Wednesday, January 25, 2023

A Winter's Day in a Deep and Dark... Uh... January...

(I've been under a bit of a writers block lately, so this post is mainly out there to force myself to write something to completion. You have been warned.)

Something I've been puzzling over the past couple of months has been my lack of interest in movies and television the past decade or so. Okay, to be fair, my declining interest in movies started long before that; I think the last movie I saw in the theater or on television was The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. And before that, uh... Wall-e, maybe? 

Now, I get where my lack of reading fiction has come from: I know that once I get started on a book, I'll keep going until I look up and it's 5 AM and I should have gone to sleep hours ago.* There's also my experiences with authors who don't know how to get their stories to end, such as the time I threw my hands up in the air and decided that Robert Jordan was never going to finish The Wheel of Time (this was when Path of Daggers came out) and gave up on that series, so no, that didn't start with George R.R. Martin. Then there's also the grimdark nature of "modern and sophisticated" F&SF, which seems to have a requirement that the primary characters need to suffer in order to move the plot forward, as if authors and their audience are all Friedrich Nietzsche fans.

Ah yes, Kevin Kline from
A Fish Called Wanda.

This doesn't explain my lack of interest in movies or television shows, because I used to like watching series. I mean, I wasn't a movie buff in the classic sense, nor was I someone who'd spend every evening watching television, but I watched enough shows and saw enough movies that I was at least reasonably acquainted with the moviegoing experience.

I mean, hell, I even watched a daytime soap opera for several months while I was attending college**, so I even have that bona fide.

But... I guess I don't know for sure why fictional television series and movies don't hold much interest for me. 

Actually, maybe I do. And it has to do with my psyche.

And The Big Bang Theory.

In real life, I'm not a big fan of crowds or interacting with people I don't know. Going to parties is not on my social agenda***, and I avoid situations that put me out on a limb in public. And those (to me) awkward social interactions that involve risk such as asking someone out/going on a date, dealing with problems at work, or even interacting with people at an otherwise fun event such as a Renaissance Fair raise my anxiety level. I mean, I can do them, but I don't relish them and based on failed past experiences I try to avoid them if at all possible.

So where does The Big Bang Theory fit into all this? Because about midway through the run of TBBT on network television, episodes that made me entirely uncomfortable watching began showing up. Not for any sex or violence or language, but the cringe of watching awkward social interactions play out on television in a way that made me get up and leave the room. 

Other people could potentially watch The Closet Reconfiguration without a problem, but the gang not respecting Howard's wishes and reading the letter from his estranged father without his consent --and passing it around-- would have been a deal breaker for me. There are certain lines you don't cross, and that blatant disrespect for Howard's wishes in a topic as sensitive as his dad would have been enough for me to cut them out. I don't care that the gang felt bad about it afterward, that they did it in the first place meant I would never trust any one of them again.****

Or in The Speckerman Recurrence, where Leonard is contacted via Facebook by someone who bullied him all through high school, I simply can't watch because I would never have accepted the meeting request in the first place. When I left high school, I left that part of my life behind and simply cut off pretty much all ties with my classmates. I'd have a hard time finding a smaller violin to play a sad tune on if someone from that period in my life --particularly more so if it were one of the bullies-- were to reach out to me. And watching that train wreck of an episode (from my perspective) was too much, especially when Leonard accepted the invitation to meet for drinks. 

Thank you, Mr. Bucemi.

After about that episode, I dropped The Big Bang Theory from my watch list, and... well... I haven't picked up anything since. Maybe it's because I'm happier playing it safe, but I don't find any amount of catharsis from watching shows that make me cringe. Or watching characters I like suffer and/or die.***** Yeah, I know what happens to Hedwig. And Sirius Black. And Dumbledore. And in Avengers: Infinity War. And in the World of Warcraft Legion expansion. And in Final Fantasy XIV Stormblood. And, well, you get the idea. If you want to avoid spoilers to anything and everything, probably Rule #1 is to throw out your internet connection. 

