, that Lady Gaga is different, because she isn't just your average pop-star,” Kristen says. “She's so much more because there's all this fear and intrigue surrounding her. She's got lasting power, like Madonna.”

Although Kristen and her (now ex-) boyfriend’s relationship problems had deeper roots than “Bad Romance,” they climaxed with the Lady Gaga feud. For Kristen, his refusal to respect those who admire Lady Gaga was obnoxious and unforgivable. Days later, their nearly two-year-long romance ended.

Charles, on the other hand, may be able to forgive different tastes—but only if he feels his life is at stake. “This ex-marine, Vietnam war vet once told me he liked Jay Leno, and that is when I took a step back and said I liked him. If I feel threatened in any way, then I forgive!”

Related on maisonneuve.org:

—The Music We Hate: Lady Gaga
—Ears Unplugged
—Notes on the End of Cynicism

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