Search This Blog

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Why Criticism is Freaking Great

One trend that I and likely everyone reading this has observed is the rising increase of mindless hate-mobs; however, underneath the rise of hate-mobs is something much more damaging and insidious--the rise of sheltered opinions.

This post isn't about any one group or person, rather it's a commentary on a larger systematic issue that permeates every circle. The only "group" that's really under attack here is large entities; massive corporations, governments, companies and websites, etc. Of course, these massive entities aren't represented by any one person or peoples, but rather are run by thousands of people, and I'm not afraid to criticize these massive juggernauts. I will bring up a couple examples of smaller entities doing the same thing, but this is not meant to be a personal attack on them.

If you're trapped inside because of the #kung-flu and want to expand this discussion to a much deeper level, I'd encourage you to watch these two videos which were the inspiration for this blog post. The first is from Quinn Curio and is about the nature of criticism and the difference between valuable and mean-spirited critique, and the second is about the importance of the dislike button on YouTube. Feel free to watch them both if you've got lots of time on your hands and are looking for more content to CONSOOM.

Quinn's Video Essay on Criticism

Emperor Lemon's Video Essay on Dislikes

Of course these are both big videos spanning about an hour-and-a-half of watch time so if you don't want to watch them that's all fine and dandy, don't beat yourself up over it, but they're there for anyone who wants them or wants to have their opinions validated which is a hobby of mine. (And also the discussion of this post.)

Moving on, in order to understand the importance of criticism, we need to know what it is.
What is the fundamental difference between a critic and a hater?

Well, a critic has your best interest in mind, while a hater just wants to tear you down. However, dismissing criticism is even more egregious than haters hating. A hater offers nothing of value, except for one little thing which is the "I must be doing something right" moment. Due to the nature of statistical probability, it is virtually impossible to grow a base and succeed without garnering haters. If an author sells a million copies or if a YouTuber gets a million views on a video, it's statistically impossible for everyone to like the product or content. It's just not going to happen. So instead of curling in a ball and being a victim, creators should be glad that they have some haters.

It means they're doing something right.

That obviously doesn't make the haters "right," it just means that the existence of haters is more of a nuisance than an actual threat. Yet the issue is that creators have become to coddled and entitled to affirmation that they will do anything to sweep any negative response under the rug. The other issue is that it's too common now for creators to dismiss anyone who disagrees with them or some aspect of their creation and claim to be the victim of a hate-mob. More often than not, the creator or platform is much bigger than the group of people criticizing them.


The most disliked video on YouTube is a video by YouTube, and the next most disliked videos are by big celebrities and corporations, like Justin Bieber and Jake Paul. Suffice to say that getting a bunch of dislikes on one of their videos isn't making them the "victim" of harassment.

And this is all over the place. The tweets that get the biggest ratios (since there are no dislikes on twitter, disapproval is measured by "ratio," which is how many likes the tweet has compared to comments. If a tweet has 12 likes and 1,150 comments, suffice to say people did not like the tweet) are usually from big politicians, celebrities, or media corporations. This is because small twitter accounts don't get very much exposure, so it only makes sense that the media accounts that are the most popular will also be the most at risk for getting ratioed when they say something stupid or out of touch.

Yet it's vital that people have the ability to express disapproval. Without it, the creator or group would live in a cuddly bed of validation.


However that is precisely what people want. They don't want to be criticized or challenged, they don't want to experience any form of cognitive dissonance. Instead they want to surround themselves with a nice cohort of Yes-men who will validate everything they say and do.


This phenomenon isn't just something that happens on YouTube or twitter, it's all over the place. I think it's evidence of a larger systematic issue, which is that we as people have decided that anything that seems to not completely agree with us is somehow an affront against our very existence and should be either ignored or viciously attacked. I also believe this mob mentality of only interacting with people whose views and opinions are identical to your own is what led to the unfortunate politicization of art, which I talked about in my Art Doesn't Have to Be Political post recently. I don't think people would feel an "us vs them" mentality when it came to the arts if it wasn't already encroaching on daily life. Of course it's not just politics, it's every little thing no matter how nonsensical and inconsequential it might seem. I've seen people go to war over incredibly stupid things, like whether or not Shiki can kill servants (mad respect if you get that reference).

It conjures up images of a simpler time when people didn't go to war over stupid and inconsequential shit. Wait a second, people have always been going to war over stupid and inconsequential shit! I watched this mini-documentary about something called "The War of the Bucket," which was when two countries literally went to war... over a bucket.

But you don't understand, this was an important bucket!

The context makes it much funnier. In 1325 the European city-states Bologna and Modena were divided by the Roman Catholic Church, and had made an agreement that they would stop raiding and messing with each other. But then a small group of people crossed the border, stole a bucket, and then stood on their side of the border waving it around triumphantly. This was the declaration of war that thousands of people literally died for. A fucking bucket.

Fun fact: the side that took the bucket won the war and they still have it hanging from their church to this day.

Thousands of us died, but we still have the bucket. Who's laughing now?
However, the advent of the Internet has made it more easy than ever to surround yourself with a crowd of Yes-men and Yes-women. Essentially what's happened is that this phenomenon of growing echo-chambers both increases the number of mindless haters and the number of dismissive parties who refuse to listen to anything that doesn't align with their every tiny worldview. On twitter this comes in the form of either instantly blocking anyone who doesn't agree with them, or getting their circle of followers to fight their battles for them, neither of which is productive to a civilized society. I'm not saying that things like the "block" button shouldn't exist, if someone is being annoying and won't leave you alone or is saying something inappropriate, then of course it should come as no surprise that they get blocked, but the system is abused so that people can plug their ears and say "LALALALALALA I CAN'T HEAR YOU" anytime someone disagrees on whether or not The Fault in Our Stars was a good book or not.


Tuning out criticism doesn't nullify it; the dissent is still there. Blocking a person doesn't stop other people from seeing the blocked person's tweet. And likewise, when YouTube channels remove dislikes, they aren't making it so that no one dislikes their video, they're just making it so that they can't personally see how many people dislike it. And the thing is that even incorrect criticism is still valuable.

Any content creator with a shred of self-respect won't shrivel up and die at the sight of someone disagreeing with them on the Internet. In fact it's quite the opposite, any self-respecting creator will be totally fine with receiving criticism and even haters, because they aren't so fragile that they need constant affirmation and approval from everyone. And when people like Lily Orchard delete comments critical of them and hide the dislike bar, it doesn't make people respect them more; if anything it just makes them seem like they know they're wrong and are trying to avoid responsibility for it. And these types of people forget one of the most universal rules of the Internet; any exposure is good exposure.

Even Logan Paul, the scumbag who lost YouTube millions of dollars in advertising money because of his insensitive video on suicide, still is extremely popular today despite constant and extreme backlash. If anything the backlash and hate he got from his video only made it more widely circulated. He definitely lost a bunch of subscribers right after the video came out, but since then his channel has been doing just fine, and someone with millions of dollars and fans doesn't cry themselves to sleep just because one of their videos got a bunch of dislikes.

Yet things like dislikes and comments full of criticism are actually invaluable to the creator. If a channel with millions of subscribers usually gets an overwhelming majority of likes on their videos, but then one of their videos in particular gets a lot of hate, it's more likely that the content of that particular video is the reason why and not just because everyone is a mindless hater. If everyone was just a mindless hater, all of their videos would be bombed with dislikes, but if they all have 98% likes except for one, then it's extremely likely that the creator made a mistake or the content of their video was very flawed in some way that they aren't noticing.

We see this all the time from massive entities; when YouTube Rewind 2018 became the most disliked video on YouTube, they started flirting with the idea of removing dislikes from the platform, and as EmpLemon pointed out, every stupid and reckless decision Google and YouTube makes starts with them playfully teasing an idea before suddenly making it a reality out of nowhere.

They claim it's "to protect content creators from dislike mobs," but when only them and Justin Bieber's music video for Baby get that many dislikes, it makes it excruciatingly obvious that they're just talking about themselves. They're butt-hurt that their cheesy and extremely out-of-touch video was disliked by everyone.

I wished videos like this one had stayed in the realm of parody but I don't even know anymore.

I'd say the thing that makes criticism valuable is that, even if the critic is wrong or if their point is invalid, at least you're getting genuine feedback from someone who isn't lying to kiss up to you. It's why I wouldn't trust only having a family member or close friend read your work and provide feedback on it. Having a range of strangers with no motivation to lie to protect your feelings will open you up to more constructive criticism and honest feedback. And the truth is, I've gotten some pretty bad advice from beta readers and Internet friends who provided their feedback. But I've also gotten a lot of invaluable and honest criticism that opened me up to drastic improvement. Of course, I've also gotten mindless haters, but that's just a part of the fun. Getting haters means you're at least doing something.

You know who doesn't get any haters?

People who never do a damn thing. In order to get haters you have to first put your neck out there to get hated, and while I'm not saying I want to exclusively be hated, I'd much rather have haters than nothing at all.

