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Published: Saturday, 10/8/2005

Make it or break it: Relationships can thrive or dive based on people's tastes in music or movies

BY RYAN E. SMITH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Pauline Kael, the late New Yorker film critic, once said she could never have a relationship with anyone who thought Dances with Wolves was worth watching.

Everyone has limits when it comes to relationships - and it's not just the red state-blue state stuff you've been reading so much about. It's not even limited to heavy hitters like religion and family.

For Bowling Green State University sound archivist Bill Schurk, it could have been Michael McDonald, whose "condescending whininess" makes the Doobie Brothers unlistenable and makes the possibility of his wife blasting "Takin' It To The Streets" from the stereo unthinkable.

For Pat O'Connor, owner of Culture Clash Records in West Toledo, it's 'N Sync. Someone who really liked the boy band wouldn't be right for him.

"That can be a terrible turn-off," he said. "I get kind of snobbish. There's not a lot we're gonna have in common."

So if he drove home one night and 'N Sync was booming from the windows?

"I would just keep driving."

These people take their music seriously, to be sure, but they're not alone in having such hang-ups. Music or movies can kill a relationship, or at least keep two people from truly connecting. It could be anything from country music to Kevin Costner movies to John Tesh.

"That has always sort of existed. There are people who wouldn't date somebody if they were Republican or wouldn't date somebody if they were atheist. Over time, it sort of has expanded into the idea of cultural deal-breakers," said Chuck Klosterman, a writer for Spin and Esquire magazines.

"In the '60s and '70s, this entire generation of people had such an intense relationship with rock music and television; these art forms started addressing the experience of being young in a very direct way. All those people started seeing culture not as just something to entertain themselves but as something to understand life."

And so came the idea that we can tell something deep about people from their tastes in pop culture.

"The type of music that they listen to is also a signal, at least on first layers, of what kind of person they are, what they're into," said Mr. O'Connor, who met his wife in a record store based on the stuff she was eyeing.

Someone who likes indie music might also be into art. It's a safe bet that someone who listens to Rage Against the Machine does so for idealistic reasons, not just sonic ones. An opponent of a mainstream band might be saying "I'm not made for the world at-large" as much as they're saying, "I don't like their music."

These subtexts run over into relationships.

"When I was, say, 20, it would have been really, I think, difficult at that age for me to have dated somebody who loved country music. I would almost have had an adversarial relationship with their values," said Mr. Klosterman, who is now 33.

(If all this sounds like a Seinfeld episode, it kind of was. In the 1998 episode The Burning, Elaine borrows her boyfriend's car and freaks out when she notices that all of his presets on the radio are tuned to religious stations.)

So when two people come together from different ends of the pop-culture spectrum ... well, is that even possible? Doug Bermick, who provides music for lots of area wedding receptions as part of Professional Sounds, isn't so sure.

"I don't know if I've come across a couple where one likes heavy metal and the other country. I don't know if two people can be on that wide of a spectrum," he said.

There are plenty of other cases, however, that come to mind easily. Remember that many pop-culture differences break down along gender lines (they call them chick flicks for a reason), and yet there seem to be lots of happily married couples in which the wife likes romantic comedies and the husband prefers action-adventure. And football widows may have to deal with their sports-hungry husbands on any given Sunday.

The issue comes to the forefront when people take movies or music very, very seriously or when one's tastes do actually reflect something important, said Robert Thompson, professor of popular culture at Syracuse University.

"If Fahrenheit 9/11 is your favorite movie of all time, that likely reflects something about your beliefs," he said. "[But] I think you can be a socially conscious Democrat and still like Terminator movies [starring Republican California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger]."

In those cases where opposites do try and coexist - couples where Bob Dylan meets Duran Duran, Led Zeppelin meets Leadbelly - there is some reason to hope that these crazy kids can make it work.

Marsha Drees, a social worker with Symmetry Wellness, has seen this kind of situation become a source of conflict with couples, though usually when there are other, deep-seeded problems. Her solution is simple: compromise.

Her own life offers a success story. Her husband is 10 years older than her and has widely different musical tastes.

"When we get in the car to go somewhere together, he always changes to the oldies stations, and I hate that," she said. "My thing is, if it's in my car, I'm playing my station."

Usually these conflicts resolve themselves by the time marriage rolls around. But in college, where young people can be passionately confident in their likes and dislikes, it's alive and well.

Dyrk Ashton, visiting assistant professor of film and video at the University of Toledo, sees it all the time among his students, whose reactions tend to the extreme. If your movie taste is a little different, he said, you're likely to hear: "This idiot thought this movie was great. They are so stupid."

(For his part, Mr. Ashton kind of likes it when people disagree with him. "When someone likes something I don't, I get to trash them and feel superior," he joked.)

Ian Rockwood, a UT senior who has worked at a couple of record stores, said he's pretty tolerant of other people's music - to a point. After that, music can affect a friendship.

"When I was first going to college, I would hang out with these guys that I met from out of town. They were from small towns and they all listened to country music. Eventually, Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw got to me and I couldn't stand to be around them," he said.

"They are still my friends. I stay away from their parties or anywhere I know their music will be played. It's a lot easier to stay away from than to get frustrated or annoyed."

This experience has taught Mr. Rockwood an important lesson, though.

"I want to say I wouldn't hang out with someone who listens to country music, but in actuality they're good people."

Contact Ryan E. Smith at:

ryansmith@theblade.com

or 419-724-6103.



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