Monday, January 19, 2009

Cracks in Taste

I have been watching Deadwood pretty regularly, and Sara and I just started Mad Men. Sara asked me why watching penned up housewives living lives of quiet desperation made me want to flee the room, but I seemed to enjoy watching a show that has more than a few murdered prostitutes. I also thought of how often I dismiss something because it is far too bleak (Wit, Requiem for a Dream) -- but then turn around and really enjoy the hell out of something equally bleak (the most recent Battlestar Galactica, Beckett). There are obvious reasons for this, of course: Deadwood is all huge drama while Mad Men is more subdued; Requiem for a Dream is so scuzzy, while Beckett is all poetry. And of course there is no REASON taste should be consistent. But I can't quite shake the idea that, when I find a rift like this, where I have trouble justifying my tastes, that I am not seeing some level of myself where this makes some kind of perfect sense. I think of it like a Freudian Slip, where some mistake suggests some deeper thing about yourself you do not have access to.

Where do your tastes go wonkey? Where do you find yourself wondering why you like X but not the similar Y? What do you think accounts for that?


neilshyminsky said...

Good call in suggesting a Freudian explanation, because he'd probably have a hell of a lot to read into a comparison of Deadwood and Mad Men.

My simplest psychoanalytic reading? Dead prostitutes are less unsettling because they've become a conventional (and even comfortable) means of realizing otherwise illicit misogynistic pleasures - they embody that which men both desire (sexual availability) and revile (sexual availability - yes, i wrote the same thing twice) and allow them to act on both urges in a way that has never seemed as problematic as it would with any other women. (Which is to say, there is always that fleeting thought that if anyone deserved it...)

Conversely, the women who suffer from "the problem that has no name" are quite outside masculinist or misogynist modes of social control. They are physically, socially, and economically contained and constrained, and yet their minds and bodies remain unavailable. If there's something of an excess of male desire located and locatable on the person of the dead stripper, then the problem with the depressed housewife is that there she is entirely without desire. We can't desire or revile her because she extends beyond the logics of an androcentric world - we can't actually possess her and we can't destroy her, except to do so in a way beyond our control and entirely without an element of pleasure. And that's frustrating.

Which is not to say that I think any man's mind actually works entirely in such crude or simplistic ways. I risk overstating the case by writing it in such quick and plain language and without any recognition that a masculinized mind is far more complicated than this. But as far as a gut-reaction level of enjoyment goes? Yeah, I think this factors into it.

(Btw, Geoff, I haven't forgotten that I said I would write that bit about masculinity for you. I have, however, been insanely preoccupied this last month and only put together a couple paragraphs. But I promise to have something ready soon.)

scott91777 said...

I like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings but I have no interest in Harry Potter or Chronicles of Narnia.

While I like well done TV comedies, I have almost no interest in dramas and, when I do watch something of that sort on TV its something more along the lines of Law and Order or CSI. (In this case, the obvious answer is that those shows provide 'single serving' entertainment... I don't have to watch every week to understand and follow the story and keep up with multiple plotlines ... or examine every event with a microscope (with the exception of CSI where events are, quite literally examined with microscopes)... I think, when it comes to TV, I'm generally a fairly lazy TV watcher.

Other weird things:

I occasionally become obsessed with Robocop yet find Starship Troopers (another Verhooven sci-fi bit) unwatchable (except the part with the boobs).

I enjoy the occasional Star Trek TNG or DS9 but haven't gotten in to Battlestar Gallactica or Stargate.

Oh, in Alan Moore's ABC line, I loved Top 10 and Tommorrow Stories (I still need to give Promethea and LExG a try)... which are the ones that everyone else seems to hate.

Along the same lines, I actually like the Strokes second ablum better than the first.

I love Indiana Jones but can't get into Die Hard.

Frank Miller amuses me the further he goes while, at times, I feel Ennis just goes too far.

Oh, here's one I hope someone can figure out for me:

I love dumb comedy, I'm all for a good Will Ferrel movie but I cannot STAND Super Troopers... I find it to be the most obnoxious movie ever made and I can't quite dumb myself down to a level where I can enjoy it...

And, lastly, I genuinely enjoy Superman III

James said...