We can't numb ourselves to criticism because to do so is to think yourself infallible. Because no one is infallible, no one can take all criticism with a grain of salt. Notice I say "all" because there will always be some criticism that should be taken with a grain of salt. Sometimes you open yourself up to criticism and some dumbass says something so mind-meltingly stupid that you can't possibly fathom how they've survived this long.

Take the movie Frozen for example.

No, not the Disney movie, this one:


This horror movie got a shit-ton of stupid criticism. The thing is that this wasn't a perfect movie by any stretch of the imagination, it's in no way immune from criticism, but for whatever reason the only criticism it did receive was from mentally-incapacitated morons.

The movie is about a few college students who get stuck on a ski lift on a Friday night and are stuck there until Monday morning. There's one scene where a guy jumps off and breaks his legs. One critic said that it didn't make sense that he broke his legs when he landed in snow, but it was later proven that a 50-foot fall into snow would be like hitting concrete. Another critic said, "The movie was alright but the bad CGI wolves ruined it for me." The movie used REAL wolves, he couldn't even google that before leaving a negative review for the "bad CGI wolves"? Another critic said that the whole premise of the movie was flawed because no ski resort would ever be reckless enough for someone to get stuck on the ski lift, and then literally one week later it actually happened in real life. A man got stuck on a ski lift after the resort closed for the night, and he was only rescued when he started burning cash with a lighter and waved it around to get someone's attention. That critic deleted their bad review but never apologized.

Others said that the green-screen behind the actors looked fake, but just like with the wolves, the movie was filmed on an actual ski lift outside in freezing winter conditions, which just makes it seem like the only reason this movie has a bad rating is because people were too stupid to fact-check anything themselves.

And of course, I don't like this movie that much. I thought it was a good movie and it seemed realistic to me, but I'm not a die-hard Frozen fan (not this one or the Disney one). Yet all this stupid and plain factually-incorrect criticism against the film only made it seem like no one had any real criticisms.

Which leads me to my next point...

Criticism is not above criticism.

That sounds kind of odd when I say it like that, but essentially what I mean to convey is that the mere act of criticizing someone does not make the critic immune from criticism in turn. People can be wrong. Creators can be wrong. And people criticizing creators can also be wrong. Again, no one is infallible, so critics and haters of various degrees are not beyond reproach. Everyone and everything is fair game.


Dissent is like brakes on a car. When someone is heading in the wrong direction, enough opposition might make them come to a stop, but when people, groups and massive entities put on headphones and step on the gas, ignoring anything and everything that gets in their way (looking at you EU with article 13), they just speed on ahead until they crash.

The point of a world where everybody can openly criticize one-another is to create a system where everybody can keep each other in check.


You see, the point of receiving criticism is so that the person or group receiving said criticism can check themselves before they wreck themselves. When YouTube ignores its users and plows on ahead at full speed, their Rewind becomes the most disliked video of all time. When an author ignores reader feedback and self-publishes a half-finished book, they don't make any money. When Google ignores customer feedback and rolls out something like Stadia that no one wants, they waste millions of dollars, time, and human resources. Bethesda ignored gamer feedback and released the shit-show that was Fallout 76, which was a colossal failure that they wasted an ungodly amount of time, money, and effort on for nothing. Even worse than nothing, at least if they had done nothing they wouldn't have lost any money, but Fallout 76 was an extremely expensive and stupid waste of money that could have been entirely prevented by them actually listening to their own fan base.

Doctor Who writer Chris Chibnall flat-out says that he doesn't read any reviews, watch any video essays or read any discussions about his seasons of Doctor Who.

Source:

He says he ignores feedback because "It's not a democracy."

And he's right, it's not a democracy. The outside world doesn't get to decide how his own show should be run, he does, and he has every right to do whatever he wants with the show and can ignore critics and audience opinions if he wants to.

But you want to know what the consumers do get to vote on? Whether or not they like something by choosing how they spend their time and money. And it just so happens that Chibnall, the most dismissive writer in Doctor Who history, is also the most disliked one. His seasons of Doctor Who are called the worst by critics, and have the lowest ratings in Doctor Who history. The show went from a pretty nice 8 million viewers to barely over 3 million under Chibnall. So if you want to plow on ahead ignoring all feedback and criticism, that's fine, but you can't complain afterwards that you tanked. The point of criticism is so that you can check yourself before you wreck yourself, and Chibnall refused to check himself and now he's wrecked himself. The show-runners say the show will be renewed for a 13th season "despite the ratings drop," which only tells me they haven't learned yet.

The creators of Charlie's Angels (2019) said they didn't care about whether or not men liked the movie, then they complained afterward that no men went to see it and blamed it on sexism.

https://thefederalist.com/2019/11/20/elizabeth-banks-charlies-angels-flopped-but-not-because-of-sexism/

There's this bad habit of groups doing things that everyone says not to do, failing, then blaming it on someone or something else. This seems to mean that either the person or group in question will pull a Chibnall and pretend that they're not failing, or pull a Charlie's Angels and blame it on something else. Both are huge mistakes.

The worst thing a creator or business can do is ignore feedback and criticism. Ignoring the criticism does not dismiss the existence of any actual flaws that might be prevalent. In fact, how someone responds to criticism is often more important than the thing that's being criticized. If a person or group gets criticized for something they did wrong or could have done better, usually their reaction to the criticism will get more publicity than the thing that was criticized in the first place. if a YouTuber gets criticized on a video of theirs, ignoring the criticism will only make them a bigger target for more hate and dissent. And inversely, if they respond well to feedback and take authentic criticism seriously, it will make them look better. People will have more respect for someone who admit to their mistakes and fix them than someone who sweeps it under the rug.

Hiding and ignoring feedback is like the Streisand Effect. Whereas the Streisand Effect usually refers to someone making information more conspicuous by trying to hide it, it also applies to criticism. There won't be a massive mob after you if a few people leave negative comments on your tweet or video.

However, if people start to notice that you always hide or delete negative comments, that will draw more attention to the negative criticism that you're trying so hard to censor. It's best to let people say what they want and handle both genuine criticism and haters gracefully.

I've also seen YouTubers and creators who gained massive esteem because of how they handled criticism.It can actually be a blessing in disguise.

There's this trend that's been going on for quite some time now, the "Don't care what anyone else thinks" trend. However while there is some merit to that, it's usually interpreted completely wrong. The point of phrases like that is to bring attention to the fact that you don't need to vie for someone's attention or approval in order to do something. It doesn't mean that you should tell your customers that you don't care about them or what they want. Because if you do that--shocker--your customers won't give you their money. The same goes for fans.

But why listen to criticism or logical argument when you can just DAB ON THEM HATERS amirite bros?!
^How Chibnall thinks he looks
^How he actually looks
One thing EmpLemon brought up is punching up vs punching down, but not only is most concentrated criticism punching up, but large entities will tell you that it's the other way around. Black is white, hot is cold, and truth is lies.

Every small YouTuber on the planet will tell you that they didn't like the YouTube 2018 Rewind and want everyone to go dislike it, and YouTube will tell you they're considering removing dislikes to protect the small YouTubers. Not themselves, Jake Paul, and celebrities. Even when YouTubers criticize one another, it's almost always small or medium-sized channels critiquing larger channels. And when the opposite does happen--like how LeafyIsHere went after channels smaller than his own--he got called out on it by idubbz, who was, ironically, a channel smaller than his own, and the underdog idubbbz brought Leafy's hypocrisy front and center. (Although EmpLemon has a much more compelling theory as to what actually led to Leafy's downfall.) Also, idubbbz became a simp recently, please pray for his swift recovery brethren.

There are lots of things that are practically guaranteed to ensure that a person or group gets a lot of criticism or ridicule, but from my experience there is one single negative attribute that increases the likelihood of receiving unprecedented amounts of backlash. And it can be summarized in phrase I brought up earlier: out of touch.

If someone says something that's wrong or factually incorrect, or if they make a typo, there's usually going to be people in the comments or mentions pointing out the flaw. However, when a person or group insists that they have your best interest in mind and then try to represent you, when in reality they're lying, slimy know-nothings, nothing will get people more riled up. And it's usually larger groups that are the most out of touch.

However there are other sides of this coin besides creators and corporations ignoring their own customers and fans; I'd say one of the biggest examples is the scientific community. The most frightening thing about the scientific community today is that it's become a monolith, and that's extremely regrettable.

I won't purport to be some history expert, but one thing that I think should be noted is that whenever the "knowledgeable" community becomes a monolith, things go downhill. As annoying as Greek sophists were, one thing I can respect about them is that they tended to lean more towards trends than any type of consensus. The "trends" were completely flawed, but it was a breath of fresh air. Both before and after the Greeks, it was common for one group to rise to the top and form a consensus about what was "right" or "true." We saw this with the Roman Catholic Church, the Spanish Inquisition, and numerous communist an fascist entities. They usually formed an all-unifying philosophy to act as a cornerstone for all their actions and beliefs, and each time this happens the group doing it thinks they're different. The Nazis weren't like the Spanish Inquisitors, it was different this time, because this time they were right.

