How do I broaden my horizons when I hate everything in sight?
May 8, 2012 1:48 PM   Subscribe

I have pickied myself into a corner. Help me out!

I'm paralyzed by my own tastes, and I need a way out.

I am picky about things. One of my fundamental assumptions is that not only is 90% of everything crud, but that includes the other 10%. And I am tremendously zealous about not wasting my time, which is short and precious, on things that are dumb and bad.

Because of this, I refuse to consume any media that is not already filtered and refiltered until I already know it is the best of the best, and perfectly to my taste. And at this point in my life, I have driven myself to a state where I won't read anything unless it's by Terry Pratchett, Daniel Pinkwater, or J. R. R. Tolkien, or Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency; I won't watch anything besides My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic or Mythbusters except to laugh at how bad it is; and won't listen to anything but terrible 80s music I already have an emotional attachment to, sugar-fueled super happy pop or ska in any language I can't understand, or Jonathan Coulton. These things are all happiness candy, and are also non-renewable resources. The time that I have been guarding so preciously is burning away, not on bad things, but on nothing.

Clearly, I'm doing it wrong.

I've tried to break myself out of it. I've gone down to the library and pulled out random books, about which I knew nothing. They were dreck. I've turned on the radio. It was terrible and I turned it off. I won't go so far as to watch actual TV, but I've tried watching some old Hepburn comedies on my free month of Netflix Instant and they were hit or miss (Audrey good, Katherine bad). It's very discouraging.

Part of the problem is that I don't like people very much, and it's very hard to be interested in things that are about them. Another problem is that, especially in nonfiction, I get the author's premise very quickly, and get intensely frustrated as they expound on it for an entire book without saying anything further. Finally, I'm very much averse to protracted unhappiness and angst, which makes this whole business akin to wanting to expand your gustatory palate when you don't like onions, garlic, or anything with protein.

I've gone through many of the recommended reading lists in the wiki. I've read a lot of them, often against my will. I've tried getting out other books from the list, but haven't had a lot of success.

While I guess specific recommendations of gateway drugs out of this mental prison would be good, what I'm really looking for is a general algorithm for how to find stuff that doesn't suck. Or maybe, how to accept that I hate everything and that I'm really an inferior person who doesn't actually like the things that are good. I don't know.
posted by darksasami to Media & Arts (56 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Another problem is that, especially in nonfiction, I get the author's premise very quickly, and get intensely frustrated as they expound on it for an entire book without saying anything further.

So stop reading at that point.

You recognize that you're preserving your supposed precious time to the point where it's wasted by neglect. But your problem isn't that you're not aware of the right thing to consume, it's that you're engaging in binary thinking. Nothing is good or bad but that we perceive it so, Hamlet.

We can't tell you what the Right Thing is - even if the majority of the world thinks something is awesome that doesn't mean you're going to think so. Even if something wins every award in the world it doesn't mean it's to your taste.

So be more generous with small amounts of your time. Start the movie on Netflix instant and if it's not doing it for you then turn it off at minute 20. Put down the book after 20 minutes. And stop thinking of these things as failures - a book that makes you ponder an interesting idea but which peters off at the halfway point still gave you something good.

If you combine that with looking at review/recommendation sources and tracking which ones you tend to agree with then you'll find the right source of suggestions to pay attention to (and which ones to avoid).
posted by phearlez at 2:00 PM on May 8, 2012 [6 favorites]

Understand "curation" and "criticism" and "taste" for what they are - exclusion, segregation, negation, refusal, and rejection. You've defined yourself as a not-liker of things. From what you've written, it sounds like you don't even like yourself.

The deepest appreciation of things comes from making them. Hate that writing? Write something better. Don't like those ideas? Outline your own. Dislike that music? Write better music (this is the *exact* reason I wrote my album). At first, your taste will exceed your ability to create. But over time, creating, you will develop an intense and long-lasting appreciation for all kinds of creative works - without losing your selectivity. Your selectivity, instead of being puerile and facile, quick and shallow, will be deep, considered, and as solidly grounded on merit as it is in flaws.

In time, you may come to love yourself as a creator instead of despising yourself as a selector.

In short - if you can't find anything you like, make things for yourself to like.
posted by fake at 2:03 PM on May 8, 2012 [57 favorites]

90% of everything is crud, including your ability to distinguish said crud.

Novels are almost always padded. Have you tried reading your way through the Best American Short Stories collections, or if that's not your thing, the Best of Fantasy and Horror series?
posted by benzenedream at 2:05 PM on May 8, 2012 [4 favorites]

I agree with fake. I was doing an interview recently with a creative writing prof who said that many of their departmental mainstays believe that anyone studying a certain genre of literature -- poetry, British historical fiction, experimental plays -- should also write at least one work in his or her chosen genre to really understand what the genre's authors must do.

Amazon, Goodreads and their ilk are amazingly specific at filtering things into categories. It's like those $500 college scholarships. If you're a one-eyed paraplegic from the Philippines, as my dad says, there's something out there for you.
posted by Madamina at 2:08 PM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's kind of a joke on askme that the most common answer to a completely unrelated question is "therapy". But have you explored why you think your time is more precious than Steven Hawkings'? It reminds me of me before I dealt with my anxiety, always afraid I was "wasting" my time -- right down to the not liking conflict in my stories. So, to be slightly out there, you might want to talk to a therapist about how this is seriously affecting your life.

That said, you asked for recommendations. I love good young adult stories and children's music and movies, even though I am a grown-up - partially because they tend to be low on angst and big in happiness. So try starting with threads on good YA Lit, instead of grown-up books. Good luck! There's real fun to be had out there, if you let down your taste barriers.
posted by ldthomps at 2:09 PM on May 8, 2012 [5 favorites]

On one hand, TV seems to occupy a weird position where popular and extraordinarily good can co-exist. The passive nature of the medium really does make it so the shows that elicit a ton of love from fans probably have some redeeming qualities. We've come a long way from 3 or 4 networks limiting your choices, and the stuff that survives and thrives without pandering to the lowest common denominator has a decent likelihood of being high quality. Six Feet Under, Madmen, Breaking Bad, Community, etc. are all critically lauded and have seriously loyal fan bases, and it's because they're actually very high quality media with a lot of thought and effort and love put into them. They might not all speak to you, but sample a couple and I'll bet you'll find something that draws you in.

And on the other hand, we've had a lot of misanthropes create awesome work. Maybe give their work a try and see if any of it speaks to you. I'd recommend Confederacy of Dunces, to start.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 2:10 PM on May 8, 2012

And I am tremendously zealous about not wasting my time, which is short and precious, on things that are dumb and bad.

