s Thoughts from the Physics Chick: *I* liked it

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

*I* liked it

A few years ago, I was talking with a friend about a classic 20th century novel. He’d read it, but I never had, even though it was vaguely on my mental list of “books I ought to read someday.” I asked, “Is it good?” He paused and said, “I liked it,” with a definite stress on the first person implying “but I don’t guarantee that you will.”

After I read it, I could see why he’d phrased the recommendation in just that way, since some people might have been uncomfortable with the violence, language, and sexual references in the book. Or maybe wouldn’t have cared for the somewhat disjointed writing style. (The book was Slaughterhouse-Five, if you’re wondering.)

As it turned out, though, I loved it, and ended up reading a dozen more Kurt Vonnegut books over the next couple of years.

A recent conversation with Melyngoch about R-rated movies, as well as her latest post at Zelophehad’s Daughters, has got me thinking again about media and Mormon standards again.

To be fair, there are good reasons for not watching R-rated movies. If my goal is to encourage critical thinking and good judgment, making a blanket statement that everyone has to watch something is as bad making a blanket statement that says nobody should watch it.

Along those lines, I feel like I’m pretty willing to “enter into someone else’s world,” so to speak. I’m comfortable hanging out with people who drink or are living their significant other or who are staunch atheists. I get that they’re making choices I wouldn’t make, but I feel that the sum total of a person goes beyond that and I’ve found that they’re often willing to meet me halfway, as well.

But when I’m hanging out with more conservative Mormons (or “average” Mormons, but we’ll get to whether or not they’re actually average in a minute), I feel like I'm the one who has to make all of the social compromises, for fear of doing irreparable damage to their tender little psyches if they (to quote Melyngoch) discover “I’m not the Mormon [they] thought I was” and “react as if betrayed.” (If you think that’s an overstatement, allow me to direct you to Board Question #23236.)

It’s a vicious circle, of course. The more quiet I am about my actual feelings and interests, the more I let people assume that the “Deseret Book Mormon” is the only kind of faithful Mormon that exists. (For all I know, the Church is full of kindred spirits, only we keep missing each other because we don’t speak up.)

So, I feel that I should be able to say “Pan’s Labyrinth is an amazing film.” Period. “The Backslider is one of the most faith-affirming books I've ever read.” Period. No asterisks, no qualifiers, no apologies.

It’s not that I’m out to deceive anyone by tricking them into watching or reading something they’d rather not. If someone asked me, straight up, whether there was anything potentially objectionable in the film or book, I’d be happy to give them an honest evaluation. But I don’t think I should have to add a warning statement to all of my recommendation unless specifically asked for one.

See, I’m a big fan of research. The way I look at it, If I go to the trouble of reading reviews and checking detailed ratings to decide if I want to see a movie or not, you can do it, too. Of course, talking to friends and family members who’ve seen the movie is another part of doing research, and when I talk to them, it’s sort of understood that they’re not just recommending a movie or book, they’re recommending it to me, and I’d be pretty annoyed if they failed to mention something in it that I might find hugely upsetting or problematic. Which is quite possibly what my more conservative friends expect of me, as well.

So maybe I should just learn to say “I liked it . . .”


At August 04, 2009 2:36 PM, Blogger krebscout said...

We just listened to Slaughterhouse on cd, and we loved it. Loved Pan's Labyrinth, too.

Have you watched Synecdoche, New York?

At August 04, 2009 3:06 PM, Blogger Kyle Dickerson said...

I also enjoyed Slaughterhouse Five (I did a critical comparison to Catch-22 in high school. It was a very interesting comparison.) I also really liked Pan's Labyrinth, though I wish I didn't have to see his mouth all cut up quite so much.

We are out here! Mormons that believe in deciding for ourselves what to read/watch/play/listen to/etc. We'll even take suggestions from others and then research for ourselves before going and watching/reading/etc.

But I agree, it is hard to find each other for fear of offending others.

At August 04, 2009 3:36 PM, Blogger Th. said...


One of the great indicators of health that I observe in our current ward is that there really isn't the DB assumption.

And I just had someone email me about Time Traveller's Wife to get a more nuanced opinion--not just it-has-sex-therefore-bad.

At August 05, 2009 5:20 PM, Blogger alea said...

The Backslider is faith-affirming.

When I recommend things to people I don't know that well, I freely offer a sort of advisory (usually along the lines, "it has a lot of sex, if that sort of thing isn't cool for you."). The trick I find it not letting my sort of generic judgment of prudes come through, because I understand why some people don't view/read certain things, but still judge them without thinking less of them.

At August 07, 2009 2:17 PM, Blogger Katya said...

krebscout - I haven't, but I'll add it to my Netflix queue. :)

Kyle - I should say that I didn't watch a lot of the violent parts (although that gets tricky when you rely on the subtitles to understand what's going on). When I saw it a second time, I had seen the bonus features and knew how they'd done a lot of the special effects, so that actually helped a lot.

Th. - You may live in one of the minority wards with that sort of demographic. Lucky you!

alea - That's a good strategy. I'll have to try it.

At August 07, 2009 2:20 PM, Blogger Katya said...

alea - Also, there are some people I know well who wouldn't watch a lot of what I watch and I have no problem with it, because I know that they've made a thoughtful choice about the media they'll consume. I'm more likely to be judgmental of a person I don't know well who seems conservative; I just assume they're a mindless sheep. :)

At August 10, 2009 11:49 AM, Blogger alea said...

I totally agree. If I ask someone why they don't watch R-rated movies, if they say "because I don't want x, y, z in my life", I don't think less of them. If they say, "because the prophet says not to", I'm bothered. And then, I try to get them to come up with the actual time and the actual prophet and they're adrift. If it's going to define your media decisions, it seems like you should at least take the time to know what was said.


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