Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Why Do We Attempt To Steal Other People's Joy?

I think when I began thinking about this it started as a bit of a rant, but after pondering it for a long time I thought it might be better served as a discussion-type post instead. Oh, and just so we are clear I am no stranger to what I am about to talk about others doing.

Why are you trying to steal my joy?

People, in the Internet Age especially, love to steal other people’s joy, or at least attempt to. It’s a phenomenon that I was kind of oblivious to until quite recently. I think it was when I was commenting over at some innocuous movie news site or another when I realized it. A second hit of realization came when my GF wanted to go see the latest TWILIGHT film and I not only chided her for it but also attempted to dissuade her. We love to crap on things we personally don’t love. I’ve come to realize it’s in our knee jerk nature to do so. Now, it is quite all right and even healthy to have a discerning eye or ear, but it’s when we decide to berate others for the things they enjoy it starts to become, unwanted.

This goes one further with people who purposely go into/onto a topic about a subject/thing they clearly hated JUST so they can tromp around and shout about how awful it is. It’s taken me some time and I actually came the realization in a lot of cases by virtue of ME being the one bullying about my dislike of a topic. One instance I recall was last year when a co-worker talked about how much she loved the TWILIGHT books, and I told her how poorly written they were and how awful the stories were and how they portray the characters in a really bad light.

Her answer to me was “But it’s the only book series I’ve ever read with such a passion.”

I stepped back. Out of myself. And I had a good long look at what I was doing. I was telling this girl that her “joy” was no good. I was telling her that her judgment must be flawed in what she chose to entertain herself with.

In short, I was no better than those sporty guys in grade school who made fun of me and beat me up for being into fantasy books and having a fertile imagination.

I felt awful.

How dare I stand there and attempt to steal her joy by telling her it was not worthy of her admiration? Who the hell am I to make that call on her part? How on earth had I come to this?

So, I’ve been spending the last few months trying to curb this behavior in myself. When someone says they like Justin Beiber or Nickelback songs, though I don’t personally enjoy their music, I am doing my best not only to not say anything against them, but to also not judge their choices in my mind. My personal mantra has become “Don’t steal their joy. It’s THEIR joy, not mine”

As humans we can wax philosophical all day long about how this music is better than that music, or that this book series is better than that one, or any number of pop culture battles which people, especially on the Internet, wage on a daily basis. The problem is that the world, in all its amazing diversity, is totally, unequivocally SUBJECTIVE. There are people out there who think that the new Nolan Batman movies suck. There aren’t many of them, but they are out there. Their opinion is no better or worse than yours or mine, it’s just different. Everyone can’t like everything. But I get the feeling that the reason I see SO MANY people on forums and comment streams arguing inanities like this is because they want to force others to like what they like. Again, I’m utterly and completely guilty of this myself. I’ve done it time and time again and every time when I look back over it my mantra pops into my head. Why am I trying to steal their joy? How will that serve me?

Short answer. It won’t.

If someone hates a book or a film, no amount of discussion from me about the good merits of said book or film is will EVER sway them into my camp.


In fact, when was the last time you argued with someone online (or in person) about a topic they hate and you love and they heard all you had to say and changed their minds? ‘Round about never? Yeah. So why do we do it? Are we starved to debate those finer points of the topic even at the expense of unhelpfully slamming it? It seems counter-productive to do so doesn’t it?

A recent version of this is the film PROMETHEUS, which I totally enjoyed, but a lot of others take issue with. I see a comment stream on a post about some aspect or another about it and out come the trolls. Probably 80% of people commenting are doing so solely to make unhelpful comments like “Just as long as Ridley’s next movie isn’t crap and people don’t make stupid decisions in the script”. I sat back and wondered just who that comment served aside from the commenter being able to spit that vitriol. It doesn’t serve those who enjoy the film, it doesn’t even really serve those who didn’t like it, in any productive way anyways, and it certainly didn’t serve the post itself. So it was selfish on that commenter’s part, but I fail to see how him/her commenting in such a way even helps them. You didn’t like the film. Great. Move onto something you DO enjoy? It just seems SO counter-productive to dwell on that level. You’re not reviewing it and setting out what worked and what didn’t. It’s as if you stood up in the theatre after the film ended and began to shout out random nasty comments to all the strangers who saw the film as well. You’d be committed, or at least everyone would think you were a nutter. This type of thing is not like when we were younger (before the advent of the Internet) and you would go to Burger King after a movie and talk amongst your small group of friends about either liking or not liking the film and for what reasons. This is something wholly more self-involved on the commenter’s part. Only, it makes little to no sense. Jo Blo in Arizona doesn’t (at the end of the day) care one little bit about how much I loved a film he hated. Nothing changed in either his life or mine for arguing such a thing. Tomorrow is STILL Thursday and I STILL have to go to work, and I STILL liked PROMETHEUS. The variable that changed in that equation is that I had five minutes of added stress where I argued about this with said random stranger about it. Now let’s be realistic and multiply that one random stranger to a multitude of commenters, and multiply that little moment of stress to a multitude of argumentative moments of stress (recognized or not; AKA those people who tell others to “calm down” in such a topic are still experiencing stress, not matter how much they try to fool themselves otherwise). What do you end up with? Probably the biggest waste of time you will ever account for in your life and added stress you could definitely do without.

SIDENOTE: On the flipside I was a part of a very long and fruitful discussion about the film at a forum and it was filled with intelligent points about the merits or lack thereof within PROMETHEUS. THAT discussion served an informational debate-like purpose and I had no issue with that.

