Why Do Critics Have A Reputation For Being Cynical ? – A Ramble

Well, for today, I thought that I’d do something a bit different and talk about critics. This is mostly because I’ve had something of a slight insight into being a critic due to the occasional reviews that I write on here. When I first started writing reviews on here about 4-5 years ago, I was determined not to be like those critics. You know the ones I mean, the snooty ones who never seem to like anything.

In other words, I often only reviewed things that I really, really liked and could give positive reviews to. Of course, this has changed over the years.

In fact, this article was prompted by the fact that this review of mine ended up containing a lot more criticism than I originally expected. Yet, I don’t consider it to be a “bad” review (seriously, it’s a good show!). But, in a sudden moment of clarity, I realised that I’d turned into the type of critic I once wanted to avoid becoming.

So, why do critics have a reputation for being cynical?

There are several reasons for this. The first is simply that they’ve had more experience with reviewing things, not to mention that if someone is even vaguely interested in criticism then they’ve probably seen/watched/read/played quite a lot of stuff (or they will in the course of finding things to review). What this all means is that critics often have a larger frame of reference when making comparisons and judgements.

For example, one of my regular review features on here is reviewing fan-made levels for “Doom II“. When I started doing this, I hadn’t really played that many of these levels – so, I was amazed by what people could do with this classic game. But, once I’d played a lot more levels, I started spotting things like commonly re-used graphics, common changes to the game, common level design techniques etc.. So, I was less amazed by these things than I used to be. This has probably led to mildly less awe-struck reviews, even though I still consider “Doom II” to be one of my favourite games.

Another reason is because I’m not a professional critic (nor would I really want to be). Whilst professional critics getting free advance review copies from film studios, game developers etc… is a good thing for a whole host of reasons, there’s also a place for critics (like me) who don’t get these – and don’t want them. But, both professional and amateur criticsm can result in more cynical-sounding reviews for different reasons.

Since I’m not a professional critic, I mostly review things that are older, second-hand, discounted, free (for everyone) etc.. Although this means that I get to review more interesting/random stuff and can look at things that are overlooked by professional critics who have to review the latest things, this has also forced me to pay more attention to whether something is worth the time and/or money that the audience needs to invest in it. And, as such, this can sometimes result in more cynical-sounding reviews.

Professional critics, on the other hand, don’t have to worry about the cost of the things they review. In theory, this ideally means that all products are on a level playing field and can be considered purely on their artistic merits. Likewise, advance copies given to professional critics mean that they can inform consumers on the day that something is released.

All of this stuff is a necessary counterbalance to things like manufactured hype and advertising (and it’s why you should be very, very wary if a film studio or a game developer refuses to give professional critics advance access). But, seeing the contrast between a more formal professional evaluation of something new and the idealised, rose-tinted portrayal of it in advertising can make a more “realistic” review look cynical by comparison.

Finally, one reason that critics can sound cynical is because reviews often serve a dual function these days. As well as being a guide for consumers, they’re also often a type of entertainment too. This often means that reviews include humour more regularly than they used to a few decades ago. Of course, one of the best sources of humour is joking about the thing that you’re reviewing, which can include everything from occasional affectionate humour to constant merciless ridicule.

But, when this isn’t done in the right way, it can often make it look like the reviewer is some kind of bitter cynic who can do nothing more than point and laugh at things other people make (and some reviewers can actually make this genuinely entertaining, but some can’t). Likewise, if you’re a fan of something, then you might not appreciate critics ridiculing it. So, humour can sometimes explain why critics appear to be more cynical than they actually are.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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Today’s Art (15th January 2018)

Well, I was feeling slightly uninspired – so, this digitally-edited painting is a modern remake of a drawing that I originally made in 2010. Whilst I still have a copy of the original drawing somewhere, my scan of the full image got lost in a computer crash I had that year. For some reason, I only bothered recovering a detail from the picture I’d posted to DeviantART. And this is what I remade.

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“Detail – Violinist (II)” By C. A. Brown

Four Reasons Why We Enjoy Things That Are “So Bad That They’re Good”

I’m sure that I’ve written about this subject before, but I ended up thinking about things that are “so bad that they’re good” recently.

This was mostly because I ended up playing part of a computer game from 2003 called “Deus Ex: Invisible War”. Although it’ll be a while until I post a full review of it here, it’s a perfect example of something that is “so bad that it’s good”.

