Monday, August 10, 2009

Hippos on Holiday

My family likes to go to the movie theater because we turn our cell phones off (well, Ron at least turns his on "vibrate") and get really immersed in the big screen in the dark. But aside from Harry Potter, there haven't been many movies we wanted to see this summer. We're mostly staying home with our Netflix movies and TV on DVD (we finished the seventh season of Scrubs and started in on the third season of Eureka). But it's just not the same as going to the theater. Last night I passed up watching an episode of The Office, which I've found I don't much like, in favor of reading a mystery I'm enjoying very much and will tell you about later this week (The Language of Bees). There's a certain implied snobbism in choosing a book over a tv show, but I think it's a bit subverted when the book is just a mystery novel--which is why I like this poem by Billy Collins:

Hippos on Holiday

is not really the title of a movie
but if it was I would be sure to see it.
I love their short legs and big heads,
the whole hippo look.
Hundreds of them would frolic
in the mud of a wide, slow-moving river,
and I would eat my popcorn
in the dark of a neighborhood theater.
When they opened their enormous mouths
lined with big stubby teeth
I would drink my enormous Coke.

I would be both in my seat
and in the water playing with the hippos,
which is the way it is
with a truly great movie.
Only a mean-spirited reviewer
would ask on holiday from what?

You know, as a reviewer I think it's important to make some distinctions between good and bad. If you pick a movie--or a book--thinking it's going to be good, and you find that it's bad, you should say so. But I do think that some of the most recent furor over "honest" reviews as opposed to "positive" reviews can be boiled down to mean-spiritedness.

What is mean-spiritedness? It's being snotty. It's intimating that because you've noticed stuff in a book or movie that other people haven't, you must be more intelligent. It's doing all the stuff that your least favorite English teacher tried to do to you.

What happens if you bend over backwards to avoid mean-spiritedness? You sound wishy-washy and insipid, as if you like everything because you're incapable of making distinctions.

If you want to enjoy movies, or reading, or even blogging, I think it's a good idea to try to like them on their own terms. If you can't get any enjoyment out of them even when you've really, really tried, then say so. But don't go into a hippo movie with your face all scrunched up ready to be bored, expecting validation for your self-fulfilling prophecy. And don't be so cool and laid-back that you can't express any enthusiasm when you find it's a really good hippo movie.

Have you been able to immerse yourself in a book or movie this summer--been able to drink that enormous coke down with great pleasure and no thought for the morrow?


Amanda said...

All I can say is that I'm so glad I haven't had to deal with any nastiness on my blog. I'm sure it'll come at some point, but right now I'm okay.

farmlanebooks said...

I noticed that 'snottiness' was a big cause of debate on my blog. There were a lot of people having a go at me for not having the intelligence/patience to understand what the author was trying to achieve in writing the book.

I'm quite laid back, so will ignore the snottiness and try to find a good hippo movie to watch!

Nymeth said...

I love the poem. I think a balance is possible - saying so when something is just not your cup of tea without sounding like your least favourite English teacher. And I'd say that most of my favourite blogs have reached it.

Lori L said...

It's impossible for everyone to like the same books. If anyone doesn't like a book and can express even one reason why, then so be it. It's their opinion on their blog. If any of us don't agree with the review there's always a nice way to express ourselves or, better yet if we can't be polite, keep our mouths shut!

I've had one person attack me on my blog over, of all things, a personal post on my memories, LOL! I commented back to her and then deleted the whole mess after she commented again. She did it anonymously, but I knew who it was from my stat counter and I let her know that fact. If you don't like someones blog, then just don't read it, you know?

FreshHell said...

I think mean-spirited reviews say more about the reviewer than the book reviewed and when I read them, I discount them immediately. Sometimes they make me want to read the book out of spite.

I love books AND TV and always have a book to read during commercials. I finished two books last week at the beach and am more than half-way through another. The perfect vacation for me is reading undisturbed all day and then watching something great on tv (or a movie in a theatre) at night.

CSchu said...

I've read several books this summer that have just made me smile and chuckle. None of them have been great literature, but all of them have been good for my general state of mind. And that sounds pretty good to me!

Dreamybee said...

LOL-I love the idea of a good hippo movie!

Speaking of disagreements about reviews, I can't believe you don't like The Office! ;) I LOVE The Office-it's one of those shows that I don't understand how other people can not like it-it makes me giggle. I think part of it is because I swear used to work for Michael and Dwight, only my Michael didn't have as many redeeming values and my Dwight was more socially inept.

"...don't go into a hippo movie with your face all scrunched up..."-I think that's excellent advice!

Jeanne said...

Lori, I like it when people disagree with me (as long as they're civil), and think that a little more debate in the comments of book blogs might be a good thing. But I agree with Nymeth that readers gravitate towards people who read in a similar way.
Dreamybee, the comments at Hey, Lady talked about the frustration of someone not liking something you really like. If it's any consolation, it's mostly that I find The Office a little painful because the boss is so clueless. I don't properly appreciate slapstick (The Three Stooges) either.
And Freshhell, I'm with you all the way!