There’s a certain sort of critic who really bugs me. As much as I enjoy the Slate Culture Gabfestpodcast, there’s an issue
that crops up from time to time which itches like pink insulation on a sweaty naked body in a summer attic. It’s a response that tries to intellectualize the visceral and make a good thing into a bad thing. Here’s the quote that gives me headaches:
“We liked it, but should we like it?”
So much waste of tuition money is revealed in that reaction. It’s a response to art that tries to detour around the heart and isolate the brain. It’s a dishonest afterthought. It’s snooty and, in trying to sound intelligent, is stupid.
I enjoy the movie Roadhouse, for instance. By some people’s standards, I suppose I shouldn’t. However, turn it on and try not to get sucked in. It’s not in the “So bad, it’s good” category, though some movies overshoot the runway and actually manage that. Roadhouse is fun and ridiculous and has a lot of funny lines, mostly intended. It’s just so watchable. It’s a visceral reaction. Can’t I enjoy it without the self-appointed cultural elite’s disapproval?
Art that achieves what it set out to do and entertains its audience is good art.
So says me, anyway. I could list dozens of silly movies and books that demanded little of me that I still enjoyed. The latest victim of this critical chaos appears to be Abe Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. I just read fellow blogger Jordanna East’s takedown of a bad review here. She’s not the only one to point out misguided reviewers complaining about historical inaccuracy in the movie. Good critics go to action movies with the expectation that it’s not meant to be a historical document. If it’s not a French movie in an art cinema, do not review it as if all movies are French movies in art cinemas!
That said, I’m all for elevating material. It’s a treat to run across sparkling dialogue that mocks expectations. (See the movie The Guard with Don Cheadle, for the best of that phenomenon in movies.) In my book, Bigger Than Jesus, I set out to challenge expectations, too, and not just in terms of plotting and surprises and reversals. I’m talking about getting at real emotion. There are consequences spread amongst all those jokes. The heroine’s fascination with the life of Salvador Dali means something to her, to the story and ultimately to the reader. I set out to make my roller coaster travel through unexpected places without slowing the pace. Elevating material can be done. It doesn’t have to happen all the time for everything, though.
Dalton’s reply to the big bad bouncer in Roadhouse serves equally well for bad reviewers. The bad guy turns up his nose and says, “I thought you’d be taller. You don’t look like much t’me.”
Patrick Swayze, as Dalton, smiles wide and says, “Opinions vary!”
Then bop ’em in the nose if you want to.
~ Like my flavor? Listen to the first chapter of my crime thriller, Bigger Than Jesus. I’m podcasting the book through the summer. Enjoy! (Or be a hero and just click the cover to grab it. Thanks for reading!)
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