My Daily Thought:
Being ‘right’ is easy; say what you want to say loud enough, and people will always believe you.
The tough part is saying something of value.
It’s been a while since my last blog post, I know. Chalk it down to a lot of ‘real world’ stuff taking the reins for a bit, and me not being able to corral enough time and/or brainpower to gather my thoughts into readable form. There’s also the matter of polishing this little space up visually, which will come along once I get the wherewithal to get my head around gathering images, figuring out image sizes and all that other graphic design stuff the rest of the internet seems to have down pat.
In truth, I have at least three or four articles in various stages of completion that have been slowed somewhat by the kind of internal debate any writer follows when in their literary playground. Questions of form, tone and focus; Do I give my articles a specific theme (As I have done in my film articles with worldbuilding?) If so, to what extent should I approach general analytical concerns? Do I make it funny? If so, how funny? Can I pull of ‘funny’ and ‘fair’ at the same time? My aim is to do this kind of thing on a professional basis, so I ask myself these questions so I can generate professional-standard material. Stands to reason, right?
But then I look at the internet as a whole and wonder if there’s any place here for a geek who wants to write that way. It involves fact-checking, selectiveness of wording and the ability to elaborate on one’s own opinion while considering alternative points of view – three things for which the internet community seem to have unwavering apathy.
As a fan of film/music/media in all its forms, I’ve enjoyed the communication revolution provided by the internet as much as anyone. You see a movie, there’s a thousand sites where you can write a review, a million messageboards, a billion news stories that allow you to put your own comment at the bottom. The internet provides more opportunities for expressing our opinions than the sum total of opinions the human brain can generate in a lifetime.
The thing is, there’s one overarching truism that has been taught us by the stern, rough pillars of age and experience since time immemorial: most people are full of shit. We quickly learn in life that one’s sanity largely pivots on knowing who to listen to and who to ignore; in work, relationships and even family, people with cancerous opinions that serve only to make us less happy and less secure in our own feelings are never more than a stone’s throw away. Learning when to recognize these people and ceasing to listen to them forms a sizeable element of the precarious, frustratingly self-extending mountain-climb we all brave under the name ‘Growing Up’.
The same principle applies to our own reactions to art. One of the joys about being a geek/art-lover/all-round culture enthusiast is the debate that comes with it, but you learn that sometimes people have nothing to offer the conversation but negativity. The snobbier geeks will actually think less of you for liking that thing. Again, these have always been conversations best abandoned.
Unfortunately, the internet has not just democratized debate amongst us geeks, it’s also granted total freedom and anonymity to those of us who are much more interested in being heard than actually participating in discussion. How many times have you read a news story on, say, a film or a book and within the first four or five comments someone has chipped in with variations of one or more of the following:
“(Insert name here) is SO overrated!”
(Insert name here) would’ve worked so much better if…”
“(Insert name here) still sucked, don’t make excuses for something that was just bad!”
That last one often comes up in discussions of things that are generally seen as unpopular, and is indicative of the worst faction of internet commenters: the Taste Police. Maybe us geeks are far more status-driven and fearful of iconoclasm as we claim, because it seems you can’t be allowed to state an opinion that runs against the popular opinion of certain things without someone coming along to bring you back into line within five minutes.
I saw this exact phenomenon happen twice in quick succession on Facebook threads sharing articles proposing such blasphemies. One was about an AV Club article presenting a defence of the Matrix sequels (The Matrix being the subject of a worldbuilding article I’m currently working on) The other, from my good pal Travis Johnson, linked to a great series of articles by online film critic Drew McWeeney chronicling his introducing his kids to the Star Wars saga via the recently-released blu-ray boxset of the films. What was interesting was that both these articles were presenting positive takes on these series, both of which have been almost universally reviled in recent times by the online film geek legions.
The same happened here. Having never been able to quite share the vitriol directed at both series, I posted replies on both of the above Facebook threads expressing my approval of alternative analyses of these films getting a run in the public eye.
Almost immediately, the Facebook threads were quickly jammed with people quick to scream of all these films’ intrinsic suckiness right in our ears, and those of anyone else we may have been daring to fool into thinking in any way positively about these films. We were all accused of being ‘too forgiving’, that we’d missed the point, that we were making excuses for the filmmakers’ bad decisions – basically, that by even daring to consider positives of these films we were enabling some kind of cultural evil.
The thing is, this reaction isn’t exceptional; it’s everywhere, unfiltered by neither time nor perspective. You still can’t propose an opinion of those films that isn’t ‘This is the suckiest thing in the history of suckage’ without being talked to like some cultural collaborator. It’s no coincidence that the phrase ‘Lucas apologist’ has historically been levelled at people who have stated that they liked the Prequels. If the internet unites us all in anything, it’s our tendency to get melodramatic for no practical reason.
