Friday, February 13, 2009

Respectfully Disagree

I've been pondering this post for a while now. Partly because I've been busy at work--a good thing in these times. Partly because I've also been busy with rewrites on MMG--an extremely good thing. And partly because I wasn't sure how to put it without maybe stepping on toes.

But I think have the time and a way of doing it.

Jenny posted about King's interview where he says that JK Rowling = good writing while Stephanie Meyer = bad writing. She questions who gets to make those decisions. Then Fleur posted about talking with her students about the same thing. Her final conclusion for them was that if they like it, it's good.

I have to disagree with that. There is a reason that in a previous time--not that long ago, really--critics were a rarefied breed. There just weren't that many around for books, art, music or movies. Why was that? Burly, hairy men standing guard at the gates to keep out the riff-raff? Well, in a way. The bodyguards however were education. A specific kind of education. These critics knew about movies or books or music or art or whatever else they were critiquing. It took time to learn about each art form and what the structures and standards were. And, also, to learn what was new and cutting edge. What broke the rules in an interesting and deliberate way and what just didn't have a clue.

Now anyone with a blog and the inclination can post a review of anything they want. See previous posts for examples from this author. Doesn't matter if you don't know a comma from a coma or a landscape from a landing strip. You have an opinion? It's call a critique.

Now, I can say whether or not I like something. And I have every right to that opinion and to post it wherever I want as long as it doesn't stray into libel. But liking something and knowing if it's "good" or not are too different things.

Case in point: I may love Big Macs. (I'm so-so on them, but do get the occasional craving). Does that mean they are an example of good cooking? Absolutely not. They fill one up. Can be tasty with enough tartar--I mean special sauce to cover up the cardboardy beef and wilted shreds of iceberg lettuce. But no one needs to study for years to figure out how to put one together.

There are movies that are not acted, written or filmed particularly well (The Cutting Edge comes to mind) that I watch every time they're on television. I can chew through some pretty horribly written mysteries when I've read too many heavier, and much better written, books in a row and just need to chill out for a bit. So there are examples of things I like that I know aren't particularly good.

Then take Dante's Inferno. As stated previously, I struggled with it. Called it 17th Century Burn Book. But I recognize why it's lasted all these centuries. Well, partly because of the religious aspect, BUT the structure, the artistry, the attention to detail are all amazing. I get it. I just didn't like it. My not liking it doesn't make it any less than what it is.

I think a better way to put it is: "If you like it, that's okay. It's sometimes enough just to like it. That doesn't necessarily mean it's well-executed. And just because you didn't enjoy something, doesn't necessarily make it bad. You may just need to learn a bit more so you understand why it's considered great. May not make you like it any better, but it just might."


Jenny said...

Actually, you bring up an interesting point that I thought was lacking in the responses to Nathan Bransford's first question (including my own)--probably because he didn't mention it as a gatekeeper: academia.

I think what colleges call out as something to study is good indicator of 'good' or 'bad' work. If there is an interest to study it (which covers the popularity factor) and you can dissect it (which covers the biology/structure factor) and the classes are taught not at one college, or two, but across the country, repeatedly? I think the writer might have hit on something. King is taught at colleges, so is Rowling, and Toni Morrison is the *most* taught behind the two ultimate dead white guys: Chaucer and Shakespeare.

And just to take a pot shot at Meyer: I don't think that's happening. Maybe history will prove me wrong...but I'm willing to put a couple $20s down on that.

Marie D-W said...

I still say, and maintain, there is something to be said about tapping into a desire in the public. That is something that both Meyer and Dan Brown have done. Something that is definately NOT JUST LUCK and also not rarefied literary talent either. It is INSTINCT. A marketing talent, which could be compared to the guy that started McDonald's, 'KOCH?'. Anyway, it is a talent, giving people what they secretly desire in a book and will line up around the corners for. A talent Rowling shares, although she seems to have the literary aspect as well. It's not a talent Stephen King has sneezed at either. It is a talent. A writing talent. And should be respected. It also should not be confused with literary talent that will last the ages. Unfortunately, we need ages to figure that one out. I've been reading Eco and Rushdie. I think they will last some ages, more than Meyer and Brown. Much more literary. But it's two different things, to my mind.