I haven’t been alive for very long, so I don’t know what hip people did back in the day. But today, in 2006, hip people love ironic media consumption. What does this unwieldy phrase “ironic media consumption” mean? It means that alot of people I know, my friends, will expose themselves to a work of entertainment solely for the purpose of laughing at it and deconstructing why it would appeal to an audience less sophisticated than themselves.
An example of this would be the person who reads Harry Potter and enjoys it, but not because they have been drawn into a wonderful fantasy world. Instead they enjoy it because they realize that the reason people like it is because it has all these essential wish fulfillment fantasies embedded in it (misunderstood kid who is secretly special, always succeeds, everyone loves him, etc.)
Another popular example would be Mystery Science Theater 3000, which is a show in which you watch viewers of a science fiction movie make fun of that movie and you take delight in how stupid it is.
I think that this is silly. I think that these people are cheating themselves by refusing to view these works of media on their own terms and derive an honest enjoyment from them.
To me, you might say, “Hey, if I can enjoy making fun of a movie, why is that bad?”. To this I would reply that I don’t think it is bad or wrong. I just think that you are shortchanging yourself. When you view large categories of work solely for the purpose of laughing at them, you are not exposing yourself to anything new. You are grasping for easy entertainment. All you are doing is reinforcing your place as someone hip, someone who is incapable of being made to feel emotion by popular media. You go into the movie or reading experience knowing exactly what you will feel, and you deny yourself the possibility of feeling anything different.
Personally, I find it difficult to view media ironically. When I watch a romantic comedy I allow myself to be swayed by the feeling that every person can find true love. When I watch porn, I allow myself to be titillated. I think that many smart, sophisticated people don’t allow themselves to feel the intended effect of a piece of media because they want to feel better than the audience it is made for. They want to be above that. It is similar to the way people will claim that a band has “sold out” once it has become popular. The band’s music has gone from being their private possession to the possession of the masses, and what they feel when they listen to the music is no longer unique.
But if you refuse to view a movie or book on the terms it is meant to be viewed, you are cheating yourself of diversity of emotion. You are making yourself jaded. You are creating a persona that views media for you instead of allowing it to directly impact you. I’m sorry that I don’t know how better to explain it. But it is easy to watch a movie and make wisecracks about the things you think could be better. That gets an easy laugh from people who watch with you or talk to you about it. It’s easy to vocalize what you find wrong with a movie or book. But it’s much harder to talk about why a book was so great. Why it affected you so much, why you felt different after watching it. It’s harder to let something change you, even a little bit.
I pray that the people who laugh and deride honest attempts to affect them are just joking. I pray that secretly, they treasure the way an action movie makes them feel powerful or the way a science fiction novel makes them feel wonder. But I just don’t know.
EDIT: I take pride in being the least hip person ever. I’m not even non-hip in a hip Napolean Dynamite way. I love romantic comedies (in fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen every romantic comedy made between 1996 and 2004). I love musicals. I love top 40 radio. I love action movies. I love Nicolas Cage (I once made it my mission to see every Nick Cage movie ever made). I love Christian Contemporary music (despite being an atheist). I love Mercedes Lackey, David Weber, the three Terries (Goodkind, Brooks, and Pratchett). I just love the honesty of these forms. They don’t make any bones about it, they’re trying to reach out to you. They’re like the really intense person you know, the one with the wide blue eyes, who will talk to you at a party for hours about something you’d never heard about…and it is utterly fascinating, because they care.