After a recent episode of The Incomparable which addresses my favorite 12 hours of motion-picture content ever made, I was annoyed. During the initial moments of the show, all of the hosts—including those who had seen the movies multiple times both in and out of theaters—were making jokes and complaining about a series that I enjoy every time I decide to sit down with it again.
To me, Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is like returning to one’s hometown on the very best of days. The river sparkles and the hills are green, Gandalf is delightfully curmudgeonly or distant (depending on his color affix), and for one disc or two, or six, I can close the door and immerse myself in Middle Earth.
But this post isn’t about The Lord of the Rings. It’s about those commentators on the podcast or the internet at large. Criticizing content is their job, but something about this episode rubbed me the wrong way. Later, I came across a tweet by Andy Ihnatko that seemed almost tailor-made to my frustration with his (and the others’) comments.
You’ll find the phrase “I am not here to validate your personal decisions or prejudices” in my column’s TOS.
And it’s true. Pundits should support any view they might have, not just the opinion that their audience already has. If that were the case, there is little more benefit to listening than simply to hear one’s own thoughts echoed by a person with a bigger microphone. In addition, I’d speculate that most of Ihnatko’s audience—and it seems as though I’m picking on Andy when the same logic can be applied to any media personality internet or otherwise—thinks of themselves as open-minded, thoughtful individuals.
So why the irritation and oftentimes outright anger? I think that the answer is in the medium. On the internet, with blogs, podcasts, and (to a lesser degree) recurring columns, the audience forges a bond with the content creator. Though we are often physically distant from our favorite podcasters and the like, listeners spend their commutes (sometimes every day) listening to casual conversations that make the personalities coming through the speakers seem like friends. Now, I do not mean to imply that a podcaster is an actual friend or would even be considered so, but that the casual “friendly” conversation brings about a similar feeling.
In addition to the closeness of audience to content creator, podcasts are often meticulously filtered to produce “channels” more aligned with one’s own beliefs and preferences. For instance, I became a fan of Ihnatko’s because he seemed to really get Apple at a time when the real world around me scoffed at the company for everything except the iPod. When his opinions began to be (ever so slightly) critical of Apple, I found myself annoyed, wishing I could refute his (well-considered and completely reasonable) arguments. This was no longer a voice who aligned with me, but there it was in my carefully selected list of content.
It felt like a betrayal (It wasn’t. Andy has every right to express his likes and dislikes, and it would be foolish to suggest otherwise, though that’s exactly what enraged audiences do). It is this feeling though, that I think causes so much backlash when a pundit drifts from his or her usual stance on a subject. The answer, of course, is to either continue listening despite the fact that the selected content no longer perfectly aligns with your worldview, or to seek out another voice among the thousands of available content sources.
But audiences don’t want to do that. They already have. That’s why they chose The Incomparable, or Mac Break Weekly, or The Talk Show in the first place. They liked it that way, allowed those voices into their cars and their breakfast nooks and their earbuds. Audiences can’t move on but don’t agree with the new viewpoint, and so they lash out in the comments, in the tweets, in the emails.
Why can’t things just be the way they used to be?
Because, “The road goes ever on and on…and I must follow if I can.”