Get Over Yourself – Critics are Relevant for a Reason

I recently went to a holiday party – not the best idea, because I had a migraine the size of Montana and was going to be sequestering myself in a small, enclosed space with a roomful of very nice people who have very different views of the world than I.

Montana

Why yes, I did use “Montana” adjectivally because of the alliteration that resulted. #nerdalert

Amongst these nice people with very different views of the world was a Lord of the Rings fan who has seen the movies multiple times, but not noticed any innuendo in the “friendship” between Sam and Frodo.

Um... okay

Um… okay

We then got into an argument about whether or not “The Hobbit” really needed to be made into 3 films. This ended with a haughty closing down on his behalf, and the words: “Well, when you’ve seen any of the films, I’ll value your opinion.”

04_21_2011_haughty

Now, to be fair, I haven’t seen any of the “The Hobbit” movies. But there is a reason for this.

There are lot of great movies and other works of art. There are also a lot of shitty ones (hopefully not including this blog post…). And while some people might jizz in their pants over every big-budget blockbuster released by Hollywood, other people jizz in their pants over pretentious low-budget indie films, while still other people simply prefer to read the books on which most movies are based.

Unfortunately, there is not enough time to view every movie ever made, read every book ever written, or even get an adequate amount of sleep.

branklin sleep

Due to this lack of infinite time, the best a person can do is know him- or herself well, and make choices to the best of his or her ability that will prove entertaining to him or her. One of the best resources in formulating these hypotheses regarding personal choice entertainment fodder is the critic.

A well written or well worded critical review can be entertainment, in and of itself. Yet what is really sought from a critic is someone whose opinions are generally fairly in line with your own; there is, after all, no such thing as an unbiased review. Some reviews might be more accessible to a wider range of people, but by nature, reviews are subjective, and must all be taken with at least a grain, if not an entire shaker-full, of salt.

salt_shaker

I am writing this blog post partially because I didn’t get a chance to explain myself to some haughty dork I will probably never see again at a party the other night, partially because I write reviews myself and would like to think I am doing it for a purpose, and partially because as a frequent reader of reviews, I actually am of the opinion that well-written reviews have a purpose, even if all of the opinions ever written are not necessarily of use to me.

I have not personally seen any of “The Hobbit” movies. I don’t intend to. And it’s not because I’ve read the book (though I have, several times). It is because, based on things I have read and heard regarding these movies from people whose opinion I think generally fairly reflect my own, based on my own intellectual repulsion by the idea that this one action-packed book is being strung out into 3 movies, likely primarily because Hollywood wants to greedily snatch more money, all indications seem high that I will not enjoy any of these movies.

I could be wrong. I will concede it is entirely possible these Hobbit movies are amaze-balls, and I am missing out immensely because I’m not viewing them.

But if I’m not wrong? If I decide to go see this movie because people whose opinion of the world generally don’t correlate with my own think that I should, and then I don’t like them, that’s a lot of time that is gone. That I could have spent playing with my two-year-old son. That I could have spent curled up on the couch, reading a book. That I could have spent staring at the wall. Each of these Hobbit movies is over two hours long. Two hours is a lot of time to give up to an activity you don’t really think you’re going to enjoy.

Seriously. 2+ hours

Seriously. 2+ hours

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Response to the Oxymoron

I came across this blog post the other day, and there are just so many things wrong with it. I’m kind of hoping that it’s all an elaborate hoax to sell books, because the idea that someone could legitimately think in this manner is utterly terrifying. And yet, as a youngish woman, I, like many others, have been the target of a stalker myself, and know that for many men, for some reason, there is a sort of twisted logic that tells them that because they covet you, you should be theirs, regardless of your feelings on the matter.

Ah, being a woman. Sometimes, I forget that I am just a pretty incubator, just a thing, a belonging, meant to be chosen by a dominant male specimen until he feels like tossing me aside for a more attractive, younger model.

But here is my annotated version of one of the creepiest blog posts ever written:

Her smile stimulated the deepest feelings of wonderment inside my being.