Don't misquote me, I'm not saying the scientific community is like Nazis. Or the Spanish Inquisition. Nobody is dying, that's not the point I'm trying to make. The point I'm trying to make is that the scientific community has drastically changed for the worst in the last few decades.

The Greeks were special in that every week they had a new snazzy philosophy to believe in. It was obvious trend-hopping and was pretty disingenuous, but it's quite interesting how they were always arguing about new ideas and philosophies that would more likely than not be abandoned by this time next week. They never had a "standard" belief. Everybody could disagree about everything and it was completely normal. The Bible pokes a lot of fun at the Greeks who treated sciences and philosophies like items they were shopping for instead of things to live by.

Sure, one could chalk up the Greek obsession with new ideas as them being the first logic-hipsters, and they were more interested in controversy and debate than drawing actual conclusions, but at the very least they never became a monolith. This is also why the stories about Greek "gods" read like fan fiction, because it totally is.

Yet our scientific community has only become a monolith recently; as early as 2000 they were still divided over topics, still debating over details and the conclusions that could be drawn from them, but suddenly every "scientist" agrees with one another. There's no more debate or disagreement on anything. Obviously things like gravity and the Earth being round are two things that were never disputed in recent history in the scientific community, but other things like astronomy and medicine have been hot spots for debate and rhetoric.

Where did all go?

My hypothesis is that social norms have pummeled dissent out of the equation. The scientific community is more concerned with the "widely accepted" answer than the correct one. And this belief is inherently flawed because it can only be accepted as true if people are infallible and incapable of making mistakes. Physicist Richard Feynman tried to warn people about this when he saw it start happening during WWII. One thing he wrote in his biography was:


“I would rather have questions that can't be answered than answers that can't be questioned.”
Yet that's how it feels, it feels like the scientific community will tell us they have all the answers but that none of them can be questioned. Why? What's wrong? Do they not hold up under scrutiny?
At the risk of being labeled a conspiracy theorist, I've always been skeptical about the premise of global warming, but just recently it was socially acceptable to be. I remember back in 2008 it was a highly debated topic. Half of the scientific community claimed it was carbon emissions and the other half claimed that was mathematically impossible and the climate was more directly affected by the Sun.
But then just a few years later, around 2012 or so, suddenly everyone chose one side and it became socially unacceptable to not agree with them. Why? Do they think the leap in knowledge in that few short years was enough to completely make them infallible?
But this post isn't about whether or not global warming is real or not. And while that's the first thing to one to my mind about answers that can't be questioned, there are certainly others. And time and time again schools teach things that are flat-out wrong.
Were you ever taught that most of our body-heat leaves through our head? That was disproven, that was just a common saying in the military to make sure people wore their beanies. You might have also been told that Henry Ford invented the car, but in reality it was Karl Benz. This was likely taught in schools because American teachers didn't want to give the Germans credit for the invention of the automobile. You might have been taught that Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb, but it was actually Nikola Tesla, Thomas just stole the invention and patented it under his name. And even that's dubious because several other scientists worked with Tesla, so it was more of a group effort. You might have also been taught that George Washington has wooden teeth, but that is also false. He wore golden dentures to supplement his real teeth, but he did not have wooden teeth or dentures. You might have also been taught that blood is blue before it gets oxygen, that's not true. Your blood is always red. It only looks blue when you look at your veins because of how the light filters through your skin.
These are all things that are patently wrong but are taught in schools to millions of people as undeniably true. And while these are relatively insignificant things, it highlights the biggest flaw in western education and that's that nothing can be subjective. Everything is a "common core" curriculum; one person in southern California will be taught the same things and the same "facts" as someone 700 miles away in northern California. Most states have a state-wide curriculum which is dangerous because it means that any mistake in the program is magnified millions of times, the same mistake being taught to millions of people. And as children we don't know any better so we have no choice but to accept everything that's taught to us is true.

This leads to adults who can't think for themselves. I can't tell you how many times I've gotten into debates with people about something scientific only to hear "Well, all the scientists say it's true." Have people lost the ability to think for themselves? To doubt for themselves, to investigate for themselves?

Just to clarify, there is some merit to that phrase; after all, if I had a math question, I would probably want to ask a math teacher, not a history teacher.

Yet what this neglects is the possibility that scientists aren't always right about everything. That doesn't mean that they're all wrong all the time and shouldn't be trusted, it just means that the things they say and the conclusions they come to should be examined to see if they make any sense.

Although, as opposed to the scientific community, politics is far from a monolith. And as cancerous as the political landscape is, at the very least there's still debate and disagreement. If tomorrow the Clintons and Trumps were best buddies and all holding hands singing kumbaya, I'd probably shit myself. Something would have to be seriously wrong for something like that to happen.

At least in politics we can safely assume for the time being that there will always being opposing sides keeping each other in check and neither side will have permanent power over the other.

Generally the mere existence of a monolith in any field of knowledge is problematic. It means that they get to choose what are the "correct" facts and any ideas or evidence that speaks out against them must be wrong.

And don't get me wrong, I'm not just trying to bash the scientific community; it would be just as bad if it were a different field of knowledge. If it were history, it would be one group telling their version of history and having it accepted as the "correct" one, and any evidence that contradicted them would be labeled fake news and could be swept under the rug. Many powerful dictators in the past and to some extent today maintain a certain level of authority purely on the basis that their own version of history is the only one taught. In the present day we see China censoring the free-flow of information and banning any mention of what happened in the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

The topic of the Tiananmen Square massacre is one that I've taken a lot of personal interest in because China's attempts to censor the event were so incredibly successful that even most of the west doesn't know how bad it actually was. The west knows that a lot of people died but many of the details aren't taught in school. You might say that's because it's a really macabre topic and not something appropriate for schools, but in my college history courses there was only a brief mention of the incident and that was about it. Most people in the west are probably familiar with this picture:

 
It's probably the most famous photograph regarding China's dark history, but most people don't know that this is a heavily cropped version. Nothing makes you say "Oh shit" more than seeing the full photo and the others taken surrounding it.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.

This is the full photo.

 
Here are some more taken on June 4th, 1989.


No one knows the exact number of casualties, but hundreds if not thousands of students, teenagers and college kids were slaughtered. Chinese history books only mention the date as the day that "A small liberal group of protestors were stopped with force," but they leave out the part where they literally ran over crowds of people in tanks and mowed them down with machine guns. I won't share them here because I made the mistake of looking at some and almost puked, but there are photos out there of the.... aftermath. I really don't recommend looking at them, but if you have a strong stomach and wanted to get the full picture, it's there. But don't say I didn't warn you.

Most Chinese youth have no clue what happened in Tiananmen Square in 1989, all they know is that they aren't supposed to talk about it. This is partly because of pictures like the ones above being changed into pictures like this:


Stuff like this meant to turn the whole thing into this big joke, hoping to trivialize the events so that no Chinese millennials will care about what actually happened. And it's worked; many western reporters have asked Chinese youth what they know about Tiananmen Square, and they pretty much always say that all they know is that there was a protest there and they aren't supposed to talk about it. That's really terrifying.

I don't think I need a whole lot of evidence to support this next statement, but you can probably think of several examples where one religious group became a monolith and that turned out to not exactly be a good thing for society.

I hope this clarifies that it's not the science community that is inherently flawed, rather the concept of any one field of knowledge becoming a monopoly. Right now in the states it's science, but in the UK it's the news (BBC News is government funded and run, who better to tell us about the events of the world than what's deemed appropriate by your own government, amirite?) and in China it's history and news. They're all quite dangerous, because no one group should run rampant unchecked.

These are the sorts of things I like to keep in mind whenever I think of criticism. When put into that context, criticism isn't such a bad thing. The mere fact that we have the freedom to openly criticize anything or anyone that we want is a powerful thing, and I'd rather be criticized by someone I disagree with than live in a reality where Tiananmen Square was just something involving a protest.

So next time you get criticized or see people bickering over relatively stupid stuff, we can at least appreciate the fact that that dissent exists in all of its ugly and flawed forms as opposed to not existing at all. Iron sharpens iron, so as long as there's friction there will always be improvement.

As always,

may all your cups of tea be your cup of tea,

and I'll see you in the next post.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

The Charm of Obscurity


"Young man," he said, "understand this: there are two Londons. There's London Above―that's where you lived―and then there's London Below―the Underside―inhabited by the people who fell through the cracks in the world. Now you're one of them. Good night.”

I kinda hope this blog post doesn't get as many views as the others.

It's easy to like things when everyone else seems to like them. Likewise, it's easy to jump on the hate-bandwagon when something is popular to hate. Rarely is any positive or negative attention given to the obscure things, but I have seen attempts to criticize obscure things that are deserving of ridicule, although it usually doesn't go very well.

Take Twilight for example. Twilight is not a good movie, or a good book. It's just not a good IP.

