Thunk For The Day #1

Just some thoughts derived from viewing and participating in the antisocial media:

* In the responses to any given post you make, or in any interweb discussion, or even in any real-life meeting of any kind, there’s always One. ++ And unless you are that ‘One’, you know exactly what I mean.

(++ One = at least One)

* For the well-meaning knothead, I think just about everyone has a handle on how it’s not that healthy to eat fast food all the time. Safe to assume that the need for posting and reposting every supposed horror story and pic on this topic now less than critical.

* Ditto on cruelty to animals being a bad thing. Got that one handled. Most people are using that kind of platform to catch up with friends. Not quite sure of the pressing need to have pics of dismembered orangutan, gouged otters, and abused chickens thrown into the middle of everything. Presumably those responsible, when they’re hosting some sort of social gathering, would have no problem with someone hurling a brace of violated  goats on to the main table adjacent to the ice sculptures.

* I like cats, dogs, and young children, but I could learn to like them less. Or to put it a slightly different way, I get that some people derive tremendous entertainment from their kids and pets, but so do I re W.C. Fields movies, and I don’t insist on automatically forcing everyone I meet into a chair and making them look at those.

* If you’re wondering what the statistical demarcation line is regarding spending too much time on the antisocial media, I increasingly tend to the opinion that the answer can be expressed mathematically, via, the conventional alpha-numeric system as: “Any”.

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I was just reading what passes as a modern day ‘TV review’.

It remarked something along the lines that the show was possessed of inadequate spark, and that the laughs were too infrequent.

Yes, one senses the latter might represent a problem for a comedy show, not that any networks or cable program providers seem to have been utter fanatics on that score the last 30 years or so.

Beyond what might be, at best, be characterised as a hopeful, vague, butt-scratch of an alternative to a review, the piece then reverted to backyard gossip, as follows:

– Ooh, I don’t like HER character

– Ooh I do like HIS character. he seems to have had some spark with HER, but I wanted to see MORE of it

– Ooh, I don’t like her accent

– I’ve run out – here’s what other reviewers said

– I hope this actress does well – I like HER

And that was about the whole business, may the good Lord have mercy.

Between you and me, there is no such thing as reviewing or criticism any more. At least not in this country, and as contagions go, it’s an expanding problem beyond that, although we may well be international market leaders.

Read the mainstream media alternatives to criticism, particularly in the two Melbourne papers. There’s no sense of evaluation, no concept of relative merit, no indication that the writers concerned have any particular acuity when it comes to viewing or commenting on the medium concerned (they more than evidently have enough trouble with what is nominally their medium – i.e. the written word). It’s just the water-cooler/back-fence babbling of the media omnivore.

It’s even worse – they want to eat shit, like it, say they like it, and then be respected for it.

It’s even worse than THAT – they no longer recognise, if they ever did, that the shit is shit, and wouldn’t know good if they tumbled head-first up into a pile of it and were submerged in it. They simply don’t have the critical faculties to negotiate the difference between good and shit, and have emulated the audiences in ceasing to care.

And the final worsenator – neither public or the nominal ‘critic’ believes anymore that good is better than shit. They refuse to accept that as a valid argument. If it demands nothing of you, if it makes you feel good, if it presents total involvement and emotional stimulus in exchange for presenting virtually no content definable in any meaningful way as content and thus demanding a minimum of thought or studying time to become involved, that in itself is good enough. Even if it’s shit. Very much if it’s shit.

That’s how TV’s reviewed. Movie reviews are just as bad in a different way. Where they don’t have the ‘back-fence natter’ approach – and often they do, but it’s slightly disguised with bigger words and liberal sprinklings of terms like “CGI” and “Executive Producer” – all they are now is lumps of pure reviewer-speak disinterred from wasted years of the writers concerned having read other middlebrow dullards’ hectares of film reviews, which have copy that falls somewhere in between a furniture catalogue and the fine print in a superannuation fund newsletter in terms of raw excitement.

The key thing to factor in when considering modern movie reviewing is, does any human being ever talk like this out loud, not counting maybe a handful of hermit-like creatures at film festicles? Nope, because it’s written in pure received reviewer-speak, i.e. the kind of thing Mel Brooks once termed “authentic frontier gibberish”.

Part der Fred is: “And does anyone actually think like this?” Particularly with an eye to “Would this really be the main line of reponse anyone in real life might have to the film being reviewed?”

Film reviewing now is generally what a dull but earnest mind thinks is the kind of thing one should professionally write about a movie, particularly if one has the natural  aptitude for that task that the average club golf pro has for particle physics.

