I have this theory about people’s taste in entertainment and how it affects our relationships. For one thing, the emphasis on what we like rather than what we are like is so well entrenched by now that we all freely make judgments about people based on their favorite books, bands, shows, and films. That’s why we bother compiling and alphabetizing the lists of favorites on all our online social networking profiles, right? (What, you don’t do that?)
It’s an easy shorthand that tells you if you might get along with someone – “Oh, he likes The Decemberists, The Pixies, Miles Davis, Proust, and David Foster Wallace. I’m sure we shall be the best of friends!” In some very obvious ways, this sort of list-making is a good thing. After all, good friends do often share the same taste, and such a shorthand can be an efficient way of mentally tagging people who have something in common with us. Of course, in another obvious way, it leaves a lot unanswered for — the new friend who’s going to introduce you to a whole new world of be-bop or opera or avant-garde industrial noise.
The real problem, though, is The 75% Problem. You know the person with whom you — in principle, in terms of general taste — agree with seventy-five percent of the time? You both like guitar-encrusted indie music from the early 1990s and Charlie Kaufman and Modern Poetry, right? But then there are those moments where he can’t believe how much you hate David Bowie (“I mean, clearly you just do not get his music,” he intones, full of superior self-satisfaction), or he comes over and says,”oh, put on whatever music you want; I’m easy to please,” and then proceeds to tell you the specific chord breakdowns that Elvis Costello has allegedly stolen from The Beatles as each new track begins. Or, worse yet, he makes you watch Moulin Rouge because he knows how much you like “all that Postmodern stuff.”
At these moments, sedate and thoughtful discussion of the arts goes off the rails and irrational shouting and fist-shaking commence. You can be pleasantly discoursing on the various and many virtues of Pacific Northwest indie rock, and how much you both like The Decemberists and The Shins and Death Cab for Cutie and even The Dandy Warhols, but by god when conversation turns to Modest Mouse, things take a turn for the worse.
I mean, he just can’t understand how you could like all those other bands and not Modest Mouse, and you just can’t believe his failure to notice that the so-called musicians of Modest Mouse do not seem to know how to play their instruments, and he thinks he has an ace-in-the-hole with the fact (FACT!) that Johnny Marr now plays with Modest Mouse — the very same Johnny Marr of The Smiths, who are one of your all-time-favorite bands, OR SO YOU CLAIM — and you, fist alternately shaking in the air and pounding on the table, you DID know that Johnny Marr, formerly of The Smiths, was playing with Modest Mouse by god but YOU DID NOT CARE because Johnny Marr can go SUCK ON IT and MORRISSEY DOESN’T NEED HIM ANYWAY. See? Logical, civilized discourse has now left the building.
Let’s face it, these scenes are never pretty. The other day, my friend who has, on numerous occasions, poked fun at me for listening to Death Cab for Cutie, essentially called me a depressed fourteen-year-old hanging out in my parents’ basement — all because, apparently, although she had nothing much to say about their music, she sure had plenty to say about her perception of their fans, and, by extension, me.
In another example — one oft cited by me and perhaps already described here — I split up with a guy I had been casually dating after he failed to know any Bob Dylan songs.
“What is a Bob Dylan song I would know,” he asked me one morning.
After I proceeded to sing pretty much all of Dylan’s greatest hits in an effort to jog his memory, I decided enough was enough. The, uh, benefits weren’t worth the frustration, and anyway he was allergic to my cat, so it was really for the best.
It’s a good thing I just quietly ditched the Bob Dylan guy, because discussions of this sort become volatile sometimes. I have one friend with whom I share 75% of my taste in television, who can’t believe I don’t watch 24 (or, in the past, The Wire). He loves (LOVES! EVERY TIME WE TALK HE DOES THIS!) to denigrate my taste due to how much I love Lost.
“BUT YOU STUDY LITERATURE AND NARRATIVE! YOU’RE A WRITER! HOW CAN YOU WATCH THAT?” he will shout into the phone, fist pounding on a table somewhere in the background.
My response, ever careful to be rhetorically sound, is something along the lines of, “YEAH, well I am SO SURE that the narrative structure of FUCKING 24 is REALLY FUCKING WELL CONSTRUCTED!”
[Rhetoric Fact: this is a “tu quoque” logical fallacy, but clearly the offended me did/does not care!]
These incidents are all cases of The 75% Problem in play. I think when you share 75% of your general tastes and proclivities with someone, you feel comfortable in the fact that you basically like the same things. Then, when you make some comment about the new album from your favorite band, you expect some kind of shared enthusiasm, and when it doesn’t appear, you have a nasty surprise. That’s why the remaining 25% has the potential to become irrationally infuriating — as in the Modest Mouse case above. It would be one thing if you just didn’t like Modest Mouse, but hating Modest Mouse while claiming to like all those other NW bands is the problem. (And in these discussions, someone will always pull out the word “claiming,” as if people were either dishonest or uncertain of what they actually like!)
I believe it is The 75% Problem that’s at play in this now-weeks-old (and much discussed) New York Times article in which people discussed which favorite books would be dating dealbreakers. One interviewee had broken up with a guy who was too into Ayn Rand; another dumped one who had never heard of Pushkin. (In my opinion, the former is a greater problem than the latter, but a discussion of why would warrant its own post). There were dealbreakers of the too-pretentious or too-desperate kind, too, though: one poor guy who brought his copy of Proust to the coffee shop was instantly dismissed. Ironically, nothing seems more pretentious than rejecting a possible date for reading Pretentious Proust (i.e. “I want my date to be intellectual and well read, as long as he’s quiet about it!”), or, in the case of one interviewee, Virginia Woolf, which was characterized only as being “too Virginia Woolf”!
These literary dealbreakers, though, are the kinds of problems people living in New York (or in Zembla) have the luxury of citing. I have to say that in New Wye, if a guy knows how to read and/or write a complete sentence, and has actually read a novel ever, he is ahead of the game. A guy in New Wye whose favorite book of all time is Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets would be quite a catch — this would prove him to be literate and would indicate that he is not one of those country-fried types who thinks reading as an activity is unnecessary at best and suspect at worst.
I mean, geez, let’s look at the big picture, right? My friend may have the embarrassingly bad taste to like David Bowie, but at least it’s not Céline Dion or Kenny G, one might argue. Logically, I want to agree with this, but, like I said, in the face of The 75% Problem, logic crumples.
I mean seriously, BOWIE? That prancing nancy in the sparkling pants whose lyrics sound like something off the reject pile of a high-school literary magazine? The one whose music is so absent of any talent that the only thing left is ONSTAGE SPECTACLE? What a FREAK.
What about you? Do have any accounts of The 75% Problem rearing its head in your relationships? Any dealbreakers, as illogical as they may be? Please to tell me.