Two weeks ago, in advance of the show's last episode, I had a long talk with a co-worker about Breaking Bad. We shared theories (I believed Marie would play a major role in the finale), discussed the show's intentional colour palette (have you noticed that Walt started off in White underwear but ultimately puts on Heisenberg's Black hat?), and even pitched themed foods for her finale party (Heisenburgers and Leaves of Grass Salad). It was a fun talk about a cultural phenomenon; the exact type of watercooler discussion that cable executives would commit minor crimes to cultivate.
She didn't know I've seen about four episodes of Breaking Bad in my entire life.
I have always intended to watch the show. How could I not? Depending on who you talk to, it's either one of the finest shows ever made, the apex of television's golden age, or Literally God. It's a cultural event, so what the hell is wrong with me for not watching it? And that's not a rhetorical question; the last time I publicly mentioned I didn't watch the show, a nearby stranger turned around and demanded to know what the hell was wrong with me.
That right there is a pretty strange and intense attitude that seems to happen more and more; we get aggressively upset by people who haven't seen/heard/read the things we have. I think it ultimately comes from a good place -- we want to have a moment with someone, to connect over a shared experience. Yet time and time again, it manifests as someone stopping, mid-conversation, to clarify that their friend really hasn't seen Avatar yet, it's so good, how did you miss it?! It made a billion dollars!
At a certain point, I got tired of bringing group conversations to a halt because I had only seen the first season of Mad Men, or the only Beatles album I've ever listened to in its entirety is Sgt. Pepper's. I couldn't be the pop culture fan that my friends deserved, so I decided to become the one they needed.
The lies started small. I had never heard the band someone was raving about, but I had definitely heard of them. Instead of admitting I had never seen a movie, I could say I had seen "parts" of it, which was technically true if we're willing to accept trailers and brief glimpses while channel surfing as parts of a movie.
Then it started to get out of control. The problem with something like Breaking Bad (or LOST, or The Sopranos, or Mad Men) is that conversation and analysis of the show becomes almost inescapable. There was a time where you couldn't find a website or a newspaper that wasn't name-dropping The Smoke Monster or The Island. It's really hard to find a gathering where the names Betty Draper and Skyler White don't immediately draw a strong emotional reaction (mostly negative, because people are horrible) from someone nearby. And I picked up on all of that, gained information, and formed opinions about shows I hadn't even properly seen.
I didn't seek out the information; it found me. Repeatedly. So I found myself being able to hold my own in conversations that would otherwise be brought to a screeching halt if I ever mentioned that I've never seen The One Where Walt Goes Under The House*. I went along with it, and I never really stopped. Every time I was directly confronted about it, I'd say something vague about how I "wasn't exactly caught up," and the issue would be dropped.
The next logical step, in my mind, was to use my knowledge to help the people around me. If I had a friend who wanted a show that was like Law & Order but more realistic, I was there to suggest they watch The Wire. It's a fantastic show, unappreciated in its own time but beloved now. I would say how many think it's the best show ever made.
I'd simply leave out the fact that I've only seen the first two episodes and a few YouTube clips about Omar. In the end, they always end up loving the things I suggest -- why complicate matters by revealing my sources?
I'm aware that this has become a heartfelt defense of minor sociopathy, but I fundamentally believe that there's something wrong about how we treat people who don't know the same things we do. At a certain point, nobody wants to be mini-shamed for having the gall to not like the exact things you do, in precisely the same order and level of intensity as yours.
Sometimes, we just want to be quietly accepted, and if stretching the truth of your firsthand experiences means we can gain that base level of acceptance, I don't see it stopping any time soon.
And I don't think I'm alone, either.
*I've seen maybe a dozen episodes of Friends, but that didn't stop me from making this joke. How you doin'?
Shows/Movies I've Claimed To Have Seen
- The Sopranos (Entire first season plus the final five minutes on YouTube)
- The Wire (Two episodes plus YouTube clips)
- Justified (One season plus Patton Oswalt's Twitter)
- Breaking Bad (The first two episodes, the last two episodes, and YouTube clips)
- Schindler's List (I've seen a trailer and read several articles about it)
- Mad Men (Half of season one and a "Best of Roger Sterling" video)
- Buffy The Vampire Slayer (A collected 20 episodes across all seasons)
- Twin Peaks (Absolutely none of it)