Monday 23 September 2019

Don't do that, Rupert

(I just needed a picture of an exceptionable Rupert. Sorry.) 
I saw a review of a poetry book this morning, which I'm not going to link, and I mean I'm not a good poet and I don't know much about poetry, but here's the thing, this was a little book by no one you'd heard of, from a tiny publisher, and the guy (from the name, 95% sure it was a white guy, English, and from the writing, 95% sure he's straight) who reviewed it was utterly scathing, and not even in any methodical way. He was just mean, picking out a couple of terrible lines without giving you any idea of the book beyond "this has some bad lines in it".

And OK, maybe I'd read those lines too and go, "ouch" – and the lines he singled out were indeed pretty ouch – but seriously, Rupert? What does it achieve?

You know I write about film, right? And you know I'm not afraid to say bad things about a film if I think it's bad? But the thing is, sometimes I get sent movies that were made by first time directors and which cost like 25p and I don't think it's fair to rag on those. Like, there are things you can say, but there's punching down and punching up.

There's a qualitative difference to saying, for instance, "This piece will spoil plot points, but to be honest nothing will ruin things for you quite as much as actually watching the film,"* about a multimillion buck blockbuster to saying that about a self funded folk horror short made in a back yard in Glasgow.

Pointing out that a film about monsters that cost gazillions to make, made gazillions in the box office and has gazillions of fans is bad is not going to hurt anyone. They're big enough to take it. It's like a BB bullet shot at, well, at Godzilla. Ruthlessly dumping on the production values of a film that can't afford to look like a Hollywood blockbuster because the cash was scraped together from a mid-range Kickstarter, or squashing like a bug the aspirations of a first time scriptwriter, or tearing out the bad lines of someone's small press poetry collection?

The word for that is not "criticism". The word for that is "bullying". When, like me, you're just someone with a blog, OK, you can feel like you're on the bottom of the tree too, but the role of the critic is never really just to say whether something is good or not anyway.

And there's an intellectual discipline in writing a redemptive reading of a thing. People seem to think that it is somehow more clever to be negative about stuff. That's false. To find reasons to see the value in things is often more difficult and challenging (and trust me in this: I watched Hellraiser: Hellseeker last night, or Hellraiser 6 to you), and much, much more worthwhile.

And all the more important when your subject isn't, for whatever reason, strong enough to take a hit, even if it's just from some random with a blog.

*Yes, I was pleased with myself for writing that. And yes, I do understand that makes me a bit of a dick. And no, I don't care.