Go on the internet and say you don’t like something and you’ll immediately be graced with misspelled cuss words, racism, sexism, and the general frothing of humanity’s dregs.
Or at least get a fervent, “Nuh-uh!”
But did you know that the way you say something changes the reaction you get?
If you experience a book, movie, TV show, anime, video game, etc. and say, “I didn’t like that.” The other person will be disappointed. However, if you say “That was bad,” you’ll see the aforementioned attack of the gutterspawn.
Obviously, you shouldn’t insult what somebody else likes, but rather you should simply state that it didn’t appeal to your particular tastes and just let it roll off your back, right?
No. No, you should not.
That’s my goal in this post: to debunk the asinine idea that you should never, ever, ever say something is bad.
Art vs. Enjoyment
“But, Mike! Just because you didn’t like it doesn’t mean somebody else wouldn’t. We all enjoy different things.”
Quick question: What does that have to do with anything? I’m not talking about enjoyment; I’m talking about art.
Enjoyment, or entertainment, is extremely subjective. It’s whatever tickles our senses in the right way and yes, everyone has different tastes. Thus, enjoyment has no standard for criticism.
But art does. Art has rules, conventions, and definitions. True, all these things are stretched and challenged, such is the nature of art, but good art, while still not completely objective, does have far more basis for critique than enjoyment.
For example, weak lighting makes a show/picture hard to see. That’s not up to your interpretation; it’s a basic, scientific fact. It’s harder to see in the dark. So drawings, movies, and pictures need good light sources unless the lighting is supposed to be bad for some reason, such as a horror scene.
What’s that? You like bad lighting? Doesn’t matter. Your liking it doesn’t make it easier to see. Our preferences do not change reality.
So when I say, “That sucks,” and you say, “But I like it,” you’re kind of changing the subject on me. Enjoyment can’t be criticized, and if you like something, despite its quality, fine!
But we’re talking about art.
The Dangers of Art
Art can and will be criticized. That’s what happens when you put something on public display: people scrutinize it. And if we really value free speech, we can’t shut up people who don’t like it. The only way to never receive criticism for art is to never display it. Keep it tucked away forever and you’ll never hear anything bad about it.
Before you call me overly critical or cynical, think of the last bad movie you watched. You say it’s bad because you applied some standard and that movie failed to meet that standard. We all judge things. We are all critics.
Why do you cringe when someone can’t sing? Because you know there’s a right way to sing and a wrong one, even if you yourself are not a professional singer–heck, it’s usually why we DON’T become professional singers! Art is rooted in creativity, but also in science.
Art has rules. When someone breaks one, we do no one any favors by pretending they didn’t. True, I don’t think we should all be Simon Cowell or Gordon Ramsey, shredding all self esteem creators and fans might have, but neither should we all go Simon Cowell and Gordon Ramsey on people who dare to dislike something for legitimate reasons.
Effort Means Nothing
A new rebuttal I’ve been hearing lately is, “But they didn’t intend to make a bad product.” Once again, what does that have to do with anything? It’s not their intent that’s being judged, but the finished product.
Apply that to any other profession and it falls flat. If a carpenter intends to make a good house, but it falls over, do you say it’s a good house? No. You say, “Try again,” or “You’re fired.” Samsung didn’t WANT the Galaxy 7 to explode, but pretending it didn’t only leads to further injury.
If anything, pointing out effort makes the matter worse, not better. If you intend to make a cake, but the end result is a sloppy mess, then you did not meet your goal and failed. If you put a lot of effort into writing a good book, but the book comes out with plot holes, countless typos, and cliched characters, then you failed.
Think of a book or movie you hate. Does the amount of effort really matter? No. It may help you sympathize, but it doesn’t change facts.
Christian art is riddled with crappy products. But so what? 90% of all art is crap, so what’s the problem? The problem is that Christians don’t want other Christians saying that their art is bad, usually for the reasons I listed above.
But we all like different things…But they didn’t set out to make a bad product…But their intentions were good…But their message and content honor God.
Don’t you realize that none of that stuff changes the quality of the art? It may change your enjoyment, but not the art.
In fact, it’s the other way around:
- Good art is generally liked by more people.
- Good art shows great effort and intent.
- Good art communicates a Godly message better than bad art (more on this next week).
But personal preference, intentions, and messages don’t change the artistic factors.
Once again, this logic wouldn’t fly in any other field. A Christian factory worker who does a bad job will get fired regardless of his religion. Why is Christian art given a get-out-of-evaluation-free card?
So I’m going to call out bad Christian art when I see it. No, it’s not because I hate you or I enjoy tearing people down or I’m a horrible Christian. It’s because I love God and I want to see Godly materials excelling. That won’t happen if we ignore the problems.
Fight Fair, Lose Well
Do you know why Comment sections are so vile? Or why you should usually ignore 1-star reviews? Because most of the time, the hatred comes from people confusing art and preference.
I’ll use a personal example. I wrote a blog post denouncing the TV show The Legend of Korra, and it’s my most popular blog to this very minute. But read the comments. I get haters, too. About a week ago, a new comment appeared, taking me to task for hating Korra. They called me and those who agreed with me a “circle jerk” of hatred. They called me an idiot for watching the show if I hated it so much. I usually let bad comments stay, but I finally took down the comment when they told me to drink bleach.
But you know what the writer didn’t say? Anything about the show or my review. He provided no counterpoints, no real questions, no defense of Korra in any way. He didn’t try to protect his beloved TV show from hate; he tried to protect his sensitive preferences from detractors.
The hater has no artistic reason for his anger; he’s just mad at you for having a different viewpoint and expressing it.
There’s nothing necessarily wrong with “liking” bad art. We all have guilty pleasures. Shoot, I freaking love Taken despite its ridiculous premise. I think the story of Kingdom Hearts II is pathetic, back-peddling, and childish, but I play it constantly because it’s fun.
The problem comes when we think “I like it” equates to “It is good.”
Can We All Grow Up?
One mark of artistic maturity is enduring criticism and/or responding wisely. It’s the very first thing I learned from critique classes: say, “I thought this specific thing was bad for X, Y, and Z reason,” not, “You suck because your mom is a whore. Go kill yourself.” Fight art criticism with art criticism, not preference.
Fun fact: criticism in the artistic realm means evaluation, not hatred. If someone gives artistic reasons for disliking a show, give them your artistic reasons for liking it. If you can’t, meaning you just liked it for whatever reason, then don’t take it personally; engage in discussion. Open your mind.
And don’t use preference as a censorship button to silence the opposition. You know who does that?
Politicians Children. Immature crybabies who can’t stand that someone doesn’t like what they do and demands that everybody agree with them or shut up.
It is also children who decide they like something and cling to it despite all opposition. Like I said, base enjoyment can’t be criticized, but they never look inward to see if their prized preference is truly faulty, even if they still find it entertaining. Rather, they stamp their feet and scream, “NO! NO! NO!” louder and louder in the vain hope that everyone else will shut up.
Yes, we should encourage, praise, and promote good art. That’s why I write good reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. That’s why I buy certain movies and games and geek out about them to others.
But art is art. It will receive criticism and that’s okay. Anything promoted will be evaluated and you can’t force people to share your opinion or ignore the facts.
In the Pixar movie Ratatouille, food critic Anton Ego says, “I don’t like food, I love food. If I don’t love it, I don’t swallow.”
That’s why I hate what you love: not because I’m an unenlightened plebe who dares to scorn your beloved, not because I hate you personally, not even because I find it fun to hate what others like. It’s because I love good art and I weep when I see shoddy work.
And when you try to bully a naysayer into silence, you’re only mirroring the thing you hate.