Try this: get one of those books about, say, the Western Canon or World Literature, a book that lists somebody's idea of what great and lasting literature is and is about. Harold Bloom's, Clifton Fadiman's, whoever, I don't care. Go read some of those works, especially the old ones, and try to approach them humbly, as though you are trying to be worthy of their time instead of the other way around. Ask yourself why that might be. What does Homer do for you? Why do people have such a thing for Shakespeare? What's the deal with Dostoyevski? What's the appeal here? What do people get out of these things, anyway?

The point is not that you even have to accept that any of the "Great Works of Literature" are really that great. But to acknowledge that there are merits to these things, that people have spent their lives making sure these texts would survive. Why?

Or do the same thing with music. What are ten pieces of classical music that you should know, and why? What's the deal with these ten pieces? How do they move you? Why were they important at the time? How do they advance music as an art form?

Really try to open yourself to the possibility that these things are good even if you don't, personally, enjoy them. Try to get inside of them anyway, try to see what they are about, and you may find that, over time, you will enjoy them after all, and that your understanding of them deepens your enjoyment of other things.
posted by gauche at 2:11 PM on May 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

I going to wing it here. What worked for me is keeping a gratitude journal were every day, I write down at least 5 things I am greatfull for. You Must write it down because there is a process when you write things down where your brain changes how you think. Try bing greatfull for more than 5 things. There are so many things I took for granted before i did this, for instance, my health, my significant other, the smell of the flowers in the garden, the sound of the chimes when the wind blows. The smell of fresh cut grass, and the smell of hay in a barn. When I did this daily, I was no longer consumed with the things that bothered me. I consider myself lucky to not be living in a third world country where there are rules about how to dress or punishments like stoning, or being beaten to death. I am happy that I live in a free country, and that I don't have to eat bugs in the rain forest. I know it sounds kind of simple, but for me it works, try it. You just might like it. :)
posted by brittaincrowe at 2:11 PM on May 8, 2012 [4 favorites]

And at this point in my life, I have driven myself to a state where I won't read anything unless it's by Terry Pratchett, Daniel Pinkwater, or J. R. R. Tolkien, or Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency; I won't watch anything besides My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic or Mythbusters except to laugh at how bad it is; and won't listen to anything but terrible 80s music I already have an emotional attachment to, sugar-fueled super happy pop or ska in any language I can't understand, or Jonathan Coulton. These things are all happiness candy, and are also non-renewable resources. The time that I have been guarding so preciously is burning away, not on bad things, but on nothing.

You might usefully note that when I read someone talking about wanting to read only Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams because of the incredibly high quality of their work, I am so gobsmacked that I can't even laugh. Not that you shouldn't enjoy what you enjoy, but you're not even registering on any sort of snobometer that I recognize.

I'd suggest reading and listening to more difficult things. This has been my one personal cure for boredom. (Oh, one a "not more difficult" level, you might like The Face in the Frost, one of John Bellairs's novels for grownups.) You're probably reading stuff that deals only with problems that you've already got sorted, so those works no longer speak to you as strongly.

If you want to read satire and comedy, read some Dorothy Parker or HL Mencken (I don't vouch for anyone's politics, here). Read sixties Tom Wolfe. Read that Fear and Loathing guy. Or Dawn Powell - I bet you'd love Dawn Powell. Or Gore Vidal's essays (not the novels, they're kind of a drag unless you're really into that sort of thing.) Go back into the past and look at the roots of the kind of stuff you're reading now. Or Hope Mirlees's Lud-In-The-Mist.

And then read critical theory about those people, and figure out what influenced them. Read their memoirs and find out what they were reading and doing. I guarantee you that even a very pop writer like Pratchett is a pretty sophisticated reader, because he has a pretty good command of English and that comes from reading.

Listen to more complicated music. Listen to it over and over until you start to see patterns and understand what it's doing. You can pick complicated pop (Arthur Russell, for example) or complicated jazz or classical.

You're going to have to read and listen to things you don't like for a while, because you won't like the new stuff. But that will be because it has things to teach you and isn't easy and familiar.


I get the author's premise very quickly, and get intensely frustrated as they expound on it for an entire book without saying anything further.

This is unlikely to be true, unless you're reading the poppiest of pop authors. (Among whom I include the pleasant but overrated, like Cory Doctorow or Cormac McCarthy.) What I suspect is happening is that you're assuming that you know what the author is getting at and then seeing the rest of the book through that lens. Or, alternatively, you're oversimplifying the meaning of the book and ignoring and kind of nuance - getting a one-sentence message from it, as if you were to read Joanna Russ's The Female Man and declare "Oh, I knew from page three that this book was about nothing more than "sexism is bad".

I'm not sure what would make you read with more patience and subtlety, since that's such a personal thing. I'm not even sure when I became able to read more patiently, but I know I'm a much better reader in my thirties than I was in my twenties. Perhaps a useful conceptual shift for you would be to stop thinking "a good book is one that gives me a good experience" and start thinking "I am a good reader and get things out of what I read because I think and observe".
posted by Frowner at 2:11 PM on May 8, 2012 [43 favorites]

It's okay not to like things. It's okay to be a person for whom saying of something, "It wasn't terrible," is high praise indeed. Still, there's so much out there that, even though 90% of everything is utter crap, there's still a helluva lot of good stuff in that 10% that isn't.

I think your best bet might be to seek out best of the best lists on the Internet. For example, read some Nebula or Hugo award winners, watch some of the AFI's Top 100 movies or Peabody Award winning television.
posted by ob1quixote at 2:13 PM on May 8, 2012

Here's one of my music history teacher's method for getting into music you don't like: When you listen to something, it's perfectly o.k. to say "I like this" but when you don't like it you have to have a reason. Not just generic "this sounds like noise" but specific things like "I don't like the interplay between the melody and counter melody, I don't think there's enough relationship between the two." THEN you try and figure out if there's a reason for the thing you don't like.

You'll be amazed at how many things can grow on you while you're trying to figure out what it is you don't like about them.
posted by Gygesringtone at 2:13 PM on May 8, 2012 [9 favorites]

This: I am tremendously zealous about not wasting my time, which is short and precious, on things that are dumb and bad.

is pretty damn hard to reconcile with this: I have driven myself to a state where I won't read anything unless it's by Terry Pratchett, Daniel Pinkwater, or J. R. R. Tolkien, or Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency; I won't watch anything besides My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic or Mythbusters.

Sorry, but by a lot of measures, Pratchett and Adams are unbelievably dumb and bad. I don't even know what "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic" is, but I have to assume the same is true of it.

I'm honestly not trying to pick a fight here. I just think you'd be far better served if you stopped thinking of the issue as being "I only like REALLY REALLY QUALITY THINGS" and started instead thinking of it as "I have highly idiosyncratic tastes. How can I articulate what it is I like about the things I like, so that I can find more things like that?"
posted by kestrel251 at 2:13 PM on May 8, 2012 [46 favorites]

It doesn't sound like you have exacting tastes. I mean, it's only fashionable on the internet to be snobby about fantasy books and cartoons about magic ponies, it's not the sort of things actual snobs are snobby about.

