This week’s question is from reader Daniel Hayes:
What media have you spitefully avoided because someone you don’t like recommended it to you? My college girlfriend bought me Winesburg, Ohio for my 20th birthday and I still have not read it because she was a psycho. I even keep it on my bookshelf so I can see it and know I’m avoiding it on purpose.
I’ve always been a little competitive when it comes to academics, so much so that I’m too embarrassed to admit how old I was when this happened. But: I made a project for class and it was this tangible piece of art, the likes of which the world had never before experienced. (And for good reason; it was quite truthfully awful, like all things you create at an age marked by unearned pomposity.) I, of course, thought it should win the contest that was attached to the assignment, but much to my dismay another project, which was just Bright Eyes songs scribbled in a trumped-up journal (I’m misremembering this out of spite. I’m sure it was much more elaborate and artistic.) won the class vote (It seemed all my peers totally related to Conor Oberst in a way I didn’t understand) and was featured in some show somewhere. (Trust that while I remember all the specificities, I’m not sharing them with you in an attempt to feign nonchalance.) Around the same time, a friend asked me what album I would buy solely for the cover art. My response was almost immediate: Bright Eyes’ Every Day And Every Night. He ended up gifting it to me and to this day it sits on top of my bedroom record player unplayed, because I will go to my grave, decompose, and rise from the dead to spend my days floating around trees before I admit academic defeat to that particular peer.
Maybe all the socializing of college fosters spiteful ignorance: My junior year, a friend backed out of being my third roommate, and a friend of a friend I didn’t know well ended up living with me. I didn’t gel with her and for a while I couldn’t figure out why—there was nothing offensive about her, except the usual college problems like doing your dishes in a timely manner (12 hours, tops). Then I realized that the “nothing offensive” thing was the problem. She had no interests, no passions, no hobbies, and no pop-culture tastes whatsoever. She didn’t go out of her way to consume media, and didn’t get excited about any TV or film or music or games. She was like an empty sponge, absorbing whatever pop culture the people around her oozed in her direction. I grew to hate her, not only because she had no interests, but also because that meant the best way she “had fun” with friends was to drink late into the night when some of us had class in the morning. The one piece of pop culture she did, inexplicably, like: How I Met Your Mother. She’d invite me to watch with her and thought it was something “someone like me” would enjoy. (I can only assume “someone like me” meant “someone who enjoys TV.”) But because she liked it so much, I concluded it must be horrible. So despite numerous recommendations, I haven’t watched that show, and in all likelihood I’ll continue to shun it.
This is an easy one for me: The Harry Potter books. At a certain point in the early 2000s, it felt like every single person in my entire life who I didn’t care for was trying to push those goddamn books on me. Friends, family, it didn’t matter: If I didn’t like you, but was forced to interact with you, at some point you insisted that I absolutely had to read the Harry Potter books. If you were the guy I waited tables with in Minneapolis, you were extra-annoying, because you somehow always had a copy of one of the books with you. It didn’t matter which one, you were such a Potterhead. (Pot-head? Harry-face? Who cares. You were the worst.) As a result, those books have more or less been ruined for all time—I will never start them, even in 20 years, when they will have replaced the Bible, the Tanakh, and the Quran as the world’s one true set of holy texts. Yes, it is pure spite, and no, I don’t care.
Freshman year of college, I was in full-on eager-to-make-friends mode, and I met a guy who played the bass. I had been wanting to put a band together, and I figured that was something we had in common and that we should be friends. I was wrong on all counts. I won’t get into the friendship going awry, but I will talk about the bass: It was covered in faux-snakeskin, and its owner used it to play strictly bottom-of-the-barrel ’70s rock. Rick Derringer. Solo Ace Frehley. If it was cheesy, awful, and had been recorded in the ’70s, this guy loved it. So based solely on this guy’s recommendation, I steered well clear of T. Rex for about 15 years, only recently discovering that when people romanticize the ’70s, Marc Bolan’s the part they’re romanticizing.
I’m going to twist the question slightly, because I’m a cheater: When I first started doing improv in college, a few of the guys in the group I had joined were big fans of David Cross. At this point, I didn’t know anything about Mr. Show, and Arrested Development hadn’t yet penetrated my cultural consciousness, so as far as I knew, Cross was just the guy who got killed by Vincent D’Onofrio in Men In Black. But these guys, who were equal parts awesome and insufferable in the way of many young college students desperately trying to be smart and funny, were advocates, so eventually I sat down and gave his CD a listen. And within about two minutes of listening to Shut Up You Fucking Baby!, everything clicked into crystal clarity—all of the stuff I hated about my new friends was there, in Cross’ smug tone and fake-angry pandering to the audience. It was like having the worst elements of these otherwise decent people slammed into my ears all at once, and I shut it off quickly. And while I’ve enjoyed Cross’ work in many things, I’ve never been able to give his stand-up another shot.
Mine is the opposite of Alex: I was undoubtedly one of those Potterheads he describes, although I like to think my nerdy love didn’t extend to shaming others into reading the books. (That said: Alex, read the books.) I went to midnight releases, reread each volume multiple times, and obsessed over the intricate minutia of Hogwarts. So when 11-year-old Caroline heard her beloved books were being adapted into films before the full series was even published, she vowed no money-grabbing movie studio would ever force her to compromise her personal vision of the wizarding world. And to this day I’ve never seen any of the Harry Potter films, nor even their trailers. (I used to shut my eyes when they aired. I was a weird kid.) To be honest, I’ve long since given up on the principled stance that once kept me away from the cinematic adaptations, but after committing to this boycott for 14 years, it’s hard to imagine casually giving it up. So for now I’ll keep the smug satisfaction that my image of the Gryffindor common room hasn’t been tainted by whatever (presumably stunning) production design the films created. Take that Warner Bros.!
