Do better…and be the asshole
We all know that guy: he talks through the whole film, picking out this and that, never shutting his mouth, and ultimately earns the soda that you dump all over his head before walking out of the theater.
Less than six months into my film school career years ago, I became that asshole that couldn’t watch ANYTHING without analyzing it for its artsy, cultural or technical merit. I’d point out the script and plot holes, the terrible acting jobs, the blips in every other shot. While Hollywood gave us blooper reels (which was something like Christmas Day every time you picked up a new VHS tape or DVD,) nothing could and can beat a pain in the ass film student.
I also bequeathed this annoying habit to both of my parents whose viewing experience has never been the same. Luckily for me, most of my social circle does this, so we’re all assholes and not assholes all the same.
Now, of course, I’m fully involved in writing and editing and in the midst of filtering through my own endeavors for contrived moments, I find this habit spilling into my reading. I recently finished Automate This: How Algorithms Came to Rule Our World by Christopher Steiner and while it was a highly interesting read (and recommended for anyone in tech or finance,) I could help but edit it for word choice and diction that seemed a poor fit for the overall voice of the book.
Is this a bad thing?
I think not. Literature and film (and yes, music) are basic storytelling. Storytelling, at its core, is how we pass on our history, our culture, our moments of grace and humorous falls. Criticism of it as an engaged, responsive reader or viewer is how we “do better,” as one of my mentors puts it. It’s how we become better storytellers and help others become better storytellers.
As much as I enjoyed Steiner’s book, there were too many moments when his word choice was too creative or too intellectual. Yes, finance and math and technology are intellectual and sometimes abstract topics of conversation, but you cannot infuse them with flowery language—it destroys the intellectual quality of the subject (and yes, discussing the application of algorithms to media, art, and the stock market is a pedantic topic that MUST be free of ornate language if you want it taken seriously.) It also disrupts the reading experience.
So…do better. Tell people what they constructive could and need to do better. Tell yourself what YOU could do better. Sometimes telling yourself what you need to do better requires handing the work over to someone else and listening to their feedback.
Do better and be the asshole.