It sounds, rather, like you want things that are safe and make you feel predictable things and not feel things you're uncomfortable with. What sticks out for me in your post is your revulsion at unhappiness and angst and the notion you're wasting your time. What are you running from? Why do you only want to experience things that are happy and safe? What emotions are you trying to keep back and not experience? Why does everything have to fit within your comfort zone? What monsters lurk outside it?

I think that's the problem you're really going to have to wrestle with and that's why reading lists and such haven't been helpful.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 2:15 PM on May 8, 2012 [22 favorites]

You know, there's a huge difference between "shit I like" and "shit that is good." They don't always overlap. In fact, a lot of times they don't overlap. They're also incredibly subjective things.

To me, it sounds like you've got control issues. Big ones. What are you doing with all this precious time you're saving by not watching or reading crap? What are you making, or becoming? Or are you caught in the bog of perfectionism?

Another problem is that, especially in nonfiction, I get the author's premise very quickly, and get intensely frustrated as they expound on it for an entire book without saying anything further.

You know "nonfiction" is a gigantic category, right? Would you be "intensely frustrated" by reading, say, A Distant Mirror, which is a fantastic history of 14th century Europe? I mean, would you get through the intro and first couple chapters and be all "Okay, okay, 14th century sucked, I get it!" Because if so, that's....a thing I don't even know how to address, except to say you need to read books that are about things you don't know anything about. There are a lot of books like that.
posted by rtha at 2:16 PM on May 8, 2012 [9 favorites]

Finally, I'm very much averse to protracted unhappiness and angst, which makes this whole business akin to wanting to expand your gustatory palate when you don't like onions, garlic, or anything with protein.

The way to do this with food is to slowly force yourself to consume things that contain choke-downable levels of "onions, garlic and protein" while still having the things you like, until you develop a taste for the onions, garlic and protein. it's the same with media and art.

Pratchett? Kyril Bonfiglioli has at least as much wit, but there's no fantasy. Then maybe Queneau's Zazie in the Metro, which is playful and witty and all about human foibles, but is not a genre piece of any kind. You will hate both, but force yourself through.

Tolkien? Gene Wolfe does epic fantasy that doesn't coddle you plotwise like Tolkien in The Book of the New Sun (okay it's technically sci-fi but it reads like epic fantasy). E.R. Eddison does high fantasy that goes into wonderfully purple and wild prose and his character inhabit a moral landscape that would make Tolkien vomit. You will hate both of these, but force yourself through.

Happy foreign music? Germaine Talliferre and Darius Milhaud. You will hate both of them, but force yourself through.

Jonathan Coulton? MF DOOM has a lot of sci-fi and geeky imagery in his stuff, but is coming from a completely different place than Coulton. You will hate it, but keep listening.

And so on. Arguably some of these are bigger leaps than "choke-downable", but you get the idea.

(I was once you, by the way. It can get better. A LOT BETTER. If you let it. I still haven't gotten around to Snuff or Nation, but I'm about 2/3rds of the way through the complete works of John Cowper Powys and am having a crazy great time.)
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 2:17 PM on May 8, 2012 [4 favorites]

I know this doesn't answer your question, but if consuming content frustrates you so much, why don't you spend some time creating content you like instead?

It might even give you renewed appreciation for the stuff you can't stand.
posted by hot soup at 2:19 PM on May 8, 2012 [4 favorites]

Huh. And here I am 100% certain that Mythbusters is painfully bad.

See, people's tastes are different. It is actually good that you are discriminating; there's nothing wrong with that. If, however, you are determined to find additional things, new things to enjoy, you're simply going to have to do one of two things: let others filter things for you (which you've been doing), or try new things and accept the hit-or-miss ratio (which you've been doing.) As long as you're willing to try new things (filtered or unfiltered), you're fine.

If what you want to do is enjoy things you don't enjoy, well, that isn't really going to happen, unless you are willing to sit down and force yourself to consume something that you find distasteful. Some people simply can't do it; for instance, I hate beer, I've always hated beer, and despite trying many, many kinds, I haven't found one I've enjoyed -- so I'm not going to waste my time with "oh, but you get used to it" advice. Life is full of so many things that you can and will enjoy, so I'd say don't worry about enjoying the bad stuff...simply increase the amount of time you spend looking for the good stuff (filtered and unfiltered.)

Here's what you should do, though: as you look around for the good stuff, promise yourself you'll consume at least three of something before you refuse to look at more. Country and Western music? At least three songs from three artists, preferably from three time periods. Beers? At least three, preferably from different price points and regions. You get the idea. Focus on expanding the amount of time you'll search through a given "type" of thing before you reject those types of things. Or, better still, never reject by "type." You might be surprised; after all, a lot of those things you do appreciate, you appreciate only because you were exposed to them and didn't reject them outright (say, "I reject all reality-based televsion" or "I reject all science fiction books.")
posted by davejay at 2:19 PM on May 8, 2012

Response by poster: Minor point of clarification to those who would dare impugn who are saying that the things I like aren't really that great: I know. As I said, they're happiness-inducing candy. They are best-in-class, where the class is "things that fit my taste." Otherwise, please carry on. Answers are, so far, a lot of hard things for me to think about. I take this as a good sign.
posted by darksasami at 2:25 PM on May 8, 2012

Here's an anecdote that might offer some insight. Bear with me.

Okay, so with the death of Adam Yauch (MCA) from the Beastie Boys last week, I was inspired to go back and listen obsessively to a bunch of Beasties albums that I haven't listened to with any regularity in more than a decade -- the mind-blowing Paul's Boutique (from 1989) in particular.

Now, here's the thing. When the Beasties first came out in 1986, I instantly hated them. And I do mean INSTANT and I do mean HATE. Thought they were misogynistic, bratty little hooligans. (And, honestly, they were, which was kind of their point at the time, but that's an aside.) But I also hated them out of a misguided attempt to maintain a "pure" identity as a punk/new wave/alternative music kind of girl, and Girls Like Me Didn't Like Rap. (The fact that other kids -- mostly boys, admittedly -- in my social/music circle loved them didn't convince me otherwise.) I had a whole list of bands, in fact, that I wasn't "allowed" to like because Girls Like Me Didn't Like Them, Either (e.g., I refused to listen to Led Zeppelin because I had once read an interview with John Lydon from the Sex Pistols/PiL in which he trashed them, and I was a Sex Pistols/PiL fan, ergo I, too, had to hate Zeppelin).

Fast-forward several years; I make some sort of snotty remark about how the Beastie Boys are stupid white boys who can't rap and have no soul and wouldn't know good music if it bit them in the ass, at which point I was forced (by my horrified friend) to sit down and listen to Paul's Boutique. And I was hit in the face with the realization that HOLY SHIT I WAS AS WRONG AS I HAD EVER BEEN. These guys were witty and soulful and and showed they knew more about music in a 3-minute song than I could have shown in a 3-hour conversation.

