Head and Shoulders

Someone told me something the other day that completely changed the way I think about the world.

The specifics aren’t important, but they don’t really matter. After all, this is nothing new. We see or hear or learn something that does this all the time. For me, it happens about twice a day, maybe more. Oftentimes I don’t really even think about it.

The internet has only exacerbated this. You read stories about Bill Murray or a long piece about an upcoming HBO show. Your brain catalogs it, files it away and you move on; but it changes you. Maybe you see a photo of something inspiring and it alters your mood for a few hours. You are now a different person.

The movement you need is on your shoulder.

That’s the money line from “Hey Jude,” the Beatles song that inspired the first name of countless music nerds’ firstborn male. It’s a great line from a great song from a great band, but it almost was erased from history. Paul McCartney, who wrote Hey Jude, wanted to change the lyric when they were recording it. John Lennon wouldn’t let him, noting “that’s the best line in the song.” He, of course, was right.

I own every Beatles song ever commercially released. I’ve listened to them all, but I did not know that story until a few days ago, when I listened to an episode of In Pod Form. I’m a better Beatles fan for knowing it, and the way I think about that song has changed. There is always something more to learn, especially when it comes to the things you truly care about.

This is obvious, but I think the idea is lost in the simplicity far too often. Everything we experience shapes who we are and what we like. The random assortment of experiences we take with us impacts how we look at everything. Our histories and memories are what make us ‘people.’ It brings us to where we currently stand. The human beings we spend time with have been ferried our way by a set of circumstances completely foreign to our own. It’s fascinating to think how we all became sports fans or joined Twitter or work for the same company.

I think about this a lot with entertainment and the television shows, the media that we enjoy. Everyone fancies themselves an expert on ‘good’ entertainment. You just have to watch this movie, or How can you not be watching this show?

This is never a simple question to answer. Oftentimes you have to get defensive and make something up, but the true answer is easy: It hasn’t come your way organically. Or, better yet, it has and you did’t like it. For whatever reason. It’s okay to tell the truth. Really.

That’s usually not an acceptable answer for many people. The people who think they know you always believe they have the perfect show or book or movie for you. They think they understand your influences and interests. That they ‘know where you are coming from,’ so to speak. But it’s impossible to really know.

I’m currently watching Breaking Bad on DVD, trying to catch up before season five premieres on AMC tonight. I think it’s a breathtaking show, one of those programs you get told about and finally watch, then say to yourself ‘How did I not watch this thing earlier?’ Enough people told me I had to watch it, and so I did. They were right.

But there are plenty of people out there that don’t watch Breaking Bad. Ratings are strong, but other shows do better. Reality television and the ‘lesser’ programs routinely beat the ‘good’ ones, and most people are watching for reasons other than pointing and laughing.

And even if they are, so what? I’d love to give my eyebrows a workout and claim all the awful things on television are making us unintelligent and boring et al., but how can I say what is good television and what is bad? I know Breaking Bad and Mad Men are ridiculously fun to watch, for me, but what makes me the expert for 300 million Americans?

I read a half-dozen pieces that claimed ‘someone like me’ will like Girls and I hated it. But there are plenty of people that did enjoy it. Many of them have lived a completely different life than I have. Others just saw something I did not.

Even people I know and trust and told me to watch Breaking Bad will tell me how great a show like Girls is. I still like those people and we have similar interests, but there is a reason for the overlap. No two people are alike in what they know and what they like. The layers of television and music and film mirror the layers of our own past. The years upon years of our lives.

I think when we wonder “Who watches this stuff?” we are simply underestimating the diversity of humanity. All our experiences coalesce into an opinion of what is fun to watch and we go from there. How can I possibly judge anyone else if I’m still figuring it out for myself? I still haven’t watched Arrested Development yet. I hear that’s pretty good. Maybe my opinion of things will change when I slide that disc into the slot and press ‘play.’

The enjoyment of media may frame this idea as shallow, but it works in the real world, too. We are a mish-mash of happenstance, events that push and pull us in the various directions of life. Our very way of living, the ambition and desires that drive us, all come from something that has happened in the past. There is always a spark.

We are a collection of events in the past and ambitions for the future. When you think of it that way, it makes the next episode that much more important.

One Comment

  1. Mike

    I had a similar reaction with Arrested Development. Everyone told me I would love it. I’ve seen almost every episode (although oddly, I didn’t necessarily seek it out, but whenever I’ve put it on since I am surprised it’s an episode I’ve seen). I was even one of the people who would tune in when it was actually on. Some of the episodes are funny, but it never lived up to the hyperbole for me of being the funniest most clever TV show ever ever and how can you not agree? As I said, there were funny moments but a lot of the other moments I watched and noted to myself “Self, that was really clever.” But I would seldom audibly laugh. I can count the number of times I actually laughed at Arrested Development throughout its series on one hand. And they were good laughs. But I laugh at It’s Always Sunny on at least a weekly basis, usually more. They are different shows, and obviously, the difference makes a difference for me. I’ve come to a place where I appreciate the dark absurdity of IASIP more than the dry absurdity of AD. It makes me wonder if the people who recommend AD to me were better friends with me back when my sense of humor was different and I’m amazed I’ve changed that much.