Allow me, for a moment, to state the obvious: each and every one of us like different things. There are vast, rich spectrums of things to take pleasure in, from music to nature to food, and beyond. Not only that, but thanks to the ongoing growth of the Internet, it has never been easier to try new things.
Personally, I love to try new things. I love to cook, so I’m always experimenting with food (to the frequent delight, and occasional horror, of my girlfriend). I love music, so I’m always poking around Spotify or YouTube, searching for something that clicks with me. I love TV and movies, and the streaming boom has laid literally thousands of options at my fingertips.
Between my natural curiosity and the vast array of options, I’m constantly finding new things to enjoy, and remembering old things I used to enjoy. What continues to surprise me, more so than the works I uncover, are the things I learn about myself.
Like many people, I have built a great deal of my identity on what I enjoy. After all, those things have helped me make friends, find love, find inspiration, and helped guide my creative journey. The things I love have helped to inform me of who I am.
I’m a nerd. I’m a metalhead. I’m a gamer. I’m a theatre kid. I’m a foodie. I’m a writer. I’m a horror geek. I’m all of those and much more. By exploring those worlds and embracing those identities, I have found great richness in my life.
But, I have also found that I let those identities limit me.
In nerd culture, while there are great ingenuity and creativity, there are problems. There are gatekeepers, elitists, and toxic fans, all of whom want to dictate what should or should not be enjoyed, and by whom.
This is by no means exclusive to nerd culture, but it’s certainly quite prevalent there. If you need any proof of this, try discussing Star Wars on Twitter (actually, for the sake of your mental health, please don’t).
These kinds of people exist in every fandom, every culture, every art form. They use their tastes and opinions as weapons, to bully people into either falling in line or going away.
I see and hear so much venom in fandoms about what counts as “real” and what’s “fake”. What “ruins” or “destroys” what came before. What counts as “real” metal, or a “real gamer”, or “true cinema”, or worst of all, what counts as art.
Here’s something that I heard once from a professor, and I think more people should hear it:
Just because you don’t like it, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t count.
My professor was referring to the broad concept of art, but I think it applies to so much more than just the big ideas.
We, especially those of us in fandoms, are obsessed with maintaining some sort of credibility like it’s our membership card in the culture. Whether that comes from obnoxious people trying to tell us what does or doesn’t “count”, or from our own internalized insecurities, it’s everywhere.
It’s everywhere, and I’m not sure that it does anyone any good at all.
Have you ever found yourself second-guessing your opinion because a critic savaged a movie that you enjoyed?
Have you ever stopped yourself from putting on the music you want to listen to, out of fear that the crowd won’t like it?
Have you caught yourself just before you reveal an interest that you think other people might laugh at?
All of those actions, and the feelings that come inspire them, come from the cultures and attitudes I’ve been talking about.
We spend so much time and energy on what other people might think, even if it intrudes on our own happiness. Think of all that you could get by applying that same time and energy to what you enjoy instead.
Now, to be clear, I am not calling for the end of criticism or debate. After all, opinion is subjective and fluid. What I am calling for is twofold.
First, freedom from fear. People can share their most honest responses when they are free from fear. Whether they are afraid of attack, or mockery, or mansplaining, the result is the same- something less than the complete truth of their perspective.
Second, freedom from toxicity. The word “toxic” is thrown around a lot these days, sometimes inaccurately, but I think that it applies here. After all, these attitudes and behaviors (gatekeeping, elitism, haters, shaming, mansplaining) are harmful in the short and long term. Short term, they hurt people’s feelings and impede meaningful and constructive discourse. Long term, they can reinforce harmful systems and beliefs, not to mention the potential that is squashed by that negativity.
I’m certainly not an expert in self-confidence, but I am an expert in feeling invisible, for being mocked for my interests, and for apologizing for parts of myself that I don’t have to. I’m making my suggestions from a place of learning, and they are just as valid for it.
My professor once said, “just because you don’t like it, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t count.” That’s stuck with me, and I’d like to offer my own spin on it:
Your tastes reflect what you value, not what you are worth.
In that spirit, here are a few “guilty pleasures” that I will no longer feel guilty about.
I am a metalhead, but there is room in my heart for Sugar Ray, REO Speedwagon, and Josh Groban.
I’m a horror buff, and my all-time favorite is Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors.
I love food and the vast spectrum of possibilities it provides, but I also love eating Crunch Berries right from the box.
I’m a theatre lover, and I put American Idiot in my top three favorite musicals ever.
I could go on, and that’s also part of my point. Just like art is more than just the masterpieces, people’s tastes can include all manner of things, even the “bad” or the “low” or the “junk”. For whatever their reason may be, they enjoy it, and that’s reason enough.
So, like I am trying to do for myself, I urge you to go forth and enjoy things. Just as importantly, I want you to practice letting other people enjoy things.