Thinky Post: The Right of a Viewer to Choose What Entertainment They Deem Valuable to Them

Thank you to the anonymous person who requested this post! Talking about the value of movies that simply make you happy, versus the “films” that are intellectual and teach you things.

A few weeks back I was stuck in a really bad phase of Seasonal Affective Disorder depression. And one of the things I found most useful was meditating. It wasn’t attacking the root problem, but it was giving me a 5 minute respite from being frustrated and miserable which gave me the strength to deal with problems. 5 minutes of respite, and then I could cook healthy food, go for a long walk, clean the house, all those useful things.

That is the value of entertainment. Marx called religion the “opiate of the masses” and in modern times, it has often been translated to television or movies as the “opiate” of the masses. But let’s look at that a little more.

Opium is an addictive drug, but opiates are also medicine when used in moderation and appropriately. My Dad’s dad and my Mom’s Mom both struggled with this. They both had terrible pain in the last few years of their life, pain that couldn’t be treated, that was just part of aging. Their doctor’s prescribed them pain management pills, opioids, and they both resisted. They waited until the last minute and took as little as possible. Which was BAD!!! Not just because they felt more pain, but because it weakened them overall and made other medical issues harder. When your body is fighting pain, you are too tired to do your physical therapy, or eat your meals, or all those other things you need to do.

Entertainment can be an opioid, I’m not gonna argue against that. Heck, I’m using it that way right now. I am trying to get through post-COVID fatigue which means I need to just sit in one place and let my body heal itself. I need “opioids”, I need something addictive and compulsive to keep me in one place and let the time go by. So I am watching bad true crime TV shows, and Star Trek, brainless BBC detective shows (Death in Paradise is soooooooooooooo dumb). And I am fighting the part of my brain that is telling me I should be watching Dasvi, or the new high quality HBO documentary on spousal abuse, or anything that isn’t trash.

If some entertainment is “opioids”, then I suppose other entertainment would be considered stimulants. If I watch Dasvi, my mind is going to process it as a stimulant, it’s going to make me want to write a review, to do research, to be productive in the world. That’s a good thing, normally, but today in particular I need to be resting and relaxing, so it is a time to prescribe myself “opioids” instead of “stimulants”.

If we are using a drug metaphor, let’s go all the way and talk about uppers and downers. They are both drugs, but they have opposite effects. One gives you more energy, one calms you down. Media is the same, it can calm you or energize you. And BOTH are valid uses, so long as they are used properly.

Watching this scene 500 times in a row on repeat doesn’t inspire you to do much of anything, but it gives you a little calm happy oasis in your life

I think what is missing when there is a debate between entertainment versus value is that it depends on the needs of the viewer, not on some abstract universal answer. And no one can answer that for you. If a reviewer says “no one should watch a dumb worthless movie like RRR”, or alternatively “the makers of RRR are flawed because they didn’t use their platform to address big issues”, they are making a judgement as to what people need without giving agency to the audience.

Maybe that’s why the people who make these arguments tend of be upper class men? They are used to making arguments as to what is “good” for everyone else. That same instinct that allows this community to control women’s bodies, to want to police welfare recipients to make sure they “deserve” money, to think they have the right to decide who should marry each other, or what jobs people should have, also allows them to decide what media people should watch.

I’m generalizing here, the examples I gave above come from all sides of the political arena. But that’s the point, no matter what side you are on, there is a confidence that you know best which is the birthright of upper class men from every side. You can tell people what they should be eating, what they should be thinking, and what they should be reading and watching.

There’s a corollary to this, the upperclass woman who thinks she knows best for all women. It’s a major issue within feminist theory, again present in all cultures, the “women’s issues” tend to be issues that are problems for only the most upperclass women, and the solutions offered would only work for that group as well. And again, we see it in film reviewing. There are male reviewers who say “everyone should be watching movies like this/making movies like this because it is better for you”. And there are female reviewers who say “the kind of movies women want to watch are these, and if you don’t want to watch them, you are wrong”. But again, they are assuming they know everything about your life and your needs, and they don’t. Because the only person who knows that is you.

So when a reviewer says that Raabta is fantastical trash, or we should all be watching Gangs of Wasseypur, they don’t know my life. You can say that Raabta is a fantasy, but still allow the audience to determine if they need a fantasy right now and not judge their choice. You can say Gangs of Wasseypur is complicated and challenging without judging whether someone is in need of a complicated challenge right now.

