The aspect of FCH's piece that affected me the most was that discussing the differences between emotional and 'intellectual'/expert responses to film:
[...]WE ASSUME THAT JUST BECAUSE WE KNOW THE END RESULT OF HOW A MEDIA EXPERIENCE AFFECTS US, WE THEREFORE UNDERSTAND HOW IT WORKED ON US. AND IT GIVES RISE TO ONGOING HABITS OF OPINION THAT MAY BE TOTALLY JUSTIFIED ON AN EMOTIONAL LEVEL, BUT THEY ARE NOT "RIGHT" IN THE WAY THEY ARE DIAGNOSING WHAT IS GOOD AND BAD. FOR INSTANCE, SOMEONE CAN DISLIKE SOPHIE'S CHOICE BECAUSE IT MADE THEM SAD, BUT THAT DOES NOT VALIDATE THEIR OPINION THAT IT IS "A BAD MOVIE." IT DEPENDS ON A CRUCIAL UNDERSTANDING OF FUNCTION, NOT MERE EFFECT. AGAIN, THE THING ABOUT TANGIBLE DETAILS IS THAT WE ALL HAVE OUR RELATIVE CAPACITIES TO PERCEIVE BEYOND THEM OR FALL VICTIM TO THEM. FOR INSTANCE, TWO DIFFERENT PEOPLE MAY WATCH NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN AND BOTH LIKE IT, BUT ONE WILL JUSTIFY IT WITH SOMETHING SIMPLE LIKE "It was awesome they had the gunfight in the hotel!" WHEREAS THE OTHER COULD HAVE MORE THEMATIC, NUANCED LEANINGS AND SAY: "The ending is just a perfect encapsulation of how one essentially 'retires' from the world of material pursuits when they've seen the cost of those pursuits and the cavernous loss that it creates! The constancy of death is haunting!" BOTH CAME TO THE SAME EVALUATION OF "GOOD" THROUGH RADICALLY DIFFERENT MEANS. THE SAME WOULD BE TRUE FOR PEOPLE WHO DIDN'T LIKE THE MOVIE. ONE PERSON CAN JUSTIFY THEIR DISLIKE BY SAYING "I thought the ending was stupid! I didn't get it! I wish we saw him get killed!" WHEREAS SOMEONE ELSE CAN SAY "I have a long-winded explanation for how the approach to the ending does not satisfy me on a cathartic level, even though that's totally the point of this movie and it builds to that message beautifully!" [...] THE POINT IS THAT WE COULD JUST CHALK THESE DIFFERENCES IN OPINION OVER THE MOVIE UP TO A MATTER OF DRUTHERS, BUT WHILE EVERYONE IS CERTAINLY ENTITLED TO THEIR OPINION THAT DOES NOT MEAN THAT EVERYONE IS ENTITLED TO THEIR OPINION BEING RIGHT. THAT'S SIMPLY NOT WHAT SUBJECTIVITY IS ABOUT, YET WE MAKE THIS MISTAKE ALL THE TIME. JUST BECAUSE OPINIONS AREN'T FACTS DOES NOT MEAN THAT SOME OPINIONS AREN'T MORE COHERENT, HELPFUL AND PRODUCTIVE THAN OTHERS. AND THE OBVIOUS DIFFERENCE BETWEEN "The gun fight is awesome!" AND THE "perfect encapsulation of..." IS THE QUALITY OF INSIGHT. IT'S THE ABILITY TO ENGAGE THE TEXT FOR ITS EXPRESSED PURPOSE, AND THEN THEIR RESPECTIVE ABILITIES TO PROVIDE AN EDUCATIONAL PROCESS TO THE READER, FAR BEYOND THE LAME CONCLUSION OF BAD/GOOD WITHIN THE OPINION ITSELF.
I can make no claim to be an expert in film or literature - I studied literature at school and never studied film. I like to think of myself as an observant reader/viewer and I'm well-educated but I'm not a 'trained' critic or 'story diagnostician'. In terms of my own engagement with pop culture therefore, this passage (from Introduction #4) is interesting to me less in terms of the amateur/critic debate but in terms of emotional/rational responses to stories. Looking back over my blog posts from the last year I realised that my reviews are a confused and messy combination of emotional/rational responses: my 'reviews' confused how I felt about books/movies with what I thought about how well they worked. I liked Man of Steel enough to see it more than once at the cinema but revisiting that review it's clear that I attributed my enjoyment of that film to it's aesthetics - Henry Cavill's face (and other body parts), the cinematography, the music etc. My review gave very little consideration to aspects of narrative or character arc or to whether the film actually told me anything.
