Rogue Mutt Classics: Are You GETting It?
You know, if I had actually seen the movie when I wrote this, I probably would have supported Knowles more. I think you had to view “Kick-Ass” as a parody of comic book stupidity and excesses in order to GET it. Sure the 11-year-old getting beat up (though I think Ebert exaggerated the extent of it) is terrible, but is it any worse than Robin or any other kid sidekick? I would say no.
Again, another one I should have dusted off when that “book reviewer” didn’t GET Kurt Vonnegut. Is there a lamer reason to claim something sucks than, “I don’t GET it?” Again, I would say no.
This last weekend there was a slight controversy over the superhero film “Kick-Ass.” Venerable critic Roger Ebert savaged the movie for its violence and blood, especially given that most of the participants are children. In response, venerable Internet guy Harry Knowles said that Ebert didn’t “get” the movie. My take is that if I don’t “get” the amusement of kids slaughtering people and being beaten to a bloody pulp I’m more than OK with that.
Anyway, the concept of “you don’t get it” is one that’s often used in criticism of any art form. The idea is to imply that you’re stupid or ignorant or out of touch with the latest fashions–or sometimes all three. A lot of times this reasoning seems to be the final fallback position to defend a piece of crap. I’ve seen it many times in writing critique groups where someone who’s received a bad review will say, “You just don’t get it!” Sometimes they’ll go further by saying you don’t get it because you’re dumb or because you’re a guy or because you’re too old or because you’re too young or because you don’t like vampires. My response would be, “Maybe, but I know shit when I step in it.”
There is some validity to the concept of not getting something. It’s true that I am a guy and I don’t like vampires, so if you post some kind of vampire chick lit story then obviously I’m not going to be overly entertained by it. And if that’s all I were reviewing it based on then it would be fine to dismiss my criticisms. But it’s also possible that even a guy who doesn’t like vampires can have some objective opinions that are valid. Just because I don’t like vampires doesn’t mean I can’t spot illogical story development, plot holes, cliches, and other things like that. A writer receiving a review should never throw the baby out with the bath water (to use a cliche!) by dismissing someone’s criticism because they aren’t in the target audience. If anything, someone who isn’t in your target audience is often in a better position to see what you might have missed because they aren’t reading it solely for entertainment.
Really in my opinion no one in a critique group should ever throw out the “You don’t get it!” excuse. It is common sense that not every story can please every reader simply because of our differing backgrounds and moral sensibilities. Still, when you use that line to me it makes you sound like a sullen kid, harrumphing and tramping up to his room because Mom said to clean up his room or finish his peas or something. The best thing is to say, “Thanks, I’ll take that under advisement.” Then in private you can dismiss it if you want. Of course that’s really hard to do because as writers we’re emotionally invested in the story and even if it is dreck we usually think it’s pure gold. Certainly in this case do as I say and not as I do because I’m as prickly as anyone when it comes to criticism, if not more so. (For instance if you say that you’re pricklier than me I’ll say, “No way! I’m a lot pricklier than you! Wanna fight about it?”) What you don’t want to do is burn bridges because a group doesn’t get something because you might change your mind in years to come. Right now there’s a whole generation of kids screaming that their parents don’t get the Jonas Brothers or Justin Bieber or Hannah Montana or whatever but I’m willing to bet in five years those kids will change their tunes. Especially if you’re young you have to realize you don’t know everything and that sometimes the old fogies really do get it because they’ve been there themselves.
At the same time, reviewers need to make sure that they are being as objective as possible. If you’re a Christian, you shouldn’t go off on someone because they have characters having sex out of wedlock or homosexuals or swearing or anything like that because they aren’t writing a Christian story. Just like I shouldn’t say how idiotic I think most vampires are if someone posts a vampire story. (What I’m more likely to say is, “Yawn. Another vampire story.” Or, “You have a teenage girl meeting a sexy young vampire and they fall in love? How original!”) When critiquing you need to try and leave the personal biases out of it and focus on whether things make sense and if there are any grammatical problems or things like that. Like if I post a baseball story there’s no point telling me that sports are stupid. There is a point to saying that in the seventh inning I have the home team getting four outs. The former is useless and will just provoke an angry response while the latter is helpful and will help me fix an oversight. So when I’m reading a vampire story I should try to put aside my personal biases and just focus on the more objective, quantifiable stuff. Instead of saying, “Great, another vampire story” I should point out that cutting someone with a spear blade isn’t as effective as stabbing them with the spear.
If we could do that on both ends then we’d probably never hear that old whine of “You don’t get it!” except when someone’s at their wit’s end for justifying why a story is as awesome as they think it is. But then again this is the real world and so some amount of prejudice is always likely to remain. It’s up to the writer who receives the critique to sift through what isn’t helpful to find what is helpful. And there are always going to be some things that we just aren’t going to get no matter how hard we try. Here’s some things I don’t get and probably never will:
- Romance novels
- Cormac McCarthy
- Quentin Tarantino movies
- Frank Miller
- American Idol
- Jane Austen (and pretty much the rest of 19th Century literature)
- Modern art
- Rap/Hip hop
- Country music
- Most anime
Any of those things you can probably go on and on lecturing me about them and I still won’t ever get it. If you hector me enough I might pretend to understand, but I’ll never really care in the way you do. And you’ll never probably care about things I like either. To each his/her own.