A lot of you probably know how big a part of my life criticism is. I don't mean personal criticism, of course. I mean the analysis and critique of everything from movies to TV shows, comic books, and video games. I spend a likely-unhealthy amount of time delving into all this material, and perhaps just as much—if not more—time reading and listening to critical opinion on said media. I read written reviews, listen to a ton of podcasts, and discuss it all on forums. And now I'm thinking that needs to stop.
I've always tried to stay positive on things, for the most part. I like to let myself enjoy the stories I watch/read. But that doesn't seem to jive with the rest of the criticism world.
I read this awesome article written by George Perez (a huge name in comics writing) about why superheroes don't need to be "dark and gritty." One of his paragraphs caught my eye:
My son and I went to see Captain America about two weeks back, and it was as enjoyable and delightful a trip to the movies as I can remember in years. My days as a bitchy critic of cinema are long past, mind you, and I’m not interested in posting a review. I could do that. I once did do that. I stopped doing that 20 years ago. The proliferation of people who mistake their opinion for criticism made me stop.
It was when I read this that something clicked for me.
See, there's a mentality among critics that there is some unknowable standard of "quality" that permeates all art. That through analysis and critique, the "truth" of the art in question can be gleaned. Furthermore, there's a bizarre mob mentality that goes on both in the critic community as well as in general geek fandom where certain stories are simply declared "good" or "bad," and anyone who disagrees with the absolute quality of those judgments is wrong. Now, many critics will deny this. They'll say that "everyone's got a right to their opinion," or something along the lines of "hey, if you like it, good for you." But when it comes right down to it, those people will discuss their subject with a kind of absolute and harsh language that doesn't mesh with what they've just said.
There's an indeterminate list of qualities within stories that are known by critics to be good or bad. It rarely matters if a movie actually does something unique with a normally-"bad" story element; critics will still only examine the movie based on a pre-set pattern they've set up to gauge the previously-mentioned "absolute quality." While this vague formula actually does work in most cases, it tends to disallow many critics from actually seeing what makes a story great individually. It doesn't matter if a green-colored rose is beautiful; according to the pre-set formula, roses are NOT supposed to be green.
It's been said of the geek community in particular that "there's no gray area." It's impossible to have a discussion about The Dark Knight, for instance, without immediately resorting to either singing the film's praises or playing devil's advocate by saying that it's overrated. In nearly every case, if a story falls into that medium-level category between "amazing" and "terrible," it automatically falls into the "terrible" category, as far as the geek community is concerned. There's nothing that internet-based geek fandom loves more than to be as negative about the things they claim to love as possible. For someone like me, who tries to look on the brighter side instead of immediately jumping to a negative gut reaction, this makes discussing the things I love online very difficult.
As I write this, we're currently in Week 3 of 4 in DC Comics' New 52 relaunch. I've enjoyed a good 70% of the books, tolerated about 20%, and hated 10%. But there are a ton of fans out there who have been literally looking for reasons to hate the New 52, and they keep finding singular details in a few books to use as banners for their hatred. I've heard people describe themselves as "livid" over a few details, and constantly throwing out "f*** you"s at DC. A few of those people have jokingly (or not so jokingly) asked me if I actually work for DC, because no one could possibly have a positive outlook on all this. And even though that shouldn't bother me, it does. I've started to realize that I don't necessarily want to be a part of the geek criticism community. I just want to enjoy my stories and discuss them, not go looking for things to hate about them. I don't want to be irrational about anything, and I'm not looking to stick my head in the sand and make myself enjoy something when it's crap, but at the same time I really do think that a huge section of the geek community is merely negative for the sake of being negative. I know many, many highly intelligent people that I respect who do this, and it's really discouraging.
What Perez said in his article is true, I think. There's a "proliferation of people who mistake their opinion for criticism." I can deal with people not liking the same stories I do. Really. No skin off my back. But I wish people would be able to realize that their personal feelings are not the end-all be-all of the universe.
At this point, I really think I'm going to pull out of the criticism community in general. I'll still continue to enjoy the same stories I always have, and I'll probably still throw up reviews of stuff I read/watch, but I'm done with all the debating and all the judgment. I just want to be able to enjoy my stories without having to argue with people who think they're on a holy war to stop the terrible writers.