Maybe that's why I like open world games and RPG settings and whatnot: you are free to imagine the possibilities --what might be, and not what is-- so that you can forget all of the cringe inducing aspects of work and life. While other people might enjoy movies and television, I no longer can. I've seen enough parts of my life that I've desperately tried to bury dug up and put on screen much too frequently over the years to relax and enjoy the ride.

*There's more to it than just that. I do have issues with series fiction, where I get to a point where I just like where the characters are and... I'm just reluctant to move past that. I guess I know that bad things will happen --that's the entire point of fiction, it seems, to provide conflict-- and I look at that next book in the series and go "I'm perfectly fine where the characters are right now, thanks." That's why I've not continued series such as Kristen Britain's Green Rider novels past The High King's Tomb, finished off the Mistborn trilogy, or gotten much deeper than a book or two into the two Jim Butcher series of novels. Or, yes, even Harry Potter; I stopped after Goblet of Fire, and never had much of an inclination to pick up the rest of the books in the series. It's not that I think the stories above were bad or anything, I was just fine where I was at, and didn't feel the need to move beyond that point.

**Days of our Lives, circa late 1988 to early 1989. Beware, there's waaaay too much 80's hair in that YouTube video.

***And yes, this has caused heated arguments with my wife on numerous occasions. My wife is an extrovert and much more outgoing than I am, and in the early years of our marriage we frequently fought over her desire to go out to bars and listen to bands, whereas I just wanted to relax at home and do homebody stuff. I don't know when we stopped fighting over this, but I think we eventually settled into an uneasy truce. There are still flare ups over my avoidance of these things, but not so often as before. It's not that she understands me so much as whether she wants to spend time arguing with me over it.

****As a kid I dealt with betrayals like that, and if there's one thing I've learned from sad experience is that if someone does something like this once, they won't stop at just the one thing. Even if they feel remorse for having done that first thing. The old "fool me once, shame on you; fool be twice, shame on me" adage in full display for everyone to see.

*****With George R.R. Martin, you get both for the price of one!

EtA: Corrected grammar.


  1. That's interesting about Big Bang Theory. My ex used to love that show, but he similarly struggled with cringe responses... I remember seeing him avert his eyes like someone might do when seeing something gory or violent, and when I asked him why he was doing that he told me that he just couldn't bear to watch that much cringe. It was odd to me then too, because I don't recall ever feeling this degree of second-hand embarrassment at any form of fiction. I guess I'm not that easily embarrassed?

    I just figure that I'm less interested in movies and TV nowadays since decades of gaming have made passive entertainment like that feel a bit boring in comparison.

    1. The Big Bang Theory was bad enough because it was marketed as geek fare, but there's a metric ton of shows and movies out there that I can't watch because they touched a nerve. Like I still have a hard time dealing with geekdom being not only out in the open but, well, popular. I remember not too long ago how if you were a geek and someone found out you were persona non grata among your peers in school. Even at work in IT, where you'd expect there to be a much higher concentration of geeks to the general populace, we geeks would still have been ostracized by our coworkers if, god forbid, they found out we were into anime or ...Star Wars..., never mind D&D or other RPGs. Just look at video games themselves, there seems to be a socially accepted heirarchy among what are considered "normal" or "mainstream" versus "Oh, that's for obsessive weirdos."

      Call of Duty = Normal
      Minecraft = Normal but for kids
      Mario Kart = Normal but a party game
      Fortnite = Kinda Weird
      League of Legends = For those who like abuse and/or obsessives
      MMOs = Obsessive weirdos
      Dating Sims = Ew... (At least in the US)

      I do know that my own history has had an impact on how I view passive media. I've been publicly humiliated before, so anything I have to do in public I automatically think is going to end in a disaster. Because of that experience if in a television show the main characters are supposed to go to a dance or a ball or something, I automatically assume the worst. And, depending on the genre of the show, I'm not always wrong.