I was forced to face the fact that what I had previously mistaken for "taste" was actually a combination of unwarranted cockiness ("I know everything I need to know about music") and fear of the unfamiliar ("these guys scare me a little and I'm not used to listening to this, so I am going to reject it outright"). I am glad I had someone force me out of that place, and only sorry that it took me another few years to realize I'd made the same stupid error about Led Zeppelin.

tl;dr: get humble without being self-hating. Not only do you not know everything there is to know about music and fiction and film, you don't even know everything about what you really like. This doesn't make you a bad person. It just means you have to practice opening your mind a little bit more. Start getting annoyed at a book, a song, a movie? Tell yourself "maybe I just don't know what I think I know" and keep at it a little longer. Don't be afraid to admit you're wrong. There's so much good stuff waiting for you past that hurdle.
posted by scody at 2:26 PM on May 8, 2012 [19 favorites]

I was thinking along the same lines as fake. DIY. Or at least do something productive with the existing stuff - start a blog and write reviews and critiques about the dreck you read, listen too or watch. You won't feel like you wasted your time, you'll be dissecting, analyzing and formulating your thoughts. You might not enjoy the thing, but the process. And in the end you might end up with more to enjoy than you have now.
posted by travelwithcats at 2:27 PM on May 8, 2012

And I am tremendously zealous about not wasting my time, which is short and precious, on things that are dumb and bad.

I don't think it's an entirely bad philosophy; there's no need to waste hours of your life on stuff you know you're going to hate. But you're right that it can get too limited.

what I'm really looking for is a general algorithm for how to find stuff that doesn't suck.

I think the key to branching out is to identify what exactly you like about the content you like. What is the real essence of it. Don't just pull out random books or turn on random TV shows, but analyze what it is about the books and TV you liked that might exist in other, unexpected places.

Things can be approached from more than one angle, too. For example: I don't like most popular TV shows, or the hype surrounding them. I don't like the vampire trend, or the fantasy trend. I find all those things extremely boring. But I like True Blood. Why? Because I like twisted small-town Americana, and I like clever analogies about inequality, and I like good acting, even when it's sometimes marred by awful Southern accents.

So, if you like you like the combination of educational/science-y and childishly fun? Do you like watching people build things? Do you like "reality"/non-scripted TV that's intelligent? Do you like the way it switches back and forth between different segments? Or that it involves people enjoying their dream jobs? Or it could be a million other things, but some of those factors will exist in other TV shows.

On preview: I also completely share Frowner and kestrel251's opinion that your definition of quality stuff is, um...unusual. I mean, except for cheesy 80s music (see my username.) Maybe once you isolate what you like about the things you've listed, seek out early examples of that kind of thing - works that are considered classics. I can't even give examples because I've never read/seen most of what you're talking about, but I trust others will.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 2:28 PM on May 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

I won't go so far as to watch actual TV

Hee hee! You are such an uptight stick in the mud! My goodness. There are so many things on TV! But you know that.

Yeah, you're paralyzed. It's kind of cute. Actually this is a really modern problem, with the filtering and the self-curated circles. All my "friends" (people I follow on Twitter) like/talk about the same things, so those are apparently the "things" I should be concerned with. But I'm not always!

So right, you went exploring, and you didn't easily find new things. Well, okay! That's normal! Instead of force-feeding, as suggested above (though I believe that works!), why not branch out logically? Who does Daniel Pinkwater (a genius, BTW) love? Does he love Le Guin, or Janet Malcolm, or Chinua Achebe, or China Miéville? Expand your circles from your circles. That's the thing.

(Also yeah: start writing short stories.)
posted by RJ Reynolds at 2:28 PM on May 8, 2012 [7 favorites]

You might also consider what is non-negotiable for you and then read broadly in those confines. I don't read novels by conservative authors, for example. (With the curious exception of Gene Wolfe - yes, you should totes read Book of the New Sun - anyone who likes fantasy probably should.) I am willing to read very broadly within the category of, for example, feminist science fiction - including some rather terrible books and some books with bad, though left, politics - because I am interested in the history and evolution of that sub-genre.

So a method might be to pick a genre that you like - let's say feminist comedies, just to name something - and then watch a whole bunch of them. You'll find that drawing parallels between films, looking at the evolution of the genre, noting oddities, looking for cross-influences, etc, has a way of rendering even the most mediocre example interesting. It's not that every film will be profound or have new truths or wonderful jokes, but you'll have a broader field of things to think about, so you'll experience more interest.

Expertise makes things more interesting. This is sad, but true. You get way more out of even the dullest thing if you know something about it. It need not be snob expertise - you can be an expert in bro-based comedies - but expertise is needed.
posted by Frowner at 2:29 PM on May 8, 2012 [4 favorites]

That is why your "pick a book at random" strategy isn't working, by the way.
posted by Frowner at 2:30 PM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

As I said, they're happiness-inducing candy. They are best-in-class, where the class is "things that fit my taste."

There's a great bit in, of all things, Pratchett's book Wyrd Sisters, the one that's a cross between Hamlet and Macbeth with some other things throw in. His character Death is watching the play-within-the-play and he reflects that humans, in our entertainment, create a whole 'nother world for ourselves in the stage. But we don't just put into that world the things we like. We put in all kinds of difficult things, dark things, murder and loss and impossible love and anguish, the sorts of things that you would think we've had enough of in this world. And Death doesn't really understand why we would do that to ourselves, but I always took the implication there to be that there's something essentially human about it. Out of all the things we could choose to put onstage, we put the things we know we don't like.

You're not doing that. You're only putting the things you know you like. And, because you've done that for a while now, you're finding the things you like to be hollow. Like too much candy the day after halloween; at some point, the candy stops being appealing.
posted by gauche at 2:35 PM on May 8, 2012 [4 favorites]

RJ Reynolds has the right idea, I think.

At age 39, I have extremely broad taste in books, art, and music, and I didn't start out that way at all. I got here, essentially, through a sort of phylogenetic approach to things: When I found something I really liked (Connie Willis, for example, when I was in my early twenties), I would start wanting to explore her influences and intellectual precursors. (Jerome K. Jerome! Howard Hawkes comedies!). Then I'd check out artists who cited similar touchstones, and lather-rinse-repeat. Sometimes, the stuff you find this way isn't going to sing for you-- but it will almost always inform and deepen your appreciation of the the things that led you there, so your time is very, very seldom wasted.

If you do decide to go this route, Pinkwater's a great place to start. He's written a ton of (wonderful) essays that name-check scads and scads of artists, novelists, poets, etc., that are important to him. [He's over the moon for Isaac Bashevis Singer, as I recall, and FWIW, I'm totally with him on that. ] Go out and check out some of Pinkwater's favorites, and then see where those lead you!
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 2:45 PM on May 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

I don't really understand what the following means:

"I don't like people very much, and it's very hard to be interested in things that are about them."

