Books, Movies, Rant, Television

Criticize What You Love

I spend a lot of time criticizing things. You may have noticed, since I’m basically writing a blog where the entire point is to be critical (and snarky, but that’s not really on purpose). When I find something that I really like, my first instinct, after I’ve finished dancing around being thrilled with it, is to tear it apart. I think that this is an excellent habit, and you should also try to develop it, and I will tell you why.

Reasons Why You Should Eviscerate Things You Love:

1. It helps you keep perspective. It’s easy when you’re reading/watching/etc. something you really like to get discouraged about your own writing. When you have all this excellent work to compare your piddling efforts to, it can start to seem like you should just give up before you’ve started, because you’re never going to reach that level of perfection. But! If you learn to view things you love with a critical eye, it quickly becomes apparent that they are not, in fact, perfect. For example, my favorite TV show is Joss Whedon’s Firefly. Firefly is excellent! It is also kind of conspicuously lacking in Asian people for a world that so heavily appropriates Asian culture, and also some of the characters (most notably Jayne) are pretty inconsistent from episode to episode, and a lot of the dialogue, while witty and fun, is also pretty contrived. And that’s just off the top of my head. There! See? Suddenly writing something on level with Firefly doesn’t seem so impossible, because I’ve picked out some flaws that could be improved upon.

2. You won’t get upset when other people criticize things you like. If you spend any amount of time on tumblr, you may already be familiar with the kind of person I’m talking about when I say “rabid fangirls/boys.” This person is quick to jump down the throat of anyone who isn’t 100% in love with their fandom of choice, and refuses to hear even the most reasoned and tactfully phrased criticism. That is not a person you want to be. Trust me–nobody likes that person. Instead, learning to criticize the things that you love helps you deal with criticism coming from outside, so that you can join in the conversation rather than vehemently shutting it down. And for the record, I am not just talking about single work fandoms here; I am also talking about author fan bases (coughNEILGAIMANcough). It is okay to love someone while acknowledging that their work is flawed. It does not make you a disloyal fan. It makes you an intelligent fan.

3. It helps you critique your own work. If you get into the habit of searching out flaws even in things you love, it is a lot easier to be critical and objective about your own work. Instead of being enamored of your creative baby, you can distance yourself and scrutinize it in a really honest way. It is also easier to accept other people’s criticism of your work when you can do this! Instead of taking it personally, you can appreciate that the person is coming from a constructive place and genuinely trying to help you get better (unless they are just being mean, in which case fuck ’em). This is key to being a good writer. You need people to tell you when your writing sucks. Otherwise you might turn into a meandering, self-congratulatory windbag like George R.R. Martin or Robert Heinlein.

4. It’s fun. No, really, it is. Try it. Pick something you love and tear it apart, preferably with a good helping of sass. I’ll give you a few more suggestions to get you started:

-the blatant sexism in Steven Moffat and Mark Gattiss’ Sherlock (every episode fails the Bechdel test on every level. No, really.)
-the complete lack of character development for Gale, Prim and Peeta in the Hunger Games, despite the huge roles they play in the plot
-seriously, who the hell even cares about the majority of Sam and Frodo’s plot in the second two LOTR books, it’s boring as fuck and all the other characters are doing way more interesting things. For God’s sake, there are talking trees and we’re wasting time watching Sam fail to repress his homosexual feelings for his master? Hobbit, please.
-Harry Potter and the Complete Lack of Personality

See? Fun, right? Rest assured, all of the above-mentioned works are books/movies/TV shows/etc. that I adore, and have re-watched/read with gleeful abandon, but that doesn’t mean they are perfect. There is no such thing as perfection, in real life or in fiction, so you might as well just relax and get criticizing. It’s more fun that way.

Critically yours,
M.M. Jordahl

“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” -Winston Churchill

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8 thoughts on “Criticize What You Love”

  1. I have mixed feelings about this. Not the process: The process is solid-fucking-gold. All of your points are right on. Sometimes, though, to give you some honest meta-critique about your critiquing, I find it unnecessarily mean. Perhaps you have been trained this way by writing classes? I don’t think it’s the worst sin you could commit as a commentator. And I’m certainly not saying you should be all fakey-nice to poor widdle creators and/or fans. I think what I’m trying to say here is that sass doesn’t always serve to get you the best craft analysis or even pop culture critique. …Now get off my lawn.

    1. But your lawn is so comfortable!!

      Totally valid meta-criticism. I definitely use sass as a way of trying to soften criticism, which sometimes (often) backfires and makes people think I am being intentionally cruel. But I am not! I am trying to make you laugh so that you will still like me! It is something I am trying to be more conscious of, especially when offering critique to people who don’t know me very well and aren’t familiar with my sarcastic sense of humor. The biggest problem is that sometimes I don’t even know when I am doing it because sarcasm comes so naturally. Genuineness, on the other hand, is quite a challenge for me, so I tend to forget to include the positive bits. I am trying to be better about it. It is a slow re-training process.

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