Saturday, June 10, 2017

Wrong criticism can be the best criticism

It's easy to spot the best pop culture criticism - it's the stuff you don't agree with, but still makes a good argument for the other point of view. It might not be strong enough to actually change your original opinion, but you can't fault the other person's conclusion, based on the argument they've made.

But we're all so stuck in our bubbles of taste, and we often fly off the handle if anything pierces that precious membrane. We'll never learn anything that way.

In entertainment, as in life, we should welcome other views, even if we think they're completely fucking wrong.

We have to listen to different opinions. We have to consider other points of view. You can still have our own take on a movie, or a comic book, or a novel, or an album, and your opinion on something is just as valid as the other guy's. Neither diminishes the other, just because it exists.

What a fucking awful world it would be if we all agreed on the same shit.

There are dozens and dozens of podcasts about movies, and some of them are awful, and a lot of them are mediocre, and some of them are excellent, but the only one I never, ever miss is Travis Bickle on the Rivera, a weekly podcast about all sorts of movies, with three regular hosts who know their shit, and are happy to spread it.

It's the best because it's the funniest, and the meanest, and the most opinionated as fuck. They're a good gateway to things I'd never heard of before, hooking me on the brilliance of Johnny To or Isaac Florentine, and they're the modern age's foremost experts on the beautiful canon of Tony Scott.

I've listened to every episode of their show, all over the world - they're a good filler while waiting at the airport - and I've cranked it to one particular episode that was pure soundtrack a hundred times. It's one of the few patreon things I have set up, contributing an meager amount of cash to the podcast's creators every month. I don't want the bonus stuff they give you for it, I just figure they're worth paying money for. They're worth it.

And week after week, I disagree with a lot of things they say. Some episodes they drive me crazy with their wrong-ness, and I couldn't agree less with everything they're saying about some dumb movie.

Sometimes it's the baffling idea that Quantum of Solace is the best Bond film, or that Batman V Superman is worth anybody's time, or that the Transformers films have any goddamn merit at all. They have an unashamed soft spot for failed blockbusters, and half the time it feels like they're just trying to piss off the nerd herd. (Which, y'know, can be reason enough for any opinion. Fuck them dorks.)

And they take repeated shits on stuff I know and love - I don't care what they fucking say, Doctor Who is the best TV, and the easy, slick entertainments of the Marvel films are like the best Big Mac burger.  I can like this bullshit, even if people whose opinions I trust and follow tell me I'm being a fucking idiot for doing so.

It doesn't matter, none of that matters. They're still fuckin' funny, and fuckin' passionate, and fuckin' informed, so they can talk about what they want.

I want to hear from people with different ideas about the media I consume, I don't just want to passively consume it, and then sit around with like-minded folk, all agreeing on the stench of its brilliance. I want to be challenged and confronted with some hard goddamn truths, even if they sound like lies at first.

If a critic is witty enough, and well-informed enough, they can be opinionated about any bloody thing, and most people will have to concede they have a point. You certainly shouldn't cave in easily on your own ideas, but having some other ingredients for the stew of opinions in your brain is always tasty and welcome.

As long as I'm certain enough of my own opinion, I welcome all others, and a podcast that tells me I'm absolutely wrong about absolutely everything is a fucking necessity in life. How else will I ever learn where I'm going wrong?

That doesn't mean I always have to like it, especially when a different opinion is treated like its an objective reality. Other opinions are always available, but that doesn't mean they're all automatically valid and true.
There are always some critics that go too far, and descend to troll-like levels, but they can be easily ignored. I recently decided I wasn't going to bother with one prominent critic's work because he just couldn't leave the preconceptions aside when he went into something, and it was all getting a bit predictable. He's still got his audience, but there is always plenty of other writing and broadcasting to get stuck into. Having an open mind doesn't mean you have to blindly follow everyone all of the time.

Still, it's easier to handle it a different opinion when it's somebody saying good things about something you hate, because when it goes the other way, we can all take that stuff a bit too personally.

We can't help it, assaults on personal tastes are, understandably, fucking personal, and if somebody implies that you are a goddamn moron for innocently liking something, the only natural first reaction has to be a total 'hey, fuck you too, buddy'. But if you can bite back that bile, and actually listen to a different opinion, it can enrich your own experience.

On the other hand, when it comes to different opinions, there is nothing quite as fulfilling, interesting and entertaining as somebody really getting stuck into the love they feel for something everybody else - including me - has always written off as pure trash. It's far, far easier to reassess the hate, instead of questioning the love.

It's just so easy to let things go, and to even crave an opinion that you know you're going to hate. If you're always disagreeing with a certain critic, than you can count on that disagreement as a form of quality control, and if they start slagging something off, it becomes an instant must-see.

Still, I'm still not going to go see the new King Arthur film like the Travis Bickle podcast told me too. I'll give them cold, hard cash to tell me that I'm wrong, but two hours of Charlie Hunnam grimacing? I'm stupid, but I'm not that fucking stupid.


Tapeleg said...

Ah, that still from the BMW Film. Those things are so fun. I just saw the 'new' one, from Niell Blomkamp, and loved it. He does enjoy a private security team, doesn't he?

Which led to a 'spec script' from me written in a few days. It was so fun to write something short and punchy, mostly just a few scenes.

The point being, it's got to be hard to really have skin in that game, and have so many avenues for criticism out there.

But maybe you are also making a larger point about listening to things you don't care for, for differences of opinion, and for what the other side has to say.

The problem is, we are very bad listeners. Just like the New Yorker cartoon said, “I feel like everybody’s podcasting and nobody’s podlistening.”

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