The concept of the filmbro, or the movie aficionado who is characteristically shallow and overblown, offers us many lessons. The filmbro is mired in interesting lore. His thus-abhorred identity often surfeits the context of film, where it comes to define him. It marks him out like branding on a sheep. The sheep that flock to a sequestered segment of films, which is unregulated, boundless, not organized by genre or the straight arrow of time or directorial attachments. This is the era of the paraphernalia, where the surrounding context of a film (or TV show) and its place in popular culture determines its fate in criticism. The filmbro is all of us.
A friend of mine has a tendency to tell people she switched off Suits, a beloved office comedy set in a law firm, in the first seven minutes. I attend a law school; polls have shown many pupils decided to pursue this degree after watching Suits. This is a silly thing to do. And yet, there might be more to her dislike of the show than Suits’ obvious failing in critical reception lets on. This is not always a bad thing. On reflection, I think it just wasn’t on-brand enough for her. She doesn’t hate the legal profession, nor does she particularly despise workplace dramas, and if she loathed cheesy dialogue, she never told me amidst her rewatches of Glee or Supernatural.
There is nonetheless the possibility that she really prefers underrated shows, although consider the paradox: if one can indeed find media coverage calling a show “underrated”, among the thousands of new shows unleashed on platforms every year, how underrated can it really be? I believe it is a case of aversion to recommendations. She hated the show because it had been recommended to her.
And by being recommended it becomes more than a show, beyond an audio-visual mishmash I switch on – when ironing my clothes, or sitting in a metallic chair, hair dripping after a shower – in the wee hours of the night. It becomes an extension of the recommender, a phantomic presence that warms the couch next to you as you take in more of the suggested media. Every frame is coloured in a foreign light, unimagined by the makers themselves, twisting to the rigours of another person’s opinion. It is akin to having them sitting there in the flesh, poking your arm and wildly gesticulating: “This scene! The segue from the faux pas of letting people watch you being publicly rejected, to the protagonist resuming the daily mundane!” And does the scene assume a new meaning? I don’t think it does. If it was intended to do that, it has been robbed of its subtlety by the overarching presence of some other person, someone who should never pollute your consumption of media, which here assumes a sacred character.
More than that, it is the joy of watching a movie or episode totally uninitiated, an alchemical act of comprehension, similar to what Stephen King likes to say. (He says writing and reading something, and I extrapolate – making and watching something – is an act of telepathy.) Your ears probe the ebb and flow of the background score, your eyes ferret out sources of discord. And it’s yours. A personal act. What you watch is what you are. So, you’d rather regulate it, prune it, taking in only what approaches the higher echelons of your personal brand. At one point in time, I was really into Mad Men and Arrested Development. Fine shows, both, highly acclaimed, and I had never heard anyone talk about them. That suggests I talked to a lot of people about them and they denied having watched it, which is not the case. When people talk about shows they rattle off three contemporary names, three from the early 2010s, and The Sopranos. But nothing about a droll show about advertising and the American dream, and certainly nothing about a madcap, random show that is as much about a dysfunctional family as it is an answer to the perennial question: How intelligent is our audience, and do shows have to be profitable, like, at all, to continue production?
For personal reasons I was going through a patch of haughtiness and triumphant individualism, and when it came to selecting what to watch, I pounced upon these shows. Over time I watched Disney’s Recess, King of the Hill, and Daria. I presume these are classics and everybody knows them. But my Suits-hating friend, like all other people, would prefer something that was specifically out of massive public consciousness. When everybody flocks, and I evoke the imagery from before, to the same circus, it bleeds others dry. And in a world where circuses (I refer, of course, to the Latin phrase, panem et circenses, which is a comment about superficiality) have come to define what we are, a Suits-watching village idiot or a Mad Men-watching New York intellectual, that is a very bad thing. So, what do we do? We circulate. We step away and join shorter lines. After a while we’re known as the person who goes to that circus, the especially esoteric, avant-garde one, and that’s a comforting thought. In our selection of material that defines us we become what we never suspected: filmbros.
Individualism can make us so joyless and agnostic. The fable of the filmbro goes further to the root of our social interactions, where conformity is not a static quality but an end of a spectrum or a side of a vinyl record, the other one being particularity, and the disk scratch while going from one to another is enormously deafening, a death knell to a life outside consumption.