This sentence is thoroughly disturbing. The use of the words “stimulated,” “deepest,” and “inside” are all symbolic of the rape culture vibe of this piece. Right in the first paragraph, there are signs that this piece is going to piss me off.

Some people offer fake smiles, but a smile should never be forced.

Interesting that the writer posits a smile should not be forced, yet has no similar qualms regarding a relationship, since stalking is, in essence, the attempt to force a relationship on someone who has no interest in it.

I invited her onto the BBC University Challenge team that I was putting together. “I don’t know if I’m brainy enough Rich,” she said.

“We need beauty as well as brains,” I replied.

Yet more evidence that the author has a rape culture view of the world.

She let me choose a picture of her to use on the form, since she was busy.

That evening, I went through her many Facebook pictures. “Maybe this one?” I asked in a chat message.

“It’s not opening,” she said. “What photo is it?”

“You’re wearing a low-cut black lace-trimmed top. On your pink lips, a mischievous smile is playing,” I described.

“Ermm, if you think I look smart enough,” she replied.

This whole section shows a guy who just… has no clue. She “let” him choose a picture – interesting word choice. It doesn’t exactly sound like she desires for him to pick a photo of her, just that she was like “eh, whatever…” And then, he goes “through her many Facebook pictures.” I mean, sure, a lot of us Facebook stalk, but I doubt we would phrase it in exactly that manner.

Then, there is his choice of a completely inappropriate picture for an application to join a trivia team. This team is theoretically supposed to be about intelligence, or at least rote memorization, but that he has suggested this female join because the team needs “beauty as well as brains,” which makes total sense, because beauty is an integral component of intelligence and trivia testing, right?

Oh, wait… no. That’s completely wrong.

He chooses an inappropriate picture, he tries to flirt as he describes it in a way that probably resulted in some creepy shivers crawling down this poor girl’s spine, and she firmly gave him “I’m not into this” signals by repeating that she’s interested in the resume-building aspect of this team she’s joining.

Determined to impress her and get our team onto TV, I intensively revised my general knowledge. I also frequented the student bar where she worked. I figured out what hours she did each day and went at those times.

Um… stopping by at someone’s place of work once in awhile to say hi is general friendliness. Obsessively pouring over their work schedule and lurking at their place of work every shift is creepy.

A couple of weeks before our University Challenge audition, she unfriended me on Facebook. I was a little shocked and asked her why.

“You’re kinda freaking me out,” she explained. “You’re a good guy but you’re being far too forward.”

“Are you still doing University Challenge with us?” I asked.

“Only as a friend, but nothing more,” she replied.

She’s being honest. She doesn’t hate this guy, but she’s not into it, and she wants to make sure that she’s not sending him any signals that could be construed as a “maybe.”

She does it because she’s worried that he will respond in exactly the way that he does:

For some reason, I then decided to tell her how I really felt; that I had become infatuated with her, and that I was in love with her. With hindsight, of course I wouldn’t have done that. In fact, I would have done almost everything differently but, at the time, I felt compelled to do what I did.

When someone specifically, honestly tells you they’re not into you in a romantic way, you take them at their word. Period.

Then, there’s the fact that infatuation is not the same thing as love, and it’s not clear from this paragraph that the author can tell the difference.

On top of that is the fact that this guy was sent very unsubtle signals that this girl is not romantically interested in him, at all, and he proceeds to respond to this with “I love you.” Like, were you even paying attention?

She pulled out of the team. We found a replacement and failed the audition anyway (I doubt that her inclusion would have made a difference). My dream of winning University Challenge and impressing the maiden was shattered.

Way to pull out the chivalrous, condescending language.

For those of you who think that knights rescuing damsels in distress is a romantic notion to which we should all aspire, let me inform you that you’re wrong, and that I can hold the fucking door open myself, thank you very much. I am not so weak that I need someone else to save me. And when I do need help, it’s probably not from the freak in two tons of metal.