If you’ve never heard of this game before, it was the sequel to a game from 2000 called “Deus Ex” (which is widely regarded as a masterpiece). The sequel, on the other hand, isn’t a masterpiece. I could spend quite a while listing it’s many faults but, strangest of all, I actually find them to be slightly endearing. So, I thought that I’d look at a few reasons why things that are “so bad that they’re good” are so enjoyable.

1) Forewarning and curiosity: One of the reasons why things that are “so bad that they’re good” are so enjoyable is because the audience is often forewarned of this fact by either reading reviews or just by looking at the packaging/promotional material for something. For example, if you see a DVD in a bargain bin with a slightly cheesy title and some slightly shoddy cover art, then you know that it probably isn’t Oscar material.

However, hearing that something is hilariously terrible will probably make you curious about how or why it gained that reputation. As such, it means that you are likely to start watching, playing etc… the thing in question with an attitude of amused curiosity. This attitude generally results in a much more enjoyable experience than if you just approach it in the way that you would approach an “ordinary” game, film etc…

However, if the audience isn’t forewarned, then these things lead to nothing but disappointment and frustration. So, forewarning is a key part of why things that are “so bad that they’re good” can be enjoyable.

2) Adorability: Simply put, things that are “so bad that they’re good” are adorable. This is because they are often examples of someone really trying to make something good using whatever limited skills or resources they have.

For example, one of the reasons why “Deus Ex: Invisible War” is such an endearingly terrible game is because, unlike the original “Deus Ex”, it was originally designed to also run on the original Xbox console. Since this console wasn’t even close to computers of the time in terms of processing power, memory etc.. there were a lot more limitations. As an example, here’s how the first two “Deus Ex” games depict nightclubs:

This screenshot from “Deus Ex (2000)” shows part of a sprawling nightclub with a large dancefloor and several large balconies.

This screenshot from “Deus Ex: Invisible War” (2003) shows the whole dancefloor of a nightclub. Yes, this little room is the entire dancefloor!

Yet, the people behind the game still tried to make a good “Deus Ex” game with these limited resources. Yes, they failed. But, the fact that they actually tried is extremely adorable.

Things that are “so bad that they’re good” are enjoyable for the simple reason that they show us someone trying to make something great. They show us that the people who made these things were enthusiastic. They are examples of hope and ambition.

3) “I can do better!”: I can’t remember where I read this, but I vaguely remember reading something about the horror author Shaun Hutson – where he apparently pointed out that one of the things that got him into writing horror fiction was reading a badly-written horror novel and thinking “I can do better than this!“.

If you are a creative person (or want to be one), then seeing things that are “so bad that they’re good” can make you feel better about yourself by comparison. It can also make you feel less disappointed about your own failures, for the simple reason that other people fail too. It can also motivate you to actually create something just to see if you can make something better.

4) Cheapness and counterculture: Finally, another reason why things that are “so bad that they’re good” are so enjoyable is because they are often both cheap and (most of the time) non-mainstream. Since things that fall into this category are often either made on a low budget, are sold at a reduced price to recoup any expenses and/or are quickly dumped in second-hand shops by unsatisfied customers, they often tend to be slightly on the cheaper side of things.

So, we tend to feel like we’re getting more value for money when we find something that is “so bad that it’s good”. It also reassures us of the quality of any more expensive things that we’ve bought too.

Likewise, there’s a certain perverse thrill to looking at films, games etc.. that are widely considered to be terrible and unpopular. There’s a slight sense of sticking two fingers up at popular culture telling us what we “should” watch, read, play etc.. So, this can also explain why these kinds of things can be so enjoyable.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

The Joy Of… Genre Fluidity

As regular readers of this site know, I tend to write these articles quite far in advance. As such, last April, I found myself thinking about genre fluidity after looking at some of the media surrounding the heavy metal genre. “Metal Hammer” magazine had been revived a few months earlier and I’d also been binge-watching a Youtube channel filled with quite a few heavy metal- themed lists too.

Although it had been a while since I’d really looked at all of the media surrounding the heavy metal genre, one of the changes I was glad to see was that generic, shouty mid-late 2000s metalcore was less of a popular thing than it used to be. But, one of the things that really surprised me was that there was even more genre fluidity in the metal genre than I remember.

For example, two modern bands recommended in the two issues of “Metal Hammer” that I read weren’t the sort of thing that you’d traditionally expect to see in a metal magazine.