  2. I've found I watch much less TV and movies these days, too. For me, if I'm going to watch something it needs to be escapist and entertaining. Many of the Star Wars series or Marvel movies, for example. I want heroes and vistas, not stories about the worst of humanity. I've read way too much history to want to ever be 'entertained' by the latter. Look up, not drag down.

    I, also, don't like cringey things in shows. I'll skip past bits that just feel embarrassing to watch. I don't like that stuff in real life, why would I want to watch it as entertainment (or laugh at the character being the butt of the cringe?). Then again, I'm a home-body so all of this social stuff runs my 'batteries' down. Plus it is more fun for me to be actively playing a game than passively watch a TV show or a movie. If I'm going to sit on the couch, I'd rather be reading a book while listening to some music.

    Oh, I never finished The Wheel of Time, either. The series reached a point for me that it seemed like whole books were just filler and nothing was going to happen. It really felt like Robert Jordan needed an editor who would crack the whip and make him cut out 70% of the junk bloating out the later volumes. (The later Harry Potter books were like this, too. Sometimes an author can be too successfully self-indulgent to the detriment of their series.)

    1. I used to hear things about Tom Clancy needing an editor in his later novels as well, so it definitely seems to be an ego thing. The irony was that other authors, such as Stephen King, don't have that problem. King's book On Writing is chock full about being relentless in your editing process, using an early draft of one of his own short stories as an example. I'm not the greatest fan of Stephen's writing style, but I will admit that he certainly sticks to his guns about writing and editing.

      I do think the overarching success of Star Wars and the Marvel movies have kind of worn me down on those types of stories too. There's so much thrown at you these days that I simply don't have the desire to keep up. And to be fair, I've also shifted my focus on who should be the hero and what the threat should be based on the flood of superhero movies as well. Not everything has to be a world shattering threat to make someone a hero, which is something that a few video game designers (::cough cough:: Blizzard ::cough cough::) could stand to learn as well. Look at The Magnificent Seven (or for the purist, The Seven Samurai): the threat is just to a town, not the whole world. It may not sound as dire as Thanos unmaking half of reality, but I assure you that to those townspeople it is truly dire to them.

      Too much of the storytelling these days --in all forms of media, whether it's novels or movies or television-- seems to focus on such world or galactic threats to the point where it cheapens everything else. Think of all the video games that have "save the village" or "save the town" or even "blunt the invasion" as a smaller "zone story" building up to the "main story". I think genre fiction --and video game design especially-- has fallen victim to "the threat has to be BIG in order to matter", and it doesn't.

      A lot of time, the small victories are the ones that really matter.

  3. Big Bang Theory's biggest problem for me is that it punches down, and uses the same tropes from decades ago. I was interested when BBT was announced, but was worried it would do exactly what it did, with how it treats the non-neurotypical stereotypically and IMO even worse how it trades in sexist tropes applied to women. I see its cringe as inherent; once I saw it was a Chuck Lorre (Two and a Half Men) piece, it pretty much sealed the deal for me that it wouldn't ever really get better and except when I have to watch it somewhere, I avoid it like the plague.

    It's rare I can enjoy cringe and I think if I find the characters even slightly sympathetic, any cringe comedy hits painfully for me, not funny at all. I think that's why It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia can pull it off but so much more can't, at least for me.

    1. Oh yes, the same tropes that I was familiar with as a kid live on. The thing is, those tropes haven't gone away in my corner of the world, despite the inroads that we've made in the intervening time. It feels weird seeing TBBT go from a niche comedy with a limited audience to suddenly exploding in popularity once it hit syndication, because it both tapped into those stereotypical tropes and yet became another Chuck Lorre comedy. It's kind of like watching/listening to how poorly some of 70s and 80s standup comedy aged, and yet to a not insignificant subset of the audience those routines are still funny. (And that's not even counting comedy that people knew even back then was pretty terrible, such as Andrew Dice Clay or Eddie Murphy's Raw.)