That doesn't mean that there are absolutely zero redeeming qualities; I'll admit the soundtrack for the first film was pretty boppin', and some of the side characters like Ana Kendrick and the Cullen dad carried a lot of the scenes they were in. So while the story and main character were pretty worthless, at least not every aspect of the movie was terrible. The movie gets a lot of hate on the Internet, and while I agree that most of it is probably accurate and warranted, I can't help but wonder why some even worse stuff out there gets away scot-free.

However, the answer came to me when I watched a video in which someone criticized a really obscure horror movie that no one knew existed. From the clips the YouTuber showed, it seemed like a pretty bad movie and like all the criticisms were valid, but most of the comments were filled with people saying, "Who cares?" or "Why make a video about this movie?"

That's when it occurred to me that not only is it unpopular to like obscure things, but it's just as unpopular if not more so to sift through them with a critical eye. Essentially, it's unpopular to have any strong feeling one way or the other about any obscure IP.

The irony is that a lot of the more obscure movies and books out there are sought after by hipsters who want to seem cool and quirky by being a part of a smaller, more niche fanbase, but because some of these fanbases appeal to hipsters, the fanbases grow quickly and what originally started as an obscure little show with a small but dedicated cult following suddenly explodes in popularity.

This is precisely what happened with Doctor Who. Doctor Who is a pretty big show today, not just in the UK but in the States and other parts of the world, but do you think the show was popular anywhere outside the UK fifty years ago? Of course not. And it was only "popular" in the UK by minor standards; it was something a lot of people knew existed but not everyone watched. It wasn't a huge phenomenon when it first started airing.

Kind of like relics in today's television. A lot of people know what MASH is and anyone over the age of 40 probably had to put up with their parents watching it when they were a kid, but you don't see a lot of people watching or talking about MASH in today's day and age.

Yet when 2005 - 2008 hipsters found Doctor Who (which was now available in the US), it began to rapidly grow in popularity. But in a twist of irony it was no longer a small quirky fanbase, but a large quirky fanbase. Then it became so over-saturated and mainstream that it's no longer a quirky fanbase or even a quirky show for that matter. Everything after season 10 or so has been generic, mainstream Hollywood garbage that poorly tries to replicate the charm of the previous seasons (and fails).

Although the message of this post isn't "popular things bad." There are lots of popular things that I like. It's no secret that I'm a huge Witcher 3 fan and that game is huge in the gaming community. Claiming to be original for enjoying the Witcher 3 is like claiming to be original for liking Call of Duty.

I'd say there's a few layers of obscurity and that after passing a certain layer, something's charm points go through the roof. Take things that have a million followers / fans but somehow no one knows exists.

According to Tubic's, as of December, 2019 there were over 16,000 YouTubers on the platform that had over 1 million subscribers. 16,000 might not sound like a lot when you consider the astronomically high number of total channels. There are at least 31 million channels that have uploaded content, and only 16,000 have over 1 million subscribers.

However, out of that 16,000, only a few hundred are "relevant" in pop culture. Channels like Vsauce, Pewdiepie, Markiplier, JaidenAnimations, etc. are channels with millions of subscribers that everyone who uses YouTube frequently knows about. But then there's also channels like Ashens that have over a million subscribers but aren't integrated into pop culture in any recognizable way. Since there are almost 8 billion people on the planet, that means anyone I might run into only has a 1 / 800,000 chance of also being subscribed to that same person. Obviously some obscure channels get a little bit of internet fame if they become a meme or something, but that's a discussion for later.

Even channels with 10 million subscribers like LinusTechTips are somewhat obscure in that only people in their niche audience really knows who they are. While Linus Tech is a channel that anyone who frequently watches tech videos will immediately recognize, I wouldn't expect the random passerby on the street to know who that was unless they were a tech nerd or a hipster at Best Buy. This goes for obscure works of popular authors as well. Stephen King is one of the most famous writers in history and yet the Dark Tower series is nowhere even close to the popularity of Harry Potter, even though they're of similar quality and length and both from insanely popular hundred-millionaire authors. Not to mention that the Dark Tower series isn't even that popular among Stephen King fans, with books like The Shining, IT, Carrie, and even The Stand often garnering more attention. Hell, they even tried to make the Dark Tower more mainstream by making a movie starring Idris freaking Elba and still couldn't get anywhere. (That dumpster-fire of an adaption was doomed to obscurity, even Idris Elba couldn't carry that shit-show. Which is fine with me because that garbage excuse of an "adaption" is the last thing I'd want to represent the franchise, it would be like if no one watched ATLA but everyone saw the movie where they call him "Ong".)
When you say "thankee sai" to the cashier:

Then you have the second level of obscurity, which I call "mid-tier" obscurity. Things like Ashens and The Dark tower are slightly integrated into pop culture even though they're still quite obscure, but these next things fall through the cracks a bit more. These are things that a lot of people sort of almost know exist but have never interacted with.

Take Neil Gaiman for example. A lot of people probably recognize his name and photo, but he isn't actually popular, in the same way classical authors aren't actually popular today. When was the last time you saw someone reading Mark Twain in public? Everyone knows who Mark Twain is, everyone was probably forced to read Huck Finn in highschool, and that's it. I don't know anyone else who read and enjoyed A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court even though it's by someone as historically famous as Mark Twain. Somehow people like Neil Gaiman and Mark Twain are "famous" but not popular. Their popularity is mostly superficial; lots of people are aware of their existence but very few actually read their works, or with the case of directors, watch their movies / shows and with musicians, listen to their music.

While the Dark Tower series might not be very mainstream, at least a lot of Stephen King's other works are popular. With Mark Twain it's just Huck Finn pretty much, and with Neil Gaiman I don't think any of his works were particularly popular. Coraline is well-known as a movie but the original book was never very popular (and still isn't) and that's likely his most popular work. I recently got my hands on the Sandman graphic novel as a gift which I'm super stoked to read.

One story that I absolutely adored was his first book Neverwhere which has obscurity as its subject, and I think it's only fitting that a book about obscurity is itself an enigmatic and obscure franchise. (If two books can even be called a franchise.)

To elaborate more on what the book is about, it's about another dimension occupying our own where those who "fall through the cracks" end up. When an outcast accidentally stumbles into this other world, they become invisible to the world above them, where all the normal people live and breathe, and the protagonist is one of the only people to ever end up there. Yet if the book was this massive smashing success, the story would almost feel disingenuous. Just like how "Hogwarts" is not a secret school, the underground world of London Below would not be a secret. Sure it would be a secret in the story, but there would be a disconnect between the lore of the story and the popularity of the story in the real world. It's much more convincing that there's a secret place called London Below that's only accessed when an outcast accidentally falls through the cracks of reality when no one else on the face of the planet has heard of such a place.

That picture at the top of the page is Door, a main character in Neverwhere. If I googled "Doctor Who fan art" I'd find millions of them on the Internet, but when I searched "Neverwhere fan art" I only got about three.

So while it might seem like it's not that obscure of a franchise because I have two different examples of Neverwhere fan art on this blog post alone, it becomes a little more depressing when you realize that 2/3 of all the fan art for this book is right here on this page.

Yet I've neglected to accomplish the goal I set out for in the title of this post, which was to explain the appeal of this type of stuff. Although I thought it was necessary to explain the different levels of obscurity before diving into what the charm of it was.

The last level of obscurity is "purgatory." These are YouTube channels with 7 subscribers, books with 1 review on Amazon, etc.

The other thing is that, unfortunately, most content falls in this category. The numbers differ a bit depending on who you ask, but if we go with Google Archives, there are at least 130 MILLION books in the world. Those are only the books that were published either in recent history or were popular enough for their time period to get a modern ebook. We also know that nearly 1-million new books are published each year, with a minimum of around 600,000 guaranteed.

Out of the million or so books that get published each year, how many become famous enough to be recognized in pop culture internationally? One? Two? Maybe five if it was a good year?

Then how many sell well but don't become global-smash-hits? A few hundred thousand maybe?

The data changes depending on who you get the numbers on, but essentially only around 1/4 of the books ever published will sell more than a thousand copies. More than 75% of books published will sit at 500 copies or less sales-wise. That sounds pretty depressing from a marketing point of view, but it's actually quite interesting.

You see, this means there are millions of amazing books--entire franchises and trilogies--that no one has read or heard of.

Take something you really enjoy that's really popular, like Harry Potter, Star Wars, Marvel, or any other big franchise you like.

Now imagine if no one you knew even knew it existed.

The movie Yesterday played with that idea a lot. The movie takes place in an alternate reality where lots of pop culture things were either erased from history or were replaced with something different, and bands like The Beatles didn't exist and neither did a lot of big popular franchises or products. It was slightly maddening to the main character that he was the only person on the planet who knew what Coca-Cola tasted like.

That's also what being an author is like, I'm the only person in the world who knows about the wedding scene in Enid or the plot twist at the end of Desolation's Reach, but because these books haven't been published yet, I don't have anyone I can share excitement with mutually. I can only imagine what it was like for someone popular like J.K Rowling to be the only person in the world who knew how Harry Potter ended, while millions of fans eagerly waited around begging for the next installment. I saw this interesting dialogue between Stephen King and George R.R Martin where King mentioned a time when he met up with Rowling right before the last Harry Potter book was published, and while tons of people were eagerly demanding the final installment of the story, they just kind of snuck away and she said, "They don't realize what we do, do they?" and King said, "How could they know what we do? We don't even know what we're doing."

