Monday, October 05, 2009

"Failure is to form habits"

I am teaching Walter Pater today and thinking about habits. I am also thinking about General Tso's Chicken: My wife goes to this Chinese place all the time and I, by default, always got General Tso's chicken. I would sort of pick at it, and stop, and pick at it again, and then still be hungry, but would not finish it. I asked her why that was and she came back with "You don't like it." And I realized with a little shock that she was right -- I did not like it. And yet I kept getting it, just out of habit I think. The habit was stronger than my dislike of the thing, to the point that I did not realize I disliked it until someone pointed it out. And I thought about it again, as I noticed leaving the house that I had some comics on the table I had not read yet, comics I picked up Wednesday (I won't say which ones because I am tired of getting hate mail when I say I do not like a comic book). And there was that feeling again -- I had not read them yet because I did not LIKE them. But then why did I BUY them? Habit. Scary little thing, habit. I am digging things like facebook's statistics that tell me how often I post and what the most recurring words are and so on -- and I wonder how much of my media consumption is habit and how much is enjoyment. I feel like the pure "habit" media is a small percentage, but once you realize you can think you like something when you actually don't -- well that is the thread that unravels the whole thing in a way, or at least has the potential to.

Where is habit overrunning your good taste in your life? What needs purging and why?

(Also -- I feel like Plok's style has infected mine more than a bit here. Interesting.)


sara d. reiss said...

it's a little bit creepy (just a little bit) when I see bits and pieces from a conversation we'll have had just the other night reconstituted into blog form -- often not resembling much from the actual conversation.

Matt Jacobson (formerly Ultimate Matt) said...

Heroes - I watch it entirely out of habit despite not enjoying it at all. House, to a lesser extent, also. I got pretty sick of it last season and it still isn't great, but I stick with it.

Comics, because money is tight, I've gotten more into a routine with judging whether I still like them after a few months and dropping them quickly - only comic recently that I stuck with out of sheer habit was Captain Britain.

KAW26 said...

I tend to just cut the mediocre.

Heroes and Ultimatum, for example, have that train-wreck quality which is fascinating (which makes the not-terrible moments seem better by comparison). Yes, I realize I am part of the problem, but at least I don't have a Nielsen box.

Jason said...

Interesting. I don't think I've ever continued to eat a food I disliked out of habit. But it was surely an epiphany when I realized that I was ordering certain *amounts* of food out of habit. Go to a restaurant to get a burger -- gotta get the fries. Go to a Chinese place, gotta get egg rolls as the appetizer.

Not to mention -- get full halfway through the meal? Gotta keep eating.

I put on so very much weight before I realized that I just *wasn't* that hungry anymore, but was continuing to eat as if I was still that hungry.

*Lost* a lot of weight after the realization. (The stress of producing an original theatre-show helped the weight-loss thing as well, granted. It was the "I don't have time to breathe, let alone eat" diet. I recommend that one; it really works.

Jill Duffy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jill Duffy said...

I used to be in a habit of only watching critically-acclaimed or historically-significant movies.

Then I was on a plane with my sister and ROFLing at Big Mamma's House II. She loved how much I loved it.

After that, I realized that I should only watch a movie if I actually liked it, not if I thought its only purpose was to make me a more educated movie-goer.

ScottMcDarmont said...

Actually, I think I kind of mentioned the effect of habit on taste in a recent email exchange between us. You had mistaken my asking what you thought of Morrison's Batman and Robin 3 as 'Batman 3' (which was Batman actually Batman Forever but, I think, in your mind that you merged it with it's follow up 'Batman and Robin').

I remember thinking, "Why would you think I was asking about that?" We all know it's terrible... but then I remembered that the reason that we all knew it was terrible was because we had ALL seen it. And I started thinking about how many horrible blockbusters that we've endured over the years just because they were 'comic book' movies sort of because people expect us to have something to say about them. Think about it, even though most of us were well warned, everyone here went to see Wolverine; I, myself, also saw Transformers and GI Joe this summer... and, honestly, I have to admit a lot of that is out of habit... or morbid curiosity.

Fortunately, steep movie prices generally keep me from seeing too many blockbusters that I don't really want to see.

TV, however, is free...

I'm well known for sticking with a show long after it has dropped in quality... hell, I've watched the Simpsons religiously EVERY sunday and continue to do so even though I'm the first to admit that it has gone way down hill (on the plus side of this, when the show does deliver the occasional good episode or spot on observation, like this past Sunday's, I'll often catch something that most have missed because they simply aren't watching anymore). Scrubs was a show I loved that I continued watching for a good two seasons after I stopped really caring (although, now that Comedy Central is rerunning the most recent season, and It can still make me laugh in its cutesy way).

30 Rock went downhill pretty drastically last season, but I still watched every episode and will probably watch every episode this season.

The Office definitely peaked with seasons 2 and 3 but I'm pretty sure I'll keep watching for another season or two.

