Friday, February 19, 2016

It Doesn't Matter if a Critic Couldn't Do Better

Everyone's a critic, especially when it comes to movies.  Oftentimes, though, when some apply criticism to a movie, others will say "Could you do any better?"  This response brings up a number of questions.  What is meant by the word "do"?  What is meant by the word "better"?  What if one actually could do better?  How does one acquire cultivation and the capacity for valid criticism?  Is all criticism just too mean?  Why is criticism necessary?  These questions will ultimately lead us to the idea that "Could you do any better?" is a bad point.

"Could you do any better?"  What does "do" mean in this sentence?  How does one "do" filmmaking?  Movies are a collaborative effort of multiple people.  Is this person asking if I could direct a better movie?  Write a better movie?  Produce a better movie?  I have worked crew for one feature film that is at least better than some movies.  Does this mean I can do better than every movie that is inferior to the one I worked on?

What does "better" mean?  If only those who can do better get to decide what better is, this seems very circular.  We really haven't decided what better is.

What if I actually could do better?  What if I was the greatest filmmaker ever?  Would I then be entitled to ruthlessly attack anything and everything?  I would love to be Steven Spielberg primarily for one dumb and petty reason.  I would go online trashing movies I didn't like and if anyone said "Could you do any better?" I would just say "Ahem."

When it comes to film-making, I have been on both sides, both as a critic and a content creator.  It is generally easier to be a critic than a creator, although professional critics are generally solid writers and more than just another person with an opinion.  This does not invalidate criticism.  The truth isn't contingent on who states it.  How does one achieve aesthetic refinement?  This comes more from being a viewer than being a content creator.  One does not need to be good at making movies to know what a good movie is.  He only has to have seen good movies.

It is a harsh fact of life that when one works in a field, artistic or otherwise, they won't be judged against laymen who don't work in their field and have no talent for it.  They will be judged against their peers in their field: co-workers, competitors, and so on.  If I hire a contractor to remodel my kitchen, I don't judge them relative to my own non-existent talent in remodeling.  As a paying consumer, I judge them according to the expectation of excellence their peers in their field have set and I expect them to do a good job, not merely "better than I could do."  Even as someone who doesn't work in that field, I still have some idea of what a good job is.  Movie lovers have been spoiled by over a century of great content.

Let us approach what may be the real spirit of the question.  Is any criticism, however true, too mean?  The answer is generally "no" if you are mature adult with reasonably thick skin.  When did we get to the point when people take it personally that someone doesn't like all the same pop culture pieces as them?  It used to be said that one shouldn't talk about religion and politics in polite company, but we are headed to the point where we can no longer talk about anything!  I understand showing some tact, especially when talking to a creator of a work, but if I am sitting around the campfire discussing the lack of merit in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, or writing about it on my blog, Michael Bay is not breaking down in tears.

Why is criticism necessary?  For one thing, if nothing is bad, what should we watch and what should society preserve?  Also, constructive criticism leads to improvement.  Don't we want to watch better movies?  Everyone doesn't have to be good at everything.  Occasionally, a dream can be tactfully put into perspective by someone else.

"Could you do any better?" is a lazy way to dismiss criticism.

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