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iCarly, Art and what it means

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The news came in last night that I am no longer an artistic hero to a friend of mine. My fall from grace came when I announced on Facebook that I looked forward to seeing the series finale of iCarly. As a crime novelist whose anti-hero gets tortured and frequently kills, clearly I’d damaged any tough guy rep I’ve built in the Hit Man Series. I’m not too torn up at my fallen status in the eyes of my friend, but his joke did get me thinking about the big question: What is the nature of Art and what’s good Art?

As a stay-at-home dad, I’ve watched a lot of kid shows with my children. Most shows came and went as the kids went through stages. Teletubbies was a short foray followed by The Wiggles. Dora the Explorer was great but the kids outgrew it and declared it a “baby show” quickly. iCarly hit my kids at just the right time. As the stars of the show got taller, so have my kids. The two constants have become Spongebob and iCarly. Somebody told me they thought the stuff that qualifies as Great Art is the stuff that lasts. (Not sure about that. How long does a shooting star last?)

Let’s address the worry first: What’s a grown man doing watching iCarly? It’s simple. I have a pretty bleak outlook and monstrous rage I sublimate with humor. iCarly is silly fun and in each episode I was sure that everything would work out okay. Entertaining TV lights a candle where there is so much darkness.

It is clever silliness, though. If you are a little older and you watched the iCarly finale with your kids, there was a moment when you roared with laughter and your kids have no clue why. They did a tribute to another iconic moment in television history: The group hug/group shuffle from The Mary Tyler Moore Show. That bit was a wink and a nod for the old ones watching with their kids. I loved it.

Watching iCarly kind of balances out my favorite shows: Dexter, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead. I’ve also become riveted by season 1 of a Showtime drama  called Sleeper Cell which is a taut story about an FBI agent who is out to bring down terrorists. He’s undercover and also happens to be Muslim. I mention these shows not to try to win back any lost cred, but to say that Art comes in all shapes and sizes, tastes and brands.

Please click here to get Bigger Than Jesus

Please click here to get Bigger Than Jesus

Recently a troll went to work on a colleague’s blog, acting unnecessarily rude in a comment thread. My first reaction was what troll’s want: I was annoyed. Then I thought about the chasms and vast distance between iCarly and Sleeper Cell and how I enjoyed them both for different reasons. A commentator from On The Media mentioned recently that he didn’t think a famous self-published author’s work was very well-written. He then added, “But how great does it have to be when you can buy her books for $2.99 cents?”

I suspect the troll doesn’t understand what the commentator groks: There is no real Art in the sense that “This is The Good and This is the Bad.” There is nuance and too many variables for our pea brains to handle when it comes to what people like. The commentator allows a nuance that doesn’t register in Troll World: If you get it cheap, you don’t expect it to be perfect. And what a relief that is! We all strive for excellence, but nothing is perfect. Through that lens, I saw the troll differently, too. In Troll World, criticism is used to try to control others so you feel better about yourself. How else to explain anger directed at artists that comes with a heat that should be reserved for perpetrators of genocide? My annoyance melted to pity. How sad and lonely trolls must be when they project such anger. They bring no joy because they have no joy.

There’s room for all kinds of Art. That book you love? I hate it. The book I love? You hate. Someone once said criticism (distinct from trolling) has value because it isn’t merely subjective. It is intersubjective. Yes, when it’s practiced at a high level, you can provide measures and good reasoning why I shouldn’t like something. However, like and love is like laughter: It is involuntary. Bad reviews are often irrelevant. I notice now that a vocal group (the minority?) don’t trust good reviews, either. A good critique is often entertaining, but that does not automatically equate to believing the critic. Several times I have soothed a fellow author’s hurt feelings over a bad review by pointing out that people often pay no attention to a bad review, especially if it’s poorly written or the reasoning is shaky. Criticism is an art in itself, but I give it a small a, not a capital, because it based on what others speak, write, produce, act, direct or sing first. I’ve read a lot of art criticism, but for its own sake, not to determine which movie to see on any given Saturday night. The critic is not me. To believe the critic, he or she has to share my sensibilities. How often do we match up so well that we can switch out our opinion for another’s judgment? Rarely.

Art is the place where we meet strangers in safety. You wouldn’t want to meet my characters in real life. They’re dangerous. I write

A quick-moving plot with lots of surprises and a clear-eyed examination of addiction.