This goes back to high school in the late ’90s. I was just coming into my own as a burgeoning music snob, completely into Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Jesus And Mary Chain, Ween, and general racket that my stoner friends couldn’t abide. One of my best friends was completely obsessed with They Might Be Giants, and had a very odd obsession with Murray Head’s “One Night In Bangkok.” So, it was either a mix of these two, Phish, or Billy Joel, who I also can’t stand. There’s nothing worse than being trapped in a hot-boxed car, hearing “Birdhouse In Your Soul” for the umpteenth time. It’s like a form of torture for me to this day. I will not give They Might Be Giants a fighting chance, no matter how much people push them on me, even people whose opinion I value. I get this kind of exchange a lot: “You like Ween? Have you heard They Might Be Giants?” I’ve stopped arguing my case that they are like a castrated version of Ween years ago and just look for an escape route at that point.
I can’t think of any particular people who have poisoned me against stuff—I like to think that I’m arrogant enough to not even remember the opinions of people I don’t care about (this may not be actually true, but really, no one comes to mind). But I can certainly think of a group who I’ve spitefully dismissed: the “TV is better than movies” people. As much as I enjoy some shows, it’s not a comparison that really makes sense and tends to gives a lot of shows a lot more leeway for the apparently amazing feat of making you want to watch more episodes of them. I so disdain this argument—especially when it broadens to include TV shows that sound totally non-revolutionary—that it’s set me pretty far back from ever being able to try out or catch up with The Shield, Scandal, Game Of Thrones, The Good Wife, Sons Of Anarchy, or almost anything that’s ever aired on Showtime, among others. Then again, when I finally caught up with Mad Men, it quickly became one of the best TV shows I’ve ever seen, so what do I know?
Back in college in Iowa in the dinosaur era, I met a bunch of lifelong friends through the nascent BBS network. I also met a bunch of total nimrods. At the time, a lot of us socialized through a BBS based in Rutgers, New Jersey, so because it was college, we all decided an Iowa-to-Rutgers road trip was a great idea, to meet up in the flesh with all these people we’d been talking to through the baby internet. Problem was, we were young and poor and only one guy had a car. So five of us piled into his muscle-mobile—I remember it as something like a 5-year-old Corvette, which is not a car meant for five people on a cross-country trip—and drove nearly a thousand miles to the coast. And as far as I recall, we listened to Rush the entire 16-hour trip. Well, we listened to Rush and the driver’s snarling monologue about how, “This is good Rush, the early stuff, not the new worthless shit that morons like. The whole fucking band’s gone to complete crap.” And also about how only the driver on a trip got any say in the music, and about how only he was going to drive because none of us were going to handle his car. Needless to say, this guy I knew only from online interactions was loud, abrasive, and opinionated—wow, even in the early days of the internet, that happened—and to this day, I’ve never listened to Rush, because I associate it so strongly with muscle cars, muscle-heads, and the music of sneering, preening intolerance.
This doesn’t apply any longer, thankfully, but I went through a heart-wrenching experience after seeing The Rolling Stones in concert, an event that should’ve led me to finally explore the back catalog. Instead, a post-concert incident ultimately led me to shelve any real interest in the band for the better part of two decades. I dove so deep into Beatlemania as a teenager that I couldn’t imagine I’d ever find an equivalent amount of love for the Stones. But in 1989, the ex-girlfriend of one of my best friends—let’s call her A.—had an extra ticket and offered me the opportunity to buy it and ride down from Virginia Beach to the show, which was at Carter Finley Stadium in Raleigh, North Carolina. The show was absolutely amazing, still one of the best I’ve ever seen, but we got there late and missed the opener (Living Colour), which sucked. There were further complications afterwards, as planned accommodations fell through, and for misguided chivalrous reasons, A. ended up getting a hotel room and I slept in her car. Still, when we got back to Hampton Roads, all appeared to be well between us—except that it apparently wasn’t, because she stopped talking to me or even acknowledging my existence, really. That status quo remained unchanged until A. and I finally reinitiated communications on Facebook almost 20 years later. I guess it was something to do with her wanting to cut all ties with her ex, including me, but whatever. All I know for sure, though, is that I was so confused and emotionally scarred by having someone I really liked—and, okay, that I had a major crush on—suddenly cut all ties that it completely ruined The Rolling Stones for me for a very long time. Thankfully, I got better.
At the end of a particularly long, involved relationship, my then-boyfriend got very into Doctor Who. I didn’t really know it at the time, but it was one of many barriers we had both started to erect at the end of what I would later figure out was a pretty toxic relationship. I tried for about five minutes to get into it before deciding his new obsession was yet another thing I could resent him for. So when it came to a rebound, I tried to find the exact opposite of my previous partner. Except for one thing: He also fucking loved Doctor Who. Pleas to get me to watch it were met with massive indifference. So when my current boyfriend, a lovely nerd, asked me if he would like Doctor Who, I did what any sane, yet slightly emotionally damaged woman would do: I lied and told him no.