Friday, July 04, 2008

A Lesser Kind of Independence Day

This past Christmas we were doing the drive-to-relatives-we'd-just-as-soon-not-visit thing and, as it was Christmas (I usually prefer silence for better conversation), I popped in my Aaron Neville Christmas CD. Uncle Pookie remarked that he didn't really like Aaron Neville's music, that he felt as if he ought to but he didn't.

Most of us have things like that, things we think we ought to like or ought to dislike. Uncle Pookie is less prone to such notions than anyone I've ever know, but there he was saying he thought he ought to like something. Weird.

I've never been much prone to feeling I had to conform to other people's expectations for my preferences--and that used to drive my mother wild, I can tell you: "But all the girls your age like this/wear this/ think that!"--yet I have some of these "I oughta"s. Several I can think of right off the top of my head.

Like Inspector Morse. Apparently I'm supposed to like Inspector Morse. The TV shows were very popular on both sides of the pond, the books were successful, and apparently loads of people like the character. I like lots of British shows, I like mystery series, I'm not necessarily opposed to "elitist" or snobbish characters, so I ought to like Morse. Well, I don't. Morse is a jerk. I feel sorry for his sergeant, just for his having to work with him. Morse also seems a bit of a sexist, albeit in a mild, forgiveable way. Morse doesn't even seem that great of a detective to me; and if you're going to have a prickly detective, he really ought to amaze you with his detecting or intuiting skills, and Morse doesn't. I've watched some of the shows, I've listened to an audiobook and a couple of radio platlys, and I'll concede they have decent writing. But I still don't like Morse; I found him less annoying on the radio, but I didn't like him even then.

I have a stronger feeling I ought to like Lord Peter Wimsey. And I did like him pretty well in that Gaudy Night television show. But the fact remains that, while I'm convinced I ought to have more respect for Sayers' ability, the only of those novels I like much at all are the three with Harriet Vane before she and Peter married. I don't dislike Peter, but I just don't like him the way other people like him and;, despite there being some good bits, I am quite content with missing the rest of his books and stories.

I have a pretty healthy understanding that this kind of "I ought to like--"" thinking is bunk and do not give it much attention. Doing so would be like splitting my mental tastebuds into Elaine Benes parts and surrounding people who keep telling Elaine she ought to like The English Patient parts. Why, that would just be silly.

I'm ready to declare my (further) independence from my own and other people's notions of what I ought to like. Not to mention from what I ought not like. And I'd like other people to join me. Maybe you think you ought to like modern jazz, but you just can't make yourself. Maybe you think you ought to like praying the the Divine Mercy chaplet, when really you'd rather practice just about any other kind of devotion. Maybe you think you ought to prefer gourmet coffee, when secretly you don't think it's any better than the economy-size store brand you've used for years. Maybe you do like shopping at Wal-mart, even though you think you shouldn't. Maybe you think you ought to like Tolstoy, when you'd much rather read Dickens. Maybe you think you ought to like Dickens, when you'd really rather read romance novels. Why not just accept it?

Paying too much attention to these kind of implanted notions about preferences is ridiculous. If something does not violate decency, who cares? We can and should expect ourselves to live up to our moral codes and to perform our personal and societal duties to a reasonable level. It is reasonable, for example, to expect that we and others obey the traffic laws that allow people to travel from one place to another safely or to expect young people to get married before they start having babies. But expecting yourself--or worse, others--to adopt the tastes you think you (or they) ought to have is just ridiculous. If you've given something people think you should like, like Inspector Morse, a fair chance and you still don't like it, just accept it, admit it, and move on.

Yeah, maybe this is a pointless complaining and borderline whinging sort of post on a tiny, unimportant subject and I know it's badly worded, but it's been on my mind lately.