It's pretty common to have all kinds of dislikes about society and the way people engage and all kinds of different things, but there must be something that engages you. Do you like Pratchett and Adams because of the way they describe a normally underexplored level of society (I find they are both quite good at exploring and explaining social and economic behaviour of modern life)? If you deconstruct it to that level, you might get some way to understanding what you want from your reading. And according to a recent post on the blue, you'd be in good company. Not that you like either Downton Abbey or Battlestar Galactica, but if there's commonalities to be found between the two, then think how much else there is that has things in common with Pratchett and Adams.

And I'll throw in a quick recommendation for Diana Wynne Jones as an author you may like, mainly because she can make worlds similarly detailed to Pratchett's in a similar subtle mediæval context, but also because she broadened those worlds and built detailed characters quickly, more quickly than Pratchett does with e.g. Vimes (his favourite character). I'd start with Howl's Moving Castle for an easy concrete recommendation. Oh, and the other reason I'm recommending her: because she's a favourite author of mine.

But I'm recommending something mainly so you can see the process of abstracting out what your interest is in something and then building on and finding something similar.

I do realise this is a disjointed pile of thoughts, but it's also something I hope is rich for you.
posted by ambrosen at 2:51 PM on May 8, 2012

Part of the problem is that I don't like people very much

That's the entirety of the problem. Get over that ASAP. People are the ones that make the art than keeps us from blowing our brains out, and even in cartoon-horsie-land what you're reacting to pleasurably is the communication with another human being's actions and emotions. Instead of popping another culture pill, go out and get involved with folks in the real world.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:54 PM on May 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

What about joining a book group. It might not be great for you if you don't like people very much but if you can force yourself to go it will introduce you to new books and help you consider the books in a new light. It might confirm what you are saying about getting the point by page three but it might also help you to consider books in a more in depth, nuanced way.

I find it easier to persevere with books if I know I need to read it by the next meeting and if you try to find a group with like-minded people you might be introduced to new books and authors that you enjoy.
posted by Laura_J at 2:57 PM on May 8, 2012

RJ Reynolds is dead on. I find most of what I like by pursuing things associated with what I KNOW I like.
posted by agress at 3:05 PM on May 8, 2012

I think you need to purposefully challenge yourself. I love me some ponies and pratchett too, but they don't replace my need for serious cultural enrichment. We all need to make ourselves think about the complicated things that existing makes us do, and that means angst and conflict and grey areas and uncertainties. Media is there to help us think about these things. I think you need to stop thinking about anything that makes you unhappy as wasting your time, and instead think of it as a productive use of it; a challenge for you to overcome. You pay your bills and do your job and wash your dishes, right? So too must you take care of your life on a cultural level. It won't be enjoyable at first, maybe, but that doesn't mean it's a waste.

I'm right there with you on the hating people thing, by the way. You know what's great, though? Turns out, many of the great artists of the world hate people too! I mean, damn, Van Gogh? Oscar Wilde? Freakin' Phillip Glass? There's definitely a difference between misanthropy on an individual level, and hating one's essential humanity. I think that the key to appreciating complicated, difficult pieces of art really lies in that dual distaste for the individual and love of existence. Well, that's how it works for me, anyway.

Anyway my suggestion is to start with music. You like a fairly wide range of genres there already. The 80s in particular was an incredibly rich time to make music, with all the new digital stuff happening and the classic rock and the different vocal styles. Have you tried something as simple as making a Pandora station with your favorite music and seeing what the algorithm suggests to you? There are tons of contemporary artists inspired by 80s music, who could lead you to things you've never heard before.

Then, if you hit upon a new genre of music that grabs you, see if there's a related artform. Often music is tied in with a social movement, and that includes stuff like literature and tv shows too. If there's an artist that you find out you love, chances are high that they'll either currently be vocal about their own media consumption (I know JoCo is!) or there will be biographies you can read to check out their favorites and influences. Use these people to guide you.

Really though you just have to let yourself not enjoy some things. Instead, let them give you experience. Feeling sadness from a tragedy is just as important as happiness from a comedy.
posted by Mizu at 3:07 PM on May 8, 2012

When I found something I really liked (Connie Willis, for example, when I was in my early twenties), I would start wanting to explore her influences and intellectual precursors.

Yeah, this is an excellent strategy. To keep harping on music I liked as a teenager and how it expanded into music I liked as an adult: I noticed at some point that the musicians I was a fan of were themselves fans of other musicians. And since I admired them for their musical output, it only made sense that I should take a look at their musical preferences for myself. In this way, the Clash led me to original ska and reggae. The Jam led me to soul and the Small Faces. R.E.M. led me to Big Star. David Bowie led me to Krautrock. et glorious cetera.

You say you like ska, for example. I can't tell if you mean all ska from all eras, or specifically ska from the '80s. In any case, use that as a starting point. If you only like ska from one era, make yourself listen to the original stuff, like Desmond Dekker, Prince Buster, Toots and the Maytals, etc. Only like the happy poppy stuff? Make yourself listen to the darker stuff, like the Specials "Ghost Town." Branch out into some rocksteady and reggae. Listen to some soul and R&B from the period -- Otis Redding, for example, influenced Toots Hibbert's style. Seriously, armed with the right attitude and a couple of good compilations off Amazon or itunes, you can have your mind blown by the weekend.

To (misquote) Pete Townshend: let what you love open the door.
posted by scody at 3:09 PM on May 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

I sometimes have trouble stepping out of my comfort zone with art/literature/music, too. There's often a kernel of fear or self-consciousness embedded deep down: I don't listen to much indie music, because what if I end up liking the "wrong" music and it makes me uncool? I don't often read graphic novels, because I've always wanted to be an artist and a writer and they remind me that I'm not good enough to be published. If I read the latest highfalutin' literary novel and don't like it, does that mean I didn't understand it? Fears of being exposed as uncool or untalented or unsmart in my consumption and interpretation of entertainment. A lot of these fears and resulting habits were established years and years ago, and maybe the fear isn't there anymore, but the habits are still there.

Maybe something similar is keeping you in the safe, familiar territory, too?

The first thing that helps me is to identify that little bit of fear, and talk it down or disarm it. Okay, I'm not a published novelist like I wanted to be when I was a kid, but that doesn't have to prevent me from reading other people's novels; other people's creativity and skill are not a judgment on my own. Okay, maybe I end up liking a band that all the music snobs hate. What can they do? Do I really want to hang out with people who look down on me for my music taste, anyway?

Another thing, and this helps me with both media and people: I try to think of one thing I genuinely, unironically like about each person/show/work. Sometimes I come up short, but most of the time there's something. Looking for good qualities in things and people helps prevent the knee-jerk dismissiveness.

