Thursday, July 22, 2010

Obsession to the Point of Obsession

I want to talk about obsession. The actual thing, not hyperbole for being fond of something. In fact that is part of the point I hope to make; that you can be fond of something, even love it, and not be obsessed with it.

Yet I face some challenges when it comes to writing this post. I realized that there are way too many examples from which to choose in this society of things with which people are flat out obsessed. And I don't mean that everything is the object of someone's obsession. I mean that there are numerous examples of entire obsessed communities and sub-cultures devoted to one thing. One doesn't even have to research to find them. One can walk done the street and probably see some of them. (I bet you already have an idea in your head about what subjects could fall into this category.)

The fact that there are so many such communities proves my point to a degree. But for this post I had to pick one example, for illustrative purposes. So I did. But not just at random. One that I have determined to be by far the most egregious example of obsession I have ever encountered. One that can start a fight and end friendships quicker than any other. Believe it or not, I am not referring to religion. (Another big one.) I am referring to Star Wars.

I promise you that I know church goers who are less obsessed with God than some people are with this movie franchise. There are other things which illicit similar regrettable behaviors, yes. But this one seems to be at the top of the dubious list. So Star Wars is the focal point.

As a contrast, I offer up my passion for the works of Shakespeare. I intend to use that as an example of a passion as opposed to an obsession. Because you see, the first thing that people who are obsessed tend to do when you point out obsessive behavior is to mention that there are all kinds of things other people love. That Star Wars is just another thing for people to love, like Shakespeare. But in so doing they confuse the topic with the degree. The fault, dear reader, lies not in Star Wars, but in ourselves that we become obsessed. As I intend to show, passions are but one facet of our lives. Whereas in the case of obsession, areas of our lives end up being facets of the object.

I see four major indicators of obsession. The first is what I call excessive display.

In 4th grade there was a kid who wrote, "I love Stars Wars" on every line of every page of a notebook he owned. It wasn't for class. He just carried that with him to fill it in with "I love Star Wars" while we would hang out at lunch and recess. I was only 10 and I still knew that was a bit troubling. Not that the kid loved Star Wars, but that he had to fill up a whole notebook in public with him explaining same.

You see, a person obsessed with something has to make sure everyone knows that they are. And in case you are tempted to think it was merely the actions of a sheltered child, consider the pewter collector pieces of the Millennium Falcon worth about a grand that I have seen used as the centerpiece for a formal dining room.

I have Shakespeare books on my shelf. If there was a funny t-shirt with him on it, I'd wear it to the theatres I frequent. I still look for a suitable print of a scene from Shakespeare to hang in my hallway. When asked about my passions, I will say Shakespeare among others. But I will not write at a table full of fellow students, "I love the Bard" over and over in a book when I am supposed to be working. I won't get a bronze sculpture of Yorick's skull, or a bust of Shakespeare to place right in the middle of my table, and point it out to guests during the first (and last?) time they choose to visit me.

Furthermore, if I did these things, most people would find it odd to say the least. Even the people who have the Falcon on their table. (?)

Another concept of obsession is daily encroachment.

Have you noticed the sheer number of things that the Star Wars franchise has wedged itself into over the years? And I don't just mean the usual. (Posters, t-shirts, action figures.) I mean stuff like this. Even if that is just for kids, (which I think is wishful thinking) do we need Star Wars in the kitchen? If I had children that loved the movie, I would want to make sure they could separate that love from the enjoyment of cooking and baking with me. There are areas in life that don't need to be touched by Star Wars. And yet just a brief scan of any online store will reveal that no area of life can't be connected to it. Toilet seats, linens, pencils, shoes, credit cards. On and on.

Even concerts. Star Wars in Concert  is basically spending inordinate amounts of money to do what? To go someplace and watch Star Wars. Again. Only this time there is a live orchestra to play the soundtrack as you watch. It's not a tribute to John Williams at the Boston Pops or something that may pass as a legitimate homage to a gifted composer. It's watching the movie again, with live music. (Or scenes from it, I don't know how it works exactly, and it wouldn't change my point if I did.) Did you see all of the people during the trailer on that website scream in near ecstasy as the music began? Is this love of the English horn at work, or a obsessive need to get even closer to Star Wars? It's like a Rocky Horror midnight showing flipped on its head. And four times as expensive.

