(Supercut by the magnificent David Ehrlich)
It’s Memeoriam Day once again. That day when we take a look at the tired old gags that the internet leant on throughout 2014 and lovingly, reverently, throw them into a hole and cement it shut. This year there are just two entries. That’s for two reasons, they’re two sides of the same coin and secondly because I suspect you all have a good four years of blog posts titled ‘In Which…’ in you.
I am Jack’s resigned acceptance.
Except where these two particular memes are concerned because they can screw right off. Alone they’re annoying and insincere. Together, they speak to a colossal failure at the heart of both male psychology in particular and fandom culture in general that I feel is directly responsible for some of the most horrendous damage of the last few years. The two memes in question?
‘That emotional ending was great. But I got something in my eye…’
And it’s emotional cousin:
‘If you didn’t weep at the first half hour of Up! You have NO SOUL!’
They need to go, folks. Today. Here’s why.
The ‘Something in my eye’ defense is a sword that cuts deeply and two ways every time it’s used. Firstly, if you’re a guy, every time you say that in public you’re actually saying:
‘This affected me emotionally and I’m so uncomfortable about that I’m attempting to cover it up using humour that, in turn, draws attention to the fact that I’m uncomfortable about it.’
An unwieldy sentence for an uneasy sentiment. It’s a complex one too which says three very different things at once. Firstly, that you’ve been emotionally affected by a Thing, secondly that you’re embarrassed about it and thirdly you really want to be able to admit it to a group of supportive friends but you’re frightened to. Using this isn’t a defense, because it’s a shitty defense. It’s you showing your neck to your friends and hoping they don’t bite it or point and laugh and call you a sissy girly man. Because God forbid a guy, especially a British guy, should dare to respond to anything or anyone with something other than ‘not bad’.
The purpose of art is to communicate and evoke emotion. What the art is doesn’t matter. Whether or not it’s viewed by the general public as worthwhile doesn’t matter. The only thing that does, that makes any piece of art not just worthwhile but whole is this;
Did it affect anyone?
If the answer’s yes, the artist has succeeded. If the answer’s yes, and the person it affected was you, then congratulations you’ve just had a formative experience. The bad news is it might have been painful. The good news is there are thousands more of those in your future and most of them won’t be.
Art sustains us. We complete Art. Bury that beneath waves of stiff upper lipped bullshit or nerdy over articulate pseudo analysis and we bury ourselves.
Don’t do that.
Because if you do, you’re not just hurting yourself, you’re hurting every single one of your friends who use the same defence. You’re not saying ‘You guys cried at that too, right?’, you’re saying ‘YOU cried at that, didn’t you? I DIDN’T.’ So no one blinks, no one admits it and everyone goes around being the same puffed up, chestbeating nerds who secretly just want to be real people who talk about their emotions but know they can’t trust their closest friends to be okay with that.
Business as usual.
The other side of the coin is actually more aggressive in some ways. Where the ‘Something in my eye’ defense is a heavily encoded call for acceptance, ‘If you didn’t cry at this you have no soul’ is about as direct and discriminatory a piece of language as you can get. Its saying ‘You’re responding to that wrong’, using culture and our interaction with it not as a universal constant but as a competition.
It’s not a competition. It’s never a competition. It’s like calling something a ‘guilty pleasure’ which barely escaped Memeoriam Day this year. All three of them speak to a fundamental insecurity; the fear that the things we love, or hate, or laugh at won’t be the things other people respond to.
They won’t be.
That’s the point.
We come into every form of media there is alone. We interact with it based on our previous experience and most of the time that interaction doesn’t rise above mild interest. But when it does, that teaches us not just about the art but about ourselves. We join a conversation that started with cave paintings and has gone on for as long as we’ve existed as a species. We owe it to ourselves to join that conversation honestly, and we owe it to everyone coming after us to make it easier to participate.
These memes both get in the way. They both slow down how we grow culturally. So today they both get thrown away.
Happy new year, folks. Go forth and engage.