I have weird tastes. I know it, and I don’t mind saying it. In all pop culture, it’s hard to say what I’ll like and what I won’t. Let me amend that. It’s pretty easy to know some basic things I WON’T like. In novels, I don’t like endless descriptions. If I see paragraphs and paragraphs of descriptions, my eyes glaze over, and I skip to dialogue or action. When I write, I have a hard time remembering that descriptions even exist. I’ll give a thumbnail sketch of the characters, but I rarely talk about environment. The reason is because I have a very lively imagination, and I’d rather conjure up my own pictures of the characters and the environments than read about them.
I read a lot of mysteries, and I don’t like any where the main character is a sociopath/psychopath/raging narcissist. I tried to read the Dexter series, well, the first book, anyway, and I couldn’t get into it. I’ve dealt with enough of them and really intimately in my real life that I don’t want to follow one around in a book. In addition, I find them boring, especially psychopaths. They’re mostly born that way, and there’s no known cure. When I read mysteries, I care about why people are doing things; I’m mostly in it for the psychology. If there is no there there, then I’m out.
I don’t like unearned happy endings, whether it’s in novels, movies or TV shows. Americans are obsessed with happy endings, which is one reason I prefer foreign films. Of my three favorite movies of all time, only one is American (The Station Agent), and it’s an indie movie that definitely does not have a happy ending. I can’t stand most Hollywood movies because they’re so fakey to me, especially as we demand exceedingly good-looking people in our movies. In foreign films, you see people who actually look like real people. Not in America, though. No uggos allowed! Most American movies are MOVIES to me, and I can’t lose myself in them. Actually, this is a problem I have with movies in general. When I’m reading, I can get lost in the world, but with a movie? Not so much.
While we’re talking about movies, I HATE rom-coms. Hate them like:
They reinforce every negative stereotype about men/women/heterosexual relationships that are so harmful to our society in general. A hapless, creepy dude likes a girl, maybe one he’s never even talked to, so he pursues her. She says no, so he persists. She keeps saying no, so he keeps persisting. He makes a Grand Public Gesture, and she’s won over. She realizes he’s the perfect guy for her. The end. This, my friend, is stalking. It’s not cool. It’s not romantic. It’s not fucking sexy. Cracked has written several times about how rom-coms are fucked up. You can read about it here, here, and here.
I’ve ranted several times about Love, Actually, which many women inexplicably love and watch every Christmas. I watched it because Alan Rickman (sniff, sniff) is in it and it’s British, so it has to be great, right? Wrong! It’s one of the most misogynistic piece of shit movies I’ve ever seen (the Alan Rickman/Emma Thompson storyline is the best part of it, but still contrived. It’s only saved by their terrific acting), and the fact that it’s so beloved by many women earns a massive side-eye from me.
On the other hand, I don’t like pure action movies, either, or too much gore. I mostly like dramas with exploration about the psychological makeup of the people involved and/or psychological thrillers. Or musicals. I love musicals, and I don’t mind when they break the rules I have for other movies, but only because they’re most emphatically not real to me. I can put them in the purely fantasy character, plus, music! People singing their lines forgive a lot of sins to me.
What I like in a TV series is that it’s been cancelled. I jest, but it’s mostly true. If I like a series, it’ll probably be cancelled. The other thing that happens is that I just lose interest at some point. It’s the same with websites, too. I’ll like one for a certain amount of time, and then I’ll go off it if it doesn’t change. American series go on for too long. They have the opposite problem of websites I like then drop–they change so much, they’re no longer recognizable as the thing I liked in the first place. Checking in years later to a beloved series can be depressing as oftentimes, it’s a sell of its former self.
I don’t like sit-coms in general. Humor is very specific, and the formula that drives American sit-coms does not appeal to me. Most of it is wacky hijinks and absurd situations, and it’s hard to do it with care in half-hour chunks. I’ll rattle off a bunch of popular sit-coms that leave me cold, and you all can be aghast at my lack of taste. Seinfeld. 30 Rock. Arrested Development. Sex in the City. Bob’s Burgers. The Simpsons. The exceptions to this: Archer. Early South Park. The first season of BoJack Horseman.
I will note that for movies, there are exceptions to what I like. Two of my surprise enjoyable movies are Guardians of the Galaxy and Pacific Rim. I went into them not expecting to like them, and I was pleasantly surprised when I thoroughly enjoyed them. The former because it’s a funny, sharp superhero movie in which the superhero–isn’t one. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and the team is very engaging. In the latter, it’s Kaiju v. Jaeger. It’s Idris Elba. It’s Rinko Kikuchi. What’s not to love? Oh, there’s one more movie I didn’t think I’d like, but did. The Royal Tenenbaums. I was surprised by how much I liked it, honestly.
