I’ve been down this road before. I’m going to take bits from previous posts, paste them here and update my commentary on the points. I’m doing this because, it seems, there are those who do not take criticism well. I’m not talking about the artists behind a particular work, mind you, I’m talking about the population at large that enjoy those works. Before we begin this little exercise, though, here’s a caveat that I feel should be kept in mind when you read any criticism of public artistic works, be it my criticism or another’s.
You are the sole arbiter of how you spend your time and money in entertainment. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. You, me, everyone. Just because a critic or friend or stranger believes something is a pile of dogshit doesn’t necesarily make it so to you. Likewise, said critic or friend or stranger singing the praises of something they believe plated in gold may not make it look that way to you. Enjoy what you enjoy. Tell others about things you enjoy, and tell them about things you dislike, be it a little or a lot. We all learn more the more we share with one another.
Okay? Okay. Here’s what I’ve said before, and how I feel about it now.
In addition to being comprehensive and funny, Chuck often reminds us that his criticism of a given episode, series or movie is just his opinion. He welcomes discussion and even opposition to his ideas. He […] encourages the audience to think, rather than sit back & switch off higher brain functions in order to take in some shallow, pandering, distracting colors & sounds that call themselves ‘entertainment.’
Okay. Let me make this clear. Not everything you want to enjoy as entertainment is necessarily shallow or pandering just because you like switching your brain off for it. And referencing my earlier statement, just because I happen to think that Attack of the Clones was perhaps the weakest Star Wars film made that I’ve seen doesn’t make it so. If you enjoyed it, great. I know people who didn’t like Thor or Captain America but I thought they were fine films. Guess what these are? Opinions!
Which brings me to Opinion is Not Fact:
Critical analysis and review is everywhere on the Internet. But you will never catch any such entertainer worth their salt telling you point-blank that they are 100% right in their opinion and everybody else is wrong. Go ahead and take a look. Yahtzee, MovieBob, SFDebris, Confused Matthew, Red Letter Media, TotalBiscuit, the Extra Credits crew – none of them end a discussion with “I’m right, you’re wrong, your mom agreed with me last night” in any serious discussion. Some of them may play this sort of thing for laughs, but even the most satirical and cynical of these folks are also intelligent enough to know that anything upon which they might pontificate involves the exposition of their own subjective views.
Sorry, that was a lot of big words. Put simply: None of these people believes they are a holy authority on anything they talk about. Yes, some of them are professional critics, paid to give their opinion based on the years of experience they have weighing objective and subjective criteria of various media, but each and every one of them are human beings, and human beings are fallible, subjective creatures. Yahtzee and MovieBob might not like shooters, but that doesn’t mean shooters are bad. People like those caricatured by MovieBob’s Anti-Thinker may consider retro games to be stupid, but them saying it does not make it so. These people I’ve mentioned know this.
I hope that’s pretty clear. I may not have the audience, appeal or even potential of any of the aforementioned critics, but I would like to think that I have this level of self-awareness. When I say something is good or bad, and I either recommend paying for it or giving it a pass, that’s my opinion on it. It’s not a salient, beyond-a-reasonable-doubt fact. I never mean it to be taken as such. Nor am I so arrogant as to believe that anything I say in the vein of reviewing or critiquing entertainment will or should be taken as gospel. I critique for a very specific reason, one I elaborated upon on the third and final previous post I’m going to mention.
Are you ready? I’m ready. From Don’t Fear the Critic:
Criticism is a powerful force for good. Nothing ever improves without coming to terms with its flaws. Without critics telling us what’s stupid and what isn’t, we’d all be wearing boulders for hats and drinking down hot ebola soup for tea. – Zero Punctuation: Overlord 2
I could make all sort of analogies for criticism. There’s the bonsai tree example, the fat on a steak visual, the sanding of a bat to remove its splinters for a nice clean hit; I could go on. But suffice it to say that the best criticism is one that sees what a work is going for and points out the flaws so that the crux of the work can be improved while things that don’t work can be discarded.
If I say that “there’s nothing here” when talking about a story, or that a part of a game let me down, or something frustrated or confused me, it’s not me saying the entire work is worthless. More often than not I can get the gist of what the original artist or artists were going for in the work, and if there are obstacles between us and that objective that they either did not completely clear or set up themselves through sloppiness, being rushed or just plain laziness, it bothers me. Why? Because I know there are always obstacles between where the artist begins and where they want to be. I review and criticize other works in order to better understand the creative process from my end. And I’m not going to enjoy everything I choose to review. It is impossible to do that. I want to sample a lot of entertainment to find where I fall in the spectrum and where I can go with my work, and on average some stuff will be good while some will be bad. At least in my opinion.
I hope this made sense. I’ve taken flak for putting opinion out in front of the public. So have the aforementioned critics, as have Roger Ebert, Pauline Kael, Charles Baudelaire and the like. I’d like to think that those critics who break into the public domain are doing said public a service, even if it’s just in generating debate. In defending a given work, the defender should at some point be able to cite why it’s worth defending; by contrast, if the work has flaws, they should be recognizable even if the critic does not believe them to be detrimental. We all want the entertainment we enjoy to improve, and by pointing out how or when it doesn’t, we all in effect become critics.
And there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as we abide by Wheaton’s First Law: Don’t be a dick.