I am not as nice as I seem. In fact, I'm the sort of person who drives to the grocery store with my son, nicknamed Kung Fu Panda, telling jokes at our cat's expense. I told him that while we're out, our kitty Luke goes to "Cat School," where he learns how to behave in a way that cats find acceptable.
"Does he learn how to use the litter box?" KFP asked.
"No, he already knows that. He learns how to make stinky poops in his litter box." Whether from digestive issues or a reaction to his special allergen-free prescription cat food, Luke's room-clearing poops are legendary. So yes, I made a joke at our cat's expense about something he can't help, setting a horrible example for my 4-year-old son. And that's not even the worst thing about me.
I am a capricious culture snob, governed by no set pattern. The only constant is this: whether it be a television show, a movie or a book, if I like it, I consider like-minded people to be savvy consumers. But if I dislike something, those who like it must be tasteless or dim-witted.
Like Elaine Benes in "Seinfeld," I loathe "The English Patient." While writing an Oscar series on all the Best Picture winners (yet unfinished, due to the untimely interruption of a baby who continues to need constant care, even at age 4), I watched the movie, expecting far more than it delivered.
Perhaps the funniest part of the "Seinfeld" episode where Elaine takes exception to the Oscar-winning movie -- an episode which is extremely funny, because I say so -- is her inability to articulate the reasons why she dislikes it. She simply declares it boring, and when people argue with her, she flies into a rage and tells them to "Go to hell!"
I know how she feels. But being a writer, and a Virgo, I feel compelled to delve into the reasons behind my gut reaction.
Certainly, "The English Patient" was boring. My antipathy for the movie goes beyond that. The movie is wretched, because it could have been much better. It was a historical World War II drama/romance starring a stable of Oscar-caliber actors (Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Binoche, Kristin Scott Thomas, Willem Dafoe, Naveen Andrews, Colin Firth). If only the key actors had had even the teensiest bit of chemistry, it could have been outstanding. Instead, the bleached-out, lackluster film makes me want to cough up sand.
Without revealing any spoilers -- so if you're daft enough to watch it after reading this piece, don't worry -- suffice it to say that every bloodless moment can be seen coming miles and miles away. Much like a mirage in the desert, if that mirage consisted of "serious actors" doing what passes for "acting" but is really more of a table reading. The movie vacillates between the past and present, interweaving several characters who are all equally flat and undeveloped.
For those who might assume that I simply dislike movies with slow pacing, I loved Darren Aronofsky's "The Fountain," a dreamlike depiction of a man dealing with grief over his wife's death. I'm also happy to sit through an entire movie where essentially nothing happens in terms of narrative, such as "My Dinner with Andre" or "Waking Life." I would argue, however, that both of those movies did a better job of maintaining the flow of the film than "The English Patient" did.
All of this would be bad enough, but then the film went on to win an Oscar. Why? I believe it's because it's one of those movies you're simply SUPPOSED to like. You can practically hear the Oscar voters screaming: "Ralph Fiennes hides his face behind bandages for half of the movie: that's ACT-ing! It's set during World War II, which is the most important period of modern times! It's based on a book, for crying out loud!" I remain unimpressed.
Simply put, I react strongly against anything that too many people say is good. I never would have read the Harry Potter series if it hadn't been recommended by a friend whose taste I respect. If I'd been young during the Sixties, I probably would have never willingly listened to the Beatles. In the Wilson household, we were taken to symphony concerts and ballets on our family vacation, while other kids baked on the beach.
Ironically, we also watched more television than is currently recommended by interfering parent groups. We went to movies together on a regular basis and talked all the way home about what we liked and didn't like. We were not elitists in the strictest sense, but because we were taught to analyze everything, my siblings and I grew up with a critical eye.
This sort of parenting led to permanent damage, leaving us unable to admit to someone that we like something that's too popular without making a coherent statement about why. By default, we all listen to public radio in the car (although I consider myself to be a little more open-minded, since I listen to WXPN, a public station that actually plays music). My sister has no cable television and initially pledged to keep her first daughter away from the addictive medium. I later caught her at nap time, playing "Caillou" on Netflix to put my little niece to sleep.
The truth is, people like what they like, and when a lot of people like something, it probably has elements that would appeal to a lot of different tastes. But I tend to assume that they're simply not examining things that closely. And I suppose, if I think about it, that's really sort of stupid.