Lying in bed this morning, pretending it wasn’t yet time to get up, I was thinking about the way hype and enthusiasm for films (and film franchises) has crossed a dangerous line, so that now many identify with a particular movie or franchise.
[Then I did get up and saw the news about the shootings in Aurora.]*
I’m thinking about this in relation to the recent news over death threats being made towards those who reviewed The Dark Knight Rises poorly.
I’m thinking about this in relation to the sense of betrayal many felt over the Star Wars prequels.
I’m thinking about this in relation to my own excitement for, and frustration over, Prometheus.
And reading the Supreme Being’s thoughts about film criticism and what it should be, is a good place to start—it’s what brought these ideas to my mind in the first place.
You Aren’t What You Like
With branding becoming increasingly powerful, we are convinced that we have ownership of products, like films. One doesn’t like Batman, one is a Batman fan. Liking or loving The Dark Knight has become part of who you are, in the same way being a Democrat or a lesbian or a Hindu is part of your identity.
When someone attacks, or defames, or even criticizes a part of your identity, you feel it as a personal affront. And you make death threats against the critics, like they were Salman Rushdie and you were the Ayatollah.
You—no matter how much you love Batman or The Dark Knight—have NOTHING TO DO WITH THOSE MOVIES OR THAT CHARACTER. You understand that, right?
It is not you, or even part of you, any more than pizza is part of you because you love pizza. Unless, say, you are actually Bob Kane’s grandkid or Jonathan Nolan, which I’m pretty sure you’re not.
Since you aren’t responsible in any way for these movies, you don’t need to defend them with the core of your being. You can, if you like, back up your opinions with well-considered reasoning or even impassioned rhetoric—please do—but that doesn’t stop your opinions from being opinions.
We are commentators and critics, not owners. We discuss films; we aren’t films.
You can love The Artist, or even Titanic, but when those films won Academy Awards, the producers, the director, the crew, and cast won those awards, not you. It’s not even your opinion that got validated. Your opinions can’t be any more right with awards to back them up, because opinions cannot be right or wrong.
The Supreme Being and I sometimes fight about movies. Often, actually.
It’s only natural (and effective) to state one’s opinions as if they were fact, but they’re not facts. Seriously. No matter how much you love 2001 or Zoolander or The Avengers, those aren’t great movies—you think they’re great movies. You can be part of a consensus of opinion on the matter or not, but neither you nor the consensus is definitively correct. There are no facts in art. (See, for example, SB and I duke it out over the meaning of The Grey.)
I Think You Mean I Think
This means that your opinion is just as valid as anyone else’s, but no more so.
A few weeks back the Supreme Being and I went to a triple bill at the Castro as part of Midnites for Maniacs. It was a BFF-themed evening of Clueless, Mean Girls, and Heavenly Creatures. (We love Midnites for Maniacs.)
Now, I like Clueless. Seeing it before Mean Girls, which is much better (in my opinion), and then Heavenly Creatures, which is a film I believe everyone should see, doesn’t make me like Clueless less. Clueless is a film I loved when I first saw it. I had a big movie-star-crush on Alicia Silverstone (although that seems odd to me now) and it makes me laugh.
When it ended, however, Supreme Being turned to me and said, “That was excruciatingly terrible.” He hated the character of Cher, thought she was a miserable human being and didn’t see any reason why she would deserve happiness, or why an audience member would want to see things work out for her.
I got defensive. He was slandering a film I like. I thought, and think, that he lacked the perspective to see how Cher might be an empathetic character to many.
Why did I get my back up, though? What difference does it make to me if SB hated Clueless? Should his hatred of the film sour my enjoyment of it? Is he even wrong? Maybe, if I take his perspective to heart, I’ll end up agreeing with him?
This is the other thing I’m interested in: our human desire to be in agreement. When, if we’re successful in changing someone’s mind, we feel that we have been proved “right.” That’s the corollary to getting furious when people disagree with us.
I’m Just Being Agreeable
We like it when people agree with us. It’s called belonging, and it’s a good feeling.
This is how unexceptional films like Braveheart can win Best Picture (that and politics). Someone says it’s excellent, no disagreement is heard, people go to see it with a predilection to agree. There’s nothing exceptional about the movie—nothing to love, nothing to hate (okay fine, I found plenty to hate, but this is just an example)—and so when asked, people agree. It’s easiest. You liked Braveheart? So did I! I also loved Castaway and Dances with Wolves!
The thing is: disagreement is interesting. Conflict is what makes drama and drama is what makes movies—and life—worth involving yourself in. So while your opinion may not be any more valid than anyone else’s, it can be more interesting and engaging to consider. This is what SB was talking about in his post.
SB hated Clueless. Fine. Now that I think on it, I’m not sure I care to defend that particular film. I liked it. I still like it. Is it important to me? No. I had nothing to do with it except for the personal connections it formed inside my skull. I can explain those types of things, as I did earlier this week in relation to Back to the Future, or not. If I have something interesting to say about those personal connections, then I should speak out. That would be good conversation. If not, what am I really saying except, “I liked it. So shut up.”
And if what I’m saying is, “I got all psyched to see this movie because of the branding and the advertising and the marketing and so I committed to liking it before I even saw it,” then I am truly an idiot.
Opinions are Like Assholes: It’s Good to Have a Functional One
I’m not saying this because I think opinions don’t matter. I’m saying this because understanding that your opinions are subjective both allows you to remain open-minded and forces you to defend importantly held beliefs with logic, discourse, and consideration.
I don’t care if you agree with my evaluations of a film’s merits or not. I care that you have the wherewithal to communicate your thoughts on the matter in a way that other people can understand.
“I liked it. So shut up.” is useless.
Figure out why you liked a film. Learn about cinema so that you have the language to explain your reactions coherently. Communicate what you feel and think. Listen to other people’s thoughts and give them consideration. If you disagree, allow that to be interesting, not painful. You don’t have to agree with people to respect them and their opinions.
When I write here, anything interesting I’m sharing is my opinion, not true writ. You disagree with me? Nothing could make me happier.
* [I suspect this tragedy will turn out to not have anything much to do with Batman, or Christopher Nolan’s interpretation of the Batman mythos. It will probably have much more to do with inadequate mental health care and lax gun laws in America. Regardless, I can’t write this post today without mentioning how ghastly last night’s killings were.
The idea that someone can vent their anger at the world using firearms, yet again, and the national debate is about abortion and not murder makes me apoplectic. Saying my heart goes out to those affected just seems so lame and impotent. I’m sorry that I haven’t yet been able to do more to make sacred things—like going to the movies, or the baseball game, or to school—events that could end your life. All so some douche who thinks owning a rifle will keep the government from forcing him or her to pay taxes can cock-a-doodle-doo. If that’s what the 2nd Amendment says (it isn’t), then the 2nd Amendment is wrong and we need to change it. That is my opinion.