Frankly the situation is hopeless. Reviews like the TV one mentioned above “needs more spark. perhaps more regular laughs”, that would struggle to make it to ‘opinion’ status, much less ‘review’. You might as well get him/her or anyone else around working in the same area to ‘review’ jam, toy cars or rutabaga. They’d like have exactly the same aptitude for it. None whatsoever.

I suspect the commentary isn’t just on those spectacularly hapless souls. It’s also on the folks a level or two higher in the media executive chain, as they, whether accidentally or otherwise, enabled the chowderheads now trying to pass themselves off as “critics”, or “reviewers” or whatever they think they are, which they aren’t.

That it’s all turned to complete bullpoo in these areas – i.e. criticism and reviewing of what were once termed, in grandpa’s time, “the liveliest arts” – is one thing, but that those responsible were incapable of recognising the transition let alone doing something about it, is a little more damning.

It probably tells us a fair bit about the mettle of the kinds of the media execs whose efforts we’ve endured in this country for some decades. That, by inaction, ignorance or otherwise, they wound up defining a time wherein people prefer not to recognise the distinction between good and shit, or are now incapable of defining such a distinction, must be the happiest of ironies for all concerned.

Fuck ’em though.

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4 thoughts on “Thunk For The Day #1

  1. I have been listening to movie podcasts recently where the discussion for each movie is around an hour long even without going into spoilers on the plot. Has been a lot of stuff I have not heard of leading to me buying more DVDs.

    Movie reviewing is hard, I have been attempting to do it for over a decade and seem to be standing still. Not withstanding the bloodletting of journalists in Australia I have only ever been asked to share my reviews once on another website and that ended badly.

  2. Well, I’ve done plenty of radio talking about most avenues of mass media and popular culture, and I’ve written more pages of reviews for print than most anyone including me would care to think about, so looking around the extensive Web-O-Leaps blodge site staff, I’m probably the best person to respond.

    Umm, I tend to think that anyone – even given the implicit license to indulge provided by a plodcast format – taking one hour to review a movie is (choose as many of the following options as apply): (a) stretching a point; (b) having a tug; (c) a clear-cut case of having no earthly concept of the likely attention span of listeners.

    This also reveals that they basically don’t know what they’re doing, which they have in common with the vast majority of those in various mediums flailing around while achieving nothing, calling themselves critics and not even making it as reviewers.

    You invariably (should) address certain points as a reviewer: what the film is trying to do (what’s it about – genre and basic plot/style content); how well it does it; – those are actually the main questions right there.

    Then there’s the more essential of the subsidiary ones – was the thing it was basically trying to do worth doing, or how worthy was it; does the way it did it in any way effectively ameliorate or otherwise how worthy the aim of the picture was; what were the aspects of the picture (acting. cinematography, effects, etc) that worked and didn’t and how vital they were to achieving its aim.

    If you speak to the point and don’t faff around, even for a relatively complex movie (and there’s not a ton of those around these days) you should be able to get through that within five-ten minutes on air and around 600-800 words in print should be plenty.

    Hoping an audience will stick around for an hour while you play finger-hockey with your navel lint is insane. 15 minutes a very generous allotment of time for a chat about one movie, unless Orson Welles has come back from the dead for a bit of a chinwag about “Magnificent Ambersons” and why he did that movie with Pia Zadora.

    Re ‘movie reviewing is hard’.

    Well, just writing a review – for those who have no particular mind-shrivelling terror of the blank page, and feel they have some facility for writing a piece for public consumption anyway – it’s do-able.

    But unless an individual has a particular insight or approach or some other range of skills and aptitudes that marks them from the rest of the pack, they’ll be just one more person with an opinion about movies, and those are in about as short a supply as book-dust and mosquitoes.

    This also probably answers the point you mentioned re other sites and other would-be reviewers. Who would be running around seeking extra competition? Violent oversupply is the predicament.

    Of course in this remarkably advanced day and age, you can get onto the mob I’m with or some other provider of magical imaginary interweb space and throw up your own “Tim C’s Movie Review MasterWorld” blodge-site entirely for free and gratis.

  3. I couldn’t agree with you more here, LLL. The type of writing on TV in poo-towns papers is astonishing for all the reasons you’ve given. But even if we’re kind (and I don’t know why we should be, but just for the sake of not simultaneously raging and crying, let’s do it), and accept that the average reader doesn’t want a ‘review’ in any sense of the word, but just wants to know something about the show, so they can decide whether to turn their chair around from the dinner table, and point it towards the TV, they’re going to be out of luck there as well.