If I don't understand or like something, it helps me to try and figure out why. I read a book a few months ago that I didn't finish and much care for. At first it worried me, because it had good reviews, and several people whose opinions I trusted had enjoyed it: did I have bad taste? But I found the main characters underdeveloped, and once I figured that out I felt better about not being into it.

I can't really recommend any specific books or movies for you to start out with, but with music I'm really enjoying This Is My Jam. You listen to stuff selected by whoever you follow, and there's usually a wide variety of music to listen to, from mainstream to avant-garde, and you can just run it in the background and discover new stuff you like without any effort. And maybe instead of deliberately chasing new things to listen to, what you need to do is surprise yourself, to hit play before you have a chance to form any preconceived notions.

For what it's worth, I've tried to read Terry Pratchett books several times and always had trouble following along, and I've felt kinda dumb about it. But no matter. There's enough room, and books, for you and me both.
posted by Metroid Baby at 3:09 PM on May 8, 2012 [4 favorites]

Try open-ended travel, where you're out of your self-induced perfection zone and you don't know what's going to happen next and people don't really care what your tastes are because they're just, y'know, living their lives.
posted by cocoagirl at 3:11 PM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I found something I really liked (Connie Willis, for example, when I was in my early twenties), I would start wanting to explore her influences and intellectual precursors.

Exactly! If you like To Say Nothing of the Dog, then you have to read Three Men in a Boat! And thus, the cycle begins.

I don't mind fluff, but why read Tom Clancy when you can read Charles McCarry? Both are spy novels but there's a galaxy of difference between them, artistically. I enjoy genre novels and movies, but I try to at least notice the influences.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:20 PM on May 8, 2012

It sounds like all you need are some filters. Spotify's new app section has publication and user-curated playlists, and Pandora-like generators that'll try to find things you don't know about based on what you already like. Follow strangers with similar taste on Goodreads. If you want to get turned on to newer bands, think of a track you like, look it up on Hype Machine and find the blogs that talked about it and maybe share your tastes.

The cost of entry (especially if you read Kindle samples and stream music) is incredibly low, and you don't have to finish anything you don't want to.

As for food, one friend with picky taste had to start dating again in New York. He wasn't going to turn down sushi with a girl he liked. I don't know if there's a suggestion there, except start dating a foodie.
posted by miniminimarket at 3:21 PM on May 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

I often find new stuff through pop-culture websites I like--The AV Club, for example. It's got a level of curation, but it's also broad-interest enough that I encounter things I might not have looked for on my own. And the writing's good. I also like The Rumpus and Badass Digest for the same reasons. A really good review (not just a blurb) can be incredibly helpful.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 3:23 PM on May 8, 2012

Oh, and if you like kid's shows, and you haven't seen it already, Avatar: the Last Airbender is an amazing cartoon series, and all three seasons are available on Netflix. Adventure Time is also worth seeking out.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 3:25 PM on May 8, 2012

Honest question: What do you want to "get" out of reading, listening, watching etc?

Do you spend a lot of time consuming very tiny snips of writing or video or audio on the internet, then quickly moving on to the next thing? That can lead to a hard time maintaining your engagement with longer texts etc, so you have little patience for anything that isn't instantly familiarly gripping and funny/rewarding.

If that seems right, maybe your ability to enjoy longer things would improve if you reduced your quick-fix internet surfing. (As you say, it's like re-training a palate that only enjoys candy, it will take a period of eating no candy to reawaken your other taste buds.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:01 PM on May 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

So your tastes are dead-center late 20th/early 21st century Internet. The Internet is sort of weird, in that it seems to contain everything, but is actually a very small subset of everything. I would suggest using some of the time you save by avoiding media that's not Internet-safe by doing exciting things that don't involve the Internet. Do enough non-Internet and eventually your tastes will shift along with your actions.

Okay, that was way too snide. Better idea: see what Lauren Faust herself has recommended people read/watch. I'd say email her (don't be a fanboy; just tell her that you're looking to broaden your tastes and wondering if there's any books she could recommend), but I'm not sure if she responds to that sort of thing.

Third idea: Gödel, Escher, Bach. It'll keep you busy for a while, at least. And, well, if you think you've got the point within the first few pages you've identified the problem: you lie to yourself and pretend you get things when you haven't.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 4:04 PM on May 8, 2012 [6 favorites]

I can seriously empathize with that feeling of anxiety when there's conflict in media. It's worse when I'm stressed out. Avatar: The Last Airbender could be a sort of "gateway drug" that gets you used to stress, because it's uniformly good, and there's just enough conflict that it's still relaxing to watch. On the other hand, I imagine you're trying to get away from cartoons.

I'm trying to think of different works that have made me feel the exact opposite of that anxiety:

Can I recommend the films of Yasujiro Ozu? Also, After Life, directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda. Both of these directors make very, very good films that make you feel like a human being. But there's relatively little conflict. The stakes are low, and you get the sense that things will work out. (After Life is particularly good in this regard.) These are definitely not brain candy.

Have you tried watching Planet Earth? It has no grand narrative but it's still really pleasant and beautiful.

Book-wise, I think Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury is pretty good. Good poetry, also. Maybe nonfiction travelogues that aren't trying to make an argument?

I guess what ties all these things together is that they're works where nothing much happens, but they're still good anyway. That might be what you're looking for.

(Oh, and music: "Kind of Blue" is the one jazz album that everyone can like. Glenn Gould playing Bach is accessible classical music. These might be jumping-off points into those genres.)
posted by vogon_poet at 4:05 PM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding short stories. Also, poetry. Although with poetry, you may have to train yourself a certain amount to develop a taste. I could never appreciate poetry in English until I learned Greek and Latin; reading in different languages forced me to slow down and observe what a good poem really involves.

I also like the idea of trying to write/produce something yourself. Basically I think accepting some sort of challenge would hep you get out of this rut. But then again, maybe you don't need to. Maybe you don't enjoy literature-- taking that, because it's large part of your question-- enough to bother. Most people have art forms they don't respond to and there is really nothing wrong with that.
posted by BibiRose at 4:08 PM on May 8, 2012

Have you tried J.D. Salinger? The angel he likes to wrestle with is innocence corrupted; it'd be another layer on top of most of the stuff you like, which is mostly pure escapist joy as a bulwark against everything else. Salinger acknowledges the existence of everything else, but he's pissed about it. From there you can go on to Keroac, Ginsberg and eventually Walt Whitman.
posted by Diablevert at 4:19 PM on May 8, 2012

I stopped watching movies and tv a few years ago, except for a select few things. I read very little fiction. I read a lot of non-fiction, but I often skim.

I do, however, listen to a lot of music and play a lot of video games. I don't really feel like I'm missing very much. There is a lot of media out there to consume, and you have only so much time to do it in. I'm serious about music and video games, and engage with them in depth. I'm only a very casual enjoyer of novels. I'm okay with that.

