Sunday, May 20, 2012

Ah, Critics

Dark Shadows fandom is a relatively big, organic thing, encompassing several generations, and the new Tim Burton/Johnny Depp movie has brought many an old fan out of the woodwork as well as gathered new ones — though clearly not as many as Warner Brothers hoped, since the first week's box-office numbers came in lower than expected. Regardless, the buzz has been significant, and, having kept up with the reviews, not to mention general fan reaction, there seems to be a pretty even split between those who loved it and those who hated it. Middle ground... not so much. For at least some hardcore fans, messing with the established mythos is something that ought not be done, while others have happily embraced Burton's new imagining. Some, such as me, don't care a whit that the new movie departs significantly from Dan Curtis's original product but find that, as a standalone cinematic work, it doesn't quite cut the mustard.

As with any subject matter that's near and dear to so many hearts (the original Dark Shadows certainly is to mine), enmity between those with opposing points of view is simply to be expected, and on this count my expectations have been fulfilled in Imax and 3D. Now, I've not been made aware of any particular grumbling about my review of the film (Moments of Shadow, May 12, 2012) — and if there is, who the bleep cares? — so I have no personal axe to grind with anyone. Rather, just for shits and giggles, as someone who has been in the trenches of the creative business for quite a few years, I figured I'd express a few thoughts on the subject of criticism, particularly as it applies to Dark Shadows.

Inevitably, in these clashes of like versus dislike, the typical reaction from each side in regard to the other is "what the hell is wrong with you?" To my mind, this is simply shallow thinking — or straight-up immaturity — which thus explains its prevalence (because, face it, deeper thinking hurts). In the case of Dark Shadows, there's a sizable contingent who were so put off by the trailer that they proudly boast they'll never watch the film and evidently find meaning in life by looking down their snoots at those who enjoyed it. However, the most prevalent misconception I've seen, particularly among certain longtime fans, is that if you didn't like the movie and — lord help you — publicly expressed the fact, it's absolutely, positively because you can't abide anyone mucking around with the original property, and maybe you should just shut up because, by criticizing Burton's movie, you're doing grievous harm to the entire franchise and all the people who've ever been associated with it. Now, indeed, there are plenty who do possess this attitude, and while to some extent I understand it, I think in the bigger picture it's misguided.

Whether you liked the film or didn't, if you present a fair case for your way of thinking and don't dismiss out of hand the positions of those who disagree with you, then you have my ear. If you're not interested in having my ear, or someone else's outside your own little choir, then why are you blathering?

Hand in hand with the above, the position that most chaps my ass is the fallacious notion that, if you haven't actually made your own multimillion dollar movie, you can't credibly criticize it; yet, if you do, your words are somehow influential enough to sway the minds of the masses against the movie maker. Let's look at it from a slightly different perspective. You know, I'm not a chef de cuisine, but I've had enough experience with well-made seafood dishes to know when I'm getting an inferior oyster and shrimp creole, even though I've never made it myself. If I publicly state the dish in question wasn't well made, then I'm doing the world a grave disservice, wot? Now, it may be that someone with different tastes will find said creole completely satisfactory, and that's fine, but that's sure as fire not going to dissuade me from voicing my opinion. Chances are, tending to be as objective as possible, I will also find some complimentary things to say about the bits that were done right. In my book, objectivity builds credibility.

Having put numerous novels, a hundred or so short stories, three anthologies, several audio drama scripts, and a long-running fiction magazine out in front of the world, I've had my share of critiques, running the gamut from "This Rainey fellow is some kind of Other God" to "He couldn't write his way out of a wormhole." As a creative person, you take the good with the bad, and it's healthier not to take either too much to heart. If you submit your work for public consumption, you might better expect to be trashed because, believe it or not, there's always someone who will find fault with it. Usually, however good the overall package might be, there are faults to be found. In the end, it doesn't matter how long you've labored, how many dollars you've spent, how much sleep you've lost to put your baby in front of what you hope is a receptive audience. The only thing that matters is whether it works or it doesn't. What works for some may not work for others. The credible critics, the ones who stand out from all the noise, the objective ones, are those who back up their opinions. They ought not be told to shut up, whichever position they take.

Again, this has nothing to do with any specific comments about my personal review; it's just my reaction to some of the general shouting out there. Yessir, Dark Shadows fans can be an emotional bunch. More power to us. But let's some of us not be quite so ugly and shallow. It really is unbecoming.


HemlockMan said...

What the hell is wrong with you?

Mark Rainey said...