Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Top 10 laymans advice to critics of the arts.

I was reluctant to even begin this blog because It has been said in a much better way already.  I have been putting this blog out for quite a while now but I am running out of material.  Longer than a lot of start up companies and some marriages.  Sometimes I get comments, and if I do they are comments from well wishers and encouragement from friends.  I appreciate them all.  If someone disagrees they just don't say anything because they know me. Also, they followed the sage advice from Thumper's mom.  "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all".  Well if a professional critic does that, they would be out of a job.  It is their job to throw rocks at the fence, not build it.  Sure once in a while they put up a shining review for their favorite offering (uncompensated OF COURSE), but for the most part it's sour grapes.  Well, as a member of the public that reads critical reviews I have some advice for these sharp-tongued leeches on the belly of art.  Most of this will be aimed in the direction of movies, but really it probably applies to anything you are being critical of.

10.  Don't watch movies that aren't your 'cup o tea' - The problem with providing any form of entertainment is material.  When I say material, I mean the inspiration to give the readers something.  I suffer from this from time to time, obviously.  It's hard to consistently provide your audience something that will entertain them without being too much trouble or require too much preparation.  Sure, some critics have broad taste and like something in every genre, but others seem to consistently pick on (or love) the same sort of things: movies about French bikes, or people that die under very sad circumstances or combustibles, for example, and the truth is the critics that love combustibles are looked down upon by their peers.  Good critics find something to like in every   The best you can do is take a clinical look at it and say why it is technically good or bad.  Otherwise, reviewing something you're predisposed to dislike makes the whole thing, and you, sound sour.

9.  Were you entertained? - Please include if you were entertained or not.  Art is communication.  Some art is made for the masses and some art is made for artists.  If you watched a movie and it was horribly made, but something about it entertained you.  Please say so.  Guilty pleasures are for clergy, not for critics. When you are done with a movie the only thing that remains is if you were compelled to watch.  It also applies to other forms of art.  Did the art communicate to the viewer in such a way that they were receptive to the message?  Then it at least partially worked.

8. We really don't care how well you were educated. - Honestly reading the evaluations written by some people is like reading their resume written in code.  They start using terms found only on the inside of the art.  Yes, that's fine, we're very impressed, but how was the MOVIE? We don't care how your personal 'intelligence' was insulted.  We don't care about the time you studied with James Lipton.  We would like to know if the movie was entertaining and the reasons for it.  Not how they used an obscure editing technique that you happened to do your thesis on and would now like to finally prove your tuition dollars were well spent.

7. Technology is not your enemy! - If a novel piece of technology is used in the committing of art, it is usually denigrated by the critic.  It happens in movies all the time and it's always in terms of what people are used to.  "I don't like 3d", "I don't like higher frame rates", "I don't like black and white", "I don't like color", "I don't like sound".  When faced with new things, critics are more likely to act like a petulant 6 year old at the dinner table when presented with a new dish with 'black things' in it.  Open your mind, the people making the film are willing to take a chance and shake things up a bit.  I say good, even IF it turns out bad.  Future film-makers will thank them.

6. Look at your own failures - Keep track of your evaluations and see what the public response was.  I know the public isn't nearly as well qualified to determine quality as you are and heaven forbid that the unwashed masses should have an opinion that speaks against your own, but if you look at those places where you differ from the public, you might find you own biases hiding there.  Like a seething mass of hate-cancer borne of unrealized potential...or something.

5. Pretend you don't know much about movies. - This is more about talking to your audience.  Lots of critics use all the technical jargon and observations that the regular public doesn't even really think about.  It's ok, but if you try to look at art with fresh eyes and see why it speaks to people, you might find a different opinion than the highly refined sense of the insider.  This of course only applies if you are talking to the public at large.  If your critique is meant for those inside the production of the art then go deep, it's what they expect.  But if you are going to tell them they didn't do it right, please explain how you did it correctly yourself...That's what I thought.

4. Don't sell yourself so quick - I love movies that have those little critic approvals on them that look like this 'Best movie in Ages - My Mom's Basement Movie Blog'  This is not exactly a rave review no matter what you said.  Wait until your own name/brand becomes more well known...a LOT more well known.

