December 21, 2009

Analyzing vs. enjoying art

The people at Racialicious have highlighed this excellent commentary for us:

And we shall call this “Moff’s Law”In the comments to Annalee Newitz's excellent io9 post on racial fantasies in Avatar (and other works of sci-fi), Moff, another io9 contributor, created one of the best rants I have ever read on the nature of critique:

Of all the varieties of irritating comment out there, the absolute most annoying has to be “Why can’t you just watch the movie for what it is??? Why can’t you just enjoy it? Why do you have to analyze it???”

If you have posted such a comment, or if you are about to post such a comment, here or anywhere else, let me just advise you: Shut up. Shut the fuck up. Shut your goddamn fucking mouth. SHUT. UP.

First of all, when we analyze art, when we look for deeper meaning in it, we are enjoying it for what it is. Because that is one of the things about art, be it highbrow, lowbrow, mainstream, or avant-garde: Some sort of thought went into its making—even if the thought was, “I’m going to do this as thoughtlessly as possible!”—and as a result, some sort of thought can be gotten from its reception. That is why, among other things, artists (including, for instance, James Cameron) really like to talk about their work.

Now, that doesn’t mean you have to think about a work of art. I don’t know anyone who thinks every work they encounter ought to only be enjoyed through conscious, active analysis—or if I do, they’re pretty annoying themselves. And I know many people who prefer not to think about much of what they consume, and with them I have no argument. I also have no argument with people who disagree with another person’s thoughts about a work of art. That should go without saying. Finally, this should also go without saying, but since it apparently doesn’t: Believe me, the person who is annoying you so much by thinking about the art? They have already considered your revolutionary “just enjoy it” strategy, because it is not actually revolutionary at all. It is the default state for most of humanity.

So when you go out of your way to suggest that people should be thinking less—that not using one’s capacity for reason is an admirable position to take, and one that should be actively advocated—you are not saying anything particularly intelligent. And unless you live on a parallel version of Earth where too many people are thinking too deeply and critically about the world around them and what’s going on in their own heads, you’re not helping anything; on the contrary, you’re acting as an advocate for entropy.

And most annoyingly of all, you’re contributing to the fucking conversation yourselves when you make your stupid, stupid comments. You are basically saying, “I think people shouldn’t think so much and share their thoughts, that’s my thought that I have to share.” If you really think people should just enjoy the movie without thinking about it, then why the fuck did you (1) click on the post in the first place, and (2) bother to leave a comment? If it bugs you so much, GO WATCH A GODDAMN FUNNY CAT VIDEO.
Comment:  This posting is my new rejoinder to those who whine about critics. Don't bother criticizing me for criticizing someone or something. I already decided it was worth doing, so I'm not interested in your opinion to the contrary. If you can't address the substance of the posting, rather than my motivation for posting it, feel free to get lost. Go watch a funny-cat video or something else you can grasp.

For more on the subject, see Educating Russ About Criticism and Why Does Rob Keep Criticizing?

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