I’m So Over Apathy

It takes courage to say what you like. Maybe more than it takes to say you don’t like something. Saying “I don’t like that.” puts you at risk of being called negative, but when you like something that’s unpopular you are at risk of having bad taste, of being seen as complacent. Just look at the language that’s tied to both ideas.

People who tend to dislike things can be seen as negative, snobbish, a wet blanket. On the positive side we say they have discerning taste. They’re a critic, a skeptic. There’s a perception of higher intelligence. On the other side we have terms like easily pleased, Pollyanna, positive, optimist. There is an undercurrent of condescension to this term, a feeling of simplicity. When did we decide that intelligence was tied to negativity, that positive people are somehow missing something?

Kelli O’Hara can explain it better:

In Nellie’s case, her optimism is also a stand-in for naivete, and she can’t seem to find the bright side of finding out that her true love has two biracial children. Apparently privileged white women leave their optimism outside the plantation gate.

In Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events he says

“Optimist” is a word which here refers to a person…who thinks pleasant thoughts about nearly everything. For instance, if an optimist had his left arm chewed off by an alligator, he might say, in a pleasant and hopeful voice, “Well, this isn’t too bad. I don’t have my arm anymore, but at least nobody will ever ask me if I am right-handed or left-handed”, but most of us would say something more along the lines of “Aaaaah! My arm! My arm!”

So maybe optimism doesn’t always require intelligence, but it certainly requires courage. As a director, one of your most important skills is to inspire your team, to make them feel like you’re on the right track. I don’t know if you can somehow run out of positivity. One of my fellow directors hasn’t run out of it yet, and she’s still producing absolutely beautiful work. Though she is certainly an optimist, she’s by no means unintelligent, and she can critique performances more articulately than many of the more negative directors I know.

I wonder sometimes if we forget that seeing the good doesn’t mean not seeing the bad. In one of the Fourth Doctor episodes of Doctor Who, K-9 defines optimism as

Optimism: belief that everything will work out well. Irrational, bordering on insane.

Though Doctor Who characters’ optimism may seem irrational, but much like in Shakespeare in Love, it usually turns out quite well in the long run.

See what I mean by turning out well?

Quite well indeed.

Ultimately optimism comes from believing the best in people, truly caring about them. It’s hard to do that all the time. It’s tiring, and ultimately it’s depressing.

This is the continuation of the conversation with K-9 in “The Armageddon Factor”:

The Doctor: Oh do shut up K-9! Listen Romana: Whenever you go into a new situation, you must always believe the best until you find out exactly what the situation’s all about. Then believe the worst.

Romana: Ah. But what happens if it turns out to not be the worst after all?

Doctor: Don’t be ridiculous. It always is. Isn’t it, K-9?

K-9: Master?

Seems like even two Time Lords and a tin dog can’t reconcile optimism in the real world, but it’s certainly what keeps all of them going.

Fountain of wisdom.

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