Episodes: The loud guy


Since moving to Vox, I've slowly but surely started making my way into movie screenings. It's been fun, especially as it reminds me of the early days of my TV criticism career, when I had to beg and cajole lots of networks into giving me the time of day. I'm still in the low rungs of the ladder with most studios, which means going to screenings a couple of days before opening and scrambling to file as quickly as possible.

But being lower on the ladder has also led me to realize dynamics that I, unfortunately, have perpetrated myself in the TV criticism community.

So at the end of every screening, there's a guy. (It's always, always a guy.) And he's always shouting, loudly, about what he thought. It's always, ostensibly, in the guise of a conversation with another friend, but his voice carries, and it's always clear exactly what he thought of the film. He's almost always angry about it, and he's almost always pointing out some obvious flaw we'll all touch on, if we're smart.

In and of itself, I guess, this isn't so bad. It's never the same guy, or anything, and when I know I like a movie, I can tune him out. (After seeing April and the Extraordinary World, for instance, The Guy's objections were so ridiculous to me that I barely heard them.) When I know what I like, I don't worry as much about what others like.

But it's when I'm not sure, when I'm chewing over something, that The Guy becomes harder to ignore. That's what he's trying to do, even if he doesn't know it. By shouting, he's becoming the only voice you can hear, and he's trying to crowd out opinions that might skew toward the favorable. His voice dominates the atmosphere.

(Sidebar: This probably isn't a problem for those who don't eavesdrop.)

(Sidebar to the sidebar: The Guy's voice is always louder when the movie is about a woman.)

What I've realized when hearing The Guy shouting, regardless of whether I agree with him or not, is that I've been The Guy, especially on social media, blustering about some TV show that was obviously terrible, and don't you see that? And the thing is that I thought it was all in good fun. Criticism is, on some level, about ongoing arguments and conversations among basically friendly people, even if we're not all precisely friends. Chattering back and forth is part of the fun, especially if super smart people disagree in wildly different directions.

The problem always comes from seemingly insisting upon one's opinion as the only one worth having. And it's impossible to know when you're just talking with friends and when you cross over to being The Guy, shouting about whatever, hoping that everybody else will join you, insisting upon being the loudest voice in the room.

Twitter, in particular, can make anybody into The Guy without quite realizing the tip-over has happened. At one moment, you're just sorta talking about how you don't like Vinyl all that much, and then you find yourself shouting down anybody who disagrees. The moment you crossed the line is sometimes hard to pinpoint, but you can recognize in retrospect that you did.

I'm not sure what the answer to this is. (I should just end there, huh?) But I am going to try to realize when I'm doing this and step back from the brink. It's easier said than done, but the first step is always admitting you have a problem.

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Episodes is published at least three times per week, and more if I feel like it. It is mostly about television, except when it's not. Suggest topics for future installments via email or on Twitter. Read more of my work at Vox Dot Com.