Over the next few weeks, when it became clear that I had no chance with her, my behaviour became increasingly erratic. I would drink 2 bottles of wine and go into a club, climb over the fence after being kicked out, and get into fights. I got banned from my SU, which meant that I could no longer go to the bar where she worked.

But… she never sent you any positive signals. If you were just being wild because you were young, okay. But going crazy because some chick who never even slightly pretended to be interested in you is a little weird. Like, I think the guy who plays Hook from Once Upon a Time is crazy hot, but the fact that he doesn’t know I exist doesn’t mean I’m going to put on a poofy dress and try to throw myself off of a tall building because he doesn’t reciprocate my lust.

Occasionally, I passed her on the street. Once, I saw her in the library, and she smiled at me. She was prolific on Twitter and it often felt like her tweets were directed at me.

Her tweets are not directed at you. Get help.

I wrote love letters to her. I still had her address from the forms that she filled out for University Challenge. I felt a bit guilty using that information, but I wasn’t turning up at her door or anything. I sent a few love letters through the post, rose-themed cards containing poetry and drawings. I also left messages on her phone.

No.

You feel guilty using that information, because that information was not given to you in a personal context. You are abusing your power – in this case, the power of information derived from a position of in a group she briefly considered joining until you freaked her out.

She has told you she’s not interested in you – you are ignoring her personal interests, which is odd, since you supposedly love her.

This. Is. Wrong. Stop it.

After that, I thought long and hard about what I was doing. I think that is when I first accepted that I had become a stalker. Before, I had been an admirer. But what does stalking really mean? It seems to mean that you truly love someone who does not love you back.

I’m pretty sure you don’t understand what love is; it’s not ignoring what the other person wants if it doesn’t mesh with what you wish that person wanted. It doesn’t mean harassing someone, becoming such a toxic presence in that person’s life, that they must turn to law enforcement to try to get you to stop calling them and sending them love letters.

Every great romance is about two partners who are utterly obsessed with each other. Romeo, Juliet, Tristan and Isolde are people who are so passionately and powerfully in love that nothing else matters to them. But what if that feeling was felt on only one side? What if Juliet had rejected Romeo? Would he become a stalker?

Probably not. Given the beginning of that play, Romeo probably would have whined to his friends for a few days before he found someone else to bone.

It seems that modern society drools over depictions of this intense, obsessional love, but only when it is mutual. When it comes from just one side, it is suddenly deemed a terrible thing.

Here, you have a point. Society does depict obsessional love a lot of times – and maybe that’s not the most healthy thing.

Seven months later, when it was complete, I decided to try to make my book known by getting into the national news. I found out that she worked in Glasgow, so I traveled there with a plan. I was going to tell her that if she came with me, and we faked a kidnapping, we would both become famous. We would go into the hills and camp out for a few days while the nation searched. I had brought the necessary supplies.

Why…? I am so confused as to why this was ever even semi-seriously contemplated. First of all, who agrees to a fake kidnapping? That didn’t even work in season 2 of 21 Jumpstreet, which taught us that if you’re contemplating a fake kidnapping, you probably haven’t thought through all the details, and that Johnny Depp is extremely attractive in drag.

And she went to the authorities to get you to leave her alone. She doesn’t want to even see you, let alone plan fake kidnappings with you to try to help you get some book sold.

Yesterday, I saw her on the street and approached her, and called her name, but she freaked out.

It’s almost like you’re stalking her or something.

But the most disturbing part of the post, is its’ ending:

I left Glasgow, and I think our relationship is finished now. I gave it my best shot. I really thought that we would both become famous. We would have disappeared for a few days, people would have read my book, and she could have played the lead role when The World Rose is made into a movie. But alas; I’ll have to find another way.

