Friday, June 26, 2015

The Worst Criticisms You Can Make About Movies (Or Any Entertainment)

Look, guys – I used to be kind of annoying about movies. When I was in my teens and even my early 20s, I think I tended too often to be an asshole when talking about movies. I brought up things I hated a lot; too much, even. I would start discussions and often rant about terrible movies just as often as I'd talk about good ones, and it put some people off. Now, from my own perspective, I was just having fun and being frank and honest. I never looked down on people for what they liked – I was adamant about this – but I also never quite considered exactly everyone else's feelings all the time, either.

I think it's a common thing for young people in our entertainment age, in this time where we're so saturated with 80s and 90s culture and retro referencing and childhood nostalgia and – yes – new good movies coming out. We tend to get sucked into that and get way too passionate about it. It's good to love movies and TV, but we also shouldn't stop caring about other people, and about making the discussion good rather than just honest. I will never stop being honest about what I like and what I don't like, but at the same time, the older I get, I am learning that maybe it's okay to scale back things a bit in favor of having a good, mature discussion.

With that, I'd like to talk about some bad criticisms and arguments I always see when talking about movies. I've done some of them myself over the years, and if you have too, I wouldn't look badly upon you. But I think it's worth making this post anyway, just to promote healthier, better discussions about the entertainment we all love and cherish.

And maybe, just maybe, this is also kind of a rambling soul-searching monologue...a manifesto of thoughts built up over years and years of watching movies, thinking about movies, and thinking about opinions on movies. Maybe these questions and thoughts have been in the corner of my mind all along when writing this blog.

So bear with me. Here we go.

“It's a sellout!”
It's really fucking easy to decry things for being sellouts. Usually, these complaints are leveled by teenagers who haven't yet gone out into the world, or just zealous weirdos mad that their favorite thing has changed. If something sucks, it sucks – I get that. But complaining about something being made for money just seems so ridiculous to me now that I am out in the world trying to make something of myself. Why wouldn't you want something to make money?

If it's a real shameless corporate shill, I get hating that – like Jaws 3 trying to ride Sea World's dick. But even that isn't worth manufactured outrage. Very few things really are. I really only get mad at a movie now if it promotes some kind of horrible idea, or represents humanity poorly. Just being a silly corporate product is a reason for light mockery, but not real rage.

But someone making a movie and making money off it, and getting bigger, isn't really a bad thing in and of itself – people need to make money, no matter what they do; regardless of whether or not you wanted your favorite movie to be an uncompromising, singular work of art made in a vacuum. Yeah, I really want my works of art to be pure. And by that I mean, I want my works of art to be produced by starving, depressed people who pay their rent each month by lending their landlord cigarettes or booze.

“That's just your opinion!”
Of course it's my opinion. I'm the one saying it. I guess people sometimes take certain ways opinions are delivered to be some sort of attack on them personally. When really, if we wanted to do that, there are probably a lot better ways to do so then making fun of a movie they like. If you're the type of person to get offended at someone talking about how they didn't like a movie you liked, you probably have a lot of other things we can make fun of you about.

But seriously – people tend to say this one because they feel attacked and emotional when someone doesn't like their favorite show or movie. It's just a natural response at times, and we have the luxury of feeling that way because our world has become so advanced, because society has progressed as far as it has. We don't have to hunt for food anymore, nor find shelter for fire. We have time to think about this stuff, even if it isn't as important as we think it is. (And it's really not, for the most part - it's still just entertainment at the end of the day.)

I hope nobody actually thinks their opinion is a stone-cold fact. I've certainly never seen anyone who thinks so. I hope the people on the other side of the argument don't expect everyone to just coddle them forever and sugarcoat everything, because that doesn't make for a good discussion either.

There has to be some middle ground, you know? There has to be a way that we can talk frankly, honestly, but also with compassion and understanding. I'm still trying to find it.

“It was just x, y and z – nothing else!”
Not one I see all the time, but now and again I do come across it – people trying to boil down a movie they didn't get to “it was just this and that.” Like for example, if you didn't like The Fault in Our Stars, you might have used this to say “it was just two kids with cancer crying and stuff.”

Well, was a lot more than that, actually.

I dunno. You're certainly allowed to THINK it was just those things (as not everyone has to like a movie that's received well) – but I think that means you just didn't get it. Saying it was just x, y and z is kind of tantamount to admitting you didn't get it, just using more aggressive and self-favoring words.

And I know, I know. That makes me sound like some kind of hipster douche. Well, let me tell YOU...I am exactly that. There's no illusion here, folks.

