Seeing the world through fan-colored glasses: Pondering a critical stance in-between

[This was provoked by about four different conversations I’ve had lately, so you may recognize yourself in this post. Thanks.]

This is a post about the place and extent of criticism; musings about where to draw certain lines; there is no ultimate rule to be determined.

I don’t have a straight story to tell, anymore. Am I acting, or reacting? What’s the happy medium?

One friend told me her honest impression of Richard Armitage in The Crucible and then told me she was worried about my possible reaction to her remarks, because she thought I was drastically over-invested in him. It puzzled me; I wonder if I give the impression that other people’s opinions of him impact me? (Or maybe it’s that I give the impression that other people’s opinions don’t impact me?) Then again, I know that the mere impulse to point things out that have different interpretations, when a fan does it, is seen by outsiders as evidence of partisanship. So if someone says something incorrect and I set him/her straight, that’s taken as evidence not of my honesty but of parti pris. I am not sure there’s any way around that.

Someone else, a fellow fan, said to me recently that she didn’t think she’d looked at anything Richard Armitage had done objectively. Me neither, I thought. By the second time I looked, I was implicated myself, and soon after, I was watching with eyes of love. Is it wrong to look that way, as long as I am honest?

I have never thought that being a fan keeps me from noticing things. It may make me think the things I notice are less important than they are to other people, I suppose. Or it may affect the categories of things I notice.

In general, I think, the way to go in reviewing a piece of work is to accept something for what it is, so I can evaluate it on its own terms — and frankly, if I know that I can’t make that initial step or initial evidence suggests it will be impossible (Fargo on television, for example), simply to stay away from it. If the stakes are so high that any disappointment would be crushing, then taking that risk is foolish. I do think some experiences of the arts are so beautiful that they do not need to be complicated with criticism (though which things those are will be will different for each of us).

I don’t think that everything Richard Armitage does falls into the category of automatic like (My dislike of Vicar of Dibley, for instance, is well known), but most things don’t fall into that category of automatic dislike either. Most things have to be evaluated. Which means: taking something seriously on its own terms. Seeing it from the perspective of what it thinks it is supposed to do, and giving my own reaction to whether it’s achieved that or not. We could get into the whole question of criticism of the form or content of a project (and I do that here, too, as with my series on The Crucible, and I did it in synergy with an analysis of acting choices, as I did for Spooks 9), but that’s generally a matter of critical observation as opposed to critical opinion-making. I try to recognize and concede, when I review something, that my opinion is not absolute. Although people seem inevitably to think that I am speaking that way, I have a hard time reading other people’s reviews that imply if you don’t agree with them, your intelligence is substandard.

I admit that I sometimes feel under fire about these things. If I’m familiar with the work and it is an adaptation of something that means something me, even if my general impression of it is positive, any indication that I don’t love every second of it is taken by some readers as snark. On the other hand, if I’m not all that critical of it, because I don’t think the work itself asks to be taken all that seriously, then I get criticized for not being critical enough, too much of a fangirl. Or, in the case of an adaptation, for not taking the original work seriously enough (even if taking the original work seriously is not a dealbreaker for me, because if it mattered that much to me, I’d avoid seeing it).

Anyway, all of this is mostly reflection for myself on how I should be writing. I think I’m particularly sensitive to the reproof that I am not critical enough because it is the job of an academic to be critical. On the other hand, I was never like that as a teacher. I always looked for the thing to praise first and valued the praiseworthy things more heavily than the things in need of correction when evaluating and grading. (And in fact, the increasing pressure not to do this — the increasing need to grade with absolute dealbreakers as it was caused not only by administrators but also by the students themselves — was one of the thing that pushed me out of instruction.)

But, I think, on the whole — becoming a fan has made me not less critical but more accepting, and possibly happier about the things I see. More empathetic (if not necessarily intellectually in agreement) with the love that people have for the things that please them. Less willing to snipe at an intense love, because I know how immoderacy has made me able to feel, has positively influenced my own life, has made me more generous. And that’s a way I like to be, when I have a chance. And a stance I intend to protect the emotional and rhetorical and electronic space for.

~ by Servetus on August 17, 2014.

23 Responses to “Seeing the world through fan-colored glasses: Pondering a critical stance in-between”

  1. Serv, I think you’re very generous! I’m intimidated at times by your intelligence but not because of anything you do to make me feel that way.

    I too strive to be more accepting, more empathetic and more generous. Sometimes I succeed and other times it is a struggle. I’m referring to RL as well as my online life.