Do what you enjoy doing, not what you think you should enjoy doing.

You might want to think about taking some of the many free online courses that are out there now, btw. More in depth than most non fiction books, and nothing particularly human-interest about most of them at all.
posted by empath at 4:22 PM on May 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

As I said, they're happiness-inducing candy. They are best-in-class, where the class is "things that fit my taste."

1. Why not use next week's question to ask for more authors like Terry Pratchett? Or more cartoons or TV shows like Friendship Is Magic? Media recommendation AskMes get a lot of answers.

2. It sounds like you don't like to be intellectually challenged by your media. Nothing wrong with that, except it also sounds like you want to think of yourself as someone who likes to be intellectually challenged by your media? It's okay to want to broaden your horizons, but it's also okay to just like sly satire and cartoons.

2a. Maybe you do want an intellectual challenge, but it doesn't have to come through media. There are many other creative, challenging intellectual pursuits out there. Do a jigsaw puzzle, get good at crosswords or logic games, make little electronic gadgets, invent your own recipes, relearn geometry or calculus, study a foreign language, pick up a musical instrument, build a table or a bookcase or a birdhouse, take up a sport that requires strategy and quick thinking (basketball, fencing, martial arts), start a blog, build a website, learn to code/program, and enjoy rereading/rewatching your favorite media to relax and turn your brain off.

2b. Don't confuse challenged with bored. If your brain is wigged out by something, one of the easiest ways to get it to go away is to make you fall asleep. A lot of times, something that is over your head or pushing your intellectual limits will give you that strong feeling of wtfbbq this is horrible I need a nap. You might have to train yourself through that, a little bit.

3. A friend of mine is a certified foodie, as is the rest of her family. She once told me, wickedly, "The only thing my family likes better than a good meal is a bad meal." They took great joy in going to a restaurant, ordering heaps of food, and criticizing it in minute detail. Maybe you want to read/watch/listen to things and then rip them apart line by line, maybe on a blog or in a journal you keep.

4. Give things more of a chance. Every book gets 50 pages before you decide whether or not it stinks. Listen to an album at least three times before you decide if you like it or not, preferably with some space (like days or weeks) between listen two and three; give your brain time to process. TV shows get at least three episodes; movies get 30 minutes. Give yourself time to get over your jerkin' knees.

5. Get better recommendations for stuff outside your comfort zone. Browsing is a crapshoot. Best 10 TV episodes of all time. 10 Books Everyone Should Read Before They Die. 5 Amazing Horror Movies. This is the stuff you want. Even if you don't end up liking the stuff to where it gets a spot in your rotation, at least you know what everyone else is talking about when Hitchcock comes up. Read some book, movie and music reviews and then consume the media itself; figure out who has taste similar to yours and follow their recommendations.

6. Life is short. Don't torment yourself too much.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 5:56 PM on May 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Or maybe, how to accept that I hate everything and that I'm really an inferior person who doesn't actually like the things that are good.

That isn't much of an alternative. It sounds like your current selectivity is a symptom, not the actual problem - especially if you've already selected yourself an "inferior person."

So far you find books, Radio and TV rotten. There's a great quote about how the more persuaded you are of your unique access to rottenness, the more afraid you become of engaging with the world. Taste is what it is, but you're talking about "mental prisons" and time "burning away," not taste.

Everything you've listed as a like is, or can be, sort of communal. Jonathan Coulton is good fun (or not), but he's also part of a fandom/subculture in which the consumption of specific media basically counts as community interaction. Same with MLP. And because of that, they can be comforting not (only) for what they are but for what watching/reading them means, whereas the "good" things that you're looking at and which have been suggested are relatively solitary and passive.

Here are some things which might be be less solitary or passive than working your way through a best of, but which don't have to take up much of your time. All are online, all are different from each other:

1) Dear Coquette
2) Kanye West - Touch the Sky
3) The Great Happiness Space (not linking to the stream, but it's available)
posted by postcommunism at 6:25 PM on May 8, 2012

Also, what Frowner said about expertise is so, so true. The right books/documentaries/litcrit/religious texts can help point out how all kinds of things are interesting and worth your time to engage with. Including all the things you already enjoy.
posted by postcommunism at 6:31 PM on May 8, 2012

I'm thinking you've outgrown all of your tastes and haven't yet admitted it to yourself. Don't worry, you can always come back to your current loves later with a different perspective. But now is the time for real shit.

Pick up something formidable and from a very different time. We're talking canon. Shakespeare, Dante's Inferno, the tragedies of Sophocles, one of the recent translations of The Iliad or The Odyssey. That level, that sort of different. Philosophy or history if you're more interested in that. And of course you can go non-Western canon if you want. Whatever it is, chances are, you'll find it surprisingly accessible, but you will not get the author's premises before they're done with the story, because 1) their values will be foreign to you on some level and 2) these sorts of things are timeless pieces of literature for good reason. But do this. It will shake up your mindset a bit, and then you can start exploring.
posted by furiousthought at 7:47 PM on May 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

A lot of your self image is wrapped up in how high your standards are, I'd wager. (Or the good feeling of giving off the appearance of having high standards.)

Not everything has to be perfect to be enjoyable. I watched "CSI Miami" for a while because I was just enamored with how beautiful the cinematography was. I watch "New Girl" because the writing is awesome, despite my nails-on-chalkboard dislike for Zooey Deschanel.

I had gotten wrapped up in something like what you describe, because I was engaging in black and white thinking. Things and people were either supposed to be totally awesome, or terrible. But there's nothing wrong with sampling, and finding the good in something, and just ignoring the bad.
posted by gjc at 7:50 PM on May 8, 2012

The commonality between all of the things you list as enjoying -- and don't get me wrong, I like most of those things too -- is that they are all easy. Little or no effort or even thought is required to enjoy the familiarity of Tolkien or the wit of Pratchett or Adams. You're reading cotton candy, basically. The very best cotton candy, but still just candy. Which tastes dandy until you discover that you are bored of cotton candy, but your teeth have so rotted and your jaws so atrophied from disuse that anything more substantial seems inedible.

I would wager that when you are doing your read-a-random-book thing and getting frustrated by the fact that you've heard everything the author has to say by page 15-- what is actually happening is that you are not really reading those books; you are skimming them Internet style, grasping only the equivalent of the back cover blurb, and glossing over the rest.

So you've got two choices: find some new flavors of cotton candy, which should be easy enough, or retrain your brain to deal with something more substantial.

Suggested strategy if you choose the latter: choose some widely recognized Great Work that you can't stand or find stupid. Read it, not to find enjoyment from it specifically, but to discover how the author of the Great Work tricked so many otherwise intelligent people into the belief that this is a Great Work. This will involve secondary research, reading and dissecting other people's responses to and studies of the Work -- what are they all getting out of it that you aren't?

