Monday, April 2, 2012

Stop Judging Me! I Can Feel You Judging Me Through The Internet!

I really should stop saying when I will post about what, because I almost never do what I promise. I will come back to the vicariousness of the fantasy eventually because I have at least one more point I need to make about it. And I will talk about plot at some point, also, because, well, Twilight has one. But something happened recently that got me thinking about the public-ness of reading. Not public-ness in the way that books spark discussions, but public-ness in the way that books are physical objects that exist in a public environment.

You see someone reading Godel, Escher, Bach on the train and you think something about them. You see them reading The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and you think something else. You see them reading a book that you don't recognize and you think a third thing. 

These thoughts will be different depending on the person’s dress or whether you liked the book or whether they’re reading it before or after the movie came out. But no matter what, you think something.

I have two very cluttered bookshelves: one at school and one at home. The bookshelf that I have at school is what I want to talk about because it is filled with the books that I chose to display in my room. They are, in a way, as decorative and representative of me as my pile of stuffed animals or rack of earrings.

Some of the books, like Harry Potter, The Golden Compass, and Matilda are books that I have read over and over to the point of memorization. They are books that I couldn’t bear to part with when I went to college because at some point I knew I would need the comfortable pleasure that I always get from them.

Other books are ones that I plan on reading such as The Name Of The Wind and Game Of Thrones (I know, I know! I’ll get to them eventually!)

But many of the books I only brought with me because I wanted to be perceived as the type of person who reads that type of book. For example, I brought 1984 with me even though I hated it when I first read it. I told myself I would reread it in college and like it better than I did before, and I turned out to be right. But when I’m truly honest with myself, I know I brought it to school with me because I wanted to be seen liking 1984.

A few days ago I was at my sister’s stand-up comedy competition and one of the comics asked the audience, “Who here is a fan of Twilight?” My mom was sitting next to me and nudged me with her elbow, but I did not raise my hand.

I managed to justify my abstinence by thinking, “Well, I’m not exactly a fan. If he had said who enjoyed Twilight or who derived pleasure from Twilight then I would have said something. But am I a fan? Not so much.”

But I know that I was just rationalizing. I didn’t raise my hand because I was embarrassed. I was in a room full of strangers, people whose names I didn’t know and would probably never see again, and yet I felt the need to protect myself from judgment. “Of course I’m not a fan of Twilight,” my actions said. “What am I, twelve?”

And this embarrassment has manifested itself in other ways, too. A few weeks ago I was searching for a book to read as I worked out in The Bear’s Lair and I found myself reluctant to bring my copy of Twilight. What if someone saw me?

I realized that I was being silly, so I brought the book with me anyway. But on the way over I caught myself hugging the cover to my chest and positioning my arm in such a way that passers-by could not guess what book I was reading.

I’m not the only one who feels this embarrassment. Whenever I talk about this blog to my friends, people tend to (sheepishly) react with a “Yeah, I guess I did enjoy reading Twilight,” but it is always qualified with a hasty, “It wasn’t good though!”

So why the embarrassment? Are we ultra-hipsters who hate everything that is popular? Are we “educated adults” who genuinely hate the shallow pleasure of pop fiction? Or do we just hate it because everyone else hated it? Do we even hate it? I didn’t hate it, although I am sure I have said the sentence “I hate Twilight” on multiple occasions, both before and after I read it.

Upon hearing about my blog, one of my friends drew this graph on our white board:

While the specific locations of these books debatable, the general idea is sound. There is a distinct difference, and often a trade-off, between the enjoyment you get out of a book and your appreciation of it. Often this appreciation is conflated with how good a book is or, for me, how much I want to be seen enjoying it.

This does not just apply to books. For example, I appreciate the song Density 21.5

but I spent all day today listening to Uptown Girl.

And then there's my (shameful, shameful) Glee obsession...

But the point is, when we're dealing with the idea of pleasure, we cannot deny the extreme pleasure we get from pop fiction, pop music, pop movies, pop corn, pop tarts, pop rocks. If we do, and we pretend that pleasure has a capital-P and means something elusive and, if you read Barthes, French, then we are losing the actual, English meaning of the word pleasure

Pleasure means enjoyment, at least according to the OED. And it doesn't matter whether that is enjoyment is one that you are proud of and put on your college bookshelf and raise your hand for in the audience of a stand-up comedy show, or an enjoyment that you hide under your pillow or bury inside of a copy of Moby Dick or pretend is your sister's when your friends find it. Enjoyment is enjoyment, and enjoyment is Pleasure. So enjoy!

1 comment:

  1. 2 intriguing insights! :)
    A cool tangent (as if you don't have enough distractions already) might be to see how much "public opinion" of a work affects an individual's first experience with it.
    Also, that graph seems to show a negative correlation between appreciation and enjoyment. I'd be interested in finding out whether that holds in general, both for a lot of books/people and for other activities like music, movies, and food. :D