Did the franchise really need yet another venue?

I can't promise that there are no Shakespeare cookbooks. But if they do exist, I imagine they are usually found in an obscure corner of the Folger Library, and are likely more scholarly than culinary. Certainly they are not on prominent display at Borders. Furthermore, I wouldn't buy one if it were, because I don't enjoy having Shakespeare in every facet of my daily life.

And while operas and symphonies exist with Shakespearean themes, they were designed that way. That is the media from which they come. A more apt comparison would be if Playstation 3 were to suddenly announce a video game version of each of Shakespeare's plays. 80 bucks a pop. I wouldn't pay money for them, because again I don't want my love of Shakespeare to be injected into anything and everything I could possibly do. Encroachment. Five yard penalty.

Lack of critical objectivity is another sign of obsession.

The first three films, (which people will always remind you are actually "Episodes 4-6") were modest entertainment, and were considered ground breaking by most movie historians. For the special effects and music, if nothing else. It brought the space genre out of the realm of the B-Movie. Sort of. Fine. So stipulated, your honor.

But by any objective metric, those three prequels were trash. Period. Acting, cinematography, screenplay, pacing. They were bad films. They made billions though. Of course they did. They had "Star Wars" stamped on them, and millions of people, fans and obsessed alike, had waited decades to see "how it all began." The films were guaranteed hits regardless of their low quality. Hence the problem. Borrowed gravitas.

I know people who are mere fans of the first Star Wars films who pretend like the prequels don't exist. Why? Because they know that the prequels are in fact garbage, and don't have a problem saying so. They not only are poor films in their own right, they tend to infringe on what the first three films accomplished, more than one grounded fan has told me.

If those same three movies had been their own trilogy, and called something like "Space Battles", most Star Wars people would rightfully rip them to shreds, and they know it. The movies certainly would not have made billions if they had been exactly the same, but with name changes.Yet the sheer amount of energy, time, and sometimes blood put into defending these terrible films because they are Star Wars is staggering.

As for me, I think the play, Love's Labor's Lost  is trash. And I was once in the damn thing. It's rambling, awkward, boring, flowery to the point of incoherence and possessed of a humor so topical to the 1600's that not even scholars know what the hell half of the jokes are supposed to mean. Few companies ever perform it, and I have no problem seeing why not.

They do however frequently put on As You Like It and that one sucks too. So does Titus Andronicus. I haven't bothered to ever read the epic poem "The Rape of Lucrece" because it just doesn't interest me in the slightest.

And yet all are the creations of William Shakespeare, a man whose other works have been a major influence in my life. But he wasn't perfect, and his name being attached to something doesn't make it brilliant. It just makes it by Shakespeare. If only more people would adopt that view for things made by George Lucas.

Finally, the trait I think is most indicative of obsession is taking it personally.


Back in May, a new "holiday" was initiated. It was "Star Wars Day" among fans and obsessed alike. To be exact, it was on the fourth. Why the fourth? Because, dear friends, people could then walk around saying, "May the fourth be with you."

This hearkens back a bit to "daily encroachment" in that these people are in so much need to attach a Star Wars celebration to yet another part of their daily lives that they declared the fourth of May their own day because when said in a certain order, it vaguely sounds like one of the catchphrases from Star Wars spoken by someone with a lisp.

COME ON PEOPLE!

If you are going to use a terrible, asinine almost-pun like that for something so silly, at least have the ability to laugh at yourself about it. 


Yet, I found out the hard way, people obsessed with Star Wars cannot.


On my Facebook that day, I mentioned something about thinking it was one of the most desperate, unfunny, half-assed excuses for a holiday that I had ever come across. And let's face it, it is. The vitriol and anger that came out of some people after I did that was sickening.


"Why are you so hostile to people who love something? Don't you love anything?"
"What's with all of the hate?"
"A theatre geek that has a problem with Star Wars? I call bullshit on your attitude."
"How long are we supposed to put up with your narcissism?"
"What sort of fear are you really hiding by lashing out at Star Wars fans?"


I'd like to point out that 90% of the time I could put, "I just broke my arm" on my Facebook status and not one person would respond with anything. But mess with Star Wars and suddenly it's on?


