Two Diverse Reactions to Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Fucking Life

This post is something we might call an investigation. In pedagogical terms, this is exploratory writing, in which I do not know the outcome of the piece at the time of its inception, but instead write in order to discover what it is I have to say or what I think. What I’m trying to say here is that I want to take you on a journey, with fights and gay roommates and more fights. Sooo… Remember Scott Pilgrim?

Scott Pilgrim continues to be one of my favorite things, some two years after I discovered it (along with everyone else in the country). The comics kept me from being too depressed during that summer, before the movie came out — I was deep in work for comps and my dissertation and had no money. So I would go to a Borders (man, Borders, remember those?), drink coffee if my girlfriend had enough money to buy me one, read for comps, and then slip a copy of Scott Pilgrim off the shelves and read it, putting it back when we were gonna go (yes, I’ve since bought my own).

So my reaction to Scott, the character, is probably pretty familiar to many of you. I was really amused by his haplessness, and interested to see how he developed along the way. I felt for Scott, given that at the time I was working for very little and doing a lot. So it wasn’t that I was unemployed, but I wasn’t making money. My place was better than the one he shared with Wallace solely because I had four roommates.

So imagine my surprise when I watched the movie with my girlfriend and she fucking hated Scott. I mean hated him. She disliked him so much she didn’t like the movie at first, though the longer she went thinking about it the more she liked the movie — as a thing distinct from Scott, who she still hates.

We re-watched the movie recently, and while her hatred has mellowed, she still thinks he’s an ass and rolls her eyes when I talk about how he’s not that bad.

Don’t get me wrong. He’s an ass, and I know it. But I feel like he gets better over the course of the story, and that (in the film anyway) he’s not that bad to begin with. In the comic he’s worse, but we also get more development, so he’s not just suddenly awful or anything.

Now, I’m not saying my fiancée (yeah, relationship exp!) is wrong; I’m not saying we always agree with everything but not this time; I’m also not saying I’m wrong. This is what the investigation is that I talked about earlier. Let’s do some real, true reader response. What about me makes me react in my way? What about my fiancée makes her react in her way? Remember this is exactly the same stimulus (to a degree — she hasn’t read the comics).

I am a white male American. I used to play in band in high school, and fiddled around with some of the instruments of traditional rock music — drums, guitar, and harmonica. I am now only good at harmonica. The music part of Scott Pilgrim spoke to me then, very strongly. Of course I have always wanted to be in a band, I am an American man-child. Kitty (the assumed name of my fiancée here, so I don’t have to keep calling her my fiancée and color what’s probably going to assume a partial gender reading with a possessive) was also in band, longer than me, but only ever toyed in daydreams with the idea of rock music. She didn’t know anyone in a band (I knew all the members of the two halfway decent bands in my high school). She didn’t try to learn any “rock” instruments (amusingly, we both played saxophone). So the rock music element may speak to her in a very different way, and undoubtedly does — she knows a lot of music theory, and is always interested in learning about new styles or modes of music. She really likes the Katayanagi twins (and, for other reasons, Lucas Lee [those reasons are that he’s also Captain America, and the frisson is delicious]).

Kitty is female, and also white. Her family is more well-to-do than mine, which is fucking poor. She has siblings, I do not.

In high school and, a larger extent in college, my friends were like Scott’s. Some talented, some nice, some a little mean, some crazy. We were a mix of backgrounds brought together by our shared interest. Kitty had a more traditional American experience (I’m talking old American traditions), where she made friends with the people around her, not necessarily with people who shared the same nerdy interests. On a related note, I got the internet at home at the age of 14; Kitty got it at 18.

Already, in ways that don’t have to do with the assholishness itself, my experience is markedly like Scott’s, and hers is not. I could drop the mic and end the essay here and it would suffice (I won’t). I am inclined to sympathize with Scott because I read enough commonalities between us to naturally side with him. I am no longer sure, at this point if I realized explicitly that, yes, sometimes Scott is a real dick in the present of the comic (that is, his reactions to Envy, his relationship with Knives, his subsequent behavior towards Knives, his cheating). If asked, I would have responded that those were bad things to do, but I am not sure I felt that the main character of this comic I was reading was doing bad things as I read them. I did realize by the time of the movie.

Anyway. I was inclined to forgive him his sins, because we were similar (in my head, where all this stuff happens anyway). Kitty was not so inclined.

But I also suspect there’s more to it. My “excuse” for Scott was, I think, something along the lines of “he’s trying to figure things out.” That is, he’s trying to figure out what he wants, how to get it, and, also, what isn’t good for him. He knows Envy wasn’t good for him, at the end of the relationship at least, but he doesn’t actually know why, exactly, save that she dumped the hell out of him. His statement (which can be seen as pretty dickly itself), “you used to be so nice!” is a moment of clarity for Scott — coming, as is appropriate in any coming-of-age story, in the middle of a fight. He has been a dick to people because he didn’t get it — once he gets it, he begins to struggle to better himself. He still doesn’t know how until his extra life, when he realizes that, as with all problems, charity starts at home. He has to fix himself before there’s a chance of a relationship working — or anything working. He can’t even hold down a shitty job until he has some sense of self worth and a foundation to build that sense on. So he does learn, though that of course does not excuse the shitty things he did to all the girls in his life, and even some of his friends. Significantly, some of the first things he does once he realizes this is to apologize to some of the people around him. Because he didn’t understand that the things in his life were partly up to him. He’s the person existentialists hate, basically.

Now, why might Kitty react differently? I’m hoping to draw her out in a comment here, or even her own post, but the way I figure it, “seeking after what one wants and learning on the way” is supposedly the ideal for everyone, but for women they also have to be “nice” while they do it. Lady-Scott could still break up with Knives because she wanted to date someone else, but she would sure as hell have to do it somewhere other than a record store, and would probably have to apologize a lot. Now, probably a lot of us thought dude-Scott handled that poorly, but within cultural responses he has the option of doing that. Technically lady-Scott could do it to, but everything would shift.

And before you start to argue with me (though please do anyway), consider this: we have an example of my hypothetical situation: Ramona. She does what Scott does: runs from responsibility, moves from one guy to another because one catches her eye, and just tells the old guy to fuck off. Just like Scott did. And everyone in the text considers those bitchy actions, though they also take seriously her statement that she’s trying to change.

So Scott gets away with some shit Ramona can’t. And no one but the ladies are wincing. That might be the difference, right there.

 

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