I think Sara made an observation on here once about part of the reason for this is that you keep watching something because you remember how good it originally was and you keep hoping it will somehow magically be that good again... or, maybe, like General Tso's chicken... it's something that was never good in the first place, but other people like it and maybe THIS TIME you'll like it Kind of like It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia for me, people keep talking about how great it is and, everytime I watch it, while I'm able to appreciate what the show is doing... I just don't get a lot of enjoyment out of it. But, everytime I watch it, I'm hoping that I will finally fall in love with the show so that I can be cool like everyone else.

In fact, I think NBC has built an entire evening of programming around force of habit: For close to thirty years now, Thursday night has been the cornerstone of their schedule; it's always contained their biggest, most critically acclaimed hits from Hill Stree Blues to Cosby and Cheers to Seinfeld to ER and Friends and, now, The Office and 30 Rock. I guess they think that people are so used to watching NBC on Thursdays that they'll tune in for anything. What they tend to forget is that, while many of these shows were big, long running hits, there were also plenty of forgettable shows that barely lasted a season or two: Joey, Jesse, The Single Guy, Grand... that terrible Molly Shannon show from last year.

ScottMcDarmont said...

And since I couldn't fit it all in that lat one...

I'm actually better than I thought about sticking with bands who are no longer making music I like than I thought I was. Since I'm a completist, when it comes to my most favorite bands, I'm always going to buy their latest album and keep it in my collection; this is why I own Face Dances... So, yeah, when it comes to REM, U2, Springsteen, THe Who or The White STripes, I'm probably going to keep buying their albums unless they become absolutely unlistenable to me... however, I can be more of a fairweather friend when it comes to other bands. Shortly after Pearl Jam released Binaral, not only did I decide not to buy new pearl jam albums any more but I, in fact, downgraded from owning all their albums to only their greatest hits collection. Unfortunately, usually after letting a couple of albums pass I always get suckered in to buying the latest release from these artists because the first single is really strong or I convince myself that "maybe this one will be better." I really need to get better about this (and, yes, I did in fact buy Pearl Jam's latest album ... and it's not half bad but it's not as much of a revelation as I thought it would be). But let it be known... Weezer is on notice! (for the record, the Red Album was the first Weezer album that I was truly disapointed in).

Jason said...

Another good way of breaking habits:

Lose your job, and sell your TV.

It worked for me!

Seriously, not having a TV is great. I don't mean that in a snobby way. It is just an utter freedom from the tyranny of that feeling: "I have to watch this, because this is what people like me watch."

ba said...

I'm addicted to crack-cocaine.

James said...

"(I won't say which ones because I am tired of getting hate mail when I say I do not like a comic book)".

Ugh. Who has the time? C'mon, hate-mail guys: stop ruining it for the rest of us.

Superhero comics are murder for habit-forming, of course. I've found the recent price increases have kind of given me a cure for it: I'll "trade-wait" a lot of stuff now, and "trade-wait" is usually code for "eventually realise I do not need that junk".

I'll probably get that Sinister Spider-Man book though, because Bachalooooooo!

Geoff Klock said...

James -- that is an awesome point about "trade-wait"

ba said...

the sinister spider-man run has been pretty humorous so far, particularly because they are making macgargan far less of an idiot as they have in the past.

also, bachalo's art is hilariously whimsical - i haven't seen it like this since Gen X.

plok said...

What's that line, "the easiest way to break a habit is to drop it"? I've purged most of my media-related consumption patterns over the past few years, so I guess that means hardly any of it was ever anything but habit.

Like most of my TV channels. Jason's right on the money, once TV goes it's just gone, and you don't need to think about it anymore...and I'm not super-picky about what I watch, but the fewer channels I've got the fewer programs I watch of whatever quality, because I'm not engaging with TV at all in the way I once did -- I used to spend hours just deciding between different crap shows, just making choices...didn't really matter what the choices were between. Deciding about what I "felt like" in re: the complex of possible stimuli presenting themselves on the screen -- it just went on and on, it was a full-time job in itself. "Would I rather watch this, or that?" It was almost academic what I did watch.

And without the miles and miles of mostly-crap that a hundred or so channels offered me, I had a lot less need to diff crap shows -- the choice became "Oprah or Nothing" instead of "Oprah or Leno"..."Nothing" was pretty much always what was behind Door #2, instead of being fifth or sixth on the list of possible viewing options, as in "if there's nothing good on, I just won't watch anything"...what I discovered is that just as with the hundred channels there's always mostly nothing good on, but with fewer channels there's just fewer ways to pretend there might be. So I chose "Nothing" a lot more, and got used to choosing it.

Comics are basically the same way for me now: I don't know what would have to happen for me to want to pick up a Spider-Man comic. I can't imagine what could possibly be going on inside it, that I'd be entertained by knowing about.