Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Film Criticism vs. Social Criticism


We've all done it. Each and every one of us. We looked at a group of people associated with liking a particular aspect of society and thought, "no way in hell do I want to be associated with them." It's a rather simple thought. One whose recurrence can be traced throughout the history of ourselves and the history of civilization. Unfortunately, the consequences of that thought reach out into the fabric of our very opinions. Skewing our view into a far more negative and spiteful manner.

Believe it or not, this spills over far too often into the realm of mainstream film criticism. From people who believe they are superior for liking some movies to those who believe they likewise because they don't. There are those of us who won't watch certain films simply because of these associations. Then there are those of us who refuse to like films because of them. It's a debilitating perception that fails to capture the essence of what film criticism should be.

As I've said before, we are not unique entities, separable from the societal influences that surround us. So it should stand to reason that any review of any film is likely to have some aspect of social criticism trickled throughout. Yet, it is important to note the fine line between criticizing a film based on the influences and basing your criticism of a film on your perceptions.

The difference: one is an inherent quality fixed at the time of viewing, the other is a variable quality with high fluctuation. For example, if you're surrounded by four people you generally dislike and they're raving about a film they just saw, odds are you're going to build an immediate negative association with the film. Let's say you go and watch it, and your brain takes that negative association and applies it to the film. You're not watching the movie, you're watching for the negatives of the movie. Not a good way to go about things, and it will be reflected in your review.

Now, fast forward a few years. You've changed your surroundings some and are now surrounded by people you think highly of, and they love the movie. That original negative association slowly breaks apart, and eventually you garner the gumption to watch it again. However, you're still not watching the movie. This time you're looking for positive associations with the movie in an effort to fulfill your mind social influences. It's a mind boggling world of contradictions.

I would like to say that's really the end of it, but I've found that people tend to not draw the line at the viewing. I've seen people write a positive review of a movie, then go out into social situations and suddenly pull a 180 due to the various influences and external associations they encounter. Sometimes these are valid alterations, perhaps due to a missed observation brought to light. But I would argue that is an exception, and not the rule. More often than not I find people are willing to bend this opinion just because it conforms best to their desired surroundings. "Want to bash the hipster group? Step right up and use this film as your pedestal. How about people who disagree with your political affiliations? Well this film is the one for you!"

Who cares that you enjoyed the movie perfectly fine in absence of this extraneous, usually nauseating in their high limiting ability, perceptions? You get a chance to take a few jabs at people you don't like through the medium of a film review. So take that arbitrarily defined subsection of society who likely only make up a small percentage of actual fans!

11 better thoughts:

Ben said...

I agree and I see this on a very regular basis. It saddens me honestly. If we cant be honest about what we really like then isn't this like high school and we are just trying to impress the cool kids? I like what I like and I leave it at that. I mean you know I defended the Bieber doc. haha

The Mad Hatter said...

"It's not the band I hate / It's their fans"
Coax Me by Sloan


I hear what you're saying. There are plenty of times I'll hear certain co-workers talking about how a film I'm looking forward to is "like, s-o-o-o-o awesome" and I'll think to myself uh-oh.

It falls into the same basin as when I try to tell people to pretend they haven't seen an old movie that's been remade and judge the remake on its own merits:

Sometimes you just really gotta force a particular part of your brain to shut down, and soak it in as objectively as possible.

Sasha (The Final Girl Project) said...

This post.

I really believe there are two types of people out there:

1) when encountering a person who has not seen a movie they've enjoyed, PERSON A will shit all over said "ignorant";

2) when encountering a person who has not seen a movie they've enjoyed, PERSON B encourages the other person to take part in something that they love.

As long as you stick with B pool, you'll do alright for yourself.

Fletch said...

Hey man...whatever happened to "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" or maybe "the friend of my enemy is my enemy." Guilty by association all the way!! :D

Ok, maybe not.

Univarn said...

@Ben I'm quite convinced that there is a certain section of the online bloggers that never left high school. Or, for all intensive purposes, are trying to make up for their being annexed from the 'cool kids' during their time there.

@Mad For some people I think shutting down that particular part of their brain is incredibly difficult - especially in the instance of the above reply to Ben. But they also benefit because their reviews tend to be high on bandwagon hoping and even higher on stirring up their reading base in their favor.

@Sasha "This Post?" Were you commenting on a lot and needed to seperate them with a unique identifier? :P Just kidding with you. One of my favorite quotes of all time: "There are two types of people in the world. Those who think there are two types of people in the world, and those who know better." Admittedly it's one of my favorite quotes because I came up with it - not to mention the double standard. However, I do agree with you that people should be encouraging with respect to the films they love - they should also be willing to accept recommendations from that person.

@Fletch "The enemy of my enemy is my friend unless they are my enemy in which case this implied I should have two friends and enemies simultaneously, dropping the point entirely." - unfortunately the logic of this one got a bit messy.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Hot damn, those final two paragraphs? Bull's eye. The worse thing is when someone seems to like a perfectly fair film and then end up loathing it when everyone starts heaping praise on it. Fickleness like that is just disturbing.

Simon said...

Yes, yes, yes, sir, yes.

Jack L said...

I agree, it can be hard to remain perfectly biased before watching a film, I try my best to keep my opinions consistent though but one must also recognise that ones tastes in films can change over time as well...

I must say that I greatly enjoy your posts, they are very thought provoking and well written!

Castor said...

The fatal draw of social conformity ;) Like you said, we are all guilty of this at one or another, the only thing we can do is being aware of it so we can try to see those movies as objectively as possible.

edgarchaput said...

No matter how one tries to look at it, we are all going to fall back on some sort of prejudice. It becomes a matter of balancing things out, recognizing when one, possibly myself or yourself, is being a bit too stubborn and should keep an open mind or risk missing on something new that could be worth one's time.

It is not always easy, and the good lord knows I've fallen prey to some pretty silly prejudices when either joining in on a movie's hype or intentionally trying to remain on the outside because I was 'too cool' for it.

simoncolumb said...

I think the main thing is to simply be aware that your own opinion is not set on stone. You can't have it both ways just a little self awareness. Aware that your own - and everyone else - has differing backgrounds and expects something different from cinema. C'est la vie!

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