The Movie Prejudice Dilemma

Lately, I’ve been running into a lot of problems with the Movie Prejudice Dilemma. The MPD is an ideological conflict of an artistic nature; one which locks the cold hand of pragmatism in a battle to the death with the forces of creative integrity, complicated by a number of conflicting goals in both categories.

Now, ideologically, nothing, least of all a piece of artwork, should be judged without first experiencing it. I think we can all agree that making a decision on the whole of an entity based solely on limited information about one or a few of its parts is both logically unsound and a violation of one’s own integrity. Indeed, to do so is to engage in the very definition of prejudice. When it comes to art, a bit of discrimination can occasionally be prudent; prejudice, never so. Ergo, ideologically, if you wish to judge a movie, you should see the movie first. Agreed?

The thing is, some movies are probably going to suck. You know them when you see them. They’re the ones you see the previews for in the theaters, grimace, hang your head in your hands, and reflect for a moment on what must be the sad state of the human condition for such tripe to be allowed to exist. A few relatively recent examples where I’ve experienced this have been “Resident Evil: Apocalype”, “Stuck On You”, “2 Fast 2 Furious”, “The Spongebob Squarepants Movie”, “The Seed of Chucky”, etc. YM, of course, MV as to your specific tastes.

This is where we begin to get into trouble. Let’s start on the most basic level: money. Seeing a movie costs money; anywhere from $5-$10 for a first-run ticket. For most of us, paying that much to see a movie that ends up sucking feels just like throwing that same amount of cash down the drain, with the exception that the drain option wastes far less time. Therefore, most of us would prefer to avoid going to see movies that suck. The problem is, according to the above, we cannot rightfully make a judgement on relative suckiness level without first seeing the movie. Can’t judge movie without seeing it, don’t want to see movie without first having judged it to be worth the time and money. That’s our first catch-22 right there.

Having explored that, let’s move up the scale a bit, and consider marketing. Hollywood studios, by and large, produce movies in order to make money. If a movie makes money, they take note of that, and proceed to make more movies in a similar vein. Ideally, we, the moviegoing public, would like Hollywood to make movies that do not suck, while limiting the number of movies that do suck. The way to do this would be to avoid going to see movies that suck, thus ensuring that they don’t make any money. The problem, yet again, is that we cannot make an honest judgement on the suckiness of the movie until we’ve already seen it. If we go to see movies that suck in addition to the good ones, Hollywood will take note that both types of movies can make money. And, as Hollywood producers well know, it is more difficult to make a good movie than a movie that sucks. Therefore, Hollywood will begin to make movies that suck their primary output. To Hollywood, this seems like a win-win situation. To us, it seems like all we ever get from that point out is a bunch of movies that suck. I’m sure you can draw the line here from the hypothetical to the case-in-point…it’s really not that much of a stretch.

So, the question becomes: do we prejudge movies based on the limited information given in previews, advertisements, and critical reviews – thereby accomplishing our pragmatic goals, but standing on shaky ideological ground, and perhaps missing a hidden gem or two by discarding them with the riffraff – or do we instead give every movie a fair shake, seeing it for ourselves that we may judge it on the fullness of its merit, while simultaneously wasting our money and encouraging Hollywood to heap upon us vast quantities of odious shit?

How do you resolve the Movie Prejudice Dilemma? Discuss, discuss!

A couple points I meant to include in the OP:

  • The MPD can be partially resolved by renting, but there are those who would say, and I would agree, that certain movies are done a grievous disservice by watching them outside of the theater. Also, certain movies cannot be rented in letterbox format, which means that you’re neither seeing the whole movie or getting the intended experience (yes, fullscreeners, I’m one of those people, but this isn’t the place to debate it; if you disagree, just ignore this point entirely).

  • Those of you who live in towns that still have a 99-cent or $2 theater that show movies after their initial run have a simple and elegant solution to this problem. And I hate you.

  • Okay, I guess I don’t really hate you.

  • Yes I do.

I am prejudiced against some movie themes, actors, directors, and writers. And I don’t have a problem with that. Like you said, Roland, it’s a matter of where I want to spend my money and time. So if I find out later that I passed up an opportunity to see a good or better movie in a theater, I live with my choice.
Of course, all of that is out the window on dates. In those situations I will go see just about anything for one reason only - because that’s what she wants to see.

Ok, Roland. There has been a political movement that’s been going on for a few decades that encourages people stop having prejudice towards PEOPLE, mainly based on RACE, SEX, and NATIONALITY. That has NOTHING to do with EVERYTHING ELSE in the entire world. It’s perfectly fine judge a movie, or anything else, by limited information. In fact, it’s necessary - none of us have time to experience everything first hand, so we have to pick and choose using small clues. Nobody will think that you’re an enemy of art if you heed the obvious signals of a bad movie.


