Aphelion Issue 227, Volume 22
April 2018
 
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A Word In Your Ear

The Killjoy Effect

by Rob Wynne


That annual celebration of gladiatorial conquest and capitalist art known as the Superbowl was aired last month. During the hours-long telecast, I'm told, the Seattle Seahawks demolished the much-favoured Denver Broncos, providing a sense of civic pride and joie de verve to a city that hasn't had much cause to celebrate its professional sports teams in recent years. Well done, and congratulations to the winning team for their accomplishments.

But that's not really what I wanted to talk about.

The day after the game, as I scrolled through various blogs and journals, interspersed between the reactions to the game by fans of all stripes are the messages from the cynically aloof, who write paragraphs to inform us about how they did not watch That Game at all, nor did they check to see who won, because they, you see, could not care less about (spit) football.

I find this an interesting phenomenon which is not restricted to sport. If you look at any pursuit which inspires a passionate following, you'll find a group who defines their superiority to the hoi polloi in terms of The Sort Of Thing I Don't Care For.

I admit, I can be as prone to it as anyone. When my friend Joey asked on Facebook: "Wasn't there some sort of big football game today?", and with a sly wink and straight face, I replied, "Yes, there was. Arsenal beat Crystal Palace, 2-0 :)" 

There's a certain sort of tribe recognition at work there, a signal to one another that we're in that set of people who isn't invested in the Big Thing Everyone Else Is Doing. When I see articles about the Twilight craze, I wrinkle my nose a bit and shake my head, having a firm and considered distaste for a series of books and movies I have not actually read or seen, nor do I have any particular inclination to do so.

In some ways, this is a very natural thing for us to do. No matter how much we desperately wish it was otherwise, we are shaped inevitably by our culture, often in ways that we don't immediately comprehend or even notice. When we do see a shaping force we dislike, we take a forthrightly opposing position to it (and thus, are indirectly influenced by it, if only by creating our sense of opposition.)

But like most behaviours, some people take it too far. A sly wink and a quip insufficient to show they are not part of the madding crowd, they write bitter essays about their studied indifference to the entire thing and how they never could see what anyone sees in it anyway. This both annoys and fascinates me. It fascinates me because what's strikingly obvious about these little screeds is not that the writer doesn't care about the subject in question, but rather it is very important to the writer that you know he doesn't care. Someone who honestly doesn't care about something would simply go on about their day, not caring.

It annoys me because while it's ok for one to be archly solipsistic in one's own blog; that is, after all, what blogs are for, it's positively obnoxious when it's done in actual conversation. If two people are having an excitable conversation about a topic of great interest to them, and you walk up and say, 'Oh, you're talking about $TOPIC. I never really understood what people see in that. It just doesn't interest me.", you have effectively a) derailed the original conversation, which was presumably being enjoyed by the original participants, and b) focused the conversation on yourself. The people you've now interrupted may feel the need to defend their love of $TOPIC, or they may feel they must change the topic, because someone has inserted themselves uninvited into their chat and declared the current subject not only uninteresting, but unworthy of the attention of anyone with more than a marginal level of sophistication.

There is a name for this sort of person: a killjoy. Killjoy is a great word, because it requires no explanation. A killjoy is someone who kills joy. It is someone who manages to make themselves feel better by holding themselves above whatever it is that anyone else enjoys, and makes wry and cutting remarks about the sort of people who like *that* sort of thing. (One manifestation of this particular personality is the Cool Hipster, whose primary criteria for declaring something art is whether or not anyone other than himself has ever heard of the artist. Many brilliant artists cease to be brilliant, in the Hipster's world, the moment they actually achieve recognition outside the small and insular circle of the Hipster and his friends.)

Now, one can certainly have any sort of opinion on any sort of topic that one wants. It is, as they say, a free country. But the next time you feel the need to insert yourself into a conversation just to express your alleged indifference to the topic at hand, ask yourself: "What am I trying to accomplish here?" If you are genuinely curious as to what someone else sees in it, perhaps you can have a useful conversation and walk away with some new understanding about the subject you didn't have before. If, only the other hand, all you're really wanting to do is demonstrate how insufferably superior you are to the unwashed masses, do everyone a favour and just walk away and wallow quietly in your smug grandiosity. No one wants to hear it, and there's little enough joy in this world already without someone coming along and draining it from the room.
© 2014 Rob Wynne

Rob Wynne is a musician, podcaster, gamer, con runner, and occasional blogger who currently lives in the Seattle area. In 1997, he helped Dan Hollifield create Aphelion Webzine, and has been on the committee of Gafilk, the Georgia filk convention, since 1999. In 2011, he helped launch the podcast Tadpoolery, a general interest geek-oriented show.

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