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Critical Paranoia

Tell me if this has ever happened to you.

You watch a movie.  You're kind of ambivalent about what you think.  You read a couple of reviews to see if you can get a new perspective.  Some salient points are made both in favor of the movie and against it.  You digest them, then you come to some semblance of a final opinion.

Weeks pass, and somebody else mentions the movie in the middle of a conversation.  They ask what you thought of it.  You tell them your opinion.  And then, like an hour later, you think: Wait, was that my opinion, or did I just read that somewhere?

God, I hate that.  There's few things as dehumanizing as finding out that you might, in fact, be a robot that's programmed by other people's sound bites.  It's the same reason I feel uncomfortable after quoting lines from movies back and forth with somebody.  We're all just machines reprocessing the same matter over and over again, aren't we?

Obviously I fancy myself a critic on some level or I wouldn't maintain a movie-related blog, so having an opinion is important to me.  But more important than having it is feeling secure knowing that it actually is mine.  Even if everybody else thinks I'm nuts because I liked Hulk and was ambivalent toward Thor, I feel whole knowing that those thoughts came from inside.

Still one of my favorite comic book movies.
I wonder if that's why people sometimes have a knee-jerk reaction toward popular opinion?  You know how there's always somebody who's just waiting to say, "Oh, that was garbage" anytime there's a big cultural event going on?  (Yeah, yeah, I am that guy most of the time.  What of it?) It wouldn't surprise me if that's just a side effect of this paranoia.

Somewhere deep in your brain, there's a little sensor that gleefully buzzes, "I'm me!  I'm me!  I'm me!" And any time it suspects there's a contaminant in the system, it freaks the hell out.  It doesn't matter whether it's a zombie movie or an irritating but surprisingly effective ad campaign - it needs to believe it's in control of your destiny, and the second there's doubt, it will send you into an irrational rage.

It might be easy to laugh at the sensor after the fact.  It's tempting to say, "Oh, hush, you silly thing.  It's okay to like The Avengers a little bit."  And in many cases, that's probably the right reaction.

But then there are those quieter, more sinister moments where the contaminants slip by and the sensor didn't even notice.  Those times you write a blog post and say, "Huh, that joke looks familiar.  Did I read that on a Buzzfeed list?"

Those moments scare the crap out of me.  It's not that somebody might change my opinion by talking to me; that's just called "being a human."  No, the thing that terrifies me is that I may not actually be a good writer or critic after all.  What if every review I ever write, every story I ever tell, every update I ever post is just an unconscious collection of nonsense that other people put into me, and my body is completely unaware that I'm redistributing other people's thoughts?

Even worse: what if that's the only way to be successful, and the reason I'm still struggling is because I'm trying to write something that's my own?

Sigh.  This is why I shouldn't read reviews.