From’s first two entries for prejudice:

If one were to form the opinion in the complete absence of material from the film or work in question, then that would meet the prejudicial definition.

Once one has experienced a shred or piece of the actual thing itself, a decision can be made that isn’t prejudiced. One is no longer judging before observation, and one has knowledge/examination of facts. Now, one’s judgment based on incomplete facts may be at odds with one’s judgment after receiving all the facts - but it’s not really prejudice.

Further, when does one have all the facts? Let’s say I sit and watch Toy Story from beginning to end. Am I know, in your worldview, permitted to make a judgment without being dubbed ‘prejudiced’? Perhaps so, but I really don’t have all the facts, do I? If I knew the specifications of the computers used to render the movie, I could appreciate the effort that went into all the more. If I knew the new techniques they invented specifically for the film, I might marvel at their technical achievement. All I have before me is the result, which is a large piece of, but not the entirety of, the whole.

So I assert that one does not need to have experienced the entirety of the work to make an unprejudiced decision.

So then - how much is enough? That’s up to the individual. If you hate movie westerns, and you see a two-minute trailer for John Ford’s Stagecoach, you can legitimately judge that it’s a Western, and that you probably won’t enjoy it. So you can save your money and time. Me? I hate Kevin Costner. If a movie trailer shows a lot of Costner in it, and he’s got one of the top billing slots, I know I probably won’t like the movie. I’m judging it based on the evidence I have been given - which is all I can do, in that situation. I may see the movie anyway, if the other indicators are positive.

Honestly, if you call a decision based on partial evidence ‘prejudiced’, then every legal decision in the history of the world is ‘prejudiced’, because no court case in history has ever presented every single point of data related to the case at hand.

I tend to resolve it by educating myself first. For example, I read “Sight and Sound” and other cinema magazines. I tend to be interested in films more according to director – so even if I may not be interested in the particular theme, I will give a film the benefit of the doubt. I’ll also try to get past MPD by looking at the context of the film.

E.g./ The Fifth Element was written, IIRC, when Besson was only 15 years old, so I went fully expecting to see something that was conceived by a hormonally preoccupied teenaged boy, and executed by an adult with a creative stylized zing.

I’ll also go see a film that I’m pretty sure I won’t like if I’ve read something that would make it intellectually interesting (even if only from a film theory point of view or something that may have been an artistic experiment that failed.)

E.g./ Cindy Sherman (famous photographer) directed a deliberately and unapologetically bad B horror flick – Office Killer– a film that was supposed to celebrate the B Movie phenomenon, including it’s inherent badness. And, it did just what it intended to do, but with some visually delicious moments that were unmistakably linked to her photography style. I love her photography. I knew Sherman’s flick was going to be a “bad B movie” because it was a deliberate exercise in creating the archetypal “bad B movie”. Fair enough. (I was not disppointed, it was bad and I enjoyed it’s eye rolling badness).

The MPD that causes me great consternation though is casting. I hate Tom Cruise. No matter how innovative the film, I can’t enjoy anything when he is on the screen. It drives me to distraction and I can’t “lose myself in the film”. I was able to even ruin Minority Report for other people (unintentionally) because I was able to predict the ending and sight gags well before they happened.

Since I tend to choose films based on director, that usually trumps my casting prejudices because I have faith in the director. Nonetheless, I’m usually disappointed because the cast member I hate still sucks.

And there are film genre’s I don’t enjoy, have never enjoyed, and when I give in to badgering “just to give it a chance” I always end up thoroughly hating it (ex/ anything like Dumb and Dumber is wasted on me). So I don’t even bother trying to resolve my MPD for those things. I just don’t go, since it won’t be fun for me or the person who made me go.

Count me among those not really seeing the problem here. Human beings are entitled to be treated with some basic respect and dignity, except perhaps in certain circumstances involving truly horrible behavior. But movies are not people. I don’t owe anything to movies I’ve never seen. Movies are of course produced by people, and these people are entitled to the same fair treatment as anyone else, but they are not entitled to my time or money. There is no ethical reason why I should not make the judgement “This is not a movie I want to see” about a movie I have not in fact seen. I would have every right to avoid a movie knowing nothing but the title, if for some reason I disliked the title. Or I could avoid a movie simply because I didn’t have the time or money to spend on it. (Incidentally, in Japan the standard price for movie tickets is 1800 yen each – a little more than $16.)

