Well, I'm back from MoCCA Fest. Had a great time. I didn't sell too many books or posters, but I met some great people and had a fine time hanging around with Jim. Me and him, we're tight now.
But that's not what I began this journal entry to say! And I didn't start it to drum up support for a humanitarian petition either, though if you're interested there's one right here. Sounds like a good cause, and worth a few seconds of time. Think about it, won't you? Actually, what I really wanted to contemplate here was the nature of the "can you do better" line of reasoning.
You've probably heard this one before. Someone asks you, after or during some form of criticism, if you can do better. And if you can't, it's implied, you have no right to cast judgment. What gets me about this is that the argument might conceivably be valid in some cases... but in most of the examples I imagine, it's really not. It doesn't make sense.
I started thinking about it when I commented on a movie trailer recently. The science behind the plot seemed pretty phony to me and I went off on one of my little rants. I probably was being a bit obnoxious. Since YouTube revamped itself and made it possible to post longer comments I've had trouble showing restraint. Still, someone else got his dander up, called me an egghead and said "you think you got the money/talent to do it better? shut the f!#k up and go do it. Otherwise, shut the f@%k up, sit down, and read something."
Incidentally, it's also possible that on some level I only started this journal entry because I wanted everyone to see how mean this guy was so they can rush to comfort me while I clutch plush animals to my chest as I curl into a fetal position and silently weep into my pillow, stuffing my face with potato chips mingled with the snot pouring out of my nostrils, listening to heartbreaking melodies warbling from the radio buried underneath a gigantic pile of soaking wet handkerchiefs. But that's an outside chance.
Still, it really did get me thinking, and this is something I've thought before whenever I hear that argument... I certainly can't do better. I mean, I wasn't directly criticizing the film's acting or direction... it might be a lot of fun if it doesn't take itself too seriously. But I surely don't have the money or experience to make such a movie. That is true. But why on Earth would that negate the validity of my criticism?
Think about it. You go to a fancy restaurant and order a fancy lasagna. The waiter smacks his fancy lips with pinched fancy fingers and saunters off with promises of a magnificent fancy meal. When he comes back, however, he brings you lasagna that's not fancy at all! In fact, it makes you a little sick. Do you not have the right to complain because you yourself can't make any kind of lasagna, fancy or otherwise? Are you stuck forcing this meal down your throat because it's still technically better than what you could come up with in your own filthy kitchen?
The basic function of most any business is to provide people with products or services that they can't readily produce on their own. This gives us a perfect right, even a responsibility, to point out flaws in the product we're offered. We're not qualified to make it, but we're still qualified to judge. Sure, sometimes folks don't know what they're talking about. We misjudge, we talk out of our asses. That still doesn't mean we should be blamed for our initial impression. It falls to the makers of the product to contemplate whatever complaints they may receive. Even if those complaints lack merit it's still worth hearing because all input grants perspective on the work that the creator may not have.
But on the other hand, surely there are situations where it's fair to say "can you do better?" I don't think that movie criticism is one of them, but I'd be interested in hearing your ideas. I ask you, when is it truly justified to ask that of someone? When should you stand up and throw negativity back to the audience, asking them to operate as an equal to the performer? It's a technique that's often misused, but I think there's probably a time and a place for it. So where is the line drawn?
Juggling comes to mind.