If you don’t have something nice to say…
So there are some things that I find rather repulsive, they stick to the back of my throat like a thick coating of mucus and are just as delightful on the taste buds. An example of this is that bit of vomitus that you got dropped on you likely by a parent or a teacher as a child. They said “If you don’t have something nice to say then don’t say anything at all.”
Fuck these people.
Now that we’ve spoiled my feelings on the subject lets dive deeper. Criticisms are good, there is an obvious extreme to any emotion, any action, or any example, so I’m immediately noting that they exist and can easily be used as counter examples. Yes, I realize that bullying is screwed up and that people end up killing themselves. I also realize that hate speech for the sake of bigotry and violence is not good. I wouldn’t qualify any of these things under Criticisms.
Basically my view of the word “Criticisms” is the same as some folks who say “Constructive Criticism”. If yours does not match that view please give it a go for as long as this article then you can go back to using the longer wording.
If someone paints something that you feel is bad and you have an actual reason to feel such you should tell them how you feel and why. They may not agree with it and you might even be wrong by the standards of the field (if such a thing is possible) but by doing so you open them up to potential improvement. Keeping people in a bubble because of some incessant desire to create a conflict free existence is unhealthy, unsafe, and downright stupid.
But why is it stupid? At some point reality is going to hit them. They are going to try and get a job or start a relationship and that quirk that you didn’t point out to them is going to take over. Stephen King talked about passive sentences being an example. He called them Dandelions and said that sure if you only have one in your yard it might even be adorable but if you just ignore it then one will become five, and five will become ten, and ten twenty, and so on. Before you know it your writing will devolve into low level schlock that is unlikely to bring you any sort of success in life.
I’m actually writing this in response to probably the most snobby thing I’ve seen said in a review of anything in my life. That might sound hyperbolic but I can genuinely say (even under a lie detector) that this is the case. You could attribute it to me not reading or watching very many reviews. The statement is “If you are the kind of person who gets angry when you see a bad movie then you shouldn’t watch films.”
So what has this statement done immediately? Well firstly it has just dismissed absolutely anyone who has strong negative feelings about an entire genre of Entertainment. Dismissive commentary tends to piss me off because it is very rarely correct. I’d say it is never correct but I’m going to try and not be overtly hypocritical in this post, we’ll save that for my next one.
This argument brings along with it a flipside, if you are the kind of person who gets very happy when you see a good film then you shouldn’t watch films. It doesn’t necessarily state this but imagine if it didn’t? Imagine if the rules for your life became “If something makes you angry you must avoid it.” How many things in your life would you avoid?
Furthermore, how many things would improve? This is the death knell of the internet, with the rise of social networking and intelligent search engines we are all getting more deeply entrenched in opinions that only match our own. It is very likely that if you are reading this you are doing so because Google or Facebook or some similar service decided that your inquiries would be best met by my commentary.
And for that I sincerely apologize.
If all a movie maker ever hears is that their films are god’s gifts to man how will they ever improve? What benefit do they get from circle jerking? Sure they’ll feel good all the time but will they ever truly advance as an artist? The answer to that, at least from my side of the stables is no.
But what of the third group? What option do you have if you are not strongly emotionally swayed either positively or negatively by things? I would presume you would be Spock. What does this say of the medium you are experiencing?
Well lets say its traffic, you are commuting from work and you are stuck in traffic that is quite severe. This is not meant to entertain you or to sway your emotions one way or the other. If you walk away from this experience with no change in your emotional spectrum I would argue that there is nothing weird about that.
But what of entertainment? What of art? These things are designed to dive into the deepest recesses of what we think makes us human and to tickle our minds in ways that we might not even think possible. We are supposed to leave from a book, a song, or a movie, and feel something new in us. There is a universe being built in your mind, every star, ever planet, every bit of stellar dust, is an experience from your life. This entire tapestry is what makes you, you. While your face, your skin, your eyes, or toes might look just like someone else’s, your mind is truly your own. There are a series of stars that almost all of us get, a series of planets that almost all of us get, these pieces of the universe are made in each of us because those experiences are in our own physical universe quite…well…universal.
Stories of floods in ancient texts of coastal cities, belief in power from the sky that we all live beneath, or even a personal moment like the splash of water on your bum from the toilet. But beyond those moments there are unique ones, each of these add to the general framework of the human experience and create a unique entity within it. Art itself taps into the entire myriad and it tries to help deepen your appreciation of both those universal constructs and the personal ones that perhaps only a small sect of people will appreciate or even understand.
Now imagine if you were presented with the Mona Lisa, or Casablanca, Mozart, or MTG Art, or Kill Bill, or Justin Timberlake, and you walked away from any of these experiences feeling utterly unmoved. You weren’t excited, you were either neutrally impacted or you felt only minor tings of disappointment? What does that say of the art? That something meant to move you could barely even rustle your sales?
How terrible a statement is that? If someone reads my writing and they love it or hate it, I find myself enthused. Sure I may be hurt if they hate it but that drives me to want to know why, it emboldens me to stretch my horizons, and certainly if they love it I find myself excited and likewise motivated to improve what I do best.
But if someone reads what I’ve said and they merely shrug. If I am to them as a fruit fly might be. How sad is that? I truly feel that there is somewhere more terrible than death, to be alive but to be truly alone is likely the deepest level of hell. And to be in your communication of feelings so unmoving as to leave your audience unstirred, that to me is tragic.
Finally, I hope, what is the purpose of anger or happiness from a production? In the case of happiness you have likely entered into a medium expecting great things and were met with beauty, with success and experiences either meeting or exceeding your expectations. You are enriched at some level and you are in turn happy. We have been blessed with the ability to put deep thought into our life experiences and I strongly feel that these positive experiences are some of the best moments in life. To finish a great book is like winning a great sum of wealth. I admit my experiences with the latter are pretty fleeting (a few thousand dollars) but I’ve read a 5 dollar book that made me happier than that experience.
Anger tends to come, at least for me (perhaps I’m way off) from a place of disappointment. I see an entity that could be better and I wish it to be so. I see an artist in whatever form doing something less than what I feel they are capable of. I want them to be their best and because of this I get angry, I pick apart what bothered me and explain why it did so. I don’t do this because I wish them ill (though I will state as much if it is bad enough, its called hyperbole) but because I want to see what I know they are capable of.
The golden rule of psychology is that people will rise to the bar that you set for them. If we spend all our time giving kids candy for bullshit or giving artists a pass just because we want to escape strong emotions this world is pretty well doomed. I’m sure people shit all over Shakespeare in his time, Poe probably got an earful, Spielberg has likely been called a dumbass many times in his Career. These moments are essential and I strongly believe they come mostly from people who want to see the medium done justice.
If a bad piece of art falls under the radar and is largely left forgotten this is not a good sign, if a bad film, song, or art piece are debated that shows that people care enough to do so. If nobody cares I say that’s as poor as poor can be.
[If you were counting how many times I used passive verbs in the above rant, GG! Quite a few times!]
Also, if you meet anyone in your life that says “If you think you can do better then do so!” just punch them in the dick. It’s a huge and utterly lazy copout. By that same token they can’t express that they like something unless they can match it either. That whole pussy footing around criticisms is worthy of nothing more than a nice stern falcon punch to the giblets.