A quick-moving plot with lots of surprises and a clear-eyed examination of addiction.

stories of Bad versus Evil. But I’m complex and I have an emotional range. There’s room for a sponge who flips burgers and whose best friend is a starfish who is so creative in how entertainingly dumb is. And there was room in iCarly for Sam to get into and out of trouble by beating people with a slab of butter in a gym sock. Spencer hanging with an ostrich? Priceless. And we need Gibby and Guppy to be freakishly obtuse and endearing because all your surreal friends in real life are in jail for possession.

What’s good Art? That’s not the big question I thought it was. The nature of Art trumps the question because Art is so much bigger than that question. Art is multidimensional with infinite variety, as varied as we are. There’s room for everything and for everyone’s individual taste.

And now, one last time: “Gibby!”

~ Robert Chazz Chute is the author of Crack the Indie Author Code and Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire as well as a bunch of books of suspense including Bigger Than Jesus, Higher Than Jesus and Self-help for Stoners. His new book, Murders Among Dead Trees, is the definitive collection of his short stories. It will be released later this week. To hear the All That Chazz podcast, go to the author site, AllThatChazz.com. For all the links to Chazz’s books, click here.

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How to tell when criticism is unreasonable

"Do not feed the Trolls" sign. Photo...

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Recently I read a blog post that angered me and broke my heart a little. When we dare to express ourselves, there’s always going to be someone who disagrees, doesn’t like it and thinks you’re stupid. Some people aren’t shy about letting you know how they feel and are pretty blunt about it. Constructive criticism is helpful criticism, administered gently. Awhile back I got a nice note about an edit that needed to be done on my other blog. The guy pointed out the problem and couldn’t have been sweeter about it. As a result, I went out of my way to help him in turn. Then there are those other people.

How to tell when criticism is unreasonable:

1. They focus on you instead of the issue. People who start out by insulting you aren’t helping. They want to feel good about themselves by putting you down. Call them a name in turn: Troll!

2. They go on at length and overstate your grammatical sins. That’s someone who has too much time on their hands. (See #1)

3. They talk about their work and its relative superiority. Some people actually take this tac to ask for business. They want to sell their editing or consulting service and their approach is a frontal assault on why you suck.Don’t encourage bad behavior by rewarding it.

4. They treat finding fault as a moral victory. If they wanted to be helpful, they’d just point out the problem and move on.

5. They’re wrong. An english teacher once tried to convince me that the you effect the affect instead of the other way around. She wasn’t going to be convinced otherwise, either. After all, she was a teacher, not a learner.

6. If this is someone you know, instead if an acquaintance or an anonymous internet troll, have you noticed that person is hypercritical about everything? Consider the source.

7. They quibble over stylistic stuff that could go either way. When I worked at Harlequin, we often got letters from readers applying for jobs. A common tactic was to criticize books for perceived failings in proofing. The approach never worked for two reasons: It was insulting to the staff and the complainer/job applicant was annoyed with all the British spelling in lines that were meant for British markets. (See #5)

8. They tell you publicly what they could have told you privately. Instead of setting out to embarrass you publicly on Facebook, they could have just sent you a kind private message to let you know you screwed up. That tells you where they’re coming from. They’re out to show off how clever they are at your expense. Not a friend.

Writers produce. A lot.

(And yes, I know that’s a sentence fragment. Actually, I’m quite fond of sentence fragments, so there.)

We write so much that, inevitably, problems will emerge.

Typos and missing words and miscellaneous issues will appear. We’re writers, but also human, I’m afraid. Follow anyone around all day with a tape recorder and eventually, they’ll say something dumb. Stuff gets missed and mixed up in speech and in writing. Recently, President Obama got the number of states in the union wrong. Does anybody really believe Obama doesn’t know there are fifty states in the United States?*

Well…some people would believe that. That’s someone else you should ignore.

*There are 50, right? Gee, I hope I got that right! Otherwise, I’ll deserve hot pokers under my eyelids and a solid whipping and I’ll never, ever write anything again and I’ll be ever-so-grateful to the person who saved me from myself and my horrible, horrible mistakes! I’m not worthy! I am worm sweat and trolls are all oh-so-very-smart! How do these demigods bear breathing the same air as the rest of us mere mortals?

Okay. That might have been a bit over-the-top, unreasonable criticism in the form of unnecessary sarcasm.

Filed under: DIY, getting it done, grammar, publishing, Rejection, reviews, Writers, writing tips,

Winner of Writer's Digest's 2014 Honorable Mention in Self-published Ebook Awards in Genre

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