Forget Following The Crowd, How To Embrace Living Outside The Zeitgeist

I found myself looking at my watch. It had only been an hour and I was...bored. The film was fine but all style and no substance, I thought. Nothing had really happened, a lot of walking between rooms but the storyline didn’t develop. The best bit seemed to involve duck racing (as long as the ducks were fine with it, I found myself ticking over in my mind). Eventually, I left the cinema, irritated. What was all the fuss about? Even as Olivia Colman charmed the world with her Oscars’ acceptance speech for her role in the film The Favourite - apparently everyone’s favourite - I still didn’t get it.

But it’s not the first time I’ve felt at odds with the rest of the world. I hate Love Island, I haven’t read a single Harry Potter book, I’ve got zero interest in Game of Thrones and actively walked out of The Holiday featuring Cameron Diaz and Jude Law, which I’m reminded of every year when social media gushes as it’s repeated on TV at Christmas. Nexflix’s Russian Doll co-written by Amy Poehler - a god amongst women - disappointed me wildly and, no, I do not find Little Mix empowering.

And conversely, I love the stuff that no one else does. Have you seen Last Chance U? The poignant, funny, moving documentary about an American football team that actually tells the story of what it is like to be a disadvantaged young man in America today? Probably not - because no one else seems to be interested in it! When I read Catherine Lacey’s The Answers, I was so overwhelmed I put a copy in the hands of all my friends. Not one person came back saying they liked it, let alone suggest it was the smartest feminist critique of modern consumerism and the relationship to the female body written for the millennial generation. “I didn’t really get it” a friend shrugged. Welcome to my world, I thought.

At first, it can be an unsettling feeling. Humans are tribal, if nothing else. We feel good when we all come together behind one thing; a football match, a climax of a soap storyline, a Richard Attenborough documentary. That feeling can be even more persuasive now as we have so many options of what to watch or read or listen to. On the increasingly rare occasions we are united in a shared experience (especially in a bitterly hostile political landscape), it makes us feel part of something. We feel like we belong.

So standing outside the zeitgeist looking in can feel rather lonely. But it doesn’t have to. For starters, there’s a practical perk to not being obsessed with the same events everyone else is; there’s no queuing for tickets or difficulty trying to get reservations. During the World Cup, my boyfriend and I took advantage of when games were in the evening. We didn’t care about the football, so we strolled in Soho and got seats at restaurants that normally demand an Everest-climbing strategy to get into. And once you are over the initial fear there’s something wrong with you (there’s not), it is incredibly liberating.

There’s no pressure to watch what the office is talking about so you can join the conversation on Monday morning. There’s no need to slog through pages of a book so at book club you can show off your smart insights. There’s no running ticker tape in your mind of what you need to see, do or eat and then subsequently share on social media to prove to other people you are seeing, watching, doing and eating those things. There is a freedom from a cultural expectation to consume a set reading or watch list. You can read and watch whatever you damn well like.

And after a while, you start to wonder, does everyone really love the same stuff? Or do some of us just never really lose the playground feeling of wanting to fit in, to get the in-jokes, to be able to feel included and accepted by our peers? I’m not sure why I don’t take to some of our biggest cultural milestones (apart from The Wire that is) but it means I absolutely know what I do love and why. And embracing that means I spend more time engaged and less time sitting in the cinema, checking my watch.

Main image credit: Daniel Grizelj via Getty Images

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