    • Thanks — guess I am trying to reorient myself after reading a spate of opinions.

      I think generosity is really hard. It’s not always my first impulse in RL either.


  2. Oh, thanks for being generous when the heart is involved. I feel I can go overboard sometimes in my particular RA-related passion, but I do make an effort to stand back and see things from others’ perspectives. (I certainly know how immoderacy has made ME feel!)
    We need only agree on the pleasure of being a fan of Richard’s craft. We can’t all possibly relate to his every work or words the same way. But it IS fun to be part of a group that understands something of the impact Mr. Armitage has made in our lives.
    I love that we all love him in our own way.


  3. Servetus, the reason that your blog has become so important to me is because of you being so open and truthful and you convey that in a very intellectual and warm sense of obligation to your self and your readers. I love it and can relate to it. I know that I am sharing something in my life which I cannot share with others. Does that mean I agree with everything you say, absolutely not, but I enjoy that. None of us really know RA, but because we admire him so much we all have our own dreams of what we would like from this individual, and we all come from very different places in life, so we cannot agree on everything, except that he is a very special person and we love him for it. We certainly all have that in common, and as trudystattle said we can all love him in our own way.


    • Thanks, Bernice — it’s not so much about people’s reactions per se (which I can’t control) it’s about figuring out where I stand in terms of my own thinking about how to write (critical reviews). Obviously reactions factor into that.

      This has been a larger issue over the INternet lately, with some publications now declaring they will not publish snarky or unkind reviews …


  4. I’ve been wondering about these same issues lately myself, mostly due to my criticisms of the “Outlander” tv series and also my positive feelings towards “Into the Storm”. I think being familiar with Richard’s work and his style, I’m judging with different criteria than I would something/someone that I didn’t know as much about. sometimes I am giving a more positive review b/c of what I already know, like for Into the storm/Richard, yet other times my thoughts are negative b/c of what I already know, as they are for Outlander and it’s character traits.

    I can’t undo what I already know about a subject. and I’ve often been told that I can “sell” anything, which I’ve never quite known if that is meant as a compliment or a dig. so I feel like by being a fan of something my thoughts about it, good or bad, are automatically not to be taken seriously :/


    • I was following you until the last sentence.

      Someone approached me in a coffee shop recently and asked me about my computer (someone who was thinking about switching from PC to Mac). I told him straight out that I’d used both but that I tended to buy Mac for myself, and the long list of positive reasons why — and that I was a fan of the Mac machines but that I had been using them extensively since 1991. If you are a fan of something, you know it very well and to me that would mean that (as long as you were honest about the presuppositions involved in your judgment) your thoughts should be taken very seriously. I think it’s why we can’t automatically discount the criticisms the pre-films Hobbit fans make of Jackson, even if we don’t always understand and agree with them.


      • if I’m know to be a fan of Richard, then I’m seen as viewing anything he does through rose-colored glasses. and yet it also goes the other way, like with book adaptations: since I’m so familiar with it, then of course I’m not going to be happy with any changes. (neither is true for me. if I like something just because then I will freely admit that, without trying to justify it through facts/details)


        • well, you might be positive because you’re a fan, or you might be positive because something is good. How do you tell the difference?

          I just wonder where the line falls on adaptations of things we love. As a general rule, my last SO would tell you, Serv always thinks “the book was better than the film.” I feel that way about a lot of Harry Potter, for instance. But I’m not negative about the films.

          With Into the Storm, I do think my general positivity about the film going in was based on Armitage — particularly because in my current financial situation I’d never pay to say this film in a theater, as it’s not in my usual schedule of genres of things I would love. I agree that’s a big presupposition of positivity. I also think that my willingness to think about or try to explain what Armitage might be doing (as opposed to just writing off what doesn’t immediately make sense to me) is based on the positive regard he gets from me as a fan.

          And there was one piece of the film that I thought was pretty awful — the script. But beyond saying that it’s reductive and simplistic, what am I going to do about that now? Detailed negative criticism has no effect at all on the outcome — it serves only my own intellectual gratification.

          At the same time, particularly if I think about the action / CGI aspects of the film, there were aspects of it that were of wide appeal (as other audience measures show and comments from people who are not fans of the actors). So if I like those things (or am willing to be more positive about them) because of Armitage, or I just like them, how do we know? And does that distinction really matter, if, on the whole, those things have broad audience appeal?


