Filing Cabinet of the Damned

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Oh, Damn, the Critics Adore It: The Love of Yawnfests

Have you found yourself nodding off at critically-beloved movies? Unable to finish books adored by the literati? Bored senseless by comics that the World of Comic Fandom declares are works of genius?

There are a lot of works that are technically admirable but not satisfying out there. Slow-paced movies, talking-head comics, the entire oeuvre of Raymond Carver, it’s hard to avoid. Some folks have even slipped into the trap of conflating brilliance with tedium or confusion. (“It was boring and nonsensical! It must be a work of genius!”)

I have a pet theory as to this seeming blind spot of critics.

Critics spend their lives immersed in commercial art. Imagine how many loud and flashy pieces of garbage Roger Ebert sees in a month. Similarly, big comic fans tend to spend an astonishing amount of time with their noses wedged firmly in the spine of a monthly title or a trade paperback of some variety. Critics of all sorts spend a great deal of time floating around in other peoples’ fantasy worlds.

My guess is that this leads to a sense of disconnectedness. To speak of Ebert again, how many times has ol’ Rog seen a giant alien burst through a wall and eat somebody’s face? How many times can he care? I suspect any move towards “real life” is not only welcomed by many critics, but craved.

This leads to a disconnect with non-critics. Most audiences spend very little time in these fantasy worlds. Real life is something they’re surrounded by all the time.

Regular folks value escapism because they have so little escape from their lives. Critics drown in escapism daily and clutch to outcroppings of reality as a relief.

This isn’t a criticism of criticism. (Nor is it a criticism of criticism of criticism, because I don't have the foggiest idea of what that would even mean.) Rather, it’s a tool I like to apply when reading a critic’s appraisal of work.

As a comic fan forced to spend most of his days in the real world, I find most “critic’s darlings” to be more and more unbearably boring. I believe that a good comic is like good punk rock: fast, loud, and obnoxious. I already live in a world of talking heads and conflicted loyalties, of complex characters and disappointments. I don’t need to read comics to get more of it.

For me, less Vertigo, more Jack Kirby. Less drawing-room drama, more rocket-powered ninjas. Gaiman’s world of dreams fascinates me much more than Rucka’s gritty spy dramas. Treachery I get plenty of, thanks; talking pumpkin-headed janitors with tommy guns I don’t.

Thus, when a critic writes about a work’s stately pace and/or adherence to realism, I’m pretty sure I won’t like it.

There’s a large subset of art that is appreciated exclusively by those already drowning in art. Go to a modern art gallery for proof. Marcel Duchamp didn’t put a urinal in a museum because it was pretty; he was making a comment on a movement and a culture. If you aren’t familiar with both the movement and the culture in question, Marcel’s just yapping a bunch of nonsense at you and wasting your time.

Plus, he didn’t leave the urinal cake.

As someone who can’t take the time to drown himself in seas of creativity, such works simply aren’t meant for me. I’m not saying such works are horrible, miscalculated, or even bad. They are simply stories written in a language I do not speak.

Then again, this is all a theory I developed on the fly, so it could be nonsense. Ah, well.

I do so love to pontificate.