Note: This post isn’t actually about The Bad and the Beautiful. It was going to be, but then it turned into something else entirely.
A few weeks back, for the first time in a long time, I watched a movie for no particular reason. I just sat down to watch it and enjoy. I like classic films, so I checked out The Bad and the Beautiful, starring Lana Turner and Kirk Douglas. While I like classic films, this one didn’t do much for me.
While there were many reasons this flick didn’t turn my crank, what really stuck out was how pointless it felt–not that the film was plotless, but that the act of watching itself felt pointless. Nearly every scrap of media I’ve consumed lately has been for a purpose. Whether writing or podcasting, almost everything I’ve watched, listened to, or read has had an ulterior motive stitched to the underside. I’ve filled an entire notebook in just the past few months.
This isn’t how normal people do things, right? Did I used to watch just-for-fun stuff all the time? I know I did, but I don’t remember how it felt. I’m also not certain if this is good or bad. I’m not making a judgement here–I’m merely observing this is the way things are. Maybe it’s perfectly ok. The amount of media out there is staggering. It’s impossible for any one person to consume all or even most* of it. Perhaps narrowing it down based on what I have use for is perfectly fine–laudable, even.
Now that I think about it, it does add a layer of safety. There’s a real chance I won’t love (or even like) any given thing I choose to watch. These days when I watch something simply to see what it’s like, if I don’t enjoy it, I feel I’ve wasted my time. If I watch something for a podcast or an article and I don’t like it, I still feel I’ve gotten something out of the experience–something fairly concrete. That experience, mediocre as it may have been, is translated and becomes something else. Thus I feel like my time was well spent, even if the media wasn’t to my taste.
Perhaps that’s a cowardly way to consume art. If I’m guaranteed a result, there’s no risk involved, and if I’m watching everything with a critical eye, am I really absorbing it as the real me (as opposed to “the critic” me)? Is there even a meaningful difference? My knowledge of media production is very much a part of me now, so is that “real me” a mythical construct that’s simply an echo of the past?
I do realize these questions are nothing new. They’re not even new to me. I had plenty of discussions in film school about whether knowledge of “how the sausage is made” helps or hinders enjoyment of the end product. Those pretentious arguments were very few steps removed from my current media-related existential crisis.**
I don’t have any definitive answers. Even if I did, they would apply to me and me alone. I wouldn’t dare generalize when it comes to something this internal. Certainly every critic and commentator has thought about this and either figured it out for themself or decided to simply roll with it.
While I can’t answer my questions, I can decide what to do about it. For now, I’m choosing the roll with it option.*** Life is busy. I have only so much time to devote to “stuff”. Choosing that stuff based on what’ll benefit me most seems like a pretty logical choice,° and one I’m not going to be ashamed of. Something might come along one day that tempts me with absolutely no other reason than that it looks nifty,°° but for now, I’m opting for all work, all the time.
Is this a little bit pathetic? Have I become to chained to duty? Perhaps. But for now, I’ll sport those Netflix-colored chains with style.
*Or even any significant percentage
**Not actually a crisis at all
***That does tend to be my default for most situations.
°I should note that there’s one type of show I’m kind of ignoring here: cooking competition shows. Those are my brain candy, and I am in no danger of stopping them anytime soon, so I’m still getting my veg-out time occasionally, in case you were worried about TV-burnout.
°°Disclaimer: I wrote this before Game of Thrones returned, and I’d completely forgotten about it. So now I do have one show that I’m watching purely for fun. That said, I can be honest enough with myself to recognize I’d feel even better about the time spent watching it if I was going to write or podcast about it.