Now, if someone takes it upon themselves to criticize a movie they haven’t seen then that may be another story. If I wrote a lengthy post here in Cafe Society about how, say, Gigli was the worst movie ever made, I think I’d deserved to be slammed for it because I’ve never actually seen Gigli. Perhaps it is the worst movie ever made, but to be sure I’d have to watch at least a little of it. But I think I would be on firm ground with a post about how stupid Gigli sounds, why I don’t want to see it, or even about how I find the movie’s premise offensive.

Right. I understand all that. The OP was purposefully written in a tongue-in-cheek manner, making a mountain out of a particularly unnoticeable molehill of a “problem”. Clearly, there’s a line that everyone draws for themselves where they decide that they’re just NOT going to see the movie. The real question I’m asking here, then, is where you draw that line for yourself. That’s what I meant when I asked how you “resolved the dilemma”. It’s something not everybody consciously considers, so I thought I’d pose the question to better understand people’s processes for doing this.

CandidGamera, you avoid genres you don’t generally like, and then, all other things being equal, take a pass on actors you don’t like as well. SeanFactotum is a little more picky, in that he has more reason that he’ll avoid a movie, but is also more willing to accept the loss when he misses something good. Eats_Crayons finds out as much as she can, sees movies by directors she knows she’s liked in the past (a good way to go, IMO; even if it ends up sucking, you want the director to make another movie that might not), and admits to waffling a bit on casting.

Obviously, everybody makes this choice. Apparently, everybody also makes this choice differently. That, rather than any actual moral/artistic outrage, was my point in posing the question in the way I did.

I fell prey to this just last night. See. I hate *The Royal Tenenbaums *. Now, I’ve never seen The Royal Tenenbaums. I refuse to see The Royal Tenenbaums. It just reeks to me of smarmy pseudo-intellectualism and faux indie cred wrapped up in Hollywood generic packaging. Plus, there’s a whole bunch o’ actors in it I’m not fond of.

But I think the real reason I don’t want to see it is that some odd thing about it (or about the trailer) reminds me of Rushmore. Which I don’t like. And haven’t seen, either. That one I haven’t seen due to an intense not-like of Bill Murray. I have no idea what about *The Royal Tenenbaums * reminds me of Rushmore. It might be something as simple as the costuming, lighting or color pallatte. But whatever it was, it was enough to evoke the same aversion.

So last night I saw a new trailer for a new movie and had my gut level, intestinal twisting ugh reaction to it. And, sure enough, it was by the director of The Royal Tenenbaums. Which I hate. Even though I haven’t seen it. So I hate this one too.

Is this all crazy and irrational and stupid? Of course it is! Am I cheating myself by missing out on some fine cinematic experiences? Perhaps. Many people, reviewers, magazines, etc. had lots of good things to say about these movies. I assume they can’t be totally sucky, or they wouldn’t have what cache they do. (Not always a safe assumption that success=watchable, though.)

The thing is, with such a gut level aversion, I’ve never suceeded in actually liking the movie. I’m too prepared to hate it. (Well, almost never. I really, really tried to hate Titanic, but it just sucked me under and I ended up in love. Dammit.) Generally, when the husband brings home a video I’ve already decided I don’t like, I do indeed not like it. I spend the first half of the movie squirming on the couch in agony, and the second half in here on the Dope with you fine folks while he watches alone.

And there’s enough good movies that I do want to see that I’ll never have the time or the money to see them all anyway. So that, for me, is the deciding factor in MPD: I’ll watch what I want to watch, and trust that I can live a full and healthy life without ever seeing The Royal Tenenbaums.

Could be that both movies were directed by Wes Anderson and written by Anderson and Owen Wilson. Luke Wilson and your hated Bill Murray are also in the case of both films (as is the much less famous Kumar Pallana), although Wilson was a lead in Tennenbaums and a little more than a cameo in Rushmore, while Murray was a lead in Rushmore and a supporting character in Tennenbaums.

By deciding life is too short to waste time watching movies which leave a negative first impression.

It’s also too short to try to come up with meticulous reasoning in response to this rather pretentious thread.

Dude. It’s a joke. Well, a combination joke/poll really, but lighthearted in nature. Chill.

That must be it! I did know I’m not fond of the Wilsons, but had forgotten their connections with Anderson. And the trailer I saw last night was for The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, also written and by Anderson and also starring Bill Murray and Owen Wilson. Ugh. So I wonder why I have such a visceral and irrational dislike of poor Wes Anderson’s work without ever seeing a single one of his films? Poor guy.