Having emotional responses to the stories we consume is natural (media has completely failed if we feel nothing but ambivalent) and I am very prone to emotional transference - I cry at everything to the extent that it is not uncommon for me to have cried at least once during the trailers before a movie! Moreover, I'm very wary of people who try to deny audiences their right to instinctive emotional reactions to pop culture. For example, I found the reaction of authors and commentators to the backlash against Veronica Roth's Allegiant deeply troubling. That authors such as John Green, who hold themselves up as champions of young readers, dismissed readers' reactions to the book outright and criticised them for not reading 'generously' was deeply condescending and problematic. The notion that the only valid responses are those accompanied by rational thought and extensive analysis is just wrong. These readers were simply articulating their gut reaction - maybe upon reflection they'd be less vehement in their criticism but their dissatisfaction and disappointment in that moment were perfectly valid.
As FCH explains, emotional responses are valid and important BUT it's important to recognise that we're consuming media on that level of transference and projection. It's one thing to express you emotional response but another thing entirely to be able to explain why a film did or did not succeed in tell a coherent and meaningful story. I too was deeply disappointed with Allegiant and at some point in 2014 I'd like to reread it with a critical eye and analyse whether or not it is a failure and if so why. In the meantime I need to be aware that my 'review' of the book (as with so many of my so-called reviews) represents not a critical analysis but an account of my emotional response to it.
This isn't just a 'problem' with media I don't like. In the summer I read a couple of books that I really loved and when it came to reviewing The Dream Thieves I really struggled to review it without descending in to exclamation points and capslock. I don't possibly have the time to analyse and critique every book I read but I'm no longer content to 'accept' my enjoyment of things that I like so passively. I've got to stop thinking that my 'academic' and my 'fangirl' brains are two separate entities.It would be nice to have a more interesting response to, 'How did you find it?' than 'Oh, yes, it was good. I liked it a lot'.
This has all been a very long-winded way of getting to this:
SURE, MOVIES ARE THESE GRAND ARTISTIC THINGS THAT WE ALL HAVE EMOTIONAL REACTIONS TO, BUT THERE REALLY ARE THINGS LIKE CRAFT, COHESION, PURPOSE AND THE EFFECT ON THE AUDIENCE, WHICH THEN MEANS IT'S ABOUT OUR ABILITY TO CONTEXTUALIZE AND EXPLAIN TO THEM THAT MATTERS, NOT THE SHOUTS OF "This is what I thought, dammit!!!" SERIOUSLY, JUST BECAUSE WE CAN'T COME TO DEFINITIVE CONCLUSIVE STATEMENTS WITH ART DOESN'T MEAN WE CAN'T DO OUR DAMNEDEST TO ESTABLISH A FIRMER GRIP ON THE NOT-SO-TANGIBLE DETAILS THAT HIDE BENEATH THE SURFACE AND UNVEIL THE REAL ENGINEERING OF MOVIES.In light of all this reflection therefore my new year's resolution is to be more self-critical in my reaction to pop culture. I want to spend more time interrogating my feelings towards the media I consume. This doesn't necessarily mean writing academic-style essays on everything I watch and read but it does mean becoming more careful in how I talk about literature and film and being more discerning in terms of articulating how I feel as opposed to what I think. It's not that this is an entirely new concept to me - I've spent a lot of time (too much time one might say) dissecting The Hunger Games series trying to work out why Mockingjay is such a problem - but I'd like to become more consistent in interrogating what I consume.
This will of course mean that there will be some changes on the blog - I'll probably be posting reviews less frequently and I'll probably only post about the things which really make an impact. I'd also like to spend more time thinking about the nature of pop culture engagement and hopefully some of that will make its way on to the blog. Finally, I think I'll probably move away from using a numerical rating system and instead simply judge things on specific criteria. On there own these changes look quite small but I hope they'll make the blog far more interesting!
I started this blog because I needed a place to talk, a space in which I could unload some of my thoughts. Having found my voice (to some extent anyway) it's time I start to question that a little. It's exciting and I hope that in the next year you find a thing or two here that resonates with you too.