Today on Facebook, I saw an image that informed me that ordinary people owned big televisions, and extraordinary people owned lots of books. Now, I’ll admit I’m not sure what size my TV is, because I bought it from a friend who was moving. Pretty big, anyway. The biggest I’ve ever owned, certainly. On the other hand, I own over fifteen hundred books. (I haven’t updated my database in a while, so I can’t tell you the exact number.) So am I ordinary or extraordinary?
I’m sure this snobbery isn’t new. I’m sure people have been looking down on moviegoers as long as there have been movies to go to. The book I own that’s set the earliest and has characters going to a movie is Rilla of Ingleside, the eighth book in the Anne of Green Gables series, and it’s merely showcasing an embarrassing story about Rilla. Of course, Rilla is also something like seventeen in that chapter, and she’s self-centered enough so that I’m not sure she would notice. Still, there’s always someone prepared to dismiss pop culture in any form.
I don’t deny that I’ve done my share of dismissing. Anyone who has heard my varied rants on modern comedy can tell you that, but that’s another column. On the other hand, I’m also perfectly aware that taste is not the same as appetite and therefore is not a question of morals. If you like that sort of thing, well, that’s the sort of thing you like. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person; it just means that we like different things.
We have a hard time with that concept, I think. In all its many and varied ways, we think people should have the same interests as we do or else there’s something wrong with them. Do you like professional wrestling? You must not be very bright. Do you like superheroes? You must not be very mature. There are judgements for all tastes, eventually. No matter what you like, someone is prepared to look down on you for it.
I’ve read an argument that we shouldn’t accept the term “guilty pleasure,” because we shouldn’t feel guilty about what we love. I’m not sure I’d go that far, honestly. My love of Far and Away is a guilty pleasure—one I haven’t indulged in for a very long time, at that—because it’s a bad movie starring a man I’m uncomfortable enjoying. If I still watched it, I would quite literally feel guilty about it, because I shouldn’t be encouraging him. I can come up with other examples, some of them based on my belief that not all quality in film is subjective and that there are some things that are just bad.
On the other hand, I do believe there is some value to the idea that you shouldn’t be ashamed of those pleasures. If you enjoy them, and they don’t actually hurt anyone, watch them and enjoy. You’re allowed. It doesn’t say any more or less about you as a person than any other detail of your life. Or, perhaps, any more or less about you than you let it. We’re coming in to the weather where I’ll sometimes watch terrible, cheesy movies, simply because I’m too hot to think but still need to do something to keep myself occupied. Am I a bad person for watching Summer School? No, I am not.
Another aspect that I think that meme didn’t consider is that not all books are created equal, nor are all things you’d watch on your big TV. Is someone whose entire book collection is hundreds upon hundred of Harlequin romance novels really more extraordinary than someone who sits in front of a big TV, watching educational programming? Yes, I own Major League, but I also own Cave of Forgotten Dreams. I won’t argue that I’m extraordinary for watching it, but I can learn extraordinary things.
The television is a tool, just as the book is. What you watch on it is your choice. What you read is your choice. Neither will make you ordinary or extraordinary. That’s up to you.