I know, F:NV isn't obscure, I just love everything that comes out of Mr. House's mouth.

I think one of the best appeals of obscure things is that unexplainable feeling of being at the end of the world. Don't get me wrong, popular things can accomplish this too, but obscure things can do it much easier. Bob Ross is a good example; even though lots of people watch Bob Ross on Netflix, if you were to sit down and watch Bob Ross alone, you get this sensation of being outside of time like you're somewhere at the end of the universe in a black room with this legendary man. Sure a lot of people just put him on in the background, but actually watching him alone is quite the provoking experience. Few (if any) things can duplicate that feeling of being at the edge of the world a million fathoms away from anything recognizable.

I'd say that's one of Dark Souls' best assets. While the game is superficially popular, not that many people have actually played through it and not that many people are currently playing. But even if it was as popular as GTA V, that isolating feeling of traveling all the way to the bottom of BlightTown, into the Great Hollow and then eventually reaching this surreal other world called Ash Lake is something that no other game has been able to really duplicate. (But many have tried.)



One reason why this can't be duplicated is because these other worlds are created with a very specific intent in mind, and it's not money.

Obviously the people behind great but obscure works of fiction want to earn money, but they were hoping to make money doing what they love, not pumping out another generic product to a million people.

This is the kind of thing that makes me miss Stephen King.

Yes, Stephen King is alive and well and all, and he writes a lot of books lately, but it seems that his new books are all mediocre at best and he just pumps them out because he's famous and he's expected to. I haven't read any of the news ones in their entirety so it's possible that I'm wrong and his new books all become masterpieces right after the start of the book, but a big chunk of readers seem to also think so. Nevermind that his twitter reads like a cross-faded fan fiction now that he's reached celebrity status and gets to pump out his uniformed opinions to a general public audience (like celebrities at the Oscars). Stephen King was never really "obscure" back in the 80s but prior to reaching peak celebrity status he was just a guy with an imagination and now we're stuck with a shell of his former self. I don't even consider anything he says, does or writes anymore to be the "real" Stephen King. He's become the Disney Star Wars of his own life story. I guess the same can be said for Rowling and the retconning of sexes, entire plotlines and lore. Suffice to say a fall from grace has occured.

However, not all people become like this. While it's not uncommon for individuals to lose the best parts of their personality and become just another annoying mainstream celebirty after reaching a certain amount of fame, there are some who become famous and never change. At the time of writing, Chris Pratt has kept the same get-up and TV personality that made him so great in Parks and Rec, and even after doing Marvel movies, Jurassic World and several other big movies, he hasn't changed as a person one bit since Parks and Rec. I think the same can be said for fan-favorites like Keanu Reeves and The Rock who have remained the same, or have made some small changes for the better.

But of course it's not just a matter of individuals; when it comes to books you can attribute the quality to a single author, but with video games, movies, and TV shows there's entire teams of people behind the project, and both have a certain appeal to them.

With collective efforts, it's the fact that so many people came together to create something genuine and authentic--a shared vision--and each contributed to this collective dream.


And with authors and writers, it's the realization that they sat at their computer alone for hundreds of hours agonizing over every little detail and trying to get it just right.

Of course this only applies to good content that wasn't purely motivated by profit. Lots of bad content is also obscure (I'd say most bad content is obscure), but because most books, movies and TV shows are obscure, that would mean that a large portion of genuinely good content never becomes popular or mainstream.

The charm isn't in the fact that it's merely "not popular," but in the discovery of the new. I remember when I first stumbled on a book called Main Traveled Roads. It was a book published in the 1800s that was obscure at the time, making it incredibly obscure today. Even popular books by famous authors of the time period like Mark Twain are obscure today, so it's no wonder that this book of short stories by a random guy of the same century also fell between the cracks.

Even though the book wasn't "new," it was new to me. Yes, the book was published over 100 years ago, but it's new to me having just discovered it, and if you were to discover a different good book from long ago, it would be new to you too.

The charm of obscurity is that you never know what will be found.

Lots of people like to think that we've explored most of the planet, but that's not true. We haven't even explored half.

This is because the planet is over 70% water, and we've only mapped out 5% of the ocean.

We know more about the moon than we do about the bottom of the ocean. At least we can see the moon in detail under a strong telescope, but the bottom of the ocean is so hard to access that it's only been done a few times. That's why 95% of the ocean floor remains a complete mystery. We only know of a few species that live down there, there's no telling what geographical and biological things are just waiting to be explored.

If tomorrow we discovered a bizarre new creature at the bottom of the ocean that was estimated to be millions of years old, the species itself wouldn't be new by any stretch of the imagination, but it would be a new discovery.

When it comes to obscure content, there's a wealth of discoveries waiting to be made. Perhaps the next popular book series or franchise will be discovered. I've seen cases where a popular YouTube reviewer reviews an amazing book / movie / video game / TV show that was previously left to a fate of obscurity, and because of the influence of the popular YouTuber who discovered it, now everybody is buying it or watching it.

In this way, a lot of franchises can be rescued from purgatory and given a new life.

And even if an influential person never makes the franchise gain traction, you can have this other world all to yourself, comfortably knowing that no one else can experience or even begin to imagine what you got to experience. To some extent it's isolating, but to another extent it's like this grand arcane secret that you get to keep all to yourself. This is what someone like Kylie would feel going into work after completing Dark Souls, since it's a statistical improbability that any of her female friends in accounting would know what it was like killing Sif to gain entrance to The Abyss, or what it was like descending into the depths of Blighttown to Quelaag's Lair or traveling back in time to find out the fate of Artorias.

If she tried to explain the experience to one of her 30-something female friends, she'd sound like a total lunatic, so in her social circle it would be necessary to never talk about it even if she wanted to. How could you experience something so profound but not be able to share it?

I suppose that's the definition of lonelienss at its core; having a lot of news to share but no one to share it with.

That's also why loneliness isn't exclusive to being alone, because being surrounded by people you can't share your life-altering experiences with is just as lonely if not more isolating than actually being alone.

You could make a case for this being a reason to oppose obscure content, but that's a rather cynical and unpractical way to go about it. If it weren't for the wealth of obscure content, no new content would ever be discovered, and we'd be stuck watching the same pool of things over and over again, and reading the same few books over and over. And as much as I'd like to say "I'd be fine if I could only watch The Office," some diversity of content is necessary for both entertainment and learning.

Not to mention, if you don't ever consume obscure content, then someone else will just find it first and by the time you come to appreciate it, you're just hopping on the bagwagon--in other words you never liked it until everyone else did, and when that happens it can be hard to tell whether something is enjoyed purely for its own sake or because it was popular. At some point one must stop and ask themselves, "Is The Fault in Our Stars actually a good book or is it just overhyped?"

However, if you discovered something new--an unexplored frontier in entertainment--you'd be the first judge. With no preconcieved notions on how good or bad the story is, your initial emotions and experience would be raw and authentic.

That doesn't mean that we're too stupid to know whether or not we actually like / dislike something that's popular, rather it merely means it's a much clearer picture when we discover something knowing nothing about it prior.

This is why blind play-throughs, viewings, and reads are the best. Generally no matter how popular or obscure something is, I usually will try to enjoy it knowing as little about it as possible. This is difficult because sometimes you have to do some digging to find out if it's even worth your time and money before investing in it, but there's usually a compromise that can be made where the consumer knows just enough about what they're getting into to give it a shot but not enough to take away from the experience or tell them what they're supposed to think about it.

This is one of the beefs I have with movie trailers. There are some great movies out there that are nearly ruined by their bad trailers, primarily with ones that reveal too much. Since movies are so desperate to get you into the theater to spend money, it's common practice now to show all the best scenes and lines in the trailer leaving only the filler for the viewer to experience in the theater. What's the point of even going to the movie if you saw all the best parts in the trailer?


It would be like if you gave a kid a free bowl of cereal comprised entirely of Lucky Charms marshmallows (and milk) and then demanded that they pay you $10 if they want the rest of the brown stuff.

Unlucky Charms.
When I put it that way it sounds pretty rididiculous, and that's because movie studios that do this are being ridiculous.

There's also movie trailers that literally spoil the ending, but fortunately that practice has largely been put to rest. But for a while it was an epidemic--the trailer for Castaway spoils whether or not he gets off the island, the trailer for Batman v Superman flat-out shows you who wins, and the trailer for Shutter Island literally tells you the plot twist at the end of the movie, but luckily those aren't nearly as common as they used to be. (But they still happen from time to time, looking at you Batman V. Superman trailer. Go swallow a fire-poker.)

Yet all that is just talking about the solution to recreating that sense of discovery with popular titles. With obscure things none of that even matters. If you stumble on a book in Barnes and Noble that sounds good and you've never heard about it, you can jump straight in knowing nothing about it except for whatever the synopsis reveals to you (unless it's a terrible synopsis that spoils the book).