3.  Don't look at Rotten Tomatoes first and put yourself in line with the New York Times.  We can and will form our own opinions, A sad commentary on the critic, but they should form their own opinions as well.  You see, anyone can BE a critic.  All it takes is an opinion which apparently everyone has along with something else that escapes me at the moment.  Now the providing of pithy prose falls under the purview of pedestrian and professor alike, that's something else entirely.  The only thing that sets one critic apart from another is the ability to interpret and prognosticate the movie's impact on you.  If they match up well then you've found a good critic.

2.  Don't quit your day job - I know, you already have lots of jobs, but really, the job of complaining about things for the most part is one that will probably be missed the least after the zombie apocalypse.  Well, actually, there are several jobs that will rank ahead in the not missed category, but that's really a group you don't want to be in.  We like to read what you say, but don't take yourself too seriously.  We can live without you.

1.  Take some art lessons -Your voice needs the balance of an honest, human response and an educated one.  A little background in film technique, a bit of research into the classics, doesn't hurt anyone.  Don't overdo it, don't start quoting Wim Wenders, just try to understand the mind of the artist and the tools at their disposal.  Art, like any other job has a lot more going on than regular people think and it might do a critic some good to look into the actual production of that art.   What's that?  You say that you have spent a lifetime within the art?  You are a critic and not an artist?  I've got news for you, It's because you weren't very good and now you are taking it out on those that are.  I know that's my reason ;)

Now I realized the inherent hypocrisy in writing a list like this.  Then again, I do this as a hobby and I think about 25 people read it (And I appreciate you!), the rest just look at the pictures.  I just read critics to get an idea of the movies that are out and Cya in the funny papers!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Ten Gambles we all take

I've made no bones about the fact that I like to place a dollar on Dobbin's nose from time to time.  Actually, horse racing and sports are the only games I won't play; regular casino games are my fare.  Invariably the subject comes up, and someone will shake their head and explain that they couldn't possibly gamble.   The reasons are similar.  'I work too hard to just blow it like that', 'Why do something I know I'll never win', 'It's a sin'.  The last one of course hails from my more religious friends.  I don't have a problem with gambling being a sin.  What I have a problem with is the definition of Gambling.

Here are ten gambles we should probably take a hard look at.

10. 401 K - This great investment for retirement was thought to be a 'sure thing.'  Yet whenever you invest in anything the small print will say something to the effect of: "all investment involves an element of risk.  Only invest an amount in a way that you are comfortable with the overall risk"  This means: no matter what, you might lose it.  Gambling has a certain payback over time that you are guaranteed.  Of course that payback is a negative amount, but at least you are sure of it.

9.  The Movies - You pay between 8 and 15 dollars to see a show.  You have no idea if you are going to enjoy the movie or really hate it.  You will spend 2 hours in the hopes of being entertained.  If you are not, you've lost 2 hours and your money, but the popcorn was probably still good.  Gambling can make the same claim.  When you gamble, you are being entertained.  If you think of it in terms of an investment or a job, then yes, you are fooling yourself.  If you consider yourself entertained then you are already a winner.

8.  Trust - All trust is a gamble.  In fact the very use of the term involves unverified risk.  If I ask you to trust me, what I'm really saying is that I have no outward reason for you to enlist me as an agent on your behalf, but I would appreciate the opportunity to do so.  Ultimately if I ask you to trust me, I am asking you to bear all or most of the risk of what I am doing.  Gambling never asks for trust.  It tells you up front that over time you will lose unless you cheat and they trust you to not do that.

7.  Software Upgrades - Notice I didn't say software.  Software purchases are separate and not really thought of as a gamble because you pay for your software and then you use it to whatever extent you try to learn it.  This deals with upgrading your current software for the same software only better.  The 'better' part is claimed by the software vendors.  Sometimes it costs to upgrade, sometimes it doesn't but it's ALWAYS a gamble.  You are risking the software you know for what you hope is going to be software that works better.  This is kind of like the double or nothing bet you can get on a draw poker machine.  You win a hand and before it pays you it says 'double or nothing?' at which point you can say no and collect your winnings (bird in the hand) if you accept their challenge, you pick a card out of 5 presented to you and then the machine picks a card, high card wins.  you can do that until you quit and collect or pick wrong and lose.

