I was in high school when Pulp Fiction came out, though I didn’t see it until I was in college. I knew, of course, that Jimmie was Quentin Tarantino himself, but there was something about him that I just didn’t like. Several somethings, honestly, but one a little more amorphous than “he’s kind of racist and doesn’t seem to like his wife very much, for all he says he loves her.” Eventually, I worked out that he reminded me of someone I’d had a minor Thing with my senior year of high school, one that had not been well advised. (Never get involved with a guy who reads Ayn Rand.) Usually, when I just don’t like someone or another in film, I trace it back to someone I know personally. Still.
Is it fair to blame Quentin Tarantino for that man who shall remain nameless? Absolutely not. Certainly it isn’t fair to denigrate his films because of a resemblance of personality. On the other hand, that twinge of resemblance to someone I don’t like is not just a hint of appearance, something in the timbre of their voices. It’s also attitude, and that attitude should have warned me off fooling around with the guy. Why would I want to watch movies full of it?
While I do believe there is such thing as objective quality in film (an argument for another day, I suspect), it is also inherently a subjective medium. You like what you like, and I like what I like, and we can agree or disagree without either of us necessarily being right or wrong. What you like does, however, say things about you just as what I like says things about me, and that includes those weird twitches where you can’t say why you do and don’t like things, but they resonate in you for good or ill. I believe you are allowed, in other words, to be hesitant about someone’s entire collected works just because you don’t really like that person.
This gets some into the whole “art versus artist” thing. Do we watch Roman Polanski movies even though he’s a rapist? Do we watch Tom Cruise movies even though he’s a Scientologist? Your answer to that will be different than mine; I know quite a lot of you still watch Tom Cruise movies, and I know others of you don’t watch Roman Polanski movies. That’s your choice. I’m not here to argue that right now, either. I do not, though, believe that the two are completely inseparable in the case of screenwriters in particular, because who that person is usually finds its way to the screen.
There was a discussion in the Facebook group the other day about people whose faces we just want to punch. (I don’t mind admitting that Tarantino is definitely in that category for me!) If that’s your reaction to someone regardless of the quality of their performance, that’s an actor whose work you have a legitimate reason to avoid, if for no other reason than that’s two hours or whatever spent in a bad headspace. It’s hard to focus on plot when you’re thinking about punching someone.
Another person who has always bothered me on an undefinable level is Woody Allen, and it was nice to be able to feel smug when it turned out that he’s probably not a very good person. I was able to go from “there’s just something about him I don’t like”—an argument ignored as much as “I don’t think he’s terribly funny most of the time”—to “well, but you know what he’s probably done.” I imagine there are people out there feeling the same way about Bill Cosby, people who never liked him without ever really knowing why and now get to say, “you know, rapist?”
Then again, there are also probably people who just don’t like Tom Hanks, and if he turns out to be a terrible person, I don’t even know what I would do. I still don’t think those people have to ignore their dislike just because Tom Hanks, personally, seems to be an awfully decent guy who I also think is a pretty good actor. They don’t like him, and they’re allowed to irrationally dislike him. It’s not as though he’ll ever know or care.
This is the thing. Our popular culture is built around the idea that we know these strangers and may even have the right to know them. When a celebrity expresses some dislike of some current aspect of celebrity culture, the response tends to be, “They knew what they were getting into.” I’m not sure that’s true, especially for people who have been celebrities for a long time. What do you think Abe Vigoda thinks of http://www.abevigoda.com?
I also note that I’m mostly focusing on actors, here. Maybe that’s because I’m a woman; I don’t know. I don’t much like Meryl Streep, either, and I’ve often had a hard time expressing why. (Except that I don’t know why she gets cast in so many singing roles lately, given that her singing voice is not great. She certainly doesn’t have as much range as some of her parts have required in a more literal sense; they altered the songs of Into the Woods, and she still flubbed a fair number of notes!) Maybe it’s that most of the women I’ve noticed other people irrationally disliking, I’ve noticed because those women are getting horrible misogynistic slurs flung at them. Or body-shamed despite weighing less than I have since junior high. Or something. But we can all feel comfortable talking about whether or not we find Quentin Tarantino unbearably smug.
Which I do. I can’t even put a picture of him on this article, because then, I’d have to look at that damned face every time this article came up. I don’t want to punch my monitor.