There's also the matter of existence.

The general saying is that as long as someone remembers you and people talk about you, you're never truly dead; you live on in peoples' memories.

However, if someone lived an uneventful and unremarkable life, the moment their body fails in this world is the last any will interact with them or their actions, with the exception of a few family members who will die a few decades later.

With art and entertainment it's a bit different because it's not a mortal person, so a TV show that exists on the Internet somewhere can be accessed far into the future even if all its creators are dead if it's still up on the web.

There are exceptions to this, like things that require old technology to access (like how Demons' Souls is even more obscure globally than Dark Souls, since it's only available on the PS3 which most people aren't going to buy just to play it). If a movie never made it to DVD and is only available on a cassette tape in some random thrift shop somewhere, the odds of it one day making a comeback is null.

One might use this information to argue the point that hypothetically, if mankind was eternal and lived until the end of time, that all obscure things would be discovered eventually. However this is simply not true; hypothetically if there was an immortal being who only consumed obscure media, perhaps there would almost be some truth to that, but most of us mortals spend a finite amount of time here on Earth and most of us will end up consuming the same few popular things with only minor deviations here and there, and obscure things are being made much faster than they're being discovered, so even in that scenario not everything would be found.

That's why it's so important to appreciate good things that are underappreciated or unnoticed; if I don't appreciate the immersive world-building in Neverwhere or Yona's amazing character development in Yona of the Dawn, then who will?


Who, I ask you?! No one.

By consuming and enjoying obscure things of great quality, and perhaps sharing them with others when the opportunity arises, we're acknowledging that there are other great works of art other than what we've been given. That's not to say that what we've been given is bad.

There are many praised and critically acclaimed works of fiction that completely deserve the attention and praise that they've been given; The Witcher 3 has won more awards than any other video game in history, even getting more awards than Red Dead Redemption and The Last of Us, both masterpieces in their own right, and yet I don't think it's overrated by any stretch of the imagination. With movies it's hard to argue the same point because there's such a gaping disparity between "critics" and what actual movie-goers enjoy (take Alita for example), but the mere fact that something is publicly acknowledged as good is not in and of itself a bad thing if it actually is. I would never say that The Witcher 3 didn't deserve all those awards. But what I will say is that I can think of a few games that are of the same quality as The Witcher 3 that never got any awards or recognition.


This is a belief I've held about animation awards for years. In Hollywood, the "animation award" is known as the "Pixar award," because Pixar always wins.

And the thing is, Pixar is amazing. Pixar deserves lots of awards. Yet the problem isn't that Hollywood likes Pixar, it's that they only like Pixar. Well, and Disney, but it's usally Pixar that wins.

Wall-E, Up, and Monsters Inc are all fantastic animated Pixar movies that deserve heaps of praise. But so does A Silent Voice, Your Name, The Breadwinner, and many others. And I can guarantee you Hollywood doesn't watch those movies.

Most of the time Pixar wins, and if they don't win, it's either Disney or Dream Works that wins since they're the next most popular creators of animated film in the west. The only time an anime film ever won the animation Oscar was in 2003 when Spirited Away won; and that makes me happy because Spirited Away is an amazing movie. But then you find out that Studio Ghibli--which created and owns Spirited Away--is actually owned by Disney! So the only reason that eastern animated film won was because it was owned by Disney and neither their main studio nor Pixar came out with anything good that year. One might try to say, "What about Finding Nemo? Finding Nemo came out in 2003," but that was in May, and the awards were in March, and the only Disney and Pixar movies to come out that year before the awards were the mediocre sequels to Lilo and Stitch and Atlantis, neither of which were nearly as cool as their original predecessors.

I was pleasantly surprised when Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse won a lot of critical acclaim since it was an original animated feature from Sony and not Disney or Pixar, but unfortunately that type of thing almost never happens.

Thus let it be known that not everything we've been given is bad, but there are so many great works of fiction waiting to be discovered, and if we don't discover or appreciate them, they'll rot away in digital purgatory forever.

As always,

may all your cups of tea be your cup of tea,

and I'll see you in the next post.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Art is Not Inherently Political.

I think the title says it pretty well; just a quick caveat, this is not a politically-charged post. This post isn't an endorsement of any political views or ideologies, but rather a defense of art as a medium that's "neutral" territory. Anyone reading this whose political opinions align with mine will find no validation here if they still insist art is inherently political.



The very concept that art inescapably has to be political bar-none is dubious at best, but I think there's a couple of good places to start with that epitomize exactly why.

When I use words like "inescapable," that's because this is the type of thing that the all-art-is-political partizans describe their beliefs as. The general claim usually rings something along the lines of, "All art can be considered political if you reach enough." Obviously these are not their words, words like "inescapable" and "inherent" are the buzzwords they're throwing around. I don't want to create a straw-man of them or their arguments to attack, so I'll be using the actual claims of a few of these people word-for-word, critiquing the substance of their arguments rather than just going after them. (I still might throw some shade though.)

Launching right off into the fray, what is their argument in the first place?

I'd describe their point of view as, "If you search hard enough, you can find a way to describe how something is political."

In the first few lines of Claire Ryan's blog post, titled "All Art is Political," she launches into a monologue about the ability to create art being a byproduct of race, gender, and privilege. While I have a lot of strong words against this nebulous concept of privilege, that is not what we'll be talking about, because for the sake of her argument, it doesn't even matter if "white privilege" is real or not; because if it is, she'd still be wrong.

She begins with saying:

All art is political. I would venture to say that, even further, art is inescapably political; every single part of it, from conception to production to end product, is imbued with politics and privilege. Our ability to create art is shaped by our political environment just as much as art itself is.

So here, she seems to be implying that not only is the art itself political, but because politics affects a person every day, it has somehow become irreversibly intertwined with the art itself.

This completely goes against the teachings of separating the art from the artist. More often than not, it's the stuffy art-puritans of old who constantly insisted that art exists independently of its creator, and is looked at objectively and in the context of its own existence rather than the context of the creator's personal or political life, and more often than not it's these same art puritans who are now insisting that art is forever morphed to the politics that lead to its inception.

Like Nina and her dog fusing together in Full Metal Alchemist.


I'm not apologizing.
(Anyone who wants to subject themselves to the entire article, here it is in its full unadulterated glory; but be warned that it has more in common with a prostate exam with a broken bottle than anything resembling a structured argument.)

^Yet this concept completely ignores intention. There's so much to be said about art and creation as a medium, and one thing that has been debated for literally thousands of years is whether art should be interpreted the way the creator intended or not. One flaw with my own assertion about art existing independently from its creator is that it does technically mean that we can ignore the intentions of the creator when analyzing its themes and messages, i.e., "art is subjective, and it tells me something different than its creator might have intended."

Although there are genuine merits to that claim. I for one experienced this sort of consumer-creator friction when I watched the movie Parasite. I really enjoyed the themes of verticality; the movie utilizes vertical changes to introduce a lot of interesting concepts and subtle subtexts.

For example, the poor people lived at the bottom while the rich and powerful lived at the highest point in the city. When it rained, it flooded the ghetto areas with sewage and destroyed many homes, but when it rained for the rich people, it was only a mild disappointment.

I also connected the dots between this movie's use of height and verticality and The Witcher 3. In the city of Novigrad, they also have the poor people living at the city's lowest point with the richest people living at the top. These visual ques give off the distinct impression that there's a tangible difference between these social hierarchies. In Dark Souls the verticality is used to either signify hope and ascension or despair and hopelessness, where the game has you ascending and growing more powerful by climbing higher and higher up the Parish to the Church, and then subsequently descending into the lowest bowels of Blight Town, where you feel small, helpless, and powerless. The links between the vertical nature of the game and the corporeal emotions the player experiences are so potent that you can grasp them in the palm of your hand.

In Parasite that is also a theme; when they descend, something bad happens or is about to happen, and when they ascend (go up stairs, drive up a steep road, etc.), things are usually good again. I connected that to the same concept in Dark Souls and it made the movie much more interesting when I looked at it that way.

But in an interview, the director of the movie said that the vertical nature of the film was meant to represent the struggles that poor people would experience from global climate change.

That explanation, while not terrible, felt really flat and anti-climactic to me--the film was so much more interesting to me when seeing it through the lens of social indifference and ascension vs descension. Yet does that mean that because my subjective opinions of the movie differed from the director's that they're automatically wrong? Perhaps not. So I will give credence to the people I'm arguing against in that I think more can be derived from art than only the messages intentionally caked into them by their creators.

Yet that fact alone doesn't dispel the many other doubts that easily crop up when someone claims that all art has to be political because of its inherent qualities.

One reason that requires no research or fact-checking whatsoever is this simple a priori argument:

If everything is political, then nothing is.


Allow me to elaborate.

If everything is political, then how would we even define the word? In order for some things to be described as political, some things would have to not be political. Otherwise the word means fuck-all.