Moving on to music. I like eighties hair metal bands, mostly for their power ballads. I like indie folk such as the Indigo Girls and Lowen and Navarro. Cyndi Lauper is a fave of mine as well. And Queen. Yes, I’m old. Deal. It gets trickier after that. I like a few songs by VNV Nation; I love Vienna Teng; I’m done with Apocalyptica (I love cellos, yo!), early P!nk, and 2CELLOS; and I like a bunch of other people/songs who are all over the map. It often comes down to someone sending me a song (usually Ian), and me either liking it or not. Social Distortion, and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds specifically come to mind.
I also like musicals, but the more modern ones rather than the older ones. Rent, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and of course, Hamilton. Movie-wise, I like Moulin Rouge, Kinky Boots, and Once (one of my three favorite movies ever). As I said earlier, I forgive more ham-fistedness in musicals than I do in movies in general because music soothes the savage beast, but five of the six musicals I’ve listed deal with social issues/real life issues to some degree. Moulin Rouge is the only exception (and you can say it kinda sorta does, tangentially), and it has Ewan McGregor, so all is forgiven.
It’s in music that I’m the closest to liking mainstream stuff. I’m very much into pop music, and I’ll sing along to the radio while I drive without a shred of self-consciousness. I like music, and it can move me, but it’s not my primary form of enjoyment when it comes to pop culture.
In novels, I like psychological thrillers, but when I’m reading literature in general, I mostly read Asian women. It’s a deliberate choice because I’ve read enough white dudes to last a lifetime. I don’t have a hard ban on them, but it’ll take a very high recommendation for me to read one these days. Is it discriminatory? Of course it is. But, we all are discriminatory in our tastes, even if we’re not always aware of it. I just recognize mine and make them with deliberation. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s Sister of My Heart. Banana Yoshimoto’s Amrita. Wendy Law Yone’s The Coffin Tree. Anchee Min’s Katherine. These are a few of my favorite novels by Asian women.
Now, let’s talk about video games. What I don’t like: RTS, well, any strategy games, really. MMOs. I don’t multi, especially not with randos. I like FPS such as Borderlands, but it’s not my first choice. I like some hack-and-slashes (Diablo III, Torchlight, Path of Exile) when I just want to chill, but I find that I don’t enjoy them as much since…you got it…Dark Souls. I tend to think of my gaming in three acts. One, when I used to play solely casual games. Two, when I first started playing hardcore games and was into hack-and-slashes (pre-Dark Souls). Three, after Dark Souls. I was just going to write I like Dark Souls and let that be the end of my video games section, but that’s the beginning, not the end.
What I’ve realized about my post-Dark Souls gaming life is that I like things that are difficult because they demand more from me, and they give more in return. It’s not the difficulty in and of itself, per se, but the immense reward you receive when you finally beat the game. Besides the Soulsborne games, I like Nuclear Throne*, Assault Android Cactus, The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, Hollow Knight*, and Cook, Serve, Delicious! (Plus the sequel, Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!!). They’re all really difficult, but that’s only part of the reason I enjoy them. For the Soulsborne games, the combat is another major part of the game. Also, the lore hidden in the item descriptions and other venues that you have to unearth. Amazing layout designs and shortcuts are added bonuses. Exploring the environments is key. Hollow Knight is similar to Souls games for these reasons.
For the others, it’s a varying combination of difficult combat, engaging characters, and in the case of CSD, massive memorization for all the different ingredients. A game I’ve enjoyed post-Souls that doesn’t fit into this niche is Her Story, which is an indie game that relies on video snippets to piece together a murder mystery. It’s an odd and interesting game, and I really should finish it. I got stuck at one point, and I couldn’t figure out a way to get past it. I think I was close to the end, too, which is a shame.
Bottom line throughout my entertainment consumption is that I prefer complex, psychological, engaging media that pushes me to think about what I’m reading/watching/listening to/playing (except music. I don’t know why this is the exception, but it is). For the most part, I want to be challenged by what I consume, and I want to be an active participant rather than a passive consumer. Game-wise, I need another game, but I’m not sure what it’ll be. Because my tastes aren’t genre-driven, it’s harder to know what I’ll like before I try it. That’s one reason I buy games on sale–if I don’t like it, then it’s not a really big deal. Barring a surprise, however, I’m waiting for Nioh to go on sale. I have a hunch I’ll really get into that game.
*I never finished these two games because they were too hard for me.