Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Shit You Probably Don't Care About: Cynicism, Criticism, and Creativity.


Okay, so, I kinda broke a personal rule yesterday, and its got me thinking I might have to do it again. See, ever since I started this blog, I've made a deliberate effort to make it somewhat impersonal, while still trying to infuse it with my own energy and sense of humor. That sounds strange considering that this is a blog after all, a venue for personal expression, and doubly strange considering this blog hosts my THREE pod casts, a medium designed for self indulgence. While this website is always very reflective of me, I've tried to avoid turning it into anything resembling a daily diary, composed of content so esoteric that no one but me would ever care. When I post a movie review or pod about tv shows or conspiracy theories, the idea is that those conversations would be interesting independent of whether or not you gave a shit about who I am. The reason I bring all this up is because the subject of yesterday's post is still sort of stuck in my brain, and even though nobody probably cares, writing about it is the only way I know how to exorcise it.

The post in question was just a quick missive about an online videogame critic named Justin Carmical whose recent death affected me as a fan (a post I will now link back to HERE to complete the ouroborus chain of my own douchyness). Watching that video again made me sit down and really think about what it was that I liked so much about him and how he influenced my own writing. I mentioned how I appreciated his ability to be funny without being cynical, a quality I respect even as I can rarely replicate it myself, and the thing is, I think I feel worse about that deficit in me than I ever realized. It feels like a Catch-22, can you be passionate enough about something to even care to critique it publicly in any way more thoughtful or involved than a comment thread, while maintaining a degree of objectivity such that you can clearly see the good and the bad in all things? I'd like to think I can, but at my worst, I tend to take the easy route by simply denying that there's any good to be found in whatever it is I happen to be hating that day.

I've talked before on this blog about my distaste for the so-called riffability of bad movies, or the notion that a movie can be "So Bad It's Good," and I think my instinct to dismiss that framework comes from this weird dichotomy. While I can't help but be snarky whenever I'm talking about anything, when I think of outright mocking a movie for its badness, I can't help but be humbled by the fact that even the worst movie ever made is still better than any of my movies, because I've never made any. What's more, when the MST3K guys who started all this put their money where their mouths were and made a movie, we got Meet Dave. What claim do any of us have to say we're better than M. Night Shyamalan or Tommy Wiseau? To revel in the ironic enjoyment of a movie is to arrogantly declare that it is otherwise without merit. Its saying there is so little genuinely good about it that we must invent, or rather invest it with meaning that it could not possibly have on its own, and I respect the craft of film making too much to ever make that declaration, even about a movie I find unironically unwatchable.

But more importantly, where is the line between this humility and the eight paragraph diatribe I wrote last week about how irredeemable Ride Along was? Is all negative criticism created equal, and is it hypocritical to castigate one form and engage in any other? I like to think that I approach all films with if not the same standard, at least the same basic assumption that despite whatever preconceived notions I might have going in, any movie CAN be good. Though I find myself disliking a majority of movies in any given year, I only ever find myself angry at a select few. Its not just when a movie fails, but rather when it doesn't even try. Take Ride Along again as an example. The people behind that movie had so much money and time to make something good, and didn't even bother. Its not that they couldn't do it, they just had no interest. No matter the commercial incentives, art is art, and it is something precious and amazing that should never be taken for granted, and when I see that happen, and then see it rewarded, my anger blinds me to anything else. By contrast, most movies I see on "So Bad Its Good" lists seem like labors of love to me, even if they are misguided or poorly made.

I guess what I'm getting at is that I'm trying to figure out a way to be less angry without being less passionate, maintaining my degree of investment in the artistic merit of film without taking it so personally when one particular crew of filmmakers doesn't share my lofty priorities. I sometimes wonder if this is the distinction between a nerd and an enthusiast, that its not just about liking something or knowing a lot about it; its the emotional investment, the capacity to be insulted when something you love isn't done right or done so massively wrong as to indicate a lack of respect. I want to be the guy who can step back and realize that I'm just some schmo with a website, no better than anyone else, and still rail against those who would abuse the subject of my obsession. I want to be able to still love movies as much as I do without hating them as much as I do, but I can't get away from the fact that my hope for the next great surprising thing and my cynicism over the majority of crap I'll have to dig through to get to it are impossible to disconnect from each other.

But then I come back to Justin Carmical, a guy who managed to find success, at least creatively if not financially, as an earnest online reviewer. If you don't watch these kinds of videos regularly, you might not realize just what an oxymoron that is, but just check out www.thatguywiththeglasses.com, www.thespoonyexperiment.com, www.cinemassacre.com, or any one of the millions of youtube critics raised on that MST3K style dickishness to see how novel and refreshing he was. And what's more, in a more general sense, he actually did something. As I sit here and bemoan my lack of creative output while posting daily reflections on other people's work, he picked up a camera and made something, using reviews as a jumping off point for an original showcase of his talent. In short, he did what I've always said I want to do, or at least began the process, and I can't help but come to the conclusion that the only thing stopping me is my own fear, not to mention some very distracting bitching and moaning.

Now that I say it out loud, it sounds really ridiculously obvious, but I guess I'm just starting to realize that there is something inherently negative about criticism even with the best intentions. I don't just mean that the propensity to think critically creates a habit of negativity, that say, reviewing a lot of bad films somehow rots your brain. What I mean is, if you're a creative person, and you'd have to be in order to want to analyze the creative works of others, than critique in lieu of creation can disrupt the very creative energy that drives you in the first place. When I watch a bad movie, one of my first reactions is always something like "I could have written this better," and for some reason it never occurs to me to ask the obvious next question, which is "well, why didn't I?" Back in Ebert's day, film wasn't democratized technologically like it is now, so many a frustrated filmmaker had to settle for a life on the sidelines. But what's my excuse?

I'm not making any promises, because as I've already established I am at my core a spineless dilettante, but over the next year and beyond, I'm going to try and make a more concerted effort to actually, you know, make stuff, and not just comment on the stuff that other people much braver and more talented than I am have made. More than just a short film here or there or a screenplay I know will never get made, I'm going to try to think constructively and actually produce something original that I can be proud of. What form that will take is still up in the air, but the point is, if I don't do it, I think I might die. I don't mean to say that in any foreboding way, and I certainly would never go the way Justin did (not to judge him, I just don't have that depression in me), but the part of me that makes me distinctive and unusual, that part of me that needs to be more than a lump with a smart phone, won't survive long unless its fed. That may mean less than daily updates in the future, as if anyone but me cares about that, but hopefully it will also mean that I can sleep better at night.

There. That's it. Self indulgent personal diatribe over.
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