Oh, I see. So since YOU’VE decided the “relationship” that wasn’t really a relationship is “finished,” now it’s really over. When she explicitly told you, I don’t like you like that, but you decided you loved her, it was okay for you to use information that you had derived in a completely inappropriate manner from an application she filled out for a resume-building activity to CALL her and WRITE to her and HARASS her in a manner that was, at the least, extremely hard to avoid. When she talked to the police, to try to really send home the message that she wasn’t interested in you being in her life anymore, it was okay for you to send her disturbing, creepy valentine’s, and plan to pretend to kidnap her (which, are any of your readers really buying the idea that you know the difference between a pretend and real kidnapping when you don’t even know the difference between a pretend and real relationship – I really, sincerely, truly hope not). But now, you’re kind of over this chick because you wrote an insanely creepy blog post about your insistence to create a relationship where no mutual attraction existed, and in which you admit that you stalked her, but in a “benevolent” way, when that’s not even possible. Stalking, in its’ very essence, is malicious. It is the refusal to pay any regard to the feelings and wishes of a fellow human being, because you don’t feel like it. By admitting to being a stalker, you are admitting to being someone whose grasp of reality needs help, and I sincerely hope that you seek it. Because if you have had trouble comprehending the clear signals, words, phrases, and actions of someone who was never interested in you, then if you do not receive psychiatric help, this cycle will likely repeat.

And that is not okay.

Colin Firth: Mr. Darcy AND Mr. Bennett?

When we think of Mr. Darcy, he is often indelibly linked to the BBC mini-series version played by Colin Firth. Even if you’ve never seen the mini-series (and if you haven’t, um, why not?), you still think of Mr. Firth as Mr. Darcy.

The "pride" of Pride & Prejudice

The “pride” of Pride & Prejudice

I find it interesting that his character in Nanny McPhee puts him in a different Pride and Prejudice-esque role: that of Mr. Bennett.

nanny

Not seeing it?

Well, let’s see:

  • neglectful of his children (of whom he has too many & for whom he cannot provide)? Check!
Bennett

Um.. which kid is this again?

  • pondering marriage to a woman who has a questionable amount of intelligence, and is, at the least, very, very annoying? Check!
Kids, I may be ashamed of her, but I need to get laid.

Kids, I may be ashamed of her, but I need to get laid.

  • Educated enough to know better? Check!

educated

So in a way, Colin Firth got to be the hot, sexy guy everyone loves and the father-in-law most of us don’t bother to notice is kind of an asshole.

Writing vs. Story

I love that scene in Infamous where Truman Capote tells the same story, with slight variations, at different dinner parties, to see which version goes over best with his “audience.”

capote

 

The fact is, the way that a story is told is just as important as the words used. Kind of like how the tone of voice used while talking to your significant other can either get you kissed or slapped. Are you being sincere or sarcastic? It is the tone of voice, the way you are talking that tells the listener which adjective is correct.

But you can’t rely on tone to help you in your writing. Unless you are composing something you plan to read to others, you have to utilize your language skills more carefully.

I have been thinking about writing vs. story a lot recently, because I just recently re-read Christopher Moore’s The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove. It is a book I definitely recommend reading. The writing is solid, and the story is fantastic. But it is definitely a case in which the story transcends the writing, which makes it a slightly disappointing read.

lust lizard

 

 

The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove has zany characters (but they work so much better than the Gordonston Ladies Dog Walking Club), as well as a smart, funny plot. The lust lizard is a dinosaur that has been sleeping in the Pacific Ocean, but wakes up, and is attracted to the depressed residents of the small town Pine Cove (because it preys on depressed animals), the majority of whom have been taken off of their antidepressants, due to a guilty-feeling psychiatrist who mistakenly thinks she caused a suicide via overmedication. Sounds pretty awesome, right?

It starts off strong, but somewhere in the middle of the book, I begin to lose some of my steam while reading this book. I continue to read, because I want to see how Moore wraps up the story, but I’m just not as interested. I can be interrupted mid-sentence, without being cross like Sarah in A Little Princess.

Go ahead; interrupt me again. I dare you.

Go ahead; interrupt me again. I dare you.

The reason I find this subject interesting is because it is generally mid-story that I begin to lose steam while writing. I just… care a bit less. I get a bit bored. I try to push through this, keep writing, because I can always edit it and make it better later, once I have a finished draft.

