Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Creative Differences

Something that's long bothered me is the concept of creative differences. 

You hear about it all the time in the entertainment business, between the people making the movie, the TV, the music we love.  But that's not the one I'm going to talk about.  No, what concerns me today is the creative differences of the audience.

Not in the sense of having different tastes, mind you.  When something is very popular, you find out how quickly someone will put their individual preferences aside.  Oh, sure, there are the people who hate the very popular things, because some people thrive on being contrarian.

No, creative differences from the audience in that some people thrive on inserting themselves into the creative process, question the decisions that were (or are being) made.

This concerns me because there's a difference between questioning creative choices and recognizing that the creators in question just aren't very good.  And for whatever reason, more often than not, we seem to demonize those who make different creative choices rather than those who just aren't very good.

In fact, more often than not we actually encourage people who aren't very good, because they reflect our own insecurities, our need to believe in ourselves.  Which is the same reason we feel free to question creative choices, rather than allow ourselves to think about them.

Critical thought is probably the hardest thing to teach.  In school we're constantly taught from books that have already been deemed classics, and teachers painstakingly walk through creative choices as if they are inherently impeccable.  You may remember how you yourself reacted to these classics. 

It would probably be more helpful to start with a book that the whole class, teacher included, has to decide on together.  It would be the first model for what we would hopefully be doing for a lifetime.  Because I think at the moment we're sadly deficient.  We don't know how, we don't try, and we assume that because we have an opinion we're right and cannot be contradicted, just so long as it fits whatever agenda we're peddling.

Far too often we identify the choir first and then begin preaching to it.  But it's not the audience that matters.  You don't need affirmation.  What you need is integrity.  It's not integrity that leads you to tearing apart creative choices. 

When something fails people all of a sudden find it easy to analyze what went wrong.  When something succeeds it's just assumed that everything went right.  Failure is considered an amalgam of terrible choices.  Success and failure are not the arbiters of imagination.  If one element succeeds spectacularly, it can lift otherwise mediocre material.  It equally bothers me when someone says one element did succeed but otherwise couldn't rescue everything around it, because that's the essence of most successes.  People rally around elements far more often than they do for complete mastery.

Because, again, because of the intimidation factor.  To me, it's ridiculous.  I hate the idea of feeling comfortable with mediocrity, especially the kind that has few if any redeeming qualities.  I've been guilty of this in the past.  I know what it's like to want to say something's good just because it's the easy way out, so I conform to the general consensus.

It's an impossible order.  No matter what I write here, you will continue to think the way you always thought.  The thought process is the hardest thing anyone could ever hope to change about themselves.  A lot of the other traits that carry us through life are about impulses that can be rechanneled, whether we're aware of how they work or otherwise, or letting something be nourished that was previously neglected.  But thought is exactly as it developed, sometimes completely out of our control, from early on in our lives.

It's helpful, however, to at least begin to acknowledge failings.  And to try and curb, perhaps, impulses that are not in our best interests.  You think for yourself, but it's useful to remember how your thoughts influence others. 

Anyway, next time you react to a TV show or a movie, try and think about the creative choices as something you don't need to question.  Think about those choices.  They aren't reflections of your own choices.  We tend to gravitate to things that reflect the way we think.  Underlying poor quality shouldn't be among those reflections.  Rather, the things that challenge us, inspire us...

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

IWSG November 2015

Technically I've more or less completely broken from the blogging community (except pesky Pat Dilloway), so linking this post to the Insecure Writers Support Group might be wrong, even though this is the traditional first Wednesday of the month to check in. Pretty sure even the omnipresent Alex Cavanaugh finally quick checking in on me. 

All the same, I've been getting back into the swing of blogging, whether people are reading me or not, and continue to wonder what it is about me that seems to set me so much apart.  A month or so back, I watched True Grit with my father.  No, not the John Wayne version, but the Coen one.

Both of which are based on a book, by the way.  My dad's a big John Wayne fan.  I thought he'd get a kick out of seeing the new version.  Afterward, I asked him what he thought.  His main reaction was that, all things considered, the story was more or less how he remembered it.

You've got to know, as far as I'm concerned there are huge differences between the two movies.  I grew up watching John Wayne because of my dad, so I'd seen his version as a kid, but that was the last time.  So by the time I saw Jeff Bridges assume the role of Rooster Cogburn, I was seeing the story with fresh eyes.  I was riveted.  I haven't seen all of the Coens' movies, but I've long admired their skill as filmmakers.  They're very much part of the generation that has helped, so far as I'm concerned, make film the truly dynamic art form it has long waited to become.

Which is to say, I believe films as a whole are today better than they have ever been.  Film is that rare art form born in the modern age.  We've seen the whole development unfold before us.  Although there have been artful contributors throughout its history, the whole of it has really come together in recent years.  It's less and less possible to see the seams.

Which is to say, it's always worth retelling a familiar story.  It always was, mind you.  That's how storytelling began, even when it was merely a matter of preserving a memory.  Stories inevitably change in the retelling.  It's more probable than not (sorry, Patriots fans!) that Homer's version of the Trojan War differs wildly from how it originally unfolded.

My greatest sin as a writer is allowing people to say around me, constantly, the fallacy everyone accepts as fact: that Hollywood has nothing new to say, that remakes and sequels dominate the box office because there's no originality.  Every single time I should be vigorously arguing this point.  Because every single time, these movies are saying something new, even when they're hinging on something you already know.

Because the story changes every time, changes in how it's told, in story and in style.  John Wayne's Rooster Cogburn is similar to  Jeff Bridges' mostly in that they both have eye patches.  I know Wayne won an Oscar for his performance, but there's no question who put more work into their version, and who had better filmmakers around them.  Or at least there shouldn't be.

Except there are those who don't see the difference.  I've long had a problem understanding that.  People view things differently.  This is something everyone knows in theory, but in practice very few of us take this into account.  Usually, we take such distinctions only in whether we love it or hate it. 

But that's just not good enough.  Part of what drove me away was getting into a dispute I simply walked away from.  The person in question brought up something that had happened here on this blog, that I had to go back and reference myself just to see if I understood what had happened.  Turns out I might have been misinterpreting something that had been said, but there wasn't any clarification at the time, and really, there's no point.  That's the sort of problem that would lead to someone hating something, and someone else loving it.  The truth is somewhere in-between, as it usually is.

When I blog, I tend to write about the things I love, and often, it seems, I love things that have garnered otherwise poor reactions.  This tends to put me on the defensive.  What people crave, rather, is a certain uniformity, or, certainly, not being contradicted.  That's why most comments on blogs are people agreeing with whatever was originally said.  Well.

I can do nothing for you, son.
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