Did anyone see In Search of a Midnight Kiss? Because both my girlfriend and Peter Serafinowicz like that movie, while I thought it was utter jank. So that could be one of these things, or those people (who I love! in different ways) are just wrong.

Timothy Callahan said...

I absolutely love Deadwood AND Mad Men, but Mad Men took more patience. If you give it some sustained effort, you'll fall in love with Don Draper, I suspect.

Then again, you aren't a Howard Chaykin fan, and Mad Men is totally a Howard Chaykin version of 1960 for your television enjoyment.

So Mad Men may be lost on you.

I too love ridiculous comedies, like even the silliest Will Ferrell movies and "Airplane" and I still think "Super Troopers" is crap too.

And I just did a whole post on how much I love Superman III.

I love Moby Dick but hate most of Melville's other novels.

I like Powerpuff Girls but don't really find Samurai Jack all that interesting, even though Samurai sci-fi action is right up my alley.

I love Morrison's work almost without limit, as you know, but I still don't enjoy the Invisibles very much.

jennifer said...

i would say the difference between liking beckett and not liking requiem, in this case, is not really a question of taste. it is a question of craft.
i like (well-crafted)bleak drug-infested movies in general (drugstore cowboy, leaving las vegas, trainspotting come to mind).
i think requiem was a bad movie. poor character development, abused directorial/visual tricks, the story had huge loopholes, it did not activate my suspension of disbelief at all.
but i'm interested your question in general. i am going to think about it some more.

ba said...

a freudian slip (or parapraxis, you should know that, you freudnerd) is usually considered to have a sexual or violent undertone.

anyway, i constantly like one thing out of a genre, and hate everything else. i don't really consider it a like what you like, right? and pressure to like something just because of similarity seems disingenuous to me.

but how DARE you diss any part of the oeuvre of aronofsky. you mook!

Stefan Delatovic said...

I do not like Deadwood, even though I can tell it is quality work. It's just not my thing I suppose. Of course, that's because I dislike westerns, so that doesn't really fit.

I was assailed with recommendations to watch OZ. I watched the first episode and had to stop. It was so bleak as to eradicate any and all enjoyment. But Requim for a Dream? Loved it.
A few moments in Thw Wire had me on the verge of tears, or coiled up my stomach, but I view that as a good thing, whereas in Oz the bleakness just sits there on the table, making me feel crummy.

And of course the latest Battlestar Gallactica episode had me wishing for the joyous release of suicide, but I will tune in again.

I think it is indeed a mixture of craft and personal taste.
I enjoy movies that have stupid jokes, but I can't watch something that is a stupid joke.

For whatever reason, loving a genre/creator/style doesn't seem to ensure you'll like all of it. I love what Grant Morrison does, but some of even his work leaves me cold. Alan Moore is an amazing writer, but he's also turned out some stuff that just isn't for me.

Were the works I didn't like inferior? I don't think that's necessarily the case. They may just do an inferior job of synching up to my specific interests.

The opposite exists, of course. I like Star Trek but not Stargate - and I would never consider the two to be related, because Stargate is crap. To a viewer further removed, however, they would appear to be two parts of a similar experience.

Jason said...

Scott, who hates Top Ten? That seemed to be the favorite of the ABC line for a lot of folks.

But I am your opposite on that -- Tom Strong, League and Promethea were my favorite of the ABCs!

Question just for the sake of comparison: How would you rank the five features in Tomorrow Stories? Let's see if we're opposites on this as well!

From favorite to least favorite I would go:
1.) Cobweb
2.) Splash Brannigan
3.) Greyshirt
4.) Jack B Quick
5.) First American

As for my own cracks in taste, I have plenty of hypocrisies, but I don't think I need a psychoanalyst to figure it out. I can almost explain my irrational dislikes as being due to resentment of one of the personalities involved, or jealousy of someone involved, or that the thing in question is liked by people who annoy me.

I am, at heart, a petty, petty human being.

Stefan Delatovic said...

Jason, great point on pettiness.

I struggle to understand why, if someone declares "you must watch X! It will be your favorite thing! Drop what you are doing and view it now!" then I will almost certainly never watch it.

Todd C. Murry said...

