Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player, and the worst basketball dresser, of all time. He’s also one of the world’s premier haters, a legendary trash talker who has been notably on-the-record as infinitely suspicious of every generational basketball player playing a similar position who’s followed him. Here’s something he said on Monday about the Golden State Warriors’ Steph Curry, a two-time NBA MVP, three-time NBA champion, and already the best shooter in history, after complimenting him as a great player: “Not a Hall of Famer yet, though. He’s not.” This remark launched approximately 100,000,000 passionate arguments across Basketball Twitter, which you can skim here if you’d like to waste your time.
I’m going to pivot to film for a second. Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola are globally regarded as two of the greatest filmmakers of all time, except maybe in the pages of small film journals with names like Cinémåtîqué. They respectively made Taxi Driver and Apocalypse Now, damn. Nonetheless, they found themselves at the center of controversy after giving their opinions of the Marvel superhero movies. Here’s what Scorsese said: “Honestly, the closest I can think of them, as well made as they are, with actors doing the best they can under the circumstances, is theme parks. It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.”
After this inspired approximately 100,000,000 angry posts from giant nerds, his pal Coppola got involved, and was actually pissy about it: “When Martin Scorsese says that the Marvel pictures are not cinema, he’s right because we expect to learn something from cinema, we expect to gain something, some enlightenment, some knowledge, some inspiration. I don’t know that anyone gets anything out of seeing the same movie over and over again. Martin was kind when he said it’s not cinema. He didn’t say it’s despicable, which I just say it is.”
Now, you can follow these cumulative 200,000,000 arguments about what Jordan, Scorsese, and Coppola got wrong: Curry is a Hall of Famer, and I guess if you learn about the world exclusively from Entertainment Tonight, you might glean some sort of genuine emotion from the Marvel films. Sure, whatever, live your life. But easier than earnestly digging into the discourse to reify or push back against what most people have their own opinion about, you might just acknowledge a more basic truth: All these men were simply talking shit about something that doesn’t particularly matter. This is one of life’s great pleasures, and a severely underrated activity in these pedantic times.
Casually expressing your impolite opinion without intricately qualifying it: That’s talking shit.
By “talking shit,” I mean spouting off rudely about something that you could attempt to prove one way or the other, but instead have decided to cut all the rhetorical and logical corners in order to express a barer emotional truth, which is “fuck that.” Jordan surely knows the statistical and cultural arguments validating Curry but he doesn’t particularly care, because he’s the GOAT, and being the GOAT usually gives you a pretty monster ego that starts to quiver when a new talent comes to town. Scorsese and Coppola know that some people are profoundly moved by the Marvel movies, and that debating “what is cinema” could be done all year long in the pages of Cinémåtîqué, but they don’t give a shit because the hegemony of the Marvel movies does suck, and if you don’t basically get what they’re saying, the joke is on you. No matter how many billions of dollars comic-book movies make, Scorsese and Coppola are two of the greats. They don’t need to watch every Ant-Man movie (they’re not bad!) to qualify their opinions about movies.
Casually expressing your impolite opinion without intricately qualifying it: That’s talking shit. It’s fun to do when the stakes are low, like debating the basketball Hall of Fame (truly a worthless, albeit fun, activity) or whether the Marvel Cinematic Universe is on the same level as the French New Wave (also worthless, and not even fun), and when you basically know what you’re talking about. Jordan, Scorsese, and Coppola have luxury (or curse) of not having to talk their shit on Twitter, but Twitter is the only place where their comments might be debated en masse (not Facebook, which walls off discourse between selected communities, and not Instagram, whose discourse is unsearchable and highly individual). They were destined to be picked apart 200,000,000 times by people whose personalities are a combination of “well, actually” and “sir, SIR, SIR!!!!”
Now, talking shit is by definition not very nice, which is why it must be done responsibly. If you spend all day talking shit about people you know, your personal relationships might slowly erode as you accrue a reputation as “kind of an asshole.” It also must be noted that talking shit is celebrated as a male pursuit and denigrated as a female one; in medieval times, women caught gossiping were outfitted with a device called the Scold’s Bridle, a terrifying Hannibal-Lecteresque mask made of iron. Today, a woman caught gossiping might just be labeled a bitch.
Talking shit can also serve as a vehicle for more insidious strains of thought. Take Oasis’ Noel Gallagher (a truly legendary shit talker) complaining about Jay Z headlining the 2008 Glastonbury Festival: “I’m sorry, but Jay-Z? No chance. … Glastonbury has a tradition of guitar music and even when they throw the odd curve ball in on a Sunday night you go ‘Kylie Minogue?’ I don’t know about it. But I’m not having hip-hop at Glastonbury. It’s wrong.”
It is, of course, anyone’s right to personally dislike hip-hop, but it wasn’t difficult to take Gallagher’s comments as a proxy for every dunderheaded white rock n’ roll fan who thinks rap isn’t “real music,” a debate that has played out across dozens of message board threads. As a public figure, he certainly bore some responsibility for considering the racialized implications of his comments, even if he was just being a prick, like he’d done 1,000 times before. That’s the flipside of talking shit: a casual brush-off quickly becomes a controversy that one must sincerely acknowledge and apologize for. (That’s what Gallagher did, following the brouhaha.)
However, there are no particularly dramatic stakes to the Steph-as-HOFer or Marvel-movies-as-good debates. Jordan and Scorsese don’t need to do their homework to formally qualify their opinions, which is “ehhhhhhhhhhhh…. no.” Neither do you, as long as you acknowledge what you’re doing, because the final truth is that talking shit requires being a little full of it. But life is a lot more fun than squabbling with the pedants.