I’m a critic. It’s become something of a bad word. I’m a critic of stories: spanning many types of storytelling mediums – film, TV, books, comics…
I love stories. I know stories – I’ve studied them extensively. I know what makes a good story, what makes a poor one, and how to articulate why certain elements did or didn’t work. No, I’m never able to entirely switch off my critical brain (nor would I want to!). And yes, I am still able to enjoy films/tv/etc.
Even my favourite stories contain the odd bum note and I’m neither too blind to notice nor too proud to admit that I love something with flaws. I even have a perverse love of objectively rubbish stories if they hit the right note between utterly cheesy and openly embracing what they are. But when I write a critique or voice an opinion that is in any way negative, I’m often dismissed. ‘Oh, she hates everything,’ is the common refrain. This is not the only reason I – and many other critics (or even fans who have the nerve to express a negative opinion on their favourite properties) – frequently hear cited as a way to dismiss our opinions. But let’s get something clear: my opinion is just that, an opinion. It is no more or less genuinely held than anyone else’s. Yes, I have the tools with which to dissect storytelling forms, but there is no such thing as a right or wrong opinion, nor some sort of default position by which you can or should dismiss an opinion out of hand.
Diverse opinions are useful. They are also natural.
Let’s take a closer look at the criticisms often levelled at those who dare to criticise:
Just because it isn’t intellectual…
I hear this all the time whenever I don’t like a big Hollywood Blockbuster. As though the only way to hold a negative opinion of a film that makes more money than I could ever accrue over my entire life in one weekend is to be a snob. I love action films, comedies, spoofs. There’s no need for a film to be a serious drama, tackling issues in new and insightful ways in order for it to be a good film.
A good story has to have three elements, each of which should be of a high standard: plot, character, and setting. Comedies must have them, just as they are integral to serious dramas. An action film can be highly entertaining and well-made, even as it pleases those who want to switch off and simply enjoy a good punch-up. However, just as watching some unknown person fight another unknown, it is far more rewarding and interesting if you know why, connect with the character, and find some resolution by the end.
You’re just trying to be different
It is true that my mother gave me the nickname ‘contrary Mary’ as a youngster. All the kids liked the sun, so I loved the rain; they wanted to play outside, so I wanted to be indoors; they wanted to paint, so I wanted to sing… you get the idea. I am now mature enough to admit that, at times, I have been guilty of choosing my likes and dislikes on the basis of being different from everyone else (seriously though, the rain is obviously better than the sun). But give me some credit – when it comes to writing a review, I pride myself on judging on merit alone.
How can you tell a contrary (or worse, having an opinion without having seen/read/listened to the art in question! gasp!) critique from one with merit? Here’s a clue: ‘This sucked’ (lacks merit) vs ‘This sucked, because…’ (has merit). The same principles apply to criticism as you were taught when writing high school essays. If you make a claim, back it up.
Fans of the original were never going to like the sequels/reboots
This one really bothers me. When a new film from a cult franchise is released, the two sides of the opinion divide are pitted against one another. The fans who love the new addition are kind, generous, wonderful people. Those who dislike it are close-minded and judgemental – they would have hated anything that wasn’t their precious original, right? How nice of franchise fans to fall into such easily identifiable categories.
I have often been accused of this, particularly with recent reboots of Star Trek and Star Wars. But I’ve loved plenty of different iterations of Star Trek (just not Abrams’ slaughtering of it), and while I’ve taken issue with the new Star Wars films, I absolutely love the current animated series Star Wars Rebels.
Sure, being a die-hard fan of a franchise comes with a certain amount of baggage, but most of us are capable (and willing) to divorce our critical faculties from our unadulterated love to give something new a chance. Disliking a reboot might, in fact, be a result of a poor reboot. Equally, enjoying a reboot does not mean you were never a fan of the original or that your love of the original is in any way diminished.
Try to remember that everyone is entitled to their opinion. Instead of dismissing them or resorting to childish tantrums akin to ‘You’re an asshole’, establish why it is you disagree and formulate an opinion you are able to back up with examples and cogent arguments. Discussion and disagreement are healthy. We’re all different. Let’s try to remember to embrace our differences.