Personally, I think it’s about time we grew up a little.
This isn’t just an issue concerning Star Wars or The Matrix; everything on the internet regardless of subject matter seems to eventually devolve into a lot of shouting, with everyone clamouring for the most admired soundbite or pithiest put-down. Us geeks are united in our passion for these properties, but only when we’re agreeing with each other.
The internet may have democratized the ability to make our voices heard, but what use is that when you can barely fart without people barging in and beating down the potential for debate? Why can we not present an alternative view on artistic matters without it threatening people to the extent that they have to come in and give us ‘corrections’ that are neither asked for in the first place, nor open to debate?
The not being open to debate, the definitive tone these comments take and the implication they carry that they are not to be argued with; it is there that the damage is done. Going back to those aforementioned Facebook threads, neither one, nor the articles to which they linked, actually denied any of these movies’ problems. As a matter of fact, the inherent flaws of these series were incorporated into the statement that maybe these things have some positive aspects too. That’s not saying that the films are unsung works of genius, or even that good, just that they both had elements that perhaps deserved a smidge more attention than common opinion traditionally allows. Surely the ability to credit the positives of a thing while accepting its faults has always been at the heart of intelligent analysis, no?
But this is the internet, a place where seeming to give intelligent analysis is easier, and adds more inches to the e-peen, than actually doing it. Hence, a stream of commenters who deem it apparently crucial to redress such heresy and remind us all in three-figure decibels that these movies are all-capitals BAD, just in case anyone else gets any crazy ideas. By doing so, they squash any opportunity for debate under the same old criticisms we’ve all spent the last ten years saying over and over. Nothing new is learned, long live The Party Line.
Fuck off and don’t interrupt the grown-ups when they’re talking. I’m simply bored of people who barge into promising discussions with opinions that essentially boil down to ‘BOO YOU’RE TASTE IS TEH SUCK!!!!1!!!’; sick to death of boorish people drooling their ersatz pithiness all over my virtual personal space; completely, utterly and resolutely fucked off with over-opinionated dullards, be they random commenters or self-appointed internet ‘journalists’, thinking they’re original and ‘out there’ when all they have to offer is easy negativity and clichéd posturing.
So, people on the internet can be pricks. You don’t need me to tell you that. What you’re undoubtedly wondering is, what does all this have to do with this blog? Well, if the last couple of years of writers’ block and self-doubt has had a positive effect, it’s encouraged me to look at the writer I’ve been against the writer I want to be, and know I can be. I want to give myself a presence on the web, but in order to define how I want to do that I’ve had to sit down and start thinking about how to refine my voice so I don’t become one of the randomly raving voices that clog up this proverbial series of tubes.
As someone who has natural proclivities towards satire, I see in these behaviours something I have to be careful about. Comedy has always been my first love, and my sense of humour is never far below the surface in anything I write. More pointedly, I simply love a good piss-take. Articles like the Michael Bay and Highlander 2 ones on this site are just incredible fun for me, and I have no intentions of ever stopping. Sure, I’m being overly critical and exaggerate things, but it’s exaggeration that serves a purpose. If it wasn’t fun to write and fun to read (At least, as I hope) there’d be no point in doing it.
Nevertheless, I’m coming to realize that while it’s great to make your writing passionate and entertaining – in fact, my goal above everything else has been to make my writing entertaining, otherwise there’s no point asking people to read it in the first place – it has to be tempered with a sense of perspective. Analysis of any kind, be it bone-dry academia or my more jokey brand, needs to be cognizant of alternative views of a thing, or at least consider the range of possibilities.
When most of the internet is spraying unconsidered opinions and snark willy-nilly you have to be sure you’re using your head. Give people something to think about rather than just constructing a personality around yourself. Be funny, be passionate, but give your statements value above simple chest-beating and full-auto rhetoric to try and provoke (Usually depressingly predictable) responses.
I guess the conclusion I’m coming to is, the value of expressing your opinion on the internet stage isn’t just that you have an opinion in the first place. Freedom of expression may be a gift, but it’s not a gift that should be abused; you may have the right to speak, but you have to earn the right to be listened to. You could be wrong, I could be wrong, and all this stomping about declaring ourselves right all the time kills debate, and makes for shitty writing. The internet is at once a great opportunity for me, and something with which I’ve become unspeakably bored, and the only way I can keep putting stuff on it is to be asking all these questions. The output only counts if it has value, and I want to ensure I always produce material of value.
Now I just need to work out how to make this stuff work with all the fart jokes, and I’m set.