Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Collective Anger Quota

In discussing the phenomenon of Juno-hate, Simpsons writer Tim Long describes the Collective Anger Quota:

Yet somehow I can’t hate on Juno as much as my comedy-writing peers. I largely ascribe that to something I call the Collective Anger Quota. It works like this: every offending cultural object—movie, TV show, ice-cream flavor, what have you—demands that a certain amount of anger be generated in response to it. If tons of people despise something—like, say, the comedy of Carlos Mencia—the Anger Quota has already been filled, and I don’t have to feel strongly about it one way or another. But if I dislike something that pretty much everyone loves—Some Like It Hot, or OK Computer—then I really have my hating cut out for me. In the case of Juno, so many people I know dislike it that I’m off the hook. I didn’t even flinch at the worst line in the movie—when Juno’s friend reacts to news of the pregnancy by exclaiming “Honest to blog?!”—because I knew that at that moment, mushroom clouds were exploding all over Silver Lake and Los Feliz. In effect, my peers were doing the hating for me. Thanks, peers!

I pretty much agree regarding Juno: There are some annoying, too-precious things in there, but they don't spoil what I considered a generally likable movie (and it helped that I was forewarned, which prevented me from becoming part of the first-wave backlash). So what if the soundtrack panders to indie tastes? Is a pandering soundtrack all that bad if I actually enjoy it?

But never mind Juno. What I really love here is how Long has done a great job of encapsulating when bad things are worth hating, and how the actual badness of the thing must be weighed against the tide of existing hate. When enough other people hate something, it hardly seems worth the trouble to pile on, even when the thing is really bad. But if something is only mediocre but most people seem to accept it, I feel the need to dial up the hate to compensate. This, for example, was how I once felt about Empire Records, a dumb, thoroughly mediocre, thankfully forgotten movie that for some reason everyone seemed to love when I was in high school.

The CAQ also explains the subtle workings that, on a macro level, motivate backlash and anti-backlash. Saying that you subscribe to it is sort of just a way of saying that you are leading the march in whatever backlash or anti-backlash tide you may unconsciously be a part of. You're not only the first one to turn against that band you liked before everyone else, you're also the first one to be reasonable and forgive them. You're out-hipstering the hipster. But you're still playing their game.



Rodimus Prime said...

My feelings are about the same, I guess. There were some things I enjoyed about Juno (Ellen Page) and some things I didn't. But mostly for me it was that the movie was so hyped before it came out and everyone (at the time) loved it and talked about the film as if it were the absolute Next Big Thing. When I saw it I basically went "meh" at the end of the film, and so did my friend who went with me. We didn't hate it, but we didn't drink the punch either. To me it wasn't anything better than the typical smart ass teen comedy, except the protagonist is pregnant.

What gets me is that for people who honestly dislike the film, there's this "you're just being a hater" accusation you get, sometimes even when you say you thought it was okay. It's like the anticipation of the backlash that people are trying to stifle before it even happens, but they never do so they try to discount your opinion by calling you a "hater" and/or saying, "well, you just didn't GET IT."

No, I "got" it, but I still didn't like it as much as you do. As time goes on it's like there can be no dissent. Juno was enjoyable, it just wasn't the best thing since sliced bread (whatever the hell that even means).

Anonymous said...

For the record i hated the film "Empire Records", in high school as well.