So after spending a week or so discussing Boosting the Signal on good works, I want to cover something that inspired it, is part of it, and is part of Geek Citizenship. It is the role of criticism as part of our commercial, media, and technical systems – but mostly our media systems.
You’ve heard criticism of bad films, yet it seems we can make profitable Transformers films for decades to come (ending probably when someone does a porn parody with Orgasmus Prime*). You’ve heard how bad reality TV is, but the shows are still churning out even though everyone says how bad it is. The sameness of video games is a joke, and they keep selling, and we’re all busy on the forums complaining.
It’s almost to the level of a joke. The same arguments and criticisms are trotted out. The same Message Board posts ignite and Twitterrage spews. And it’s all alike time after time.
Let me humbly suggests that one of the problem with a lot of our commercial systems is simply that criticism isn’t coming from outside.
Criticism is part of the show. Including your comments and complaints.
Part Of The Spectacle
By now there’s a ritual of a new technology, new film, book sequel coming out, new game, etc. Inevitably flame wars and criticisms and outright attacks happen, the praise is predictable, everyone says what we expect, and then it dies down until the next time. In a few cases contrarianism kicks in and the hated thing becomes big or huge, or the loved things become hated.
After all, you can joke all you want about Twilight, but it was enormous, profitable, and is why we’re getting 50 Shades of 9 1/2 Weeks . . . er, Gray.
The complaining about how bad things are is part of the show. People get to yell, people get to listen, people get to argue with the yellers. However all the yelling and anger and laughing at how bad things are doesn’t seem to change much.
(Money seems to change things, as we’ve seen with reshuffling of films lately).
Complaining, criticizing, and outright whining and hatred is part of the whole of modern entertainment and culture. We’re used to snarky comments. Pundits make their entire living being jerks about things. In short, saying “this is bad” is just par for the course, expected, and lets us be part of the show.
It’s catharsis as critique.
That complaining about Transformers 4? Think of it as just a ritual and part of free publicity and morbid curiosity and it makes a lot more sense.**
The Psychology Of Helplessness
Feel helpless to improve things? Feel like the comics companies or media companies or whatever aren’t going to listen? That’s because yelling about how bad things are is expected, it’s part of the system, part of the show – even when legitimate it’s expected or tuned out due to the noise.
Is this intentional? No, I don’t think there’s some conspiracy or anything. It’s just the way things evolved in a fast-paced, connected world. Things are easily co-opted or normalized and culturally we’ve yet to adjust.
But it can make you feel helpless as hell because you’re saying things and nothing’s happening. But that’s not the kind of cultural system we evolved ñ we evolved a show.
To Beat The System Get Out Of The System
So one of the reasons I focused on Boost The Signal was the growing realization that all the complaining about things is built into our culture and media and is not designed to change things. It’s designed to entertain and allow catharsis.
Everyone wants to whine about how bad things are for money or attention. Some politicians base their careers on this, and they’re no different than people trolling message boards, they just get SuperPACs.
So, the best option for most people is to start Boosting The Signal. Make a difference by promoting things that are worth it. Yes, it may seem quite a mountain to scale, but the more people spend time with good media, good tech, the less time they spend with crap.
Now crap may be subjective here, but I’m going to trust your good taste.
Boosting the Signal gets you out of the system.
Boosting the Signal gets you active as opposed to complaining.
Boosting the Signal gives you a goal of having something happen as opposed to having something not happen – the former is far easier to measure.
Boosting the Signal might just give you or someone an idea to help us steer away from the spectacle of complaining.
So in short, shut up ad get to work. But first . . .
I Miss Good Critique
I’m not saying critique doesn’t have a role. A good critic is someone who can analyze, understand, and get you to think. It’s literally critique in the analytical sense not being critical all the time.
It’s just the good stuff is rare.
The late Roger Ebert is an example I often invoke in this case as he clearly thought about what he was seeing and talking about. He connected with you, he analyzed, he was thoughtful. In the business world he’ have been an Analyst, shuffling data and trends and processes and patterns to dig into what was really going on ñ and should be done.
One of the greatest examples of his work I think, ironically, was his take on “Paul Blart: Mall Cop.” A seemingly un-noteable comedy, he felt it to be charming and interesting and sweet with a surprising hero. I was shocked at the positive statements in his review, and saw the movie only because of it – and I and my roommates were surprised at what a charming, fun, enjoyable,human movie it was.
Maybe you’re not the next Ebert – or maybe you are (in your own sphere). We could use good critics who know critique. So as much as I want people to Boost The Signal, this could be your path as well – which lets you Boost The Signal, Question The Signal, and Analyze the Signal as well as recommend people just turn the Damn Signal Off. Just do it right, do it well, and don’t get trapped in the usual spectacle.
Moving Forward By Moving Forward
So, remember, good critique is rare, criticism and complaining are just part of the sideshow in our modern media, and too often a distraction or a co-opting of our time. I think we’re far better served these days in Boosting The Signal on good works, and if possible, being true critics when valuable and able.
In closing, let me tell a personal tale. Nearly a decade ago some friends and I were discussing bad films, and I came up with a film that parodied action movies. The idea was two stars would sabotage a corrupt studio by getting them to make the ultimate failed action move that was only a pile of overdone tropes. However they quickly discovered that it was almost impossible to make a failure if you went over-the-top stupid, that critique only fired morbid curiosity or even morphed into knowing contrarianism. Our heroes would be in terrible danger of succeeding as you could never be truly dumb or bad enough to fail intentionally.
It was a parody.
By now, I’m not sure it is.***
– Steven Savage
Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach. He blogs on careers at http://www.musehack.com/, publishes books on career and culture at http://www.informotron.com/, and does a site of creative tools at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/. He can be reached at https://www.stevensavage.com/.
* Please, don’t do this.
** I hope this isn’t part of the ritual, but I’m willing to be suspicious of myself.
***Hollywood, call me, we can out-cynical each other.