As a comic fan, I somehow never figured out how to like Pogo or Krazy Kat, but I seem to like a lot of related/derivative/inspired-by-it work like the more comedic/satirical Cerebus, Calvin and Hobbes, Bloom County, and tons of less subtextual funny animal comics. Conversely, I like early Mad, but never have liked any of the post underground attempts to work in the same (jugular) vein (Marshall Law, the Alan Moore Mad-like stuff like First American or Splash Brannigan). And, although I love TV about finding love (Cupid, Love Monkey, etc.), I generally like heavily art directed stuff (Tim Burton movies, etc.), and everyone else with similar tastes seems to love it, I never could stomach Pushing Daisies.

To comment on the above:

Top 10 is my favorite ABC, and I think that's not that uncommon. People seem to mostly like LoEG, but don't really see it as a true ABC book, and both Promethea and Tom Strong had parts that soured a lot of people on the whole. If you love Tomorrow Stories across the board, you may be alone (my TS order, from best to worst, is Greyshirt, Jack B Quick, Cobweb, Splash Brannigan, then First American).

Stargate really isn't that bad a show. I agree Star Trek was overall better, but that's because there was stunningly good, albeit fitful, individual creative effort at play throughout the first 3 shows which, in the end, were all in service of constructing the show its own asshole that it was destined to crawl up. Stargate is just a well produced, well casted (that applies to SG-1 only) show, that was never very ambitious, and seemed to have a narrative style about 10-15 years behind the times (i.e., it is a benign and sort of entertaining throwback).

jennifer said...

"One of Aronofsky's favorite books is Hubert Selby Jr.'s Last Exit to Brooklyn.
While editing π, producer Eric Watson convinced Aronofsky to read another Selby book, Requiem for a Dream."
"Last Exit to Brooklyn" was a movie that i really liked & have seen a few times.
So now it's not only a question of distinctions in similar genres, but they were written by the same person. I should have liked Requiem.
I have read Last Exit, maybe I should read Requiem now... see how Aronofsky fucked it up.
oddly, The Fountain, which was widely panned, in my opinion was better than Requiem. of course, this is relative.

Jason said...

" If you love Tomorrow Stories across the board, you may be alone."

Ha! Well put. I wouldn't disagree.

Todd C. Murry said...

Also related, the Hooded Utilitarian site is currently round robining on the fact that one of its contributers doesn't get manga at all (key article )

scott91777 said...


My Tommorrow Stories Ranking:

1. Greyshirt (keep in mind that I had not really read the Spirit before reading this the first time)
2. Cobweb
3. Jack B. Quick
4. Splash Brannigan
5. First American

I think what I liked most about Tommorrow Stories was the fact that, even though everything in it wasn't genius, we live in a time where the decompression of comics storytelling results in 3 or 4 issues where not much happens in a storyline and Moore showed us that you could tell a solid, compelling comics story in 10 or less pages.

It appeals to the minimalist in me...

plok said...

I think this is an absolutely terrific question, Geoff. I excuse erratic taste-choices of mine all the time, set them aside to consider later as things that will help me further define just what my taste is, but sometimes I encounter a preference that seems to arise out of something other than my self-definition, something subterranean and vaguely threatening. If I don't like this, but it's just the same as that, appears to meet all my criteria for liking something, then why the hell would I dislike it? Or is my carefully-constructed vision of my own taste just a sham? I'll agree with Neil that it's a good call to invoke Freud, here. Or maybe Kuhn? Of course I always like to invoke Kuhn where I can, but I think it fits, poetically: certain apparent taste-contradictions of mine don't seem to offer a new way of validating my theories about what I like, so much as they threaten to overturn them -- reveal my universe as a Sun-centred one instead of an Earth-centred one, and all the time I thought it was about Me but it's really about Something Else.

Would anyone disagree with me, if I said taste may not have to be consistent at first blush, but it does have to be capable of being explained into consistency somewhere down the line? Has to be capable of providing another axis of interior tastemaking, that is on the same general graph of Self. Or it makes us uncomfortable: because we either have to change our minds about it, or about everything else...unless we want to change our minds about why we like what we like in the first place, and throw open the door to being analyzed exclusively by other people, and subject to their theories. No longer in competition.

I dunno; just spitballing. But it seems to me there's a lot to unpack from this casual question. Maybe another post's worth? How do we form and use our tastes through scanning all the stuff we're wont to apply it to...and where should we or must we leave off asking questions about it, or accept it as basically beyond our power to defend, justify, incorporate.