Sound Off: Can’t We Just Let People Enjoy Things?

51356875 - beautiful mixed race woman sitting in a coffee shop sipping her latte and daydreaming while gazing out of the window

Yes, girl, drink your pumpkin spice latte while you journal your favorite R.M. Drake quotes.

FROM POKÉMON GO TO PUMPKIN SPICE LATTES, everyone seems really damn anxious to point out when and why they’re too good or grown up to take part in a fad. And to that, I say let people enjoy the things that make them happy, because life is too short and the world is too sh**ty to get caught up in petty bull like this.

The things folks are anxious to make fun of are usually inconsequential and offer an easy escape from the mundanity of life, such as celebrity fashion and gossip, sports, video games, television, and film. Detractors’ comments use language that infantilizes those who engage with these entertainments, or that makes it seem as if having fun is at odds with being a concerned citizen.

When you hear things like “I don’t play video games because I’m not 10 and have shit to do,” or “While you’re focused on the Kardashians, children are starving in Third World countries,” congratulations: you’ve found an individual who just can’t seem to let people enjoy things.

Now, before we go further, here’s a message to anyone who feels personally victimized by this article: It’s OK. We all have bad days. I know that I have moods where I just want to tear down everything that makes another person happy, but that’s only because I’m feeling particularly miserable and want to boost my self-image by standing on someone else’s back. Not only is it completely unkind for a person to act this way, but it’s also an unhealthy way to deal with personal problems.

Your responsibilities might keep you from playing a video game or watching the Oscars, but that lack of escapist fun doesn’t make you better than the people who take part in it. In fact, there’s a growing body of evidence to suggest that the United States’ obsession with working to the point of exhaustion has grown toxic. The cult of exhaustion is an extreme conclusion to the valuation of hard work, and it affects our professional and academic lives, as well as our pursuit of physical fitness. And people who overexert themselves at work may be at risk for engaging in escapist behaviors that are riskier than an hour of Pokémon Go, including binge drinking.

But there’s another aspect of U.S. culture that may contribute more widely to the growing trend of denigrating people who have fun. People in this country are obsessed with individualism. When we waged war on communism in the mid-20th century, being an independent and free-thinking person became the central tenet of being a proper citizen. If you wanted to be like everyone else, well, you might as well be pinko commie scum. And even though the U.S. loves a good, not-mainstream-looking scapegoat, we still hold tight to the idea that you have to be your own person.

And so, when the news media reports on what celebrities are wearing or who is divorcing whom, detractors swoop in on the chance to set themselves apart from the crowd. “I don’t like this thing,” they cry, “and anyone who does is [insert ableist term here]!” All these people really want you to know is that they are so not mainstream, man, in the same way that, in high school, I just wanted to wear clothes from Hot Topic and thrift stores, and thought people who shopped at American Eagle and Hollister were basically Satan.

From these folks, you’ll also hear the common complaint that the news media refuses to focus on important issues of the day. In most cases, this is untrue. Although there are plenty of social justice protests and demonstrations that never make a nightly broadcast, most media outlets — from national newspapers, to online magazines, to your local newsroom — report on a variety of topics, including books, TV and film, politics, local and global events, and economics. And, believe it or not, The NYT still ran movie reviews on the day after September 11, without losing its journalistic integrity. People can care about more than one thing, without disrespecting important issues.

Finally, no, these people who act this way are not hipsters or punks, although both of those groups are known for eschewing general likes and dislikes for street cred and shock value. But the people who want to insult you for being “basic” form large portions of their identities based on their differences from the mainstream, which is itself a nebulous concept.

But here’s the thing. If you can only be defined by what you are not, then you, my friend, are a negative space, formed by boundaries that other people set. That’s not edgy, and it doesn’t set you apart, because as soon as the fad tides shift, so will you.

So stop dragging others down to make yourself look taller. Just let people enjoy things.