Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Killjoy was here

While the meaning of life remains a mystery to us all, I can’t help thinking that finding a little bit of joy in your daily routine has got be a part of it. Watching the sun rise over the ocean, or eating a particularly fine hamburger, or the smile of a loved one. These are literally the things that make a life worth living.

I rely heavily on entertainment for these little blasts of daily joy and am frequently rewarded. A really good episode of a television show, or a movie or a song or comic that is entertaining, emotionally rich and intellectually stimulating can leave me on a natural high that lasts for hours.

And there is nothing in this world that kills that joy faster than the sound of a thousand fanboys bitching.

When I finished watching the final episode of the latest season of Doctor Who one Monday morning in July, I had to go for a walk around the park afterwards because I felt emotionally drained. It was everything I loved about the long-running show. It was big and loud and smart and made me laugh. It sometimes it got a bit silly, but that’s a vital part of the concept anyway. I can live with that.

It was also undeniably tragic and the cost of saving everything that had ever existed was high. When the stakes are that serious, it’s nice to see them solved with a bit of charm and warmth, instead of shooting, but there is always a price to be paid.

There were some things that went in a direction I didn’t expect and I didn’t like some of those plot turns. But I want that in my entertainment. I need stories to go to places I never dreamed they would go, because otherwise why bother with fiction at all?

By the time I returned home, I was still buzzing on it all and wanted to see if others had enjoyed it as much as I did. Nobody I knew in real life had got around to seeing it, but the world is a small place in the 21st century and I headed online.

This was a terrible, terrible mistake.

I headed along to a group blog devoted to the programme, certain that they would be all about the initial reaction. Entering that site two days after the show had first screened in the UK, there were already several postings on the subject.

I knew the finale wouldn’t find universal favour on the blog. It was one where every second thought Russel T Davies had was dissected into incoherence before being sneered at and tossed aside. It was one where the slightest sour taste from an otherwise fine episode could be magnified until it dwarfed the good aspects of a show.

But it was also a blog where the writers genuinely loved the show and honestly wanted the best for it. I was sure that while there would be the odd dissenting voice, they must have enjoyed the climax as much as I did and were only too willing to let their pleasure be known.

What I got was people complaining that the big, loud climax of the episode, where planet Earth is dragged back across time and space by the most powerful machine and mind in creation, was so bad and cheesy they actually had to leave the room for a bit.

They were left with bitter tastes in their mouths, where I had found contentment. According to the fans on the blog, Journeys End was a structural, conceptual and creative bellyflop from the high dive board.

Which was okay. I could live with that. It certainly wasn’t the reaction I had, but it was easy enough to see that there were things other viewers of the show would cringe at.

But the thing is, going by internet reaction, these were the feelings of the vast majority of people watching it. And it just wasn’t true. Leaving aside the extraordinarily positive reaction the public showed in the BBC’s own satisfaction index, a poll on the group blog showed that two-thirds of the site’s readers actually liked the finale, when that ratio was switched around with the actual blog writers.

Poking around on the net some more, there was still some fine writing to be found, essays and articles that enriched the experience, pointing out thematic twists and overreaching arcs that I had missed on first viewing.

But the incredibly negative reaction got to me. Maybe they were right and the stuff I found exciting and stimulating really was rubbish. Maybe my judgement went out the window when it comes to a television show I’ve had a genuinely emotional relationship over the decades.

No! No, it’s the children that are wrong.

This reaction against the lazy negativity has been put to the test over the past year with the release of a number of comics, movies and television shows that I’ve enjoyed, including Speed Race and Final Crisis, only to be baffled by the reaction of some of those who could not find a single good word to say about them.

It all reached some kind of personal apocalypse when Battlestar Galactica recently wrapped up. Going into the final episode, it was obvious that no matter what kind of ending was offered, it would never find favour with everybody. The surprisingly complex series appealed to a wide range of people by touching on a number of interesting and complicated themes, while also offering up loads of space sex and star violence.

But in reaching so high, it was destined to fall, at least in the minds of some viewers. With some watching for the action scenes, others were tuning in for the vigorous philosophy that sometimes involved people punching each other in the face.

There were plenty of other appealing aspects, from special effects that were occasionally truly spectacular to theological and existential debates that were thicker than glue to some extraordinary uses of music. The downside of all these aspects is that while they all melded together beautifully, there would always be significant members of the audience who would find their tastes challenged and almost insulted.

So when the last episode wrapped up with that particular ending, using the mystery nature of the divine as a catch-all explanation for the extraordinary coincidences and conclusions made by the characters, it was instantly obvious that this would not be popular with many people.

With this in mind, I still couldn’t help myself from reading some fine analysis of that climax and what it all means. Alan Sepinwall has been a favourite for a long time and didn’t disappoint, while Sean T Collins and Thinking Patrick also made a number of excellent points. There were several others that also helped me appreciate the finale in a number of interesting ways.

And then there was the hate.

