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Criticism, Negativity, Lucas and Paranoid Androids

I've been thinking a lot lately about negativity -- in disposition, energy, or whatever you want to call it. I'd be the last one to suggest that we should all have Katrina and the Waves-like personalities. After a meatgrinder of a workday, the last thing I want to hear is "Walkin' on Sunshine." At the same time, there are those who think that wickedly funny is the only meaningful category of Funny, and there are those who saw the Hitchhiker's Guide movie not just as a flawed movie but a betrayal!

The latter example is similar to something I've never understood about the reflexive revulsion some SF fans feel toward George Lucas personally post-Jar Jar. One of them, a best friend who to his credit focuses his ire more consistently on George Lucas post-Ewoks, argues that by making the prequels to satisfy himself, when the whole Star Wars gestalt was no longer owned by him but by the generation of fans who were 10-and-under in 1977, Lucas broke faith with, or screwed over, legions of adults who were still going to buy tickets anyway.

Ah'm just not wired that way. Where I come from mentally, a creator has no obligation for the emotional attachment that you, generic reader You, may have applied to a movie you saw as a child or a beloved book. The creator's only "obligation," and I use the term cautiously, is to produce well-crafted art, ideally respecting original sources. Reasonable people can disagree on whether they pulled it off. But when cult favorites or cultural touchstones are involved, watch out!

This culture of Star Wars or Hitchhiker's victimhood -- perhaps we're owed compensation! (Where can I get a piece of that?) -- is inexplicable to me. And I wanted to try to figure it out and blog about it, because, well, the blog's looking a little empty today.

And then new blogger Paul Ketzle beats me to the subject, much more intelligently.

One idea that has interested me for a while is the Hegemony of Negativity. It's an idea that has arisen out of my observations about high, low and middlebrow culture. The upshot is this: If I simply dismiss something as stupid—or bad—this act of dismissal creates the impression that I'm being more critical than someone who thinks it's good, regardless of whether I have any substantive criticism.

What I'm trying to do here is draw a distinction between critical engagement with a text (something we ask our students to do all the time in literature courses) and critical dismissal (the summary rejection of a text). Summary rejection is fine in certain cases, especially where particular assumptions about the project apply. But when the text is attempting to accomplish certain goals, to reject it without considering those goals strikes me as intellectually dishonest (or at least lazy).


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Here's a penny. Tomorrow, I will give you two pennies. Each day I will give you twice as much as the day before... until I get to $10.24.

When I get to $10.24, you will have to wait. You will have to wait for three years. During that three years I will give you nothing. But at the end of that three years, I will give you $20,000,000 dollars.

This is fantastic. This is magical. How fortunate you must be for me to do this for you. I am kind. It is my charity.

THREE YEARS LATER: Oh yeah, here kid. Have a penny.

Sometimes art transcends itself. It is more than fad. It is more than a fanbase. It is more than even an artist's life work. Sometimes it is a cultural shocking, view altering. Sometimes it inscribes itself on the attitudes of generations to come.

"Star Wars" was written and produced by George Lucas. He directed it but he shouldn't have. Like all film, it was a collaborative art. If the music hadn't done this, the actors hadn't done that or the editor hadn't spent three extra months completely altering the pace of the film, no one would remember it.

It was the hard work of all those Lucas shared his vision with that made "New Hope" and its two sequels the cultural milestone that they were.

Lucas shattered that process and those other people's very meaningful contributions to create a follow-up that was sub-standard. What was his motivation for this? It's like as if Neil Gaiman believed he was the sole force responsible for the success of the first 8 or so Sandman titles, he decided he should draw and ink the rest of them himself.

It is disappointing to get handed another penny after 3 years, and know that one man's greed and inability to preceive the truth of his own work prevented you from getting the payoff you waited for for so long.