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.