One of the best things about my job is that I find myself exposed to exponentially more pop culture than I ever experienced before, even as an ardent lover of film, TV and literature. It’s made that much easier by my position as a film studies student as well as our current climate’s ever expanding field of content. Forget Peak TV: We’re in the midst of Peak Everything! That has its obvious benefits, but just as evident are the drawbacks. When there’s so much to watch, read or listen to, how do you find time to consume even a smidgen of it? Trying to find a way to try every new series or bestseller at least once is tough enough; how do you make room to revisit any of it?
I’m a stubborn individual. I like what I like and I prize my time too much to reconsider the horrifying possibility that I may be wrong on certain occasions. Alas, there are times when, in the rush to get that hot take or in the middle of a mood change, things get quickly dismissed or just flat out ignored. Looking through the gargantuan selection of original content at Netflix, I know there’s stuff there I’d probably be interested in, but it feels like my time to enjoy it has passed with the tide of buzz that fleetingly overwhelmed it. During my adolescent explorations of film, wherein I introduced myself to movies outside the realm of the multiplex, I would watch things people told me were good, and sometimes I didn’t give them the time or thought they needed, yet I couldn’t convince myself to give them another go. I’d already seen the film and didn’t like it, so what if I re-watched it and still didn’t like it? Why waste another two hours like that?
Now and then, I break the habit of a lifetime and decide to give a second chance to the pop culture that disappointed me. Sometimes, it feels so good to be wrong about something. As a teenager, I remember being overwhelmed by my disappointment for Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation. After months of reading glowing reviews and articles online and in magazines, and seeing Coppola become only the third female Best Director nominee in the Oscars’ history, I was adamant that I would be utterly thrilled by her melancholic romantic drama, just like everyone else. Imagine my immature surprise when I found myself utterly bored by the viewing experience. It wasn’t the film, it was me, but it took a good few years to admit that, even after I’d seen Coppola’s other films and heartily enjoyed them (Marie Antoinette remains my favourite of her filmography). Going back to the film as a bona fide adult, I found a film far more on my wavelength, as I aged into the story, my emotions in tune with what was on-screen. As much as I had loved to think of myself as being a teenager of impressive emotional intellect, as is usually the case with that point in time, it was all nonsense.
Lost in Translation was a film that needed time, but it also needed experience. I’ve never found myself living a solitary life in Japan or selling whisky to the masses, but I have greater knowledge of how films are made and why now. As a teen, the film looked pretty, I knew that, but didn’t get why it had to be so damn quiet or slow. That ending aggravated me too - all that waiting and pondering, and I didn’t even get to hear what Bill Murray whispered to Scarlett Johansson at the end. To me, that was cruel. On second watch, the silence was engrossing. Really, it wasn’t silence at all: It was impeccable sound design, the right score for the right moment, the rhythms of daily life playing out at their own pace. There was no need for Murray’s whisper to be revealed, because now the result was too satisfying on its own to be punctuated with a moment of finality.
I got it. I finally got it.
There are also times where that youthful attempt at beyond-my-years maturity gives way to reality. These days, I care far less about what people think of my taste in pop culture, whereas as a teen, with few friends and a burgeoning relationship with internet message boards (rest in peace, IMDb forums), there were appearances to keep up. Some films or books felt delightfully proper and the kind of entertainment one should be consuming if they were to consider themselves true experts of the medium. Who cares if any of it was actually enjoyable; someone important gave it five stars so they had to be worth emulating. This wasn’t all bad - it was how I discovered David Lynch, Margaret Atwood, and Ziggy Stardust - but then there was stuff like Dogville, a film that still wholeheartedly disturbs me, but one I no longer find especially worthwhile. Like every teenager, I’m sure, I had that Dogville phase, where watching a 3-hour existential torture drama that ends with a David Bowie song was a task of utmost importance that required my wholehearted devotion. It wasn’t fun, it was important. I convinced myself for a long time that Lars Von Trier was some sort of radical genius, in part because a film that bleak and punishing just had to be. Why else would you make it?
The best thing about loving pop culture is that it empowers you to reject long-held notions of supposed importance and nobility in art, and so a few years ago I finally admitted to myself that, while the film did hold some sort of sway over me I can’t deny to this day, Dogville is basically just banal cruelty with some shoddy direction. I didn’t have anything to prove anymore, but I also knew how to decipher what made a film work or fail on its own merits. Dogville sets itself the strictest of rules, but why it does that beyond a desire to torture Nicole Kidman eluded me, and I didn’t care to dive any deeper into that. If I want bleakness in film, I’ll go for Brazil. At least that has some jokes.
So what pop culture did you change your mind on? What film did you hate before that you love now? What made you reconsider that TV show you’d previously dismissed or outright despised? Let us know in the comments.