One Man’s Ceiling is Another Man’s Floor

There ain’t, I am reliably informed, no accounting for taste. But from time to time I come across something that I have heard lauded for years and years, and my reaction when I finally get to it is… eh. Or worse, urgh. Like: where is this film/book/play that sounded so great? I wanted to see that one.

A few weeks ago Spartacus was on, and my husband and I realized we’d heard about it forever and had never seen it. And it was directed by Stanley Kubrick, whom we both admire. So we watched it… for about 40 minutes, before we agreed that our lives were worth more than sitting through any more of it. It wasn’t that the film was dated–there are films that are considerably older that we watch with enjoyment. Spartacus was visually arresting and filled with great actors, many of them doing unspectacular work. After all the years I’d heard about this movie… the big take away was “I am Spartacus.”

About a dozen years ago the late P.D. James wrote a “sequel” to Pride and Prejudice, Death Comes to Pemberley. The reviews I saw were nothing short of rapturous. With hope in my heart and the book in my hands I dived in and…Ugh.I really want to read the book everyone else read and got so enthusiastic about. I could take your time and mine and explain all my objections–it was dreary and without wit, it was a mediocre mystery, it had no idea who its target audience was.  Etc. There was no magic.

But that’s just me. Maybe you liked it. Maybe you found it everything you wanted in a mystery-sequel-to Austen. In which case, who’s right? What you want from a given work may be entirely different from what I want. We may not be reading the same text or seeing the same movie, because we see with such different eyes. Agree to disagree and move on.

So why even mention it? Because I’ve noticed a real uptick in the past couple of years in conversations that suddenly swerve into “No, you’re WRONG” trainwrecks. Often among usually easy-going folks. It’s as if we’re all on such a short fuse that a disagreement about a subjective response to a piece of entertainment can feel like an attack. I feel it myself, when I’m bubbling over with enthusiasm for something I like and someone else comes in and, as we say in my household, yucks my yum. Particularly with a sharp-edged diss that suggests that I’m stupid for liking what I like. Conversations like these leave shredded souls all over the internet.

I can’t fix the internet. All I can do is to remember, next time the temptation to snark, to yuck someone else’s yum, wells up in me, that if I want the world to be an incrementally nicer place, it’s got to start with me. The floor I’m tap-dancing on my be someone else’s ceiling, and a little consideration is something I want to cultivate.

2 Comments »

  1. I very much appreciate both your observations. I am an avid re-reader of Austen and thoroughly enjoyed PD James novels and would rush to obtain them, as my hard copy of Death at Pemberley witnesses. I assumed it would be memorable, maybe stellar. I was disappointed. So it gladdens me to know I am not alone in seeing no magic, yet the reviews were excellent. But to your second observation, a review at that time discussed the novel’s gothic aspects, which explained a reason why I might not enjoy it – gothics do not speak to me – but others would. It was a clear and gentle reminder that my liking something and its value are not one and the same.

  2. Absolutely. As importantly, my disliking something and its value are not one and the same. I don’t care for liver, but I know there are people who relish it. Fine: they can have my share. But I don’t see any point in going about saying “LIVER! That’s disgusting!” when someone else is eating it. Long as it’s not on my plate, it’s none of my business.

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