Or the time when I learned of one of my former friends, (note, "former") was going to the previously mentioned Star Wars in Concert. This girl always prided herself in "telling it like it is" and "not pulling any punches. What you see is what you get." You know the type. Pursuant to that she would have no trouble telling you if your shoes were ugly, or if your writing was boring and not worth her time. (Which she told me more than once.) Yet when I ribbed this frank, allegedly fun loving, down-to-earth and "I don't care what people have to say" Star Wars fan that her going to Star Wars in Concert was "pathetic", the literal end of our friendship began. The nastiness. The defensiveness. The sheer hypocrisy of being able to hold up Star Wars as a legitimate passion that I had no right to mock while going out of her way to tell me my writing was no good or letting people know she "hated" the bands that appeared on their t-shirts?   


I don't talk to a lot of those people anymore. And it's all because they feel as though they have a personal stake in a stupid movie series. A movie series. They didn't write it, direct it or appear in it. They have nothing at all to do with any of the people attached to it. Yet when they are silent and apathetic about everything else I say and do, they suddenly have all the energy and interest in the world to reply to my thoughts when I dismiss Star Wars kitsch. (Not dismissing them as people.)


And that's the problem. If you cannot hear criticism of a movie you like without feeling as though someone is attacking your whole way of life, you are obsessed. (Or you secretly know that your level of love for the movie is inappropriate but you don't want to admit it to the world when somebody calls you out for it.)


I am disappointed when people say they do not like (or even hate) Shakespeare. But if I took it personally every time somebody said it, I'd never leave the house. Because a lot of people hate his work, and for some reason have little problem in expressing it loudly and often. As though they are rebelling against their parents during the senior prom or something. Interestingly, many of the people who take pleasure in always telling me they hate Shakespeare are Star Wars fanatics. (Yes, the very people who do not like to be told that they perhaps may be just ever so childish for building their own light saber handle out of spare car parts.)


Shakespeare isn't for everybody, and I know that. Nor do I care. I think most people who hate his work do not understand him, but that is my view. I know that it doesn't take away from what the plays do for me. And I didn't know Shakespeare personally. So what's it to me if you don't like him?


If someone tells me, "I hate King Lear", what if I came back with, "Oh really? Why? Is it because you're a stupid illiterate backwoods gun toting inbreed that is afraid of, or unable to think for himself? I guess so."


Overkill, don't you think? Yet mention in passing to a Star Wars fanatic how goofy you find the movies to be and see if you get treated any better.


In conclusion, it doesn't bother me if you enjoy watching Star Wars anymore than it bothers me if you enjoy eating celery. But there is a line between enjoying and obsessing. I have tried to point out that line here in this post. Excessive displays, daily encroachment, lack of critical objectivity and taking it personally can be signs of being obsessed with anything, whether it be Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, football, political candidates, or anything else. I would advise anyone who may recognize this behavior in either themselves or in someone else to ask what it is about either the person, or their lives that makes such excessive fandom so necessary. Is it really only a love for something, or is it a misguided attempt to fill a void of some sort?


Be passionate and share those passions with others. Partake in things you love. But at the end of the day there is so much out there to learn from and observe, so many people that like and dislike so many other things. Make sure you leave room on your shelf, literally and figuratively, for new things. To put it simply, life is too short to be obsessed with anything.

Do you know anybody who is obsessed in this way with something? Are you? Does it bother you in anyway? What causes obsession? How do you distinguish between a passion and on obsession? (Or do you?)

3 comments:

Empoprises said...

It's helpful to remember that "fan" can be considered short for "fanatic."

I checked the cross-references on Wikipedia's page on "fan." (Star Wars fans will be miffed to discovered that they don't merit a subsection, but Trekkies do.) In addition to obsession, the Wikipedia writers suggested that other topics of interest may include addiction, celebrity worship syndrome, cult of personality, and groupie, among others.

Erik said...

I don't have a problem with things like Star Wars cook books and other strange ways that it gets into parts of life that have nothing to do with the original franchise so long as one person doesn't buy all of it. If you think Wookie Cookies are a fun little novelty that give you a laugh, that's fine, but then if afterwards you eat them on your Star Wars plate with a Star Wars napkin and end you evening in Star Wars bed sheets... you might have a problem. I'll give you that the Millennium Falcon table piece is on the extreme side in and of itself.

Aggie said...

This was the longest post I've read in a long time - and I enjoyed it thoroughly! You make a very good point, and you do it well. Thanks!