Saturday, April 5, 2014

Casual critique and simply enjoying stuff

My friend Kaitlyn and I could totally be on American Idol.

As judges.

As I speak, she is planning to drag me from my hermit-friendly dorm room tonight to go and watch the second round of a battle-of-the-bands type thing between my college and our rival school.

When we go, we will criticize the acts mercilessly. We will also nod in judicious approval, use nuanced eyebrow movements to express misgivings, and clutch each other's arms in excitement when, say, somebody busts out our favorite song or really nails whatever they chose to perform.

This is a common habit of ours, not just at musical contests but also at plays, dance shows, and whatever series we're marathoning from the comfort of our dorm rooms.

We like to criticize things. Or at the very least, we like to think analytically about whatever it is we're watching. We like to pick out the pros and cons of things, and sound out our opinions by comparing each other's reactions.

This is fun to do with Kaitlyn for two reasons:

1. She is the master of unrestrained reactions. Not so much in public, but in private she will scream at the top of her lungs whenever she is pleased / upset / surprised / embarrassed on a character's behalf. We have been shushed numerous times, and people can hear her wails all the way down the hall.

2. Some people respond to my usual analysis by saying, "Can't you just enjoy it without picking every little thing apart?" Kaitlyn understands that I do enjoy things, even while I'm figuring out what I did and did not like.

I can sometimes shut off the critical part of my brain and just watch things indiscriminately (especially with manga and anime) but the act of critique itself is enjoyable and has a few added benefits, especially in terms of analyzing movies and fiction.

First, it helps me figure out what I want to do in my writing, by thinking about what others have done well. Even just by noticing the places where I just purely enjoyed something, it gives me a hint of what to try for in my own craft.

Second, it helps me pinpoint problematic issues that I want to avoid. For example, last night I got into a discussion with my roommate about the White Savior trope. She had never heard of it, never really thought about it, but it's a legitimate concern I want to keep in mind while plotting novels.

There are definitely things that I just like, regardless of problems they may have. But I think there's a big difference between enjoying things with the knowledge that they have issues and enjoying things while being completely oblivious to certain things that are not ok.

Not that I think every act at the contest tonight is going to perpetuate stereotypes and promote problematic values, or anything like that. But I like flexing my analytical muscles.

I like being able to put into words exactly why I like something.

And exactly why I don't.

That said, I'm a very critical person, and you are more than free to disagree. What's your philosophy on watching things?

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