What's It About?

Thursday, 21 August 2014

If someone tells you they've read a book or seen a movie and you've just got to get onto it, what's the first thing you generally want to know?  It's usually, "What's it about?" right?  Or, if you're a bit of a sneery, picky literary snob like me, who would only touch a Sidney Sheldon novel if it was a choice between that and the Herald Sun (Melbourne's most popular newspaper, headed up by His Antichristness, Rupert Murdoch), you'd ask, "What is the genre?  What are its philosophical themes?"

But then I'm a bit of a wanker. 

The thing about "What's it about?" is that what you will get as a response is a synopsis.  And synopses are really rather boring.  So you could say when it comes to Six Feet Under, for example, "Oh, it's a series set in a funeral home, and all of the characters are a little flawed, and each episode explores death, and we don't do that in our culture still because that, my friend, is a culture that disallows anything - anything - to die, or stop, or slow, or speed up, or go up, or go down, because how the hell do you fit that shit into the spreadsheet?"

Okay.  So you've digressed a bit there, to be honest, but if you left out all that political stuff you still would have a synopses of my favourite TV series ever ever ever that wouldn't even come close to describing the mood of it, of how it makes you think and how it makes you feel.  The synopsis is like the skin of the orange.  It gives you an idea, sure, of what the contents are, but you can't really eat it.  Well, you can, but ew, gungy, yuk.

"What's it about?" is sort of akin to "So, what do you do?" only way less excruciating.  I really hate that "What do you do?" question.  It's based on the faulty premise that what we do for pay is what we most love.  But if you said, "So, what do you love?" to someone at a dinner party as your opening question after introductions, that'd sour the conversation as quickly as the cream coating the spuds, right?

"So, what do you do?" is a tedious opening question that should be banned the world over.  It's particularly lazy.  And yes, I understand that it is an entry point, where further questions should be asked, but often it's more like a closed door.  Especially with so many of us as cubicle dwellers.  I mean, where does the convo go after you've told someone you're a shipping clerk?

Even the interesting answers to "What do you do?" are still the orange skin on the orange.  For example, someone could answer interestingly, "Oh, I'm a musician, and I run a sort of spiritual group," but that won't indicate the freshness of the juice.  Going on that sort of information, people might come away thinking that that Charles Manson chap at the dinner party was a jolly interesting bloke.

Small talk is probably why my ideal dinner party would be a themed philosophical one where small talk is not allowed.  Where the first question that must be asked is, "So, what do you love?"  Now, that would be a dinner party I reckon I wouldn't be too adverse to going to.


  1. I was totally OBSESSED with Six Feet Under when it first aired... I can't believe, thirteen years ago!!
    I couldn't do the show justice in trying to describe it to people, so I'd tell them to just watch it and see for themselves.
    It's like trying to explain True Detective these days. How do you? It's not just "another cop show". It goes beyond sublime.
    Anyone I've directed to it will meet me, the next time I see them, with an odd smile, a fanatical look in their eyes and a thirst for more. It simply changes the way one sees any future (lesser) shows.
    Film can never "look down on" TV ever again. Ever.
    I bow at the feet of Nic Pizzolatto and Cary Fukunaga. And, will never look at actors McConaughey and Harrelson the way I used to. Sheer brilliance.
    True Detective is raw, unadulterated, unsettling, mind blowingly dark poetry.
    And, the haunting score seeps into, and melds with, the atmospheric cinematography, lending its pulse, giving every moment a heartbeat that ranges from measured and slow to restive to almost cardiac arrest proportions.
    Phew! Do you think I like TD?? :D

    As for books, I wish I could read more. But my mad monkey mud brain starts to gnaw and scrabble at the margins, distracting me with images of clay projects and thoughts of market inspirations. Damn, I just can't settle these days.
    It also takes a good show/movie to keep me from drifting. TD again...

    I like the idea of a "mystery book". You have to read it, not questioning its content before hand. Could be a dud or could be a gem. Who knows what one would find inside the cover.

    I dread going to certain places/events where I know I'm bound to meet new people, because I too don't like the common, "So, what do you do?" Ugh. I feel as though I'm being set up to be judged somehow, and if I don't measure up, they cough politely and excuse themselves. Most well meaning people don't see it that way, but I do wish they'd be a little more original with potential conversation starters.
    And, I've met my fair share of Quagmires in my younger days, that used to slowly look me up and down like I'm the fresh cut on the butchers tray, as those empty words trickle out of their slavering mouths. Some even thought they were funny, saying, "So, who do you dooooo". Yawn.

    Instead, I often ask people, "what's your story" to break the ice. It's such an unexpected question that mostly, it seems to do the trick, as they find themselves not limited to having to explain their status in life according to their employment or profession.

    I've found that people love to talk about themselves... and I'm not being disparaging, just it seems to be true. And, I like to hear what people have to say about themselves.
    Everyone, everyone, has a fascinating story to tell.
    In finding out about others, I sometimes find out things about myself too :)

    I think your dinner parties would be a breath of fresh air in a world of stagnant conversations on sports and political issues of the day.
    Crossing that threshold into compelling and absorbing.

  2. Mystery books is a great idea, I agree. How cool if you came across one that you loved and you wouldn't have read otherwise.

    Might have to get onto True Detective ... sounds like you sorta kinda like it a tad :)


Newer Older