    Most of these reviews/summaries/???’s remind me of a certain family member who would watch a football game from start to finish, and then when you ask how it went (meaning, you would like some sense of who won, by how much, things like that), would answer something like ‘Sydney kicked a goal and then kicked a point’, which tells you exactly two things about the game (Sydney were one of the teams, and they weren’t scoreless). True, this is more insight than what you get from listening to the average TV football commentary, but that doesn’t make it worth anything.

    I think the battle might be lost, though.

  4. Yes, battle is lost. One quickish scan of what goes in the papers here under the guise of criticism confirms that straight away, well at least it does once the hysterical laughter, and crying, and the six months of therapy is out of the way.

    The football match description isn’t a bad analogy for what those folks substitute for criticism. (To be honest, regarding the next bit you wrote, there isn’t a match description on radio or television, no matter how poor they may become at times, which doesn’t more aptly summarise a game or passage of play than the Nerf Criticism we have in the papers now ‘reviews’ a TV show.)

    There’s one reasonably good writer who does ‘get’ many aspects of popular culture, or at least did decades back – and those are two factors that mark the person as so far out of the norm for reviewing movies, TV shows or whatever in the mainstream media that he/she must got the job by accident, or winning the Friday meat tray rally.
    (Maybe they were a vegetarian so they threw them a reviewing job instead.)

    But some years ago, he/she settled into a pattern that saw most of the reviews having nothing much you’d mark down in the way of telling insight, but reliably containing roughly 85% plot description. That’s not a review, it’s a house and contents listing.

    All of the others that I can think of are way-hey-hey-HEY worse.

    The credentials these people seem to have is that they like to watch TV, and/or they like to go to the movies, and writing about them in the paper beats working in a sheet-metal factory.

    All of which may be true, except for the part where any of it represents credentials that would qualify you for doing the job properly.

    Although I appreciate the point you were trying to make out of the “being kind” theory early on, and realise it has nothing to do with what I’m about to say, I’d just like to pursue a different departure re the notion that the average reader might not want a conventional review (but does want to know sufficient evaluative and denotative info about it that they can decide whether to plonk self down and veg in front of it for an hour, or whatever, on the night in question).

    Two things, re that.
    1) Speaking to the latter point first, a competently written conventional review would have given them that information.
    The main factors in a review (my opinion), as I said in answer to Tim’s email above, are:
    – What is the show/movie about? What is its genre/style/approach/setting, and its ‘hook’ in how, if at all, it does these things differently from other similar shows?
    – How well does it do what it set out to do?

    That’s not all there is to reviewing something well, or comprehensively, but those are essential considerations.

    And if you covered those, hapless armchair Victim At Home ought to have enough info at hand to know whether that show is right up his/her alley and sounds promising, or sounds like it might be a bit of a woofer but it’s in a genre/area they love so they’ll like it anyway, or complete anathema to them and to Satan with it and its like.

    2) The folks at home don’t inherently know what they want re reviews, or show/movie content.
    This is not the start of some patronising screed re the blancmange like inert-mindedness of the consumer, or anything like that.

    Instead it speaks to the point made towards the end of my ravings & flailings above, in reference to the quality of the media execs we get in this country and what we have to put up with across all media as a result.

    Although the Victim At Home is endlessly if fitfully polled and tracked and questioned and prodded and poked by agents of the folks who run the media here, re what they do, don’t, would or wouldn’t like to see and hear – generally via the long-since enshrined polling methods of asking entirely the wrong questions – they’re absolutely the wrong people to ask any question about a putative future of anything. Questions like “What type of review should you see, or would you like to see?” and “If you’re tired of the usual kinds of movies/TV shows/songs on the radio, what would you like to see, see and hear instead”, which are the kinds of questions asked, are not only barking up the wrong tree, they’re barking up the Washington Monument instead, and on a different planet with a different Washington Monument (but presumably more liberal dog-walking laws).

    It’s not the consumer’s job to know what he or she might want. They don’t get paid, nor have the inclination or mental orientation (well, at least in 99.99 out of 100 cases) to cogitate or speculate on that sort of matter. They’ve got work to go to, screen doors to fix, kids to drop off, kids to pick up, folks to catch up with on the weekend, and all the other lively vivid horrors and delights of suburbia as we live it.