I’ll even give you a quick recent life example. When I was attending TIFF this year I saw the Wachowski’s and Tom Tykwer’s adaptation of CLOUD ATLAS. It’s a film I loved and also one that I know is going to decidedly split the audiences down the middle between like and dislike. It’s unavoidably that kind of film. After the 3-hour film screening I heard the guy behind me say to his girlfriend “Well, THAT was 3 hours too long.” He clearly disliked it…a lot. But all I kept thinking in my head was how blissful it was that I didn’t have to contest it. I didn’t have to go home and read his snide comments about the film he hated. I’d heard it, and we left the theatre. I forgot about him moments later. I only recall it to you here to prove a point. I liked the film. He didn’t. For that small moment afterwards, and because of our seats proximity to one another, I heard his dislike. But it ended there. I didn’t have to read about it, or hear others chime in and pile on. It was said into the ether and is not recorded for all time on an Internet site to be argued over. It happened, but it is gone and caused no one any stress whatsoever.

You see there is a big difference between those little discussions in Burger King after a film, or when Chris and I talk/argue about DOCTOR WHO over a pint, and the monstrous mass of semi-anonymous commenting that is done every day in every corner of the internet. One is time well spent within your own vein of influence, and the other is an utter and complete waste of time.

There is also a HUGE difference between what constitutes a healthy discussion and what constitutes blatant, outright trollery (something more people are guilty of than probably want to admit/accept) for the sake of the vitriol involved. It’s all well and good to discuss the finer opposing points of a book, film, TV show or the like with people. Even with large masses of people on the Internet…but when it devolves into shouting past one another it’s time to call it quits and realize what you’ve just spent an hour typing about. It’s time to start having a gander at just what it is you typed and whether or not your goal was (even unbeknownst to you) stealing someone’s joy.

It’s so prevalent on the Internet that I feel we are breeding entire generations for whom a large portion of their daily life consists of talking down other people’s joy. It’s part of the reason that I usually attempt to take such an objective and balanced stance when I review a book or TV show or a film. I really don’t want to be negative for negativity’s sake, or positive for positivity’s sake either. I want to be balanced because what I read and watch is certainly not going to be for everyone.

So when people tell you that they like TWILIGHT or 50 SHADES OF GRAY, or that they like to watch GLEE, or that their favourite movie is ISHTAR, try not to judge them. Try not to tell them how much those things suck. You could even try not to go on and on about why it sucks to them when they clearly love it. Just nod your head, acknowledge that they have their own joy, and though you didn’t much care for it, they are welcome to it.

For me though, I am really going to try not to purposely attempt to steal others joy.

So, the next time you see a movie where the review is good, but you hated the film…don’t go in the comment section and gut the film a new one or attack others for liking it. If you have something of worth to mention about it then do so, but if not then just move on and find something else to see, read or do with your day. It will be time better spent.


  1. Yes. This.

    this kind of thing doesn't just happen online, but the things we say online to an anonymous person (while we hide behind a screen name), would we EVER say those things to someone's face? to be blunt, the internet is a safe place for people to be trolls, to be assholes. and it's so much easier to be a jerk to someone face to face after we've spent the weekend being an anonymous jerk online.

    I'm just as guilty of being judgemental, of stealing people's joy. I told a complete stranger she was stupid for enjoying 50 Shades. I tease all my twi-hard friends about their silly love for Edward. But to them, none of this is silly.

    I do not think most humans are naturally kind, non-judgemental people. and the anonymity of the internet often brings out the worst in us.

  2. Thank you. I feel like I've been shouting in the dark on this issue.
    I think people often mistake "snark" for cruelty.

    I've met two people who read more than they did before because of the popularity of Twilight. The first was an experience like yours, this was -well-- a dude! He really liked the "sweet love story" and knew that I liked all that unicorns and stuff and recommended it to me. I thought that was so cool it made me cry. We went on to Harry Potter and Hunger Games and Dresden Files.

    The other was a woman at the Literacy office who walked into that office to learn how to read soley for Twilight. Again with the crying.

    People learning to read or to make reading part of their life because of Twilight? Yeah, I'll take it.

  3. Hey, thanks for the responses folks. Much obliged. I don't often post this kind of thing here, but it had been rattling around my brain for too long and wanted out. Nice to know I'm not completely off base. :)

  4. This post made me think of all those scifi movies (Pitch Black, Ultra Violet, Aeon Flux, etc) that my husband finds questionable but I keep coming back to a few times a year.

    Just like he has fantasy football, which i don't get at all.

    But we have learned not to steal each other's joy over these things.

    Excellent post.

  5. This is so spot-on. I stopped being actively engaged in Goodreads because of how mean people can be there - and when I look at other places on the internet, I realise it's considered normal internet behaviour. Personally, I'll be hard on a book, say, but I make a conscious effort to never think less of someone for liking something I thought was crap. Occasionally it's hard, but I believe I can teach myself not to judge - it helps when I enjoy a book that other people, lots of them, think are crap. Like, I loved the Twilight series, and I really enjoyed the Fifty Shades trilogy (in a total popcorn-cheesy-gleeful way; yes the writing was bad). So instead of dissing other people for enjoying things, I listen to the reasons why they enjoyed it, and try to see it through their eyes. Helps you realise that it really is entirely subjective, at the end of the day.

    I remember once, when I was at uni, I started deconstructing Buffy to my best friend - a show I've never liked - and my friend had to tell me to shut up because I was ruining it for her. I thought at the time, but you can analyse something AND enjoy it at the same time, can't you? And maybe that's mostly true for me, but I don't think it's true for everyone. We really can spoil people's enjoyment in things. Not change their mind, but make them feel crappy. It's a new kind of bullying really, isn't it.

    p.s. the word verification on the comment form is impossible! It wasn't even in focus! Going for my second try...

  6. How odd Billy Goat Gruff, so far no trolls under the post.

    Very nice article. Do more.



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