If you’ve ever watched the original series of The Office, the British one, you will probably remember Simon. Simon, the smug little computer nerd IT tech, whose entire sense of self importance is drawn from his ability to speak in useless trivia and facts. If you are into film and frequent any kind of discussion board, anywhere on the net, be it forums, or social media, you have probably met a Simon. Or Simons, because let’s face it, they are everywhere.
Facts are important, of course, but they really aren’t the be all and end all to you enjoying a film. Far from it. In fact, pre-internet, pre-cable, I would often find myself watching films on television with no actual clue as to what they were, or who made them, and it didn’t stop me enjoying a damn thing about them. For example, it took me over two decades to rediscover Next Of Kin (1982), after catching it on a late night showing as a kid, being terrified and in awe of it, with no viable way of finding out what I had just watched because someone forgot to buy a TV guide that week.
I am not opposed to fact checking. In a job like mine it is important. But, when facts are weaponised as a way of making another person feel bad, used in the same smug, self satisfied way that Simon uses them against poor Gareth in The Office — I didn’t see Bruce Lee fight Chuck Norris in Enter the Dragon; I saw him fight him in WAY of the Dragon — he promptly corrects, with a shit eating grin all over his face, I have to draw the line. Just because you can remember a fact or detail someone else doesn’t know, or has forgotten, doesn’t mean you hold a position of superiority over them. Plus, literally nobody is infallible. Seriously, nobody: not me, not you, and not that pedantic little film nerd on the message board. Nobody. We all make mistakes, we misspeak, we get muddled up, and do you know what, that’s ok. It really is.
What irks me the most is when trivia is used as a form of gatekeeping. Trivia, the fact you can recite all 15 alternative titles for a film, or in fact that you had it on VHS pre-cert in 1982, does not give you the right to lord it up over someone who cannot name those titles, or did not own it in some obscure version before you. Similarly, whether you watched a film 20 years ago, 20 months, or 20 seconds ago makes not one blind bit of difference to the experience of watching it. Watching something first does not give you the right to claim authority over another. And yet, it’s everywhere within the film community, which seems to be a place where quite often personal ego means much more than the significance of film, the way we respond to it in an emotional way, the way it connects us. In fact, instead of building connection, discussions, especially over older “cult” film, frequently descend into a pissing contest, where chests are puffing all over the place, and facts are tossed around like grenades. This is not cinephilia. It’s a bunch of trainspotters in a cage match. Just stop that shit.
Here’s an alternative view; how about encouraging learning and sharing facts without looking like you just got a hard on because you feel infinitely more important than that other guy who didn’t know that one useless thing you did before him? No doubt he knows it now, and will never forget, because you just ground it into his face with the virtual wazz you just took all over it in the process. I can guarantee one thing: nobody has seen every film in the world, nobody. Not even you. How about cultivating discussion, where, Jesus Christ, you might even learn something too, and who knows, maybe even make a new friend in the process? How about encouraging younger people, or people who haven’t had the opportunity you’ve had to see certain films before now, to share their new found loves. Take pleasure in their discoveries, their excitement, instead of being that one kid who always has to pop the balloons at the party because he can’t stand seeing anyone else having a good time.
If someone posts about a film they have just seen, or love, don’t just barge in with an unsolicited fact. This is NOT talking to people. ‘Oh look, such and such, made by such and such, in such a year (add piece of trivia)’. What do you expect to gain from this bizarre form of communication? It’s not discussing, because you are speaking in a closed statement from which there is no proper way to continue, apart from an awkward “yes” reply from the original poster, because they probably know this already having just watched the film and all that. You literally look like you barged into a room unannounced, shouted some random thing over a megaphone, and left again. Perhaps try with something like, ‘hey, I really enjoy this one, what did you think of it?’ And voila, this magical thing called conversation occurs, and everyone feel nourished and connected.
Next time you feel the urge to correct someone, and your face lights up like Simon, stop and think, because it says much more about you than anything to do with film. If your sole purpose in life is to show everyone on the internet how much you apparently know, if you take pleasure at asserting that fact continually at the expense of other people’s feelings, then maybe, just maybe, it’s time to stop sitting in watching films, reading up on facts, using that to blow your wad all over the virtual sphere, and get out a bit more. Maybe cinema isn’t for you. Because it isn’t. It’s for everyone.