And now I will go back to watching my relaxing trash because it is what I need right now in my complicated life that is full of many aspects beyond what media I consume.

18 thoughts on “Thinky Post: The Right of a Viewer to Choose What Entertainment They Deem Valuable to Them

  1. Thank you so much for this post, I recommended the suggestion but it really means a lot that my thoughts were able to find expression through your own writing. I loved your point about upper class people trying to control peoples lives, that’s how I often feel about magazines too. Case in point , alias wedding is being celebrated as a movement to make weddings more intimate however some people want big weddings and some want small ones, why should we try to dictate peoples choices? Or even in movies, why do women have to like big action /gangster films and men can continue to look down on romance films. Why do we inherently assume that one is more superior to another and the person who watches romance is considered dumb? It just feels almost controlling that you have to hide your desires due to some weird social conduct made by the upper class.

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    • Yes! It’s about freedom of choice. People shouldn’t feel the need to have a big wedding but, just as important, they shouldn’t feel the need to have a small wedding just because it is supposed to be “better”.

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  2. Thanks for the thinky post, Im amazed you had the mental capacity one thing I’ve learned from the rona is that thinking uses a lot of energy. Maybe thats why I get so cross about the value judgements on all kinds of media consumption. For a start I’m almost always deeply uninterested
    in the thoughts and self-expression of cl
    ever young men, which cuts out a whole swath of highbrow stuff. Same with the reflections of educated whites females who dont seem to have been out much. I’m wondering if there’s an economy of spare attention – people working hard or struggling in life just dont have as much as someone who has never ever worried about money. It may be worse over here in Britland, but theres a huge amount of classism at the rrots of it. Also, dont even get me started on the tonnage of second-rate ‘intellectual’ stuff that gets put out there, without inspiring mass bonfires, I dont know why that is meant to be O
    K, whil reading romance or manga isnt. Ha. I cant see what I’ve written, hope its not too burbly, l have strong feelings on this. And am relaxing my rona-riddled brain reading an interminable wuxia story, rather sexist, ut has Sky-Bumping Eleohants and such in it. One of the reasons I love this blog is that everyone has robust views of their own. Thats me done for the day, back in bed, ready for Radio 3 evening concert. Xx

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    • I’m impressed you had the energy to read this post and comment on it!

      But yes, the tendency to judge value of media content of any sort based on what upperclass men like is so FRUSTRATING. And even beyond that, to judge what is the “right” way to use content, versus the “wrong” way.

      On Sat, Apr 16, 2022 at 3:24 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. `
    Although, is everything situational? I think that there can be movies/art/literature that is so bad (“evil” ??) that a “but that’s what I like” view doesn’t hold up. I’m not advocating censorship, but I do think there are times when a critic can legitimately say, “This should never have been made” or “No one should watch this.”

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    • I think it’s about judging something on the basis of what it set out to do, rather than what you want it to do. One non-Indian example in this category that I find frustrating is Hamilton getting criticized for not telling a different kind of history, when that’s not what it set out to do. This was also the difference in opinion about Kabir Singh. If you read it as a hero narrative then it’s an ode to toxic masculinity and no one should watch it. If you read it as the story of two flawed characters, one of whom sinks into dissipation and climbs out again, then it’s a challenging but interesting film. It comes down to what you believe about what it set out to do.

      Judging commercial movies or books or music is harder because their merit is not necessarily artistic excellence but rather how entertaining they are, and entertainment value is subjective.

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  4. I have *so many* thoughts on this topic, but they’re really just the same point over and over; the value of any piece of art is in what it gives to the person doing the valuing, and any other measure is either interesting discussion fodder or something to be laughed at.

    I read (and write) smutty vampire romance fanfiction, and I will defend it to the death as being equally as valuable as any other genre in the library. To me it’s more valuable, because it’s where I turn for the best feels, and comfort reading, and certain types of connection, and a million other things. But if someone else declares murder mystery novels the best thing ever, they’re right too. Either they find the same things in those as I get from fanfic, or they find something else that they value more, and neither of us is wrong, just different people with different tastes wanting different things at that moment.

