It’s Okay: to Like Mainstream Movies, Music, Books, and Culture
In It’s Okay, we defend our most embarrassing, unpopular opinions.
Honestly, I haven’t even written this and I give up. What’s a good example of a basic, mainstream thing? Is it Ariana Grande or is it Taylor Swift? Is Led Zeppelin a little less basic than Pink Floyd? Do I have more of a personality if I choose Italian Giallo over French New Wave? Should I get an undercut or go bald — what’s more alternative? Are mom jeans basic or should I invest in a pair? Is having a personality basic yet? Didn’t we have a phase where existing was basic — can we go back to that?
Here’s the thing. I am a writer of culture things and yet, my tastes remain benign. You know how there’s a party or a conversation with new people talking about interesting things, and there’s always one person with a perennial huh face? I’m that person. I’m always late to new music, new books, new movies. I haven’t read that Sally Rooney book we’re all on about. I’d probably watch an Oscar-nominated film and appreciate the experience. I play the same five songs again and again till I remember an old song I haven’t played in a while and add that to the rotation. I’m always keeping up with 1,100 different new things, always scamming people into thinking I’m cultured-passing and honestly? I just cannot anymore. This is a basic bitch safe space, a mainstream huddle, a boring block party — name it as you will. Let’s revolt.
By revolt, I mean let’s speak into existence what we all know. Nobody wants to be basic, which means, everybody is basic. All of our tastes have been ground to death, and we keep swallowing those ashes, rebirthing ourselves as the same phoenix again and again. To keep ourselves relevant, we compete with each other in some version of peer-pressure imposed Taste Olympics — either the things you like mean you’re interesting, or you’re basic. This, unfortunately, means we’re all desperately clamoring for something, anything that makes us special — and that’s a touch tiresome, if not embarrassing. Maybe, if we liked things because we liked them, rather than using them as an adornment of our ‘evolved’ personalities, we’d stress far less and cure cancer, or something nice like that.
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The problem, however, remains the same as it was three paragraphs ago. There’s no real example of basicness beyond arbitrary gatekeeping of various rungs. At one point, it was pumpkin spice lattes; at another, it was ‘petrichor‘ Instagram updates. If you watch F.R.I.E.N.D.S, you’re basic; if you graduate one rung up to The Big Bang Theory, you’re still basic, and if you think you hit the taste jackpot with The Office, I have some bad news. You name a thing, someone’s watched it, loved it, seen a few others watch it, and immediately declared it mainstream and not worth any value. Taste is only valuable when it’s exclusive, which makes the ‘tasteful’ a boring school clique.
Instead, let’s re-acquaint ourselves with the joys of endearing mediocre, palatable, mainstreamness and why it matters. Things that everyone likes, things built to stay likable, to stay reliable and watchable on days when our minds refuse to co-operate because everything is too much. Things that are made to make you laugh or fear or cry, because that’s what you’re feeling like. Often we forget the unbridled and very commonly shared joy of the utterly boring — the sound of an old song playing, sitcoms with the laugh tracks still set in, a comfortable pair of leggings, borderline average pizza, the zero intellectual heft of a Disney movie plotline, the absolute refusal we all exhibit to reference any other book but the one about wizards and boarding school. This is the tomfoolery that’s kept us alive and thriving — truly great art is merely the cherry on the cake, cleansing our palate when we’re full off the bland and want to make ourselves feel better.
But maybe we never can change, and the eliteness of our tastes is all we can ever conjure to create an interesting personality. What if we’re stuck liking things and then hating on them, no matter what we really mean?
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Let me propose a little novocaine. My alternative, like all things I do in life, is half-assed. Here’s the thing — there are zero people paying attention to the things you like, let alone keeping tabs on them because everyone’s too busy being hyperaware of themselves. This is, perhaps, the only time navel-gazing is a boon — nobody has any power over you because everyone’s frozen stiff at the prospect of committing their own great crime of mild cringe. This isn’t going to make anyone feel better about being likened to a horde of basics, whatever that means, but it helps to know that everyone is vulnerable the same way you are. We’re all going to die anyway, so why not die being who you are — a die-hard Jonas Brothers groupie?
Or you know, you can get super hot. Hot people are totally allowed to be as basic as they like, no questions asked. It’s the actual law or something. I’m serious!
I kid. You’ll be all right.