By Mike McMahan, LPC
Some of you may have heard that a little movie called Suicide Squad opened over the weekend to much fanfare and generally brutal reviews. Most of my friends posting on Facebook about it were equally unenthusiastic, my favorite comment being the hilarious “Jared Leto’s joker makes me hate Jared Leto as a human being, and I’ve never met him.” This same friend compared the character’s portrayal to a juggalo (a.k.a. fan of the Insane Clown Posse). Brutal. This seems to be the prevailing sentiment, and though most reviews are withering, there have been some good ones too.
As a whole, I enjoyed it. I’m a big fan of keeping expectations realistic and I went into this not expecting a whole lot beyond some cool visuals, which is what attracted me in the first place. As a whole, I don’t do a lot of comic book movies, so my expectations were different and I had never even heard of Suicide Squad before I saw a preview for this movie.
This matter of context is something I frequently see in clients as well. “This other person has an easier time working more hours and I really struggle.” OK that may be, but does this other person have kids and a sick parent? “Well, no.” So it is unrealistic to think that two people with vastly different circumstances are going to have the same experiences in life and respond to obstacles in the same fashion or with the same (apparent) ease.
The phenomenon of Suicide Squad’s brutal reviews across the board fascinated me, as well. This is not a new phenomenon. I remember years ago when Hudson Hawk (1991) came out and was largely dismissed as the worst piece of trash put to film. I thought it looked pretty good and went to see it anyway and enjoyed it. I haven’t seen it since, so don’t hold me to that; I liked it at the time, and what else is there, really? This isn’t Gone With The Wind and I’m seriously doubtful that the makers of Hudson Hawk thought they were making the new Apocalypse Now.
If you want to really overthink this pile-on phenomenon (and I do!) there are two possibilities that jump to mind. The first is the phenomenon of groupthink. This concept rose to prominence in the aftermath of the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. While Suicide Squad is no Bay of Pigs (I mean, really) it may be possible that with all the hype surrounding the reviews, that there was a bandwagon effect and people went into the film ready to rip it to pieces, literally looking for things to dislike. And when you’re watching a multi-million dollar summer event film written by committee and run through multiple focus groups, there will generally be something for everyone… to dislike.
Another possibility is a phenomenon that is noted in social psychology literature. When you have a group of people who basically think the same thing, members of the group may take more extreme positions in order to distinguish themselves “from the pack,” so to speak. This phenomenon is easily observable in political discourse, especially when you consider the “political entertainment” writers who seem further to the right or left with each publication. This may be due to their previous ideas drifting towards the mainstream of their ideology and their desire to differentiate themselves to keep selling books, movie tickets, getting speaking engagements and so forth.
So what does all this mean in your personal life? Well, it’s very easy to fall into a groupthink mentality with your friends and family members when you are facing a challenge in your life and trying to get feedback from those closest to you. Sometimes I asked clients the questions “what would your best friend say about this decision?” or “what would your dad say if you asked him what to do?” The point of this question is not to impart the idea that someone else should be consulted, but to help the client consider multiple perspectives on a situation before acting. Sometimes we get so bogged down going in a certain direction trying to look at the situation through someone else’s eyes will provide an attempted solution we might not have considered.
It can be hard to go against the grain. If everyone in your life is telling you to do something, it can be difficult to do something different if even you know if you’re heart it’s correct. Your parents and your spouse’s parents may be pressuring you to have grandchildren right after you’re married. For them it may be the right decision; for you and your partner it may be different. Perhaps you want to spend time just the two of you. Or maybe your parents aren’t aware of financial troubles.
To me, all of these factors may factor in when considering why I liked a movie when everyone else seemed to hate it. Or not. After all, Suicide Squad is something that’s supposed to be fun! It’s too bad if you feel like you wasted your money, but, hey, maybe you can make fun of it with your friends. Whether the movie is actually good or not is obviously a matter of opinion, and if you want to weigh in, by all means go see the movie and make up your own mind. That’s all that matters.
Mike McMahan, LPC is a psychotherapist based in San Antonio, Tx.
Therapy Goes POP
Perspectives on therapy and mental health as viewed through the lens of popular culture