6.  Driving - People that are afraid of airplanes, boats, and other much safer modes of transportation really crack me up.  They are genuinely afraid of getting on these conveyances because they are afraid of the possible outcome.  Here is the problem.  When you watch the news, plane crashes and boat problems are so rare that they are news.  Car accidents that aren't horrible, and are, are an EVERY DAY OCCURRENCE.  Yet people drive every day without giving it a second thought.  Avoiding more sure forms of transportation in favor of driving is like playing a bet in the casino where you don't know the game or what's happening with your bet but you just feel good about it.

5.  Employment - For the most part, the idea of the 'company man' only exists in companies that are privately owned.  More and more companies hire people with the idea that those people are eminently disposable.  Any assumption that your employer will continue your employment through substandard performance is a GAMBLE (possibly a sure thing though).  If you have a job, your best bet is to treat it like it's NOT A SURE THING.  Even then, you can get laid off through no fault of your own.  This is a lot like betting both black and red on Roulette.  Seems like a sure thing, but there is the green of 0 and 00 that wipe both bets out. And don't forget, the person placing the REAL bet is your employer ;).

4. Not Going to the Doctor - More for the menfolk than the women. If you don't go regularly to the doctor, you are really just asking for a checkup when they bring you to the emergency room.  I'm not sure what it is about people that they will ask friends and non-doctors what they think something is, but they will not ask their doctor.  IF they happen to go to the doctor then they don't follow the doctors instructions; instead they will go to some 'alternative' treatment.  When you read 'alternative' just replace that in your head with snake-oil.  Every day you feel like you might be better but you are getting worse, just go to the doctor. The fear of not knowing is much worse than bad news.  This is like playing slots over time.  Ups and downs that end with downs.

3.  Restaurant Dining - You go to a restaurant and sit down to a fancy meal.  When I say fancy I mean something more than your Lean Cuisine instant food that you don't do on a regular basis.  Something that feels like it's probably special.  For me, it's a churro at Disney.  When you pay that much for food, you expect at a minimum that the food is good.  When you look for excellence in food, you automatically put yourself at risk of eating bad food.  Not bad in a health sense (though that's a part of this gamble) but just not tasty or enjoyable.  It's not a GAMBLE Mark!  You pay money, you get food.  It's a transaction and you are talking about quality not loss.  To this I say, once you have been on the diet road for any period of time, you realize that every bite of food you put in your mouth will cost you.  If you are consuming calories from food you don't enjoy, that is a LOSS.  I tend to think of this like sports betting.  No matter how much you know, or how much one team/player is better than another, you can't predict the upset. You can, however, step away from the game in both scenarios.  Amazing how often people don't.  The desire to finish an unappetizing meal is directly proportional to the amount paid for it.

2.  Justice - Jury of my peers?!?  WOW.  Our current legal system is such a gamble I don't think anyone would deny it.  I have served on a jury and I was amazed at the different ways of thinking that were included in 12 citizens.  Justice has a lot more to do with people's feelings than their view of facts.  I like to think I'm a very objective thinker.  I realize that most people think of themselves that way.  This means that while objectivity is sought after by people as a valuable tool for thinking, the emotional nature of the human animal makes it very hard to remove yourself from your feelings about a particular subject.  In poker the equivalent would be going all in, but letting everyone else at the table choose the cards for each player's hand.  Talk about a gamble!

1.  Religion - No matter what you believe or don't believe, if you are basing your future on it and you can't prove it, it's a gamble.  You may know in your heart of hearts that something is true, right up until you don't.  Assuming that God gets really mad if you don't do everything exactly the way he told a man to tell you to do it, it would be really bad if you put a bet on a man that wasn't actually speaking on behalf of God or some kind of supreme being.  If you are going to bet the don't side and go with Atheism, you are saying that anything you do doesn't get scored in a big role playing game scoreboard in the sky somewhere and that you think there is not any kind of supreme being that is keeping that score.  While no evidence is not convincing, it is not evidence of nothing either.  This is a big bet for some people because they will put a lot of effort into their religion to bolster their end of life, judgement bar bankroll.  This is a lot like roulette: you can put all of your money on one number for a big payoff, or you can spread out your bet to cover a lot of numbers for a lesser payoff.

Many times a discussion about gambling from those smart folk that don't think they partake ends in something like "Here's how I double my money" at which point they take their dollar out of their pocket and fold it in half and put it back.  The gamble there was whether or not that was actually ever funny.  Odds are 5 to 1 against ;).