One time I got in an argument on Twitter (I hate Twitter. I should really delete that toxic cesspool one of these days, but I'm weak and enjoy arguing with belligerent assholes, so I probably don't have the guts to actually permanently erase all of that. Plus if I were to depart, then the belligerent assholes win, and we can't have that.) about whether or not art was inherently political, and I gave a few examples of art that wasn't political. One example I gave was a kid's picture book about a caterpillar.

This one, to be exact.

There aren't any political messages in this book unless you have a very active imagination. I suppose if you want to pull a muscle reaching, you could argue that the caterpillar eating leaves is symbolic of the greedy and evil hands of capitalism.

But this leads me to...

Occam's Razor:

In one of my previous posts I went to great lengths explaining Occam's Razor, and on the off chance that any of you have read that one recently I'll spare you the bleeding eye sockets and get to the point. Occam's Razor merely means, "Whatever conclusion requires the fewest assumptions is more likely the correct one." In other words if you were in New York City and you heard hooves, you should assume it was horses and not zebra. Sure it's physically possible that there's a zebra trotting up and down the streets of New York, but it's almost guaranteed by merit of probability that it's horses making the sound and not zebra.


If we apply this same principal to art, we can argue that it's more likely that the creator of The Very Hungry Caterpillar thought that caterpillars were a cute, child-friendly subject for a kid's book geared towards teaching toddlers basic English.

The Twitter rando argued that the living conditions, upbringing, and racial privilege of the creator of any piece of art would affect the art's inception. Well no shit, if the bar is set that low, then technically all art must be scientific too, because everyone who's ever made a piece of art has been affected by the laws of physics in some way, and every piece of art must also be religious, because every artist was somehow slightly affected by the existence of religion in some way, by virtue of the butterfly effect, and every piece of art must also be a commentary on zebra because if you connect enough dots you'll eventually be able to find a connection between the art and zebra.


This whole argument reeks of the slippery slope fallacy, almost to the dizzying extent of those old DirecTV commercials.


But it also reeks of a bigger sentiment, this nebulous concept that politics encroaches on every facet of human behavior. Shoe-horning this type of claim is an egregious sin in my opinion, because it implies that politics is the end-all-be-all of human interaction, psychology, sociology, and philosophy, that all of it comes back full-circle to politics somehow. And while to some extent that's almost true, the underlying problem is that it places a priority on politics as the final conclusion of the human condition and doesn't consider any of the other fields of knowledge in their gradation. Irrespective of the nuances and subtleties of human behavior, this type of mindset is damaging in that it implies, "We can't have nice things."

You can't have a hobby that you enjoy to escape from politics. Escapism is no more; you are not allowed to enjoy a piece of media or art that was created purely for its own sake and not to make some sort of grand political statement. Even if the creator didn't intentionally inject a political statement into their work, we're sure that there's something that can be misconstrued as a political statement somewhere, and because art is subjective we can ignore the author or artist's canon and declare that this self-declared "non-political" piece of art is actually political.

"Escapism is dead! Escapism remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us?"

Of course, the obvious flaw with this line of thinking is that if art is subjective and we can ignore the intentions of the creator (which we can, and I have, such as with the creative vision of Parasite, which I left with a completely different interpretation), that also means anyone can ignore your interpretation. In other words, you can leave a movie or book with a political message of some kind if it suits your fancy, and you can think that there were political undertones in the story even if they weren't intentionally put there by the creator, but that doesn't mean every other viewer / reader has to leave with the same impression. Trying to turn subjective opinion into objective fact is something art critics have been trying to do since the dawn of time, and it's never worked.

Although now instead of the stuffy art puritans of old trying to tell us that there's no such thing as "abstract" art, now it's angsty journalists who can't have nice things. Because of their egotistical obsession, they believe that since politics permeates every decision that they make, that it's impossible or inconceivable for anyone else to enjoy something for its own sake and not for a political agenda.

The problem I see forthright is that when they take something as complex and nuanced as politics and insist that everything ties back to politics in some way, they tarnish the very nature of the word by stretching its definition so thin that it becomes a shapeless, amorphous blob and not a well-defined concept.

It also spawns innumerous contradictions; if the intent of the creator doesn't matter, then how does their life experiences leading up to the art's creation matter? If their own thoughts, feelings, and beliefs that they poured into the media can't even affect whether or not it's political and what its subjective message is, then how on Earth is their skin color, upbringing, or economic status able to fulfill that role? Do they mean to imply that your skin color or subconscious political bias more directly affects the art than your conscious choices and intentions?

Saying that a picture of a butterfly some little kid drew is political because of the political concepts that affected them growing up is like saying the drawing is about science because particles from the Sun hit them while they were drawing it. It's so mind-bogglingly irrelevant that people sound like moon-landing conspiracy theorists or flat-Earthers when they try to reach that much.

Not to mention that claiming all creation is inherently political bastardizes the entire concept of art by prescribing all art as propaganda. The goal of art is to be honest and authentic to its vision; it doesn't owe its allegiance to political doctrine, or to philosophical or religious ideology. Art doesn't need to justify its existence with politics. This mindset implies that art isn't good enough to exist on its own, and that they only exist as a vessel for political rhetoric. Little separates the adherents of the "all art is political" crowd and 13th-century clergy insisting that art can't exist independently of religion and that all art must either be a religious dedication to God or else it's a direct attack on God himself.

This is what art becomes when you make it political. Look at what you did, Claire Ryan.
Right off the bat, I feel there's something I ought to clarify; art can be political. Just like how art can be religious. Many books and paintings were made with the clear intent to display a political message. Yet the capacity to be political doesn't instantly make all art political.

And of course, something might have been imbued with a political message from its creator but give off a different message altogether to those with different subjective tastes; after all, we've already established that you can see subjective themes and ideas differently from the artist. And if not, then case closed--not all art is political because not all art was created with political intent; checkmate.

It also ignores the honest intentions of the common person.

Take the concept of "cool" for example. I'd be lying if I said that I didn't write 1/3 of the things that end up in my story just because I thought they were cool.

If a story or movie features lots of big fights, dramatic explosions and cheesy lines of dialogue, odds are it was created and consumed--not because of its commentary on capitalism, social status or Donald Trump, but because "they thought it'd look cool."

A lot of people think explosions are cool. I think cheesy action movies are cool. There's nothing deep or meaningful about some wall of muscle like Arnold Schwarzenegger swinging around a mini gun and mowing down incompetent generic baddies, but I'd be damned if I didn't enjoy watching that type of shit anyway because he has a cool accent and looks badass as hell.

The flames in the background tell a very compelling message about the social-geological climate of Siberia.
And while you could try to insist, "Well, maybe you only think it's cool because of your privileged upbringing," and yada yada yada, that completely ignores literally everyone's subjective opinion; because now you're saying that not only does the intent of the creator not matter, but that the opinion of the person consuming it doesn't matter either. So if the artist's intention doesn't affect whether or not a book or movie is political, and the people who consume the media don't get to decide if it's political or not to them, then what the hell determines if a piece of art is political or not? Is there some counsel somewhere that gets to decide if a movie, book or TV show is political?

Something cannot be determined by nothing. This is the concept that drove Albert Einstein to madness when he said he couldn't fathom God playing dice with universe; this was after he failed to discover how particles move. To this day we know that particles like electrons move on their own, but even decades later no scientist can tell you what determines their movements. This was the very thing that spawned the creation of the Schrodinger's Cat thought experiment.

It's quite interesting looking at art through the Schrodinger's Cat lens. It means that all art is simultaneously political and not political; every piece of art can be interpreted as political by one person and as non-political by another.

That almost technically makes Claire Ryan and other followers of this cult correct in their claim that all art is political, but it also means they're simultaneously incorrect and that no art is political.

Isn't philosophy fun?

They seem to actually believe that the mere existence of politics is a black hole from which nothing can escape, therefore everything is political and all art is political. Nevermind that we already talked about how that makes the word "politics" so watered down that it wouldn't convey anything (gonna try not to repeat myself), but it also means that ideas and concepts like "Cool" can't exist. Something is perceived as cool if it's seen as fashionably attractive or aesthetically appealing. That's why sunglasses are "cool." That's why explosions are cool.

And if you don't think sunglasses and explosions are cool, that's fine because what's cool or not is subjective. Yet one thing most people can acknowledge is that not everything is cool. While people will inevitably have differing opinions on what things are cool and which ones aren't, virtually everyone would agree that not everything is cool. The very concept of something being cool implies that in order for something to be called "cool," it has to be cooler or "more cool" than something else. That's why words like "lame" exist; to describe things that aren't cool.

Language is malleable and constantly evolving, yet there are some concrete base ideas that will never change because they'd be at odds with their own existence and would create a paradox.

All bachelors are unmarried, because if they were married they wouldn't be a bachelor in the first place.

So back to the Syndrome meme, if everything is cool, then nothing is cool. If everything is political, then nothing is political. But it also means nothing can be cool that was created and consumed purely for its cool factor, since that would be at odds with the stipulation that all art is political.

Then there's subject matter.

