|Contrarianism: it's always this stupid|
Citizen Kane sucks. Roger Ebert was a gibbering middlebrow hack. People who claim to like Mad Men are only doing so to sound sophisticated. There's nothing to Steven Spielberg except the corniness, except when he's insidiously propping up American imperialism. A critic not liking your favorite movie means that critic's entire body of work is worthless. Everyone has a right to their opinion, and there's nothing to criticism except stating undefended opinions which have no more merit than any other.
It's a shame we can't use bullshit as an alternate energy source, because one week on the Internet could light New York for a year. Some times we see spikes in bullshit levels, such as (among many others) the death of famous people and the beginning of new seasons of popular TV shows. So it is that the passing of Roger Ebert (aka the most influential film critic to ever live) and the season premiere of Mad Men falling on the same weekend were likely to produce at least one, if not several, pieces of truly ripe, stinking, prime cut contrarian bullshit, almost designed to rebuke reasonable people for caring. And the Internet did not disappoint.
Rather than dwell on specific pieces, much less link to them and play into the authors' hands, I want to talk about the blight that is reflexive, willfully ignorant shit-talking for the sole purpose of causing rage-induced pageview explosions. That's what the title of this post is about; I'm sure a lot of people are going to find it thinking I'm doing that same stupid “look at me, I'm special because I'm saying the opposite of popular consensus, whoop de fuck.” To you, may I apologize for the shade of purple you turned when you read this post's title. We're on the same side.
While it's absolutely true that the majority is not always right—take the recently passed ten-year anniversary of Bush's invasion of Iraq; some obscene majority of American media supported it in '03 in spite of it being such a stupid idea even Bush's dad, no intellectual heavyweight he, knew it was a dumb idea the first time around which is why he didn't do it—this does not mean that there is any inherent value in opposing the majority opinion. In the case of opposing an unprovoked military invasion of a foreign country, you look at the reams of intelligence (even if you restrict yourself solely to what's on the public record, you got lots) screaming “this is a bad fucking idea and there's no justifiable reason to do this” and you come to the conclusion that it's a bad fucking idea and there's no justifiable reason to do it. Easy enough, right?
Arts criticism is a little more difficult than that, because there isn't a (declassified, anyway) report proving that Citizen Kane actually a great movie because it blended technical innovation and skill with narrative to create a truly, holistically American work of art, or that Roger Ebert's ability to balance passionate enthusiasm with critical assessment made him one of the most popular arts critics because he was actually good and good on terms that civilians could understand, or that Mad Men is a meticulously detailed, literarily and cinematically ambitious narrative that requires attention and intelligence because it was made with attention and intelligence, or that Steven Spielberg is a preternaturally gifted technical filmmaker more concerned with emotions than the intellect (and that that concern is valid). These are arguments that need to be made. None of them, though, can be refuted unilaterally by saying “It's boring/it sucks/it's dated.” But those refutations can be refuted with three simple words: “go fuck yourself.”
Go fuck yourself if you think people should be “interesting” and pick something other than Citizen Kane as the greatest American movie ever made. Want to advocate for Vertigo, or The Searchers, or Singin' in the Rain, or Modern Times, or something? Go ahead. Make a case for it. And I mean an actual case, not “eh, everyone says Citizen Kane is the best ever, it's boring,” because that's not an argument, that's you being a fucking pud.
Go fuck yourself if you selectively pull reviews out of Roger Ebert's vast archive of published criticism and declare him square because he didn't like this, or clueless because he didn't like that, or stupid because he didn't like your favorite movie. There's a refutation to your point somewhere else within his body of work. Further go fuck yourself if you get on him for not being politically conscious, because that's not just a matter of opinion, you're a goddamn idiot. The man was as strong a public progressive voice as there was. Just because you don't like Steven Spielberg (more on whom in a bit) doesn't make Roger Ebert a toady, and by the way, stew on how little connection there is between those two things a bit more.
Go fuck yourself if keeping up with Mad Men is a chore. Is it a touch insufferable when political bloggers can't mention anything that happened between 1960 and 1967 without mentioning Mad Men eight thousand times? Sure. But the reason everyone gets so worked up about Mad Men is because it's really skillfully done. And no one is forcing anyone to watch it. If all your friends are talking about Mad Men all the time (as nearly all of mine are), and you want to watch it to see what they're all so gaga about (as I have, but I'm way the hell behind), watch it. If you don't own a TV and you're pissed off because everyone's talking about Mad Men, either buy a TV and watch it or go do something else with your Sunday evening. Don't start ranting about how “no one really likes it” because “it's boring.” Child, please.
Go fuck yourself if you think Steven Spielberg movies are political propaganda. Holy shit this one's stupid. Now, keep in mind, I'm not saying go fuck yourself if you don't like Steven Spielberg movies. Some of my best friends (ha-cha!) don't like Steven Spielberg movies. What I'm saying is, lumping Spielberg in with Frank Capra (who did make propaganda films during WWII, and was totally upfront about it) is specious at best, and presupposes a degree of control over a billionaire filmmaker that the government simply doesn't have in this day and age. People suck at keeping secrets. If Spielberg had made Saving Private Ryan at the government's behest, you'd better goddamn well believe the media would have been all over it. Bill Clinton couldn't get blown in 1998 without an international crisis, how in the hell's he supposed to keep it secret that he's commissioning propaganda films? Keep in mind, a private citizen deciding of his own volition to make a movie that's like “hey, I like this thing my country did this one time” is not propaganda. You could argue, in the wrong case, that that guy is being a bit of a drip. But come on, making a movie about WWII where a bunch of guys get killed following orders is a far cry from “America Uber Alles.” Seriously.
So. Solutions. I wouldn't be surprised if some asshole marketing yuppie with his feet up on his desk had his unpaid interns crunch numbers that proved that people on the Internet react most strongly to anger, and that memos subsequently made their way to editors saying “deliberate provocation = traffic.” If that's the case, then some other marketing yuppie with his feet up on his desk needs to have his unpaid interns crunch numbers that prove that the way to get traffic is to not be a fucking asshole. But the problem is, if we ever definitively prove that not being a fucking asshole is the way to go, we're going to have to put every yuppie up against the wall, which will get messy, and with all the gun nuts buying up all the ammunition we might run out of bullets.
Anyway, I got distracted. Utopian political fantasies will do that. The real solution, alluded to cynically in the above paragraph, is to somehow devalue empty provocation in public discourse. If that means The-Site-That-Shan't-Be-Named-Because-They've-Been-Publishing-My-Friends-Lately needs to rebrand, hey. Buck up, fuckos, it's evolution, baby. There's no reason why serious critical writing can't be entertaining to read. And people shouldn't throw shade at serious critics for agreeing about stuff. No, we don't say Citizen Kane is great because we're afraid to think for ourselves. When you know a lot about movies and how they're made you watch Citizen Kane and see that it's great. Trying to argue otherwise can be a useful exercise, rhetorical calisthenics if you will, but it's futile in any real sense unless you really fucking bring it, and if you know enough to really fucking bring it on this question, the chances of your deciding to make the argument are really slim. And, if your argument is that it's boring, well, no. You're boring. Stop talking. And go fuck yourself.