I have been called “critical” more than once and that statement always strikes me as a bit strange. Criticism to me has never been a negative thing on its own. Everything has its problems, even great things are imperfect and yet issues do not always negate enjoyment. There are plenty of movies that I admit are terrible but I like a lot. But as someone who writes, reads and enjoys many things; I am very aware of issues like cliches, plot holes and I’m remarkably sensitive to poor representation, historical anachronisms and inaccuracies.
I’m very much from the camp of “nothing is original”. I’m not easily swayed by claims of “this series was the first to do”-isms. Everything has a root in something, almost everything is a rip off of something and there’s a beautiful fine line between homage and plagiarism.
Let’s take a property I like a lot as an example. Axis Powers: Hetalia is a series I like quite a bit about personified anthropomorphic countries and all of their adventures and misadventures through history and major social movements. Hetalia is not the first series a humanize and personify nations. Scandinavia and the World came way before Hetalia and even before the two of them was Afghanistan (a delightfully dark little web comic about the titular character and her friends in the Middle East). But Hetalia did something that the others didn’t, it gave the characters/countries more personality and greater quirks. France wasn’t just France, he’s Francis Bonnefoy. He’s a Cancer and he has a weird talking bird named Pierre. Prussia isn’t just Prussia, his name is Gilbert and he has a brother, Ludwig: who is Germany, and also has a weird talking bird named Gilbird (I wish I was kidding). So I can’t say Hetalia was the most original of ideas but it took the concept and suspended my disbelief far enough to give it credit for being a newer take on an old idea.
Besides, most movies are based on the same like 5 Shakespeare plays. And being someone who reads and writes a lot, I am now a pretty tough sell. I’ve wondered many times if I should take a break from from reading and writing so that I can just “enjoy” some things. But it’s difficult to enjoy a series when cliches fly around and everyone still thinks the series is the most original, splendid and glorious.
In the last post, we talked about discourse and I love that about my friends and fellow fans. We have several amazing conversations about varying theories, headcanons and facts. We also have radically different opinions at times over things and our criticisms and critiques of different properties help us have rich and insightful conversations about, well everything. Friends and I have discussed socioeconomic conditions in The Great Gatsby, light and dark imagery in Naruto and plenty of talks about comic book movies (so many comic book movies). But these conversations do more than just show what we liked and didn’t like about a series, it shows our level of passion for the work. The more heavily criticized a property, the more beloved.
One of the first instances of this probably came from my issues with movies like The Dark Knight and X-Men: First Class. I was violently against these movies and their flagrant disregard of canon and my open criticism of the movies was because I was passionate about Batman and X-Men. If you ever hear or see me get up in arms about something, it’s because I care.
At the same time, being able to cite a criticism doesn’t mean that I don’t like something. As mentioned with Hetalia, the series has plenty of problems but that doesn’t stop me from having fun with it. C’mon, guys. I’m a comic book fan. I have to deal with a lot of unnecessary things and cliches.
Here’s a good place to talk about the difference between criticism, trolling and nit-picking. Channels like CinemaSins have made an entire market essentially destroying films. Their motto of “no movie is without sin” takes the idea of criticism to a new level. Often times, their comments are made without any consideration to the canon of the series or to the storylines themselves and by merely pointing out that the mirror isn’t tilted just so in a scene does not improve the work or the movie, it just ruins the shot for everyone and makes me very very angry when I can’t enjoy movies because now all I see are their tiny flaws. Criticism should be made with valid information and with love. Using words as a weapon has never gotten anyone very far and I wish people wouldn’t do that.Criticism is meant to be constructive, not destructive and if it ever is, it’s no longer criticism: it’s bullying.
But back to unilateral support. I never did understand this (here’s a helpful video to explain why to the critical mind, unanimity sounds a little fishy). Even in the most critically-acclaimed of series, there has to be someone who disagrees and I would certainly hope that anyone who disagrees even with overwhelming support would be accepted and welcomed with open arms. Disagreeing with a popular opinion, a villain does not make. Unilateral support is actually something I noticed more in my stint marathoning reality TV shows. Many of the subplots of the shows involved a person making an unpopular choice and saying that anyone that opposed them wasn’t a friend. I bring this up because this seems to be a problem with more than just comics: discourse and criticism seems to be something all around that has been a prickly topic as criticism has become nothing more than a reason to reinforce echo chambers and drown out any dissenters.
If you aren’t with me, you’re my enemy
I’m always a little suspicious of fandoms where everyone agrees. Just in one fandom, everyone should have different opinions, even if everyone likes it. Everyone should view things differently. Everyone should have their own ideas. I suppose I blame the echo chambers I mentioned last post. But why did we get to a place of criticism being a personal attack? Well, think about fandoms. We built these communities. We found friends. We all like this one precious thing and any outside voice that corrupts it, makes it less good, hurts us personally. Go back to my earlier statement: I was critical of these movies because I loved these properties. Because I was passionate, because I cared, because I liked them I didn’t enjoy seeing them treated in such a way. And experiences with people who take criticism lightly and use their words to just destroy instead of correct has left fans especially weary of negative comments. For so long, being a nerd has not been a positive attribute and when we found the internet, we found acceptance: an acceptance that so many longed for.
But that isn’t the root of fandom; echo chambers have never been the root of what we love. Fandoms start with conversations, with loving arguments, with differences in opinion. It starts with changing IM profiles to your Lantern Corps color and to talking at odd hours about who plays the better Batman. Fandoms start with discussing subtitles or dubbing. Talking voice actors. Trying to figure out what was censorship and what was just poor translation. Our community was founded by dissenters, unpopular opinions and obscure knowledge. Our community is made strong by comments, discussion and diversity. Never forget that.
That was a lot, huh?
With all of this being said, I’d like to wrap things up with this. Nothing escapes criticism. Criticism does not negate passion and finding concerns and voicing them does not make you literally the worst person in the world. Be kind to each other and other’s opinions.