    They have very few moments (I mean “none”) where they sit at leisure in a convenient armchair and think to themselves, “You know, I’m dissatisfied with the conventional type of movie/TV show/review of same. If it were up to me, bringing all my imaginative powers on this sad state of affairs, here’s exactly the type of improved model of movie/TV show/review of same I might care to see instead, and I’ll draw up the blueprints later.”

    Clearly this will never happen on our planet Earth while it continues to revolve around the Sun.

    The media execs mostly have it pretty cushy here. It’s not a competitive shark pit like the USA, where they actually have to produce in a major way from time to time. They’re just one cog in between other cogs, some of whom are one level below and some one level above.

    They’re precisely the ones – if they were any good at what their job really should be, (but isn’t in this country) – who should be producing, or even synthesising from other ideas and sources would be something, the answers to these kinds of questions.

    Whither television? A TV exec should be coming up with that, but they’re busy delegating minions (these days consultants and outsourced expensive minions, probably) to ask the loveable knotheads on the lounge-room sofa to try and do their work for them – the very people more ill-equipped to fulfil these tasks than any living entity in this country that doesn’t have to wear a metal disc licence around their neck.

    Whither the musical content of commercial radio? Same deal.

    Whither criticism and reviewing as it appears in the mass media? The last thing you’d do is ask the Victim At Home. Probably between what used to be 38 levels of demarcation-resistant editorial “titles” one of them or even more of them might have had a stab at defining it, had they had a clue in that area.

    You don’t look to the public to lead. In the end they don’t anyway. Eventually, the media makes its own decisions, no matter how paltry, deeply, cripplingly, counter-productively conservative and scaredy-cat these might be. They might try to convince themselves that they tapped deeply into the public consciousness and “gave them what they wanted”, but this is seldom if ever the case.

    Look at the Herald Sun. One feels quietly confident that, in world history, nobody has ever tried to suck up to the people and what they supposedly want as much as this newspaper. But it’s still a kind of disguise. They impose every bit as much as they kowtow.

    Ask a couple of hundred people exiting a supermarket whether they want any media source to tell them which side of politics to support, let alone to bully, wheedle, cajole and blatantly propagandise them into doing do. Answer, she would come back, “100% – No”. We’ll eat Snake Tales and the “Confidential” double-page spread if we absolutely have to and try not to snort coffee out of our nose with laughter if we accidentally catch one of those hilarious Editorials, but please don’t harp on trying to brainwash us who to vote for. All this nagging makes me feel like I’ve entered a bad marriage, and that’s not what you buy a newspaper for anyway. Got it? (Well, something like that.)

    Whether it’s Rupie-Baby himself, some Very Important assistant-Rupie-Baby with his white shirt-fronted chest perpetually stuck out like the front end of an ocean-liner, or editorial minions further down the line, yea even unto the Herald Sun itself, THEY made the decision to garnish the sport section and Hagar the Horrible with brain-battering bullshit political propaganda on a continual basis, not the poor schlub in his driveway. They only bow to the people’s wishes to an extent. Ultimately, as mealy-mouthed as the media execs here routinely are about it, they eventually make some kind of decision. As weak, ill-considered, and antiquated as those decisions might be, and traditionally are.

    So the public can’t lead, and the executives are incapable of useful innovation (something their job description should automatically demand, or what’s the point of the lot of them), and not only that, they can’t maintain standards that previously prevailed because they’re dumb as the proverbial box of rocks, and don’t understand Thingo One-o about the very medium they’re working in.

    To give one example that kind of vaguely snaps back to our original orbit, how could a newspaper (or newspaper’s website) editor identify that the standard of reviewing/criticism in that paper had slipped below any even vaguely acceptable standard and then ameliorate the situation, when neither the section editor nor anyone above him has any aptitude in that area, or knowledge or understanding of what criticism is, what its function is/was, and what its history is?

    And in fact, (or apparent fact as can be observed on a daily basis, and that I’d written about going back decades now), they don’t care. You can crawl up into the daily media here and write any twaddle you like about popular culture, because you’re not going to get called on it by the powers that be at your paper, because the papers here never regarded that stuff as “real news” or whatever. Their only real “main part of the paper” interest in, say, movies, was which ones made most money, and were Aussie stars making it big overseas.

    If you tried to get away with the level of half-baked quarter-informed clueless gibberish that passes for “lively arts” writing in the papers here, only you tried it on a sport story, I reckon that even as far as standards have fallen, you’d still get a pretty mighty boot in the arse for your efforts, and a probable vocational guidance speech on how writing about sport might not be your calling, possibly with a helpful indication that a sheet-metal factory can have its plus points for potential employees.

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