The other day I was in the elevator heading up to my floor in my apartment building. It was around 9:30 PM. I was tired, and not in the mood to talk. There were a few other people in the elevator with me, and they were all together. I happened to be wearing a Pink Floyd T-shirt (turns out, I’m a fan) displaying artwork for their album Dark Side of the Moon. One person in the group saw my shirt, lifted his jacket, and showed me that he too was wearing a Pink Floyd shirt. In return I gave him my thumbs up of approval.
Now, if this had been the end of the exchange I might have walked out of the elevator thinking: “he seemed like a pretty cool guy.” But no, it turns out this guy was a total prick. He immediately declares to me that Pink Floyd’s album The Wall is better. Even though I totally agree with him (The Wall is literally my favorite album of all time) the way he said it made me want to punch him in the teeth. I could only theorize that he saw my Dark Side of the Moon shirt as being my own statement as to which album is better. So he immediately declares his own superiority as a fan by liking what is apparently the better album, as there was no trace of simple opinion in his declaration: whatever he said was fact, and God help the person who comes along and challenges him. You want to know how much it matters which of those albums is the superior: fuck all! It’s simply a matter of opinion, and most people on either side are going to have strong valid points for their own preference.
There was also another little thing that made me hate this guy even more: as I walked out of the elevator on my floor, I heard him say something under his breath. I turned to politely ask him what he said. His response was: “have a nice day, asshole.” Now I understand that I may have come off as a bit distant while all this was happening, but what gave this guy the right to simply call me an asshole? We share a common interest and a common preference in that interest. And sure, I was judging him on a matter of principal, but he didn’t know that. On what grounds did this guy deserve to call me an asshole?
We’ll come back to that later. I now have another experience to share with you. I recently attended an event titled “Cinema Slapdown.” What happens there is that audiences gather to watch a film, and afterword they hear a debate between two experts over the merit of the film. The audience gets involved in the discussion as well. This was my first time attending. What film were we watching: James Cameron’s Avatar.
I just want to get this out of the way: this is not a review of Avatar of any kind. I have been back and forth on the merit of this film ever since I first saw it a year ago. I first walked out having really enjoyed myself. Was it the future of Cinema? Probably not. Was it a simple story? Most definitely. Was it a heaping pile of shit? I certainly didn’t think so. For the most part I’ve tried to remove myself from this debate over Avatar, I’ve just never felt very strongly for it either way. I have however said that I think that almost all of the other aspects besides the plot and characters were well executed, and deserved recognition.
I went to the Cinema Slapdown event because I was hoping to hear some strong cases for the film on both sides. What I got was an even bigger waste of my time than Avatar could ever hope to be. The woman arguing against the merit of Avatar was a bile-spewing, witch of a film critic. She hadn’t a single interesting thing to say about the film that hadn’t been said a hundred times over. This woman, and the people in the audience siding with her, simply resorted to calling fans of the film mindless idiots who weren’t worth their time. The man arguing for the merit of Avatar was a drawling film historian who only seemed to see the film from where it stands in the history of cinema: a milestone in technological achievement. Most fans of the film in the audience sadly seemed to be overtly whiney and defensive of their precious film, trying to make their points so quickly they forgot to add any reasoning behind them.
Maybe I should have stood up and participated, but I’ve always been bad at forming cohesive arguments on the fly. However, I did come out of Avatar seeing it in a slightly different light. I knew I wasn’t going to find anything in the story or the characters, so I focused my concentration on the world. While many detractors of the film see it as another “white man leading the way to victory” story, I instead saw it this time as a “white man leading the way to a slaughter” story. A tremendous amount of Na’vi are killed in the films climactic battle, and we are oh so conveniently told to be sad for them because of the sorrowful score behind it all. Who led the Na’vi to fight: the hero, Jake Sully. But who actually saved their asses: the entire world of Pandora. Every species on the planet suddenly unites and fights off the army of invading humans. While I don’t think that’s a great “twist” in the overall plot, it’s much better than “the one white man who
will save us all,” and is conveniently overlooked by many people on both sides.
I also noticed the lack of characterization in the actual characters versus the characterization of the setting: Pandora. From the word “go” we are told how dangerous of a world Pandora is, mostly from the confines of spaceships or the human compounds. Then we go out into the world and we see: yeah, it’s pretty damn dangerous. However, we also see that it’s a sprawling, beautiful place where every organism reacts to another (we literally see grass and wildlife glow when touched). This communicates that the world is alive, aware, and ready to pounce at a moments notice. This gives me the feeling that we aren’t meant to identify with the characters, but the environment they are in. So that when that environment is destroyed we feel it. This makes sense, seeing as the film is all about the encroachment of civilization on nature. What greatly worries me is that no one on either side of the argument wanted to talk about the world of the film. Is it not difficult to create rich
detailed world? Of course it’s difficult, why can’t that be accomplishment enough?
But the entire reason I bring all this up comes down us: the audience. As different people with different lives and experiences we aren’t going to agree on everything, and to be honest, we don’t need to. Yet we all have a sense of entitlement, and rarely want to live and let live. We turn to those who disagree with us and call them simple names: small-minded idiots, or heartless snobs. Looking down our noses we criticize each other for their own opinions.
Honestly, why do we fucking care? Sure, there are times when one side has all the facts and reasons behind it, but those are few and far between. Why must we attempt to prove how much smarter or sensitive we are than others. Life is complicated, and people are complicated. Yeah, even that drunken, douche bag frat-boy is complicated (in his own special way). If you meet someone who doesn’t like your favorite film, do you immediately catagorize them as an idiot? If someone’s favorite movie is Meet The Spartans should we judge them as a simpleton?
I’ve had a rule with people for a long time: if they have valid, well thought out reasons for their opinions they can disagree with me as much as they want. Just to be clear, in regards to art like cinema, arguments like: “it’s boring,” “the characters are 2-dimensional,” or “it’s a lot of fun” are not valid, well thought out arguments. Why is it boring? Why are the characters 2-dimensional? Why is it a lot of fun? If you are going to feel strongly about something, one way or another, you need to have specifics.
Which brings me all the way back to the Pink Floyd encounter. That guy who declared The Wall is better than Dark Side of the Moon wasn’t interested in my opinion. As a fellow fan of Pink Floyd, he wanted to dominate whatever opinion I could have. If it was different than his, it was wrong. There is no arguing, and no discussing with people like that. In their mind, they’re always right and that’s that, reason and logic be damned. And honestly, in the big picture: whether you’re talking about the arts, politics, religion, etc., those are just about the worst people in the world.
Ultimately, I can only hope that anyone who reads this starts to think about how they treat others with differing opinions. We as a society seem to always forego discussion for outright argument, and that’s not going to solve a damn thing. Don’t immediately file your opponents under “idiot,” ask them why they have that opinion, ask them how they came to that conclusion. If they don’t have specifics, then file away!