By the time you finish this, one of three things will have happened: you will develop a deep appreciation for the Great Work that you formerly found stupid; or you will have exercised your mind and capacity for attentive reading enough to improve your experience of other works; or enough time will have elapsed that you can go ahead and enjoy rereading the complete Discworld yet again.
posted by ook at 11:03 PM on May 8, 2012 [5 favorites]

To quote "it's okay to not like things, just don't be a dick about it".

I get like this when I'm stressed. I also, unilaterally, hate all new TV shows and music. Every time. It has become a joke in my circle and we work around it. Because I actually do like a lot of things! My brain just hates new stimuli. So I get exposed to new things in small doses, like car trips, or the TV being on while I do something else. It's curated by my partner, who likes a lot of things I don't, but he has a decent handle on what I like and works from there. Reading isn't so bad, but I'm not crippled with arrogance - I like reading for the journey, not because I need to absorb information and can predict the content of a book.

And as a librarian, random book picking is baaaaaaad for expanding one's taste. Good for people who are interested in finding new things to read, but you are not at that point, you need to ease yourself into new things. Try readalikes for now, or mefi questions. Don't just collect random crap and wonder why none of it works for you. That the equivalent of picking random stuff and throwing it into a pot and wondering why it tastes bad, and what's this paper stuff doing in my soup? Curation is done by a myriad of people, use that expertise, particularly professionals (like librarians).
posted by geek anachronism at 12:29 AM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

maybe you are using the "chewing gum for the brain" especially the stuff from a significant period of your life, to wall yourself up in that period, that feeling, because it's the only comfort you have.

Unlike most comments, I won't even go down the route of recommending other books, music, etc., because I don't believe that is the problem.

I suggest you look up the patterns of behaviour that are common to OCD and clinical depression and see if you score relatively highly on any of the online resources. Perfectionism and clinging to certain things and strategies can be disabling. OCD is not just about obsessive washing of hands and turning off lightbulbs. It can manifest as you have described.

you're locked in a black-&-white world right now, dealing with exposure to anything else feels like someone scraped off your skin with a potato peeler and sqeezed lemon juice on it. Or maybe not. Maybe I'm just projecting from a similar period in my life.

if you allow your innate feelings of superiority over your fellow humans block you from reaching for therapies that have improved such behaviours for many, many people, then you will probably stay in the safe, locked away world.

It's scary and brave to reach out and admit you're human like the rest of us and might need more expert help. I suspect you do.
posted by Wilder at 5:44 AM on May 9, 2012 [4 favorites]

You need to ask yourself what exactly it is that's motivating this behavior.

You're telling yourself it's because you're so picky and you think everything is bad outside of a few things. So when you try something new and you don't like it, you believe this is because it's bad.

Let me advance a hypothesis: What's actually happening is that you're looking for things that contain the same element of familiarity. You're doing this because you're subsisting on mental comfort food.

You tell yourself that you're being a snob. You're not. What's happening here is you're doing that thing that bad writers do when they're told a character is too perfect: You're attributing to yourself a flaw that is not actually a flaw, but a positive trait in disguise. When something's bad, you can tell yourself that your tastes are too refined, you're too much of a snob.

This is not so. Your media consumption is the equivalent of that guy (everyone has known at least one person like this) who'll only eat at McDonald's or places like that, and turns up his nose at any place off the beaten path, or basically anywhere that isn't McDonald's. It's not that McDonald's is actually good (though there's nothing wrong with the occasional greaseburger when the mood strikes you), but the lack of adventurous spirit has carved such a deep notch that it's basically a neurosis at this point.

Because if the problem were actually the quality of the work, or the flaws you point out in other things, you'd have more of a problem with the way Terry Pratchett writes the same book over and over again. But he's comfort food to you.

When something is comfort food, you ignore its flaws. When it's not, you don't, and you go looking for them because you don't want to eat things that aren't comfort food. Look, every work has flaws, and if you go looking for them, you'll find them. But be realistic - you're not looking for flaws, you're looking for the first excuse to bail on a work because, it not being comfort food, you've already made up your mind that it's not what you want.

The answer to your problem is to stop framing this as your tastes simply being too refined to enjoy things you say are crud, and start asking yourself why you crave familiarity so much, to the exclusion of most other sources of joy. It seems related to the whole issue of not liking people very much, so if you have insurance, I think it'd be a good idea to talk to a therapist about this.

Also: Watch a Marx Brothers movie. I'd start with A Night at the Opera.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:02 AM on May 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

People have already mentioned the Pandora idea for hearing music you would like but haven't heard before.

Part of the problem is that I don't like people very much,

I'm pretty sure this is your issue. Books, music, etc. help us to form intellectual connections with other people, either other fans or the author himself. I'm pretty sure this is why you just get bored with non-fiction once you understand the premise-- you're not really interested in what the author has to say or how and why he approaches his argument once you "get it."

If you want to listen to and read things for sheer enjoyment, it sounds like you have that "down." If you want to find new media because you want new experiences (new music that you can go to a concert to see,share with your friends, etc. and books where you can learn about other people), then you'll have more succcess. But I don't think you want those experiences.

Here's another suggestion when it comes to non-fiction: Subscribe to the New York Review of Books. You get great summaries of books on fascinating topics, and you learn a lot just from reading them, and if that inspires you to read the book itself, great. If not, you didn't waste too much time.
posted by deanc at 10:06 AM on May 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

It sounds like you only like things that are familiar to you. A way to learn to like new things is to pick a category, subject, band, author, etc., and Learn about it, become familiar with it. Read some of the books on the Best 100 lists. It will help you develop your own tastes as you like, love, dismiss them. Listen to different types of music, NPR's 1st Listen is pretty good. Or, look for more best-of lists. I agree with the recommendation to read reviews, and good magazines. Try the New Yorker.

Also, get out of the house. Go for walks. I always find that exercise and being outdoors helps me regain perspective.
posted by theora55 at 7:53 PM on May 9, 2012

I realise I am late to this party, but as a university lecturer I wanted to offer another perspective that I dole out a lot of the time, and it will sound slightly facetious, but it is meant as deeply honest advice.

It doesn't actually matter what you 'like'. For a start, you have created a cultural valuation system which is based on a very specific set of criteria, and for which, as a person with depression rings some serious OHHAI alarm bells.

But much more importantly, like is meaningless because it shuts off so many more intriguing responses, why did this play matter in Shakespeare's England, what were the stakes of this Tom Wolfe novel? Each act of art is a tiny jewel in a huge web of meanings, gender assumptions, frightening politicians, worrying kings, that is just waiting to be picked at, to have half a moment of understanding even a tenth of the thousands of conditions that surround its production and reception.

Like is boring; why and what and how... Well let's get a cup of tea, we'll be here a while.
posted by Augenblick at 11:15 PM on May 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

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