I adore a local family burrito place, and my love of their food provides a good lesson in media. Trust me here as I discuss the Good and the Real.
The first time I went there, I had a vegetable burrito. The burrito’s home-cooked taste was so intimate I, a cook, could taste the personal touch. It used pre-cut frozen vegetables, so I wouldn’t say it was that Good, because fresh vegetables would have added something. Yet I adored it because the home-cooked taste connected me to the cook there was a passionately Real experience eating it.
I connected to the cook just eating that burrito.
Later I tried the restaurant’s breakfast burrito, and it was a glorious taste experience I called ” an Egg McMuffin with self-esteem.” It was the perfect balance of fresh eggs, the right sausage, beans, and cheese. This burrito had the homemade Real taste of the vegetable burrito and a choice of ingredients that made it just plain Good.
Sorry to make you hungry, but I found this a great metaphor for how we understand creative works.
Some works are Good. There is an unmistakable quality of work there, from well-shot scenes to brutally simple prose. There is craftsmanship there.
Some works are Real. There’s something that connects with you. It may trigger an emotion, it may help you relate to the creator. It’s not verisimilitude, it’s a sense of touching something connected and meaningful.
Not every media that is Good feels Real – and not everything that feels Real is Good. This division may explain why we have trouble debating quality works.
Some works that are Good don’t have the depth, the personal connection that makes something Real. They are well-polished, well done, and enjoyable, but they may not focus on deep connections. In my current anime viewing, I’d cite the supervillain office comedy Miss Kuroitsu from the Monster Development Department, which focuses on its target-rich environment of superhero tropes. “Miss Kuroitsu” focuses on mockery and doesn’t really want or need to focus on depth.
On the other hand, works can be Real, connected, but you may not call them “Good.” The above burrito is an example. Sogo Ishii, the brilliant filmmaker, brings a punkishly edgy and passionate reality to all his works. Some of his films may not be “good” in the sense of craft or polished because he wants to pour passion onto the screen (Crash City being an example)
Sometimes you want to be Good. Sometimes you want to be Real. Sometimes you’re fortunate and get both.
The Good and the Real works have quality, polish, and deep personal connection. When you read Lord of the Rings, you don’t just have a fantastic adventure, Tolkein’s love of language drips off the page. When you watch Steven Universe, you have both well-crafted rapid storytelling and experience the passion of the series creatures. These are the works that echo throughout time.
The Good and the Real may not be obvious. I would put the Fast and the Furious series in both the Good and the Real. The films are Real in that everyone knows the goal is to be as crazy as possible, and we’re all along for the ride. But they are Good in that they pull off the increasingly wild ideas. When you see a Fast and the Furious movie, it’s both being in on the fun and marveling at how they pulled it off.
For you, is your goal to make a work that’s both Good and Real? Or would you be best served by focusing on one over the other? What is it you want to do?
In fact, let me challenge you. Ask if your current work is trying to be Good, Real, or Both – and why might you want to change focus?
(Also, if you’re near me, I’ll tell you which restaurant to get those burritos at.)