One of the bands, “Creeper”, is a band who are kind of like an AFI-style gothic punk band, mixed with mid-2000s indie music. Another song I found on Youtube after a recommendation from the magazine (“Cult Drugs” by Blood Command) sounds a little bit like the kind of synthesiser-heavy nightclub music (eg: Crystal Castles, Alphabeat etc..) that was popular in the late 2000s.

Likewise, I was pleasantly surprised to see that this list of “hard rock and metal protest anthems[NSFW] on the metal-themed Youtube channel I mentioned earlier consisted of about one-third punk bands. I’d always thought that metal and punk were supposed to be very different genres and, yet, seeing the two of them together was really cool. It was like my two favourite musical genres rolled into one.

All of this, naturally, made me think about the whole subject of genre fluidity and how awesome it is.

As I’ve mentioned numerous times, one of the best ways to create something truly original is to have a wide range of different inspirations. The more inspirations you have, the more original your creative works will be.

The thing to remember about genres is that they’re artificial things. They were invented to make it easier for people to find the types of stories, films, games etc.. that they like. They’re a descriptive thing, rather than a prescriptive thing. They evolve from creative trends, rather than being a set of rules that people have to follow.

A good example of this process in action is the development of the First-person shooter genre of computer games over the past 25-30 years. Whilst 1993’s “Doom” certainly wasn’t the first FPS game ever made, it was the first one to really gain any level of popularity. As such, it inspired other game developers to make games that were similar to “Doom”. These games were originally called “Doom-clones” by the popular gaming press.

It was only when the genre became even more popular that the more generic term “First-person shooter” was eventually coined. This is kind of like how old “film noir” films apparently weren’t originally called “film noir” at the time they were made, but were referred to as “melodramas” etc.. at the time, with the descriptive “film noir” genre label being applied slightly later.

So, regardless of what some traditionalists might say, genres aren’t set in stone. They’re a byproduct of creative people being inspired by other creative people. They’re something that bookshops, record stores, game shops etc.. use to make things easier for their customers. They certainly aren’t meant to restrict creativity in any way.
In fact, most new genres appear because someone “breaks the rules” and mixes or modifies elements from pre-existing genres.

So, yes, genre fluidity is awesome 🙂

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Three Basic Things To Do If You Start Running Out Of Inspiration In The Middle Of A Painting

There is nothing more annoying than when a painting starts out really well but, about halfway through making it, you suddenly find that you’re either running out of enthusiasm, or you just don’t know how you’re going to finish the painting.

Typically, this tends to be something like “what should I make the background look like?” or “this painting needs something extra, but I’m not sure what” and it is incredibly annoying when it happens. So, here are a few basic things that you can do in order to actually finish your paintings when this happens:

1) Stock backgrounds: This one takes a bit of preparation, but it can come in handy if your inspiration and/or enthusiasm starts running out halfway through a painting. Basically, all you have to do is to practice drawing or painting one or two types of backgrounds until you get to the point where you can pretty much paint this type of background in your sleep.

Then, if you run out of inspiration halfway through a painting, you can just use this type of well-practiced background. Yes, it might make your painting look a little strange but it’s a quick and easy way to finish a painting that would otherwise be left unfinished.

For example, here’s a reduced-size preview of a digitally-edited painting of mine that will appear here in early-mid February:

The full-size painting will appear here on the 12th February.

This painting was originally going to be set during the 1990s and it was going really well whilst I was drawing the two characters in the foreground. But, when it came to the background, I just didn’t quite know what to draw or paint. Since I’ve been making a lot of cyberpunk art over the past year, I eventually decided to add a random futuristic cyberpunk background. Yes, it looks a little strange, but it allowed me to actually finish the painting.

2) Take a break: If you’re one of those artists who can work on a single piece of art over multiple “sessions”, then just take a break when you start running out of inspiration. Do something to distract yourself and give yourself time to think – go for a walk, play a computer game, do some daydreaming etc.. until you start to get an idea of what you want the rest of your painting to look like.

But, again, this will only work if you’re an artist who can leave a painting unfinished for a while and then return to it. Some artists, like me, vastly prefer to make the whole painting in just one “session”. So, if this is the case for you, then don’t do this – since there’s a good chance that it will just result in you leaving the painting unfinished.

3) Find an inspiration: First of all, be sure that you know how to take inspiration properly. Once you do, then one way to finish a painting that has run out of steam halfway through is simply to look for inspirations.

Remember, the goal here is NOT to copy anything you see, but to look at the general elements (eg: location type, lighting type, colour scheme etc..) of anything that inspires you, in the hope that this will prompt you to find a new and original way to use those general elements in order to finish your painting.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