Friday, February 22, 2013

Treatise on the power of positivity or something

at 6:33 PM
Here at GNG we delve pretty deep into rabbit holes of subjectivity and, for lack of a better term, taste.  Yourself has mentioned at least once his ambition to spend more time considering the things he enjoys about games rather than brooding over faults, and essentially nitpicking games to death as so many other reviewers of media are wont to do.  I have much respect for this particular goal; too often people looking to assess a particular thing come to see it as their responsibility to exploit fault or error.  Some of this, I think, can be blamed on a culture of what I'll call ironic cynicism in media.  We can point blame at post-modernism for finally seeping into our collective conscious; so much of our art claims self-reference as its key principle, and our criticism follows in its need to deconstruct rather than appreciate.  There is a sort of snarkiness with which we dismiss sincerity of idea in art.  I see it as a sort of defensive mechanism: if we appreciate, respect, or, god forbid, claim to be inspired by something, then we leave ourselves open to attack from others who have found a flaw, or worse yet, already found the next best thing.  Value judgement claims, in my mind, are much more easily made if negative, rather than positive.  
But, like, what IS art, man?
What I'm saying may not seem applicable to you.  In fact, odds are that it doesn't, at least not fully.  But, as someone who spends some time on Reddit, but more time reading news outlets like SalonSlateThe New Yorker, and The Daily Beast, these are merely observations of what I perceive as all too common currents in cultural criticism.

Let's take my phrased posit of subjectivity, previously commented on the blog, as a given:  "I dig Wagner, but it's all just music. None of it exists on some higher plane of art than any other, and to pretend it does is another attempt to impose the subjective values with which you judge music on the entire medium."

The purpose of this rant isn't to argue the point above.  If you happen to disagree than that's fine (you idiot), but the issue I want to raise is more normative.  Here is we delve deep into my mind and explore the inane pseudo-observations within.

People take this ironic cynicism to an extreme I find unnerving.  It's as if there is more pleasure to be gained from hating something that is *subjectively* unpleasant than there is loving something *subjectively* pleasant.  The vitriolic criticism flung at so-and-so pop musician is often an emotional step above praising, I don't know, Mumford and Sons or something else people consider hip.  That's if some such praise is ever expressed.  And so not only are these criticisms harmful because they're often supposedly situated objectively, but they fail to satisfy the part of us that should be filled actually enjoying and considering enjoyable things.  
Baby, baby, baby, ohhhhh
This isn't to say people shouldn't acquire taste.  Personal preference will always play a part in artistic consumption, as it should.  But if one tendency of these ironic cynics is to focus on the negative, another is to be hyper-selective.  Some approach new music, art, games, and movies with a "this is awful and merit-less until its quality is validated by the approval of *insert online publication or forum*" attitude that blends well with the need to deeply criticize items exogenous of our comfortable consumption.  And what this does is limit our artistic purview.
I only engage with video games stamped with the iconic gng symbol of approval, for example.
Maybe more troubling is that hyper-criticism in its often ironic mode spirals out towards a deeper cultural insensitivity.  Falling into the trap of rote negative perception becomes habitual and counterproductive. Using an argument that is, admittedly, implying a slippery slope, the cynic reserves his cultural stock due to their fear of commitment to an artistic work. And because we are uncomfortable with connection to something serious and meaningful we go on to forfeit our ability to make value claims in criticism, or even as an artist.  

There's probably more to be said here.  Maybe I foolishly yearn for the pre-internet world, where the majority had less-ready access to other people's opinions, en masse.  Sure, for video game consumption, you could get an EGM subscription and be brain washed just a bit.  But the crowd mentality of the internet and worse, internet communities, had not yet taken hold of us.  I suffer symptoms as much as the next man; relying on NYtimes book review for much of what I read or scrolling through Rotten Tomatoes for reviewers I judge as having "valid" taste.  And lord knows there's more than a hint of distaste, mentally, when the movie is panned for whatever reason.  What on earth could a movie rated "rotten" have to offer me?  There's never been a work of art originally panned by critics that had cultural significance, right?

TL;DR: You should try to approach media from a position of positive reception rather than an ironically cynical one, because otherwise you might slowly forfeit your ability to truly enjoy something, say, a video game.

Man this was a weird little foray into my worldview, huh?