          • I normally would not go to see a film like ITS, though I might see it on dvd b/c I like action-thrillers, just not disaster films specifically. so I was expecting it to be a thrill ride, fun-if a little scary, instead of being rooted in realism. it fulfilled those preconceived notions for me, with the added benefit of character development that I did not expect. with the Outlander book I kept hearing how close it was going to stick to the book and so that is what I expected, yet that is not what I got, thus my disappointment. so, as always, my expectations play a huge role in how I am able to receive something!


            • hmm — maybe it’s that I don’t believe it any more when I hear how something will stick closely to the book. It’s like something they have to say, because if they said — this piece is inspired by the book — the core audiences would have no incentive to care.


  5. One thing I was wondering about the last few weeks is my own predisposition in seeing something new — that is, I feel like in general I start off optimistic, and if it turns out that I don’t like something, my response is usually to think, oh well, and just leave it alone. But that’s not always the case (as, e.g., with Fargo, and I’m so afraid of what might happen with a poor adaptation of The Hunger Games that I haven’t even ever seen a trailer!). So what is it that flips that hyper-negative switch that means any little problem turns into a huge problem? I have an issue along those lines with the script of The Crucible, for instance. Is this another identity battle issue?


    • does how strongly you feel about the original factor in to whether you are able to just let it go or need to make something more of it?


      • Yes, I think, but it’s more complex than that. I am not a huge fan of the Hunger Games, for instance, in that I’ve only read the books once — so you could so I don’t feel so strongly about them, maybe. Or maybe the question is why I feel so strongly about certain things.


  6. Fascinating post on a fascinating topic. Too many thoughts to process and type, but on the whole: YES. How about that for a non-specific, not-very-helpful piece of response? lol It’s like my Tolkien fangirly-ness… some discount my opinions on the movies because I’m too much a fan of the books, others because I’m not enough a fan of the books, because I don’t know what color underpants Glorfindel favored on the Thursdays the Entmoot met (mooted?) after the Entwives disappeared. Phhhppphphpt. Whatever. You almost can’t have an opinion if you’re going to worry about it pleasing other people, so you might as well just have your opinion. That’s what it’s for, anyway. That, and appreciating Richard’s delicious bum-bum. Wait. I said that out loud. I guess I’m saying, “go on, Sister!!” 😀

    See? Clear as mud.

    Also, bum-bum. MUWHA!!


    • The Hobbit is a great test case, actually, because that was one moment when this problem really became acute for me. I still don’t completely understand everything that was going on there, except that it was suddenly verboten from multiple directions to like the second film (shrugs) or to try to defend it. It was if the fact that I liked it and wanted to talk about why it was a good film automatically made me persona non grata amongst those who did not.


      • lol I felt exactly the opposite: my visceral dislike of the 2nd movie (& specifically, the changes that had been made to “Hollywood-ize” the book) was so hissed at by RA fans that I backed off it and found things to like about the flick – it’s not hard for me to see both sides of an argument, actually – so I could avoid the stridency of the pro-Hobbit camp. I am both amused (in a dark way, you know?) and saddened that we felt the opposite sides of that backlash. It was one of the moments that I first held up my hands and started backing away from the fandom, in fact. lol When I thought, “Ok, but if we can’t have different opinions BECAUSE OMG RICHARD ARMITAGE IS INVIOLATE (and that could equally go for OMG TOLKIEN IS INVIOLATE on the other side), then one of us is crazypants.” And I think we’re seeing this played out again with RA’s social life and people who can’t bear to see their artificial constructs of him violated (even by him).


  7. I am enjoying being a part of the RA fandom. The thing that bothers me is the amount of negativity. I’m not talking about having a different opinion, I’m talking about getting down on someone for having an opinion different than your own.

    This may sound crazy but I think rigidity is at the root of a lot of the world’s problems. The inability or unwillingness to see anything except our own way. Life has handed me experiences that have forced me to look at things differently than I did when I began.

    I have watched quite a few TV shows and movies that I never would have watched if I hadn’t been interested in RA. Some of the shows I procrastinated on watching (Sparkhouse for example) for my own personal reasons. Then someone in the fandom talked about what they liked (with Sparkhouse it was Kelbel I believe) and I ended up watching and enjoying the show. I have an aversion to watching violence yet I have watched Strike Back more than once.

    I feel like I’m rambling now and may be way, way off topic. Sorry Serv 😦


    • I suppose everyone has a few things they are rigid on (I have one or two myself). This has been an unusually negative year, though a lot of that has been caused primarily by a handful of trolls and the people who reacted to them. What I hope is that everyone’s learned to keep their cool 🙂


  8. […] fangirls have a stance in-between. But, actually, I can observe everything in detail and have an incredibly transformative reaction […]


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