I don’t think it’s truly necessary for me to inform all of you (however many people that may entail and whomever that may be, I’m not exactly sure) that I’m taking yet another hiatus, as this site has never exactly been known for frequent updates anyway. Nonetheless, I feel compelled to explain why I’m taking a break this time, as this particular absence will result in a whole new beginning whenever I choose to return from it.
I’ve simply grown tired of the current climate of discussion. I often worry that we are no longer even living in a culture of creation, but merely one of criticism and debate. We’ve grown accustomed to comment sections and user reviews to the point that we believe them to be essential components of everything that is put forth for public consumption — and make no mistake, consumption is what we are doing. Very rarely is it ever actual experience or heaven forbid appreciation; only consumption. We want easily digestible content catered to our specific interests for the primary — if not exclusive — purpose of dwelling on our own and other people’s reactions to it. There is no culture anymore, just an endless thread of retweeting, sharing, and commenting on (usually just in short, dismissive quips) everything while it’s trending and then immediately discarding it in favor of the next hashtag. We look down on personal art and scoff at the notion that an artist should even attempt to be anything beyond an objective purveyor of narrative content that can appeal to and be understood by anyone and everyone, lest it be labeled “pretentious,” “elitist,” or “self-indulgent.”
What about those of us who watch movies, listen to music, read books, and view paintings not to be able to participate in a debate surrounding them but for our own personal experience, benefit, and growth? If I were to list the movies I’ve watched recently, I have no doubt I would be called out of touch, or worse, accused of “just trying to be different.” Because that’s what happens when you actually engage with any sort of art on a personal level nowadays. A lot of people don’t even think one should use personal pronouns when writing about an experience with a film because it takes away from the objectivity of the review. We’ve bought into the idea of objectivity so much that we shame those who don’t subscribe to it. There must, we have determined, be an objective consensus reached on every single work of art — or piece of content, as it were — and those who deviate from it are either misguided or attention-seeking. Your personal experience doesn’t matter anymore. It’s the collective truth we seek. And if you’re not interested in contributing to that line of discussion, there is no place for you in this post-cultural landscape of information overload and objective analysis wherein contempt, sarcasm, and ridicule drown out those ideals of sincerity and personal insight that we have deemed irrelevant. After all, those things don’t lend themselves very well to retweets and comments.
Do you ever just listen to music for the sake of hearing it? Or do you only put it on as background noise while you’re working out, doing chores, or driving? Even then, are you among the growing number of people liable to say “I really only listen to podcasts” when the subject of music comes up? Because you’ve lost the ability to appreciate anything that might be called abstract, including the now apparently archaic values of art, beauty, and poetry and can only process things through what other people say about them? We’re in a world of nonstop discussion and debate, and we have little use for that which operates under more ethereal conditions subject to personal experience and emotional or spiritual rather than intellectual interpretation. A scene in a movie that doesn’t serve solely to advance the plot will be criticized as pointless, because we cannot see or feel anything that isn’t dragging us along with forward momentum. “What does it mean?” we will ask when we encounter something that exists independently of the cerebral chatter surrounding it. “Label it so I know exactly what it is and which side of the debate I should be on.”
Maybe it’s just the effect that the proliferation of social media has had on our brains and the way we communicate. I don’t know. I deleted all of my social media accounts earlier this year, and I now look back on all the years I spent logging onto those platforms and frankly feel as though I’ve escaped a cult. Where are beauty, appreciation, connection, and experience? Replaced by talking, talking, talking. Never reflection, just talking over ourselves and each other until we become numbers on a screen that do nothing but bolster the consensus we seek so dearly and the trends we chase so desperately. We feel we must not only have but express an opinion — or “take,” as we call it now — on every single thing, for to be excluded from any discussion or debate renders one weightless upon the fulcrum of the collective consciousness to which many of us have all too eagerly surrendered ourselves to be taken by the current of digital connectivity and social media influence.
I often have difficulty speaking to people in person. The words form in my mind, but they don’t reach my tongue. I’ve been diagnosed with social anxiety disorder, which is the medical explanation for this difficulty. But I also think that, on another level, I’m just not fluent in the language of everyday life, which is the language used for all these discussions and debates. My mind operates on some abstract plain, and while this makes it hard to relate to very many people or participate in things most would refer to as normal, I have grown to count it as a blessing in some respects. I’ve always felt an intensely personal connection to music, films, books, paintings, and other art forms, like the language they employed was the language I was truly learning. I was always a wallflower in social situations, occasionally acknowledged but rarely included in a meaningful way. I used to feel ignored and would wonder why my voice never seemed to be heard. I had and still have recurring dreams of being unable to speak; the energy in my body is trying to let out a primal scream, but nothing comes out, and the people in my dreams just go about what they’re doing while I become increasingly panicked by my inability to communicate with them, and then I wake up in an anxious sweat. People never seemed to speak directly to me, but rather almost through me, and likewise that’s how speaking to them often made me feel.