    And someone snuggling up with a light comfort novel vs sitting down to study a huge non-fiction book are completely different things with completely different objectives, neither of which is more important than the other. Reviewers miss the point completely when they try to judge the subjective ‘worthiness’ of something that’s main purpose is to fill a basic human need to immerse yourself in a story and experience the feelings in it, or to just relax and be entertained. If it achieves that for someone, it has value. And anything that helps someone relax and be entertained when they need it is incredibly valuable. Storytelling was never invented to be a strictly judged competition.

    Whoops, apparently you hit on my most rant-able topic πŸ˜…

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    • Oh! Is that Spike? I’ve been studying your avatar thinking “that looks like Spike” and then thinking “nooooooooooooo, what are the odds of a Spike fan also being on my blog?”

      And yes, any entertainment anyone finds relaxing and improving to their lives has value. Although there is still a purpose to reviewers, to say “if you like this kind of thing, you will like this item”. But they shouldn’t say “don’t like htis kind of thing at all”.

      On Sat, Apr 16, 2022 at 11:10 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Spike, yes it is! And the odds should be way in favour, because obviously loving Buffy and loving Bollywood go hand in hand as having the most excellent taste 😊

        Really though, there’s some great parallels between fanfiction culture and ‘typical’ Hindi films that make me surprised there’s not far more crossover. The attitude of joyously, unashamedly just giving the audience what they want, for starters. Or maybe it’s more, knowing what the audience has come for and throwing their all into providing that, instead of trying to convince them they should want something else.
        (Also I really wish there was more crossover of fans so I could find more fic to read. The complete dearth of fic for certain films I love is sadness πŸ˜”)

        Reviewers should have to sum things up with AO3-style tags after giving their opinion. “Angst with a happy ending, reincarnation, what even was happening in that bit with the parrot, but kids will enjoy it, gorgeous sets, two rain scenes, Johnny Lever being Johnny Lever, friends to lovers, mutual pining.”

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        • Back in the early 2000s when I first got into the movies, there was a flourishing crossover fandom. Lots of combined fanvids that mixed up Twilight and DDLJ or whatever. But that’s died down a lot, I think the toxicity of fandom for traditional Indian films has driven away the fanfic community. It’s frustrating, because it is a media that is so ripe for fanfic! I mean, I’ve written loads of it myself.

          On Sun, Apr 17, 2022 at 5:28 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • Your fanfics are the best πŸ’˜ They’re what brought me here. I just want more more more, but without having to write myself πŸ˜…

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  5. Margaret, your opioids obviously didn’t work, for you to be able to put together such a thoughtful post.

    I feel like that’s very much at the core of our community here, being able to value entertainment and “take it seriously”.

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  6. Dude I love this and how you’ve nicely summarized the opioids and stimulants… I think this split works for novels too, which is why my Austens are so well-worn.

    I also think that if you’re going through a low phase, physically, mentally or emotionally… Thinking about the low phase further, makes it worse. Like, there’s pain and then there’s PAIN from thinking about it, and it happens to all of us. So the “opioids” actually help to relieve both sorts of pain!

    Here’s to many many happy”opioids” as you recover, for being able to rely on them guiltfree and for needing fewer and fewer as you get to feeling better than ever before.

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    • Yes! There are studies all the time about how actual real pain relief can be achieved by imagination. Especially in children, if you tell them to picture the pain floating away, or tell them a story, or anything like that, their pain receptors become less powerful. And if that can help with a little kids broken leg, why isn’t it a legitimate treatment for an adult’s emotional pain?

      On Mon, Apr 18, 2022 at 4:49 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  7. I remember when I was going to watch love aaj kal 2, my junior colleague started judging me, saying if it’s the only movie there to watch…..I m like have you seen it? She said no. That is the problem, it’s the peer fashion ..you know…herd mentality…someone says it’s bad ….so the same goes everywhere. How can you be so judgemental to judge someone based on their choice of movies? Moreover I have read reviews and movie analysis since my childhood…I remember waiting an extra hour after college in library to read reviews from all the newspapers….and apparently the one who judged me might have never read one proper review…That’s why I always prefer going to movies alone. I hate pseudointellectual behaviour of people. When Kabir Singh came, one of my senior colleague who apparently has a history of flings despite him being married posted his own review on our WhatsApp group. Why? Because it’s in fashion to seem like a feminist….being a feminist is not one.

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