But also, not “getting” something isn't really the end of the world. It just means it wasn't for you. People see different things in different movies, but nobody ever makes a piece of art that is “just” anything. If you only see the surface elements of the story or find it boring, well, you just didn't get it. Oftentimes, people say something was “too slow” or “nothing was happening,” and oftentimes, I watch whatever it is and really enjoy it. The other people just didn't get it.

And that's okay.

Not everything with tastes in entertainment has to be a pissing contest. We can change our opinions of things as we get older and have different perspectives on the world. It's okay. Not everything we think at one point in time has to stay ironclad and firm all throughout our lives. It would be insane – and also very boring – if we couldn't change how we felt and learn and grow. Not everyone has to get everything at the same time you do, or at all.

I don't get what people like about James Wan's movies, or Nicolas Winding Refn's – but you know, I get it, apparently some people find merit in that stuff, some qualities I can't see. That's fine. It doesn't mean I have to say those movies are anything but absolute shit, because that's what they are to me. I can talk about what I don't like about them and you can say why you do. Perception is a bitch.

“But you liked x, how can you not like y?”
I see this shit all over the place. You say you didn't like something, then some idiot has to chip in and go 'hey, you liked this other thing, why don't you like this too?' Like, hey, you liked snorting crack cocaine! Why don't you also like smashing priceless sculptures to pieces and snorting that? You must just be delusional.” It just sets up this precedent where the other person has to defend their choice for no reason, and you bringing it up seems to just serve the purpose of making you feel smarter and better over something trivial. Just accept the fact that not everything people like always syncs up perfectly.

“The only people who would like this are [some negative stereotype]!”
Don't do this one. You don't know why anybody likes anything, and if you do this, you're pretty much just perpetuating garbage stereotypes as much as that bully you hated in school did. Remember that kid? Who would shove your head in a toilet like it was a football at the touchdown line? Yeah – that guy. It's just poor form to assume anything about someone because of what entertainment they like. People are too complex for that.

“You were just expecting Shakespeare!”
I've talked about this before, but it's another bad, bad argument. When someone doesn't like, say, The Expendables, or whatever crap-ass action or horror movie that came out last month, this is inevitably trotted out. “Well, you can't expect a Shakespearean tragedy...” Or “well, it's not an Oscar-winning drama, it's not supposed to be!” Or the opposite – when someone doesn't like arthouse movies like Dogville or anything David Lynch has done, some people go “well, you must just like Michael Bay action movie jizzsplosion fests!”

Yeah, buddy, when I walked into fucking Tree of Life, I was totally disappointed when it didn't have a musclebound action hero shooting terrorists. That killed the buzz. Thanks for the insight, Freud.

Don't get me wrong, there is some small degree of truth there: you should take into account what a movie was trying to do. If it's a straightforward, dialogue-light movie like Mad Max: Fury Road, yeah, maybe you shouldn't bitch and complain that it's got no long rambling monologues. Little things like that, yeah, clearly the film was trying to do something completely different. If it didn't work for you, fine, but attacking it from some faulty perspective doesn't make sense. I guess if you want to go ahead and do it, that's cool, but I've always been a proponent of the school of thought that you should look at something for what it was trying to do, not what you expected it to be.

I'm just saying come the fuck on, I wasn't expecting Shakespearean tragedy when I watched Insidious 3 last week, but that doesn't make the movie any better for me.

I said earlier that entertainment wasn't as important as we thought it was. I'd like to clarify that a bit, as it is important; don't get me wrong. From a cultural standpoint, movies and other entertainment are very influential and show us important things about the time period and environment they were released in. 

But I do think these last few decades have seen a marked rise in people really, really getting into entertainment on a deeply personal level. Different upbringings and social climates also influence what we like, and as such, people are bound to get very passionate about the movies and books they like, and want to defend them. That's why I think we tend to see all these ad hominems and argumentative tactics used. Because people see their movies and entertainment and whatever else like children. We live through our entertainment.

It's good to be able to relate to things, but I think growing up in that 80s and 90s environment where everything was suddenly overflowing to the brim with entertainment did tend to tip the scales too far into crazy territory at times. Add in the Internet in the 2000s making everything - even the rants of the worst cretins from IMDb - public, and we've got a lot of work to do in terms of talking about this stuff. If this comes off as a bit finger-wagging in how to talk about movies, well, I just think there are a lot more ways to talk about them without resorting to angry bickering and arguing all the time.

You don't have to resort to cheap ad hominems or assumptions. We are more than our entertainment, more than our tastes. It should be a given that entertainment is art and art is important to society, so we should be able to discuss it in a lot of mature ways that make us better people. I know that sounds sort of hippie-ish, but it's true. Art should make us feel good; not divide us through petty bickering over tastes.