Except I’m kind of crap at editing. And finishing, actually, but that’s another story.

So, if you’re kind of bored writing the middle stuff, it will probably make it kind of boring to read, which means the readers will probably care less about how the story ends. I guess the best way around this problem is to get better at editing, and have kick ass beta readers.

Any other suggestions/thoughts? I would love to hear them!

It’s All About Context

Shakespeare wrote that “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” And maybe that’s true. But will the song “Pay Phone” still hold resonance in a few years, when many teenagers already aren’t really sure what a pay phone even is? And will a book narrated by a teenage girl with a terminal illness still be as touching in a decade, when many readers of young adult fiction are no longer aware of the close relationship between the author and the young fan & friend who inspired the relationship?

This is a pay phone.

This is a pay phone.

Like many avid readers, I am a fan of John Green. When I read Looking for Alaska, I remember being relieved that YA still contained good writing, and not just good ideas, poorly executed (I was in a bit of a reading slump, reading the wrong things for me). So when I first heard about The Fault in Our Stars, which deals with death and living, and knew that the author had been inspired to write it by his close friendship with the recently deceased Esther Earl, I allowed myself to become very, very excited.

fios

Unfortunately, this resulted in my being very, very disappointed.

disappointment

The Fault in Our Stars is not a bad book. It’s decently written, it exhibits intelligence, and humor. But some of it felt as though it was done by rote – standard Green wit and intelligence, twist at the end that I saw coming in the first third of the book, showy role-model-esque shit that made me roll my eyes a little bit.

Seriously? Smoke it or STFU.

Seriously? Smoke it or STFU.

I’m not sorry that I read The Fault in Our Stars, and as far as blockbuster bestselling books go, I’ve certainly read much worse. At the same time, I’ve also read much better. By the same author. And I didn’t cry; I don’t think I even felt tempted.

temptation

So I kept hearing about readers who cried through the entire book, teenagers and adults, alike, and at first, felt a bit like sour grapes. What was wrong with me? Why didn’t I feel sad at this book? I couldn’t have been the only one who could see that Hazel was not the only main character terminally ill. The Anne Frank museum felt a bit overdone. Why was everyone else who read this book crying so much? Was I the only one who was like: “Meh. It’s okay, but Looking for Alaska was better?”

sour grapes

Of course, I’m not, but a lot of people were a lot more touched by this novel than I. And I think a large part of the reason is the story that inspired the novel.

I don’t really know a lot about Esther Earl, but I do know that she touched a lot of lives. And while she and her acquaintance knew that she was slated to leave this earth earlier than many other people, it was still sad when she passed away. Ms. Earl seems like she was an amazing person, and I think there must be a lot of pressure to do justice to such an amazing person in literary form. Perhaps that’s why some of the novel felt a little forced, to me.

And my very different reaction from the majority of readers to this novel resulted in my thinking about context.

A rose by any other name...

A rose by any other name…

Many readers were nerdfighters, a part of the tight-knit community that revolves around the Green brothers, and of which Esther Earl was a large part. And knowing that she was the inspiration, knowing that she is dead, added another dimension to the novel that I didn’t experience. Because I was not a nerdfighter. While I am sad that Esther Earl died so young, and know that she touched a lot of people, I never interacted with her, and so I don’t have the personal connection to the novel The Fault in Our Stars that many other people did.

That’s okay. A novel that helps a lot of people work through difficult emotions and concepts is a great thing. What I question is the novel’s sustainability. In ten years, will people still be as touched by this novel? Will people still be reading this novel?

Will the people so touched by this novel today still be touched by it in a decade?

Daily Post: 3 Questions

Daily Post Prompt: A Pulitzer-winning reporter is writing an in-depth piece – about you. What are the three questions you really hope she doesn’t ask you?

  1. What was your annual salary last year?
  2. If you have to purchase an item from QVC, but you can only choose one item, what would you purchase?
  3. Hypothetically speaking, if I was a serial killer, what would be your least favorite way for me to murder you? (Purely hypothetical, of course…)