Reading and Writing for Intellect or Sentiment

I recently had a conversation with my father about the CW’s Legends of Tomorrow. Now, there’s no question it’s a ridiculous show. In many ways, it’s a throwback to the comics of the mid-20th century, before The Dark Knight Returns drew a line in the sand against those same oft-goofy comics of yesteryear (a la Batman ’66). It’s a lot of fun if you know what you’re signing up for, though by no means the epitome of prestige TV.

There are many reasons for a person to dislike Legends of Tomorrow. For my dad, though, it came down to the implausibility of the time travel physics. This rankled me more than I expected. Upon reflection, it’s clear to me that one does not watch a show like Legends for the physics or the realism of the experience. Quite frankly, that’s not what comic books are for, and this is a particularly comic-book-y show.

The thing that gets me is that my dad seems more or less OK with Doctor Who, the time travel physics of which are only barely more plausible (if, indeed, more plausible at all) than those of Legends.

Then I remember that my dad enjoyed the movie version of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen more than most. Then I remember that I used to enjoy The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie more than most. I rewatched it a few months ago, and found that my affection for it has lessened distinctly from a few years ago.

When I interrogate why my tastes have changed, the most immediate influence is clearly my spouse, who has more background in analyzing film than I do. Relatedly, I’ve spent much more time consuming media on my own or with my spouse than I have with my immediate family over the last few years. Somewhere in there, it would appear, the switch has flipped with respect to what has the most dominant effects on my appreciation for media. (In the particular case of LXG, it doesn’t help that Penny Dreadful has since come out and done a much better job with the same core concept.)

To be clear, my tastes are not wholly those of my spouse’s, either. I have a much higher tolerance for the live-action The Shadow movie from the ‘90’s, for example, even as I’ve grown more aware of its obvious flaws than I did when I was in college. I also enjoy the CW superhero shows more than my spouse does, even as they derive greater enjoyment from Supernatural than I do. I was the one to start us on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Teen Wolf, while my spouse introduced me to The Great British Baking Show and made sure we signed up for Hulu to watch The Handmaid’s Tale.

If there is such a thing as an objective measure of quality, most of what I’ve listed falls below the critical consensus standard (the exceptions being Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and The Handmaid’s Tale, both of which I recommend finding a way to watch, along with The Great British Baking Show which is delightful). That said, my spouse and I have both derived quite a bit of entertainment from the two and a half seasons we’ve watched of Teen Wolf.

What I’ve found as I think about these evolving tastes is that I now seek entertainment that’s more fulfilling at the level of emotion and sentiment than I used to. Growing up, I was more like my dad, leaning into the intellectual “interesting idea” factor more than the emotional “evoked feeling” factor. Given time to indulge my own tastes throughout college and be exposed to my spouse’s tastes, that’s begun to shift.

The next step is transferring this from consumption to creation. Some of my writing has occasionally jumped ahead of my evolution as a reader, but I’m generally prone to approaching writing first at the intellectual level, then at the aesthetic level, and only intermittently at the emotional level. In other words, I’m pretty likely to hit some combination of “interesting” and “cool” (depending one’s tastes and past experiences with respect to each of those terms), but much less likely to hit “moving”.

That’s OK on an objective level, of course. Nothing wrong with interesting and cool escapism that makes its way to moving every once in a while. I’m happy when my writing can hit even one out of those three.

Still, as a point of aspiration, I’d like to become more reliable at reaching that emotional level. The obvious catch is that doing so requires a greater degree of vulnerability and introspection than I’ve been comfortable with up to this point in my life. Finding a way to dig into vulnerability and discomfort, then transfer that to the page, needs to be one of my next steps.

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