So you saw last weekend’s (supposed) blockbuster or read Harper Lee’s newest novel …
What did you think?
I’m a pretty critical person when it comes to art and entertainment. Not to be rude or judgmental in a negative way, but I have very strong opinions when it comes to what I like or what I don’t. Movies, books, music, TV shows … I’m a freaking addict. But I’m also extremely busy and can’t justify throwing hours into something that doesn’t really grip me. Who can, in today’s busy world?
Movie trailers I find particularly fascinating because ninety-nine percent of the time I can predict with accuracy whether or not I’ll like the movie. Seems sort of ridiculous to be able to determine whether two hours of entertainment will be enjoyed by a two to three minute commercial, but I’m rarely wrong.
So what do I look for? What do I want my entertainment to do?
- I want it to surprise me.
- I want it to be original.
- I want it to be something I don’t expect.
Don’t show me the same plot that’s been played out a hundred thousand times. Or if you do, have a different take to it, a unique spin or point of view. Something that demands I pay attention. Something that makes me think, that makes me jump, that makes me feel.
Think of the scene in the Dark Knight when the Joker enters the room where the Chinese money man is speaking to the mob bosses on a television screen. The muscle move to stop him but he gets them to wait by putting a pencil on the table, and then what does he do? Slams one of the guys heads down into it!
Everyone in that scene is now paying full attention to our antagonist, and guess what?
So is the audience.
Because we didn’t see it coming. It wasn’t something we expected.
(I still remember the gasp I made the first time I saw that scene. And even though I know it’s coming, I still get excited when I see the Joker enter that room on an umpteenth viewing).
But what if my expectations of a movie or TV show or theater-of-the-round-puppet-show-put-on-by-my-own-children is lowered? Will it affect my overall experience of the product I’m reviewing (even if that review is only in my mind)? How is our reception of a product affected by the hype (or lack-thereof) built around it?
WITHOUT QUESTION, our perception of something is changed by what we expect.
Hype and positive reviews build up a movie I’m not that excited about seeing. (AntMan … Jurassic World … name your pick). I think maybe I was wrong about this one, based on the preview. Maybe I should give it a try. And what I expect of that movie is raised a little. Then I go to see it and find I’m completely disappointed.
Not because it was bad but because it was exactly what I thought it was going to be. Hitting every note and step and plot point I expected the screenwriters and filmmakers to cover.
Then I hear so-so reviews and a not so great box office for another film I wasn’t that excited to see. (Step in Terminator). My expectations are lowered.
And guess what?
I’m pleasantly surprised! Not because it was a groundbreaking film or an amazing movie, but because it was so much better than I thought it was going to be. (And then there are those rare gems where you’re expecting a lot and are still blown away … Enter MadMax … but that’s for another post entirely).
So what gives us the right to pass judgement on a piece of art?
This is a topic I see occasionally with some indie authors, as their books receive reviews they don’t necessarily agree with. Claiming anyone who would rate their book One Star is just looking to destroy the author personally or defame them. It’s a ridiculous notion.
Because EVERYONE is deserving of their own opinion.
There’s a difference between attacking a person or wanting someone to fail and judging the product they created. Art is inherently open to criticism. Everyone sees something a little different when they look at a painting. Every reader creates their own story as they read the words written by an author. And everyone’s movie-going experience is slightly skewed from the person sitting next to them based on more factors than it would be possible to list in a simple blog post.
But that’s the beauty of art. It’s why we have more than one artist in the world. Why there are more than one type of genre or style of music. And in everything we take in, I believe there is something to learn. Something to appreciate. Something to make us better.
So in having my own novel, Housebroken, out in the world where it’s open to interpretation and review by whoever accidentally stumbles upon it, I’ve received all kinds of reviews. And I’m grateful for each one. I welcome anyone who would take the time to write their opinion about something I’ve created, whether those words are for or against my creation. Because as an artist, as an author, I’m not my book. I’m not my characters. I’m not stagnant. I’m growing and experimenting and continuing along this journey that is authorship one rickety step at a time.
Hopefully I can surprise you. Show you something original or exceed your expectation. That’s always the goal. The challenge, however, is in exceeding the expectation I set of myself.