But when I sat in my bedroom alone on countless nights listening to music, the sounds resonated throughout my entire body and mind, and I just got it. I always knew that that was my fluent language. The great artists who made that music were the ones actually speaking to me, the ones I was hearing, and eventually through my own music, the ones I felt I could in my own way communicate with. After all, what is art if not a heightened, more abstract form of communication? A language, for all intents and purposes. Through literature, cinema, music, poetry, painting, photography, and all the other assorted artistic interests I’ve developed over the course of my life, I could hear and be heard in a way that I just couldn’t in normal, everyday conversation. And to witness these two different planes of communication be brought together under the assumption — nay, demand — that one can explain the other, to me, is sacrilege. It’s using the profane to demystify the sacred, because most people are not attuned to the sacred and therefore do not know how to engage with it other than through reductive memes, smug witticisms, and self-satisfied analyses that are presented as objective truths for the reason that they do not truly understand what it’s like to have a subjective experience with art. For if they did, they would know that is actually the highest function of art, and that cannot be objectified, commodified, or analyzed in a way that would garner clicks, views, subscribes, likes, retweets, or replies. They don’t realize that, to some, art is not just an object of debate and discussion, but a language, and beyond that, a form of prayer.
Does this mean that I reject any and all discussion of art, movies included (which, yes, I firmly believe movies are art, not just commercial products or content to be curated to the predictable desires of hive-minded fandoms)? Of course not. I’ve been writing about movies for long enough now that it would be very odd indeed if I were to suddenly take such a sharp left turn in this endeavor that it resulted in me renouncing it altogether. But the value I see in writing about movies is merely in sharing my own experiences with them and hoping that others either relate to what I’m saying and are inspired to share their own experiences. I despise the notion that any writer on the subject of film (or any other art form) should assume an authoritative stance or aim solely to espouse cold, hard data and “objective” criticism. And not to be hypocritical, if that’s the type of discussion that interests you, have at it. I won’t stop you. I’m simply taking a hiatus so I can reassess how to go about communicating my own particular moviewatching experiences so that it reaches the people I’m actually trying to reach. The ones who don’t give any thought to what movies are winning awards, placing on top ten lists, breaking box office records, or trending on Twitter. The ones who will sometimes just watch a movie alone, allow themselves to be affected by it in a profound way, and not immediately feel the need to rush to social media to debate it with others. The ones for whom cinema is a personal, not just social, interest. If you’ve ever watched a movie alone in your bedroom at an ungodly hour of the night with your full attention fixated on it, not live tweeting your quippy knee-jerk reactions or jotting down notes for some cerebral review of it you plan on writing, and then just sat there in deep, contemplative silence after it was over, having been not just mentally engaged with it but physically and even spiritually in tune to its magic (because movies are magic), then you’re the person I do this for. I don’t care about connections or networking that will get me more exposure or subscribers. This isn’t a game for me. It’s not a job. It’s not a debate I’m trying to win or a point I’m trying to prove. To me, this is purely personal. In a way that I suspect a lot of people don’t see any value in or even understand the purpose of. But I know other people are out there who feel this way too. I know other people speak this language. Maybe there aren’t very many, but I know you exist, and I’m speaking to you and you alone.
I want to create my own art while also taking the time to celebrate the art of others who have moved me, affected me, influenced me, and inspired me. That’s all. And I need to take a break while I figure out how I’m going to continue doing that going forward, because I’ve realized that in order to remain true to my convictions and stay focused on my intentions without being sidetracked by all the bullshit that inevitably piles up around blogs and podcasts, I may need to make some changes. Maybe they’ll be changes to the format, the platforms, or even just the type of material I’m publishing, but the bottom line is I don’t think I’m communicating what I want to say in quite the way I want to be communicating it. Not yet, at least. I will return. I’m not finished. I’m just burned out and in need of a cooldown so I can regain some clarity. But I won’t stop, because I can’t stop. This is the language I know, and I don’t think I’ll ever become fluent in that other one. Nor would I even want to be.