When I was a child, I was in a program called Reading Is Fundamental. In practical terms, this meant free books. One of the first cookbooks I owned was from that program, and I quite regret having at some point lost it, because it was another theme cookbook. Specifically, it was a cookie recipe for each month of the year, tied in to that month’s holiday. I forget what the August cookie was, but it pointed out that the US has no holiday in August, which fascinated me for years—and makes it kind of interesting that my personal year now centers around the unusual event I do in August. But anyway, this may have been what cemented me as a One Holiday At A Time person.
I know I’m relatively alone in this. And I think that’s because it’s hard for us to have a sense of proportion. Whether that’s cultural or innate or what, I can’t tell you, but in my experience, people go all in when maybe sometimes they shouldn’t. This time of year, it’s the Pumpkin Spice Thing. Liking pumpkin spice. Not liking pumpkin spice. Actively shaming people over pumpkin spice. And, sure, I don’t like pumpkin and wonder why apple cider doesn’t get more attention. But that’s not why I take pictures of pumpkin spice products I see; it’s because I’m fascinated at the range of them that people seem to feel is necessary.
You get this same thing with the MCU, too. Some people seem to believe that the MCU completely dominates movies, because they don’t know what the Years of the Western looked like in Hollywood I guess. There are people who treat you as a cultural philistine if you like superhero movies, and of course there are people who think they’re the height of cinema and storytelling, and because of how our culture works, even if your feelings fall somewhere in the middle you get pressured in one direction or the other by the conversation.
It’s not even just “people are allowed to like things.” It’s that people are allowed to feel moderate feelings about things. And our culture doesn’t really seem to know what to do about this. I love Halloween, but even now that I live somewhere I might theoretically decorate, I’m not ready to start decorating until after the first day of school. (Because it’s not a holiday, but it’s a major and important day, and one at a time.) My Christmas stuff won’t go up until after my birthday (December 6) and will probably, as is my mother’s tradition, be down for Epiphany. And the cultural conversation doesn’t know what to do about that. What do you mean, you don’t obsess enough to insist on decorating early but also don’t hate the holiday completely?
Frankly, there are a lot of other sociopolitical issues going on with the pumpkin spice thing; I believe its kickback is absolutely at least partially sexist in its specifics. But its roots are in our weird insistence on either total obsession or total hatred. My generation is the one that elevated “meh” to not just a word but a mission statement, and even we’re expected to passionately love or passionately hate everything. Even weirder, we seem to go along with it.