There have been a few blog posts and single-serving sites going around recently designed to let you check which of your Facebook friends like certain pop culture artifacts. The point isn’t to discover common interests, though, but to find out who in your social network has expressed even fleeting affection for a person, place, or piece of entertainment usually reserved for public derision. Popular examples: Nickelback, Kim Kardashian, “Two and a Half Men.” The latest of these lists is a piece from Buzzfeed titled “People You Need to Unfriend on Facebook Immediately.” It includes the items mentioned above as well as Crocs, Guy Fieri, and other pop ephemera that seem to have been created solely so people would have something to make fun of in their spare time.
Tool-based lists like these are guaranteed viral hits for a number of reasons: they’re easy to implement, simple to use, and they’re tied to things we’ve been conditioned to violently hate, or at least feel strongly about. I don’t like Rush Limbaugh, or Ed Hardy, or “Whitney,” or really anything on the list. Yet how selfish would I have to be to only befriend people whose political and cultural tastes were exactly aligned with mine? I don’t have to agree with my friend’s choices about pop culture. There will always be areas where we overlap and those where we don’t. What does it mean that we want to think about eliminating those presences from our lives? Even as a joke, on Facebook?
One of the things I love about being a film and TV critic is digging into something and thinking about what it means, and then using that investigation to start a conversation. I love encouraging people to think about these things; I love being encouraged to do so by the critics I admire. The point isn’t to only read reviews I agree with, but to do my best to see where someone is coming from. I don’t have to stop respecting someone, or terminate a real or digital friendship, simply because they enjoy DVRing “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.” If I did that, I’d be horribly close-minded.
That’s what I’m worried we might be coming to. Not in a rush, but slowly, one sarcastic and self-aware step at a time. I clicked on the link in the Buzzfeed article attached to George W. Bush to see which of my Facebook friends like/Like the former president. About a dozen do, though who knows how many like him without having expressed it online. I feel a great dislike for much of Bush’s presidency and the debacle that was the dual wars he waged, but my feelings toward those friends who like Bush haven’t changed one bit after learning that they support a president whose actions I often found intolerable. They have different opinions on him than I do. They hold different beliefs. I’m not going to kick them out of my life for being different from me, and I wouldn’t want them to cut me out of their own lives, either. I’d like to think we find more to care about in each other than a voting record and viewing habits.