My favorite movie is It’s a Wonderful Life. My favorite TV show is Arrested Development. My favorite band is Stars. Do you feel like you know me? Would you be my friend?
I just read Torture the Artist by Joey Goebel. In lieu of lengthy psychological profiles of major characters, he lists each character’s favorite band, movie, and TV show. In the book, the technique is part of a broader critique of our obsession with, and reliance on, pop culture. But that doesn’t make the information any less revealing.
In some ways, Goebel’s method of characterization is hyper-efficient; We can judge characters in a split second based on their pop culture preferences. Goebel also uses the technique to show which characters we should empathize with and which we should see as purveyors of mainstream dreck.
The technique works well in the book and made me wonder if it could be applied to everyday life. I asked the three questions to some of my best friends, and saw if their responses were congruent with how I would characterize them.
Unfortunately, life is never as cut and dry as art. The first response I got from one of my closest friends was:
- Battlestar Galactica
- Depeche Mode
As he listed these, he said, “Oh God, I’m a fucking dweeb.” And if I hadn’t known him, I’d have thought the same. So much for my first trial.
I moved on to another friend, who responded:
- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
- Fraggle Rock
- Sigur Ros
Again, if I were to see just this information, I would think to myself, “This person might by psychotic.” Far from it! This person is actually a wonderful, entirely sane human.
Similarly surprising results came out of everyone I asked. Most of the responses were not particularly congruent with how I would characterize my friends. I concluded that a person’s pop culture preferences are not accurate mirrors of his or her personality. For example, my list would lead one to believe that I am a sad bastard. But if I had listed the Unicorns as my favorite band, I’d appear whimsical and prone to flights of fancy.
My little experiment unsettled me in two ways. First, it made me realize what a judgmental bastard I am. Second, I was struck by how prophetic Goebel’s book was. Though it was written before the explosion of Facebook, it prefigures one of the main utilities of online social networks: the ability to judge peers based on their pop culture preferences. Who among us is not guilty of a scoff emitted while reading another’s Facebook profile?
Certainly judging people for cultural preferences is as old as art itself; but perhaps the primacy that pop culture has gained over our lives, thanks to the internet, has made our generation worse. Maybe instead of the Millennials, our generation should be called the Elitists.