At first, it was easy enough to ignore, but I couldn’t stop myself from checking out more and more writing about the programme. And there seemed to be more and more people that disliked the final episode so much it appeared to have destroyed everything they had ever liked about the show. A cute robot montage at the end and a couple of unanswered questions and Ron Moore was dead to these people.

And again, I was left utterly baffled by just how much people disliked it. There was no love here, from people who had watched every episode and professed to be amongst the show’s biggest fans. The fact that the character in Baltar’s head could be seen by others and the disappearance of somebody who died last season was automatically stupid and worth standing up and yelling at the screen while watching it with others. This weird anger can’t be healthy.

The fine people at the marvellous Stuff Geeks Love website have often written about the terrible habits and trends that geeks show and this unwarranted antagonism has been a source of many threads on that site. There is a lot of humour in pointing out the stupidity of this behaviour, but there is also a sense of tired resignation that people still feel the need to express themselves in such a thoroughly obnoxious manner.

I know I shouldn’t read these idiotic criticisms, but there is always the chance there might be the odd good point or revelation, or a new way of looking at what I had seen. And I do try to understand where these people are coming from, even though I feel like their adolescent sense of entitlement burns me with its with stupidity and I can’t believe that with so much shit in the world, with so much horror and misery that people are living with, that their focus on fucking television shows and other entertainments they don’t like betrays a retarded sense of proportion.

I guess the thing that really gets me isn’t that these people are whiny little bitches with no sense of perspective. It’s that they claim to be genuine fans of the work, while missing the point of it entirely. It’s like people saying that Garth Ennis’ run on the Punisher is their favourite comic because he’s always shooting people in the face, but all that stuff about existential horror is stupid. Or that The Sopranos was no good if an episode went by without any whacking.

How can people who claim to identify with works like these fundamentally miss the point of them? I still can’t figure out why so many superhero fans can be homophobic and misogynistic dicks, when they grow up reading about characters who are fundamentally opposed to such prejudices.

I know this long and illiterate blog post is little more than bitchiung about bitching, but I do hope the haters can let a little love into their heart. With all that bile they release, this illogical hate towards people who are doing their best to entertain them can’t be healthy. 


Duncan said...

Should prolly link Stuff Geeks Love; that website is great. Maybe it's on the sidebar, I dunno.

Thank you for saying all this; I think, my thesis, is that the internet, the act of sitting at a computer poking out short thoughts on a keyboard (quite possibly after a wank,) the physical nature of it, additional to the non-accountability factor, all leads to make people express themselves in about the least likeable way possible.

Is good to know men such as you exist though.

Bob Temuka said...

Good point about the Stuff Geeks Like link, I've done that now. Unfortunately, the site looks to be on hiatus at the moment, but I'm sure they will find something to point and laugh at soon enough...

Nik said...

I've become more convinced lately that the Internet, nifty as it is, has definitely led to a real decline in civil dialogue and debate. "Your view" type response threads to news stories will make your soul shrivel up into a tiny black nugget with their callous insensitivity.

Bob Temuka said...

Oh man, that 'Your Views' thing on the NZ Herald website goes toxic on a horribly regular basis. That Michael Cullen one today was disgusting.

Zom said...

While you're at risk of conflating a bunch of stuff, I think you do a good job of gesturing towards what I don't like about so much internet discussion: the lack of love. I have a hard time believing that the love simply doesn't exist - geeks. love. shit. period. - so where is it being hidden? It's like so many commentators feel beholden to some kind of weird critical standard that eschews all talk of positive emotions. Hate is fine, rage is fine, anger is fine, but love is the enemy.

Bring back the love

Unknown said...

"They've give you hundreds of hours of entertainment for free! If anything, you owe them!"

"Worst. Episode. Ever."

I think the trick is finding the communities that have a good balance of love and hate. Most of the comics-focused sites I read to tend to focus on the love, and only aim the hate where it's really deserved. I just sort of gravitated toward people whose opinions I respect. But I do think the love shows through, from the Mindless Ones, to Chris Sims, to Every Day is Like Wednesday, to, I dunno, the AV Club.

Also, I've often heard people say that it's easier to be negative than positive, or to tear something down rather than praise it. Myself, I think I find the opposite to be true; when I'm writing about a comic, I tend to single out what I like about it, and give specific examples, and examine why I like it. That's obviously not the case for a lot of people. I do occasionally come across something I dislike enough to try to angrily destroy through words, but that's not really all that common for me. Eh, everybody's different, right?

Bob Temuka said...

I find it much easier to blather on about something I like than I do bitching about something, probably because I'm a total non-confrontational pussy who hates insulting other peoples' tastes.

Plus, you know, when somebody writes about something they really liked, it inspires me to take a chance on it. The Wire is the perfect example. There is so much love out there for it, from all the right people, that it finally gets you to give it a go. For me, the final tipping point was when the great Charlie Brooker said it was the better than Deadwood and told me that if I liked good drama, I had absolutely no excuse for not indulging in it.

There is plenty of love out there for all the right stuff, it's the ones that profess to love great works while fundamentally misunderstanding everything about them that really fuck me off.