I'd call something political if politics is its subject. If someone wrote a non-fiction book about the history of the Democratic party and titled it, "An Analysis of The American Democratic Party," and more likely than not most of the people reading the book were reading it to--shocker--learn more about politics, then it would be safe to say the book was about politics. It would be a political book by its nature.

Then there's the gray area; some stories might have politics in them but not be about the politics. I'd say Game of Thrones was an example of this, as is The Witcher 3. This is because politics exist in The Witcher 3, but the story is focused on the characters, primarily Geralt, and not on the politics. Also there are other things besides politics in The Witcher 3. There's also a sky and grass, but the story isn't about grass or clouds. There's buildings in The Witcher 3, but the game isn't about architecture. The mere existence of something in a piece of art doesn't make it the focus of that art. Of course, these loons believe that politics is more important than architecture, so if a video game featured both politics and a focus on architecture, they'd argue it was about politics and not architecture, which might disgruntle a passionate architecture nerd somewhere.

"What's that? You really like world-building and character development and think The Witcher 3 is about those things since they're a prominent feature of the story? Fuck you, it has politics in it so it's not about those other things."

I'd say with Game of Thrones it's a bit different because some people will experience it as a story of characters and character arcs while others are only interested in it for the politics, since a pretty massive portion of the show is dedicated to the politics of Westeros, so in that regard I'd say Game of Thrones can definitely be interpreted as more political than The Witcher 3, but whether or not it's the characters or politics that are the focus of the story is something you'll have to decide for yourself.

Yet if the subject of a book is "Hero struggles, eventually beats bad guy, the end," even the existence of politics in that story wouldn't make it political. Most stories in fact can be labeled as having the "hero's journey" as their subject matter. My current WIP Enid has loneliness as the subject matter (I changed my mind about The Pen Pal, I'll write that one after Enid). You'd need a tremendous suspension of disbelief to make every piece of art accommodate the worldview that all art is political. You'd have to ignore spoofs and gags that were created for cheap laughs, jump scares in horror films that were made for cheap scares, and fiery explosions that exist only to look cool. You'd have to turn a blind eye to anything that exists for its own sake and doesn't justify its existence with some random political message that was shoe-horned in at the last second.

There's also the existence of tropes.

Claire goes on to say:

Maybe there's a case to be made for good intentions, or plain ignorance. A white author tries to write a "reverse racism" story, and inadvertently propagates all the same tired old bullshit of actual racism. A male writer writes a slasher horror story where the only girl who survives is the virgin, without once considering the kind of message that sends about female sexuality. Unfortunately, damage is not negated by intentions or ignorance. Those are explanations, but not excuses, and these narratives do cause damage regardless. (How narratives cause harm is a topic for another day.)

I mean I could pick this apart for days; what if a black woman wrote the exact same story word-for-word where only the virgin girl survives the slasher? But nevermind that.

Claire Ryan here talks as if tropes don't exist. The mere existence of a trope is not an endorsement or political stance. Sure you can argue that some tropes are probably over-used and lazy, but that doesn't make a story that features one automatically politically aligned with that trope. There's also condemnation.

For example, I'd say that for all the art that isn't political, one good example of one that is is Huckleberry Finn. The book prominently features discussions of racism and its affects, and because that is one of the main subjects of the book, that would make the book a political one. Yet many people don't see it as a book about racism, but instead as a racist book. I literally knew teachers in high school who condemned Huckleberry Finn as a racist book because it had "the n-word" in it and had scenes where black people were treated as inferior to white people.

But there's one tiny flaw with their line of reasoning....

That's the point of the fucking story. They're supposed to be the bad guys. The people who hate Huckleberry Finn and his black slave friend are the villains of the story. It's obvious that Mark Twain repeatedly makes racism a thing to be hated and feared in the book, but these simpletons actually close the book at the first display of racism and say, "This book is racist, Mark Twain was a racist!"


The book shows how Huckleberry was once entrenched in the same racist mindset that everyone around him was, and how his adventures with Jim changed all that. This paints a sad picture; that non-political art will be hijacked for propaganda, and that whenever art genuinely does tackle a political topic in an intelligent and nuanced way, it will be mistaken as an endorsement for its topic rather than a commentary about it. They mentioned something about writing a story where the Nazis are the good guys, saying that anyone who wrote a story like that probably harbored some form of political bias about Nazis, and in that specific case I'd probably agree, but then by that logic that would make Noughts and Crosses racist for exploring an alternate history where Africa colonized the world instead of Europe. Which is a shame because I thought that book handled the subject with tact and nuance, and while that story was definitely political and dripping with political undertones, it wasn't an endorsement of those undertones.

A person writing a slasher screenplay where the virgin chick is the only one who survives isn't inherently political. If we go with Occam's Razor, they're actually just lazy and unoriginal. That trope is really cliche and overused, but that's precisely why it's not political. A person writing that generic trash into a screenplay probably isn't passionately supporting caste roles of female virginity, they're most likely just indolent. It's far more probable that they just don't take their job seriously or don't want to come up with their own original ideas than this conspiracy theory that they're all virgin-worshiping creeps with detestable views about women. Again, that doesn't mean I like that trope, as I've said already I think it's lazy, but the fact that it's lazy means it's probably a byproduct of laziness and not abject sexism or politically-charged motives.

The claim that all art is inherently political because of the experiences "dragged in" by their creators also ignores obvious cash grabs.

While I'd hardly call anything written by  Cassandra Clare Art because of how shit her books are, technically, because they're books, they count as art, so I will very begrudgingly admit that they technically count as art, even if I think it's the lowest form of art imaginable. According to Claire Ryan, Cassandra Clare's Shadow Hunter books--which is nothing more than a shameless and obvious Harry Potter rip-off, are political in nature. Does a person unabashedly copy-and-pasting someone else's story, changing a few names and selling it as "art" even qualify as something that can be political? Anything in the books that can be remotely interpreted as being politically charged can simply be written off as, "It's only in there because it was in Harry Potter, and this book is a Harry Potter knock off." This would also apply to every bad Hunger Games ripoff. After the Hunger Games came out to immense success, lots of newbie writers and plagiarists came out of the wood-works to steal most of the story, almost word-for-word at times, and pass it off as their own original piece of art. You couldn't really make much of an argument for any part of these obvious knock-offs being political because if it's a ripoff of Harry Potter, then the discussion would become whether or not Harry Potter is political, not the Shadow Hunter books, since anything that's in the Shadow Hunter books was only in there because it was in Harry Potter.

(Except for the trashy dialogue and incest, I guess.)

I didn't actually put this Garden of Sinners wallpaper here for any real reason, I just thought it looked cool.
A trope is just a popular story-telling device. I'd argue that it's how a trope is used that determines if it's political or not, and not the trope itself. There are many cases of tropes being used ironically. Take The Shield Hero which uses the Isekai trope to poke fun at Isekai shows. Isekai is an anime about characters who wake up in a fantasy world with random video-game-like powers. It's a really common and over-saturated genre and the trope is often abused and overused. But instead of using the "other world" trope to make a generic Mary-Sue protagonist that everyone likes so that they can form a harem and live out their perfect power fantasy, The Rising of the Shield Hero uses the trope to mislead the audience into thinking that it's going to be another generic power fantasy when in reality it turns out to be the exact opposite, where the main character is falsely accused of rape, has their entire identity and reputation destroyed, and becomes an outcast hated and despised by all. This clearly uses a common trope that can easily be labeled "inherently problematic" but then flips it on its head and does something completely different with it. How a trope is used is much more relevant than the mere existence of the trope, as a trope is nothing more than a catalyst for conveying other ideas.

To wrap things up I'd like to go into what I think the worst thing about this toxic worldview is, and that's the simple fact that it reeks of, "If you aren't with us, you're against us." If your piece of media or art isn't a political statement about supporting my political views, then it must be a political statement attacking my views. This is a refusal to accept the possibility of disinterested third-party creators and consumers. If Claire wants to argue that everyone drags their political views into their work either consciously or unconsciously, what of those who don't care about politics at all and don't even check the headlines? The people who turned off Twitter and tuned out of social media and Reddit because they didn't care for all the political platforms and just wanted to distance themselves? I refuse to believe a person with no interest in politics and no knowledge of politics whatsoever would even be capable of dragging in political bias let alone be enough of a systematic problem to literally permeate every artistic creation in existence without exemption.

Tying into what I said earlier, if the ability for politics to affect a person automatically means that anything they make is political, then why doesn't it also mean that anything they make is scientific, religious, and about zebras?

Because politics is more relevant, of course.

I'm not actually saying that, but that's how they treat it. If politics wasn't a hotbed for "US vs THEM," I can guarantee you that far fewer people would try to insist that everything has to be tainted with political rhetoric.


I completely reject the appeal to popularity that is the "Politics is everywhere" argument. The mere fact that everyone on the Internet is angrily screeching political slogans and throwing their feces at each other does not elevate politics to a higher status than the other fields of knowledge, neither does it diminish the significance or practical relevance that the other fields of knowledge offer. The existence of science, creative writing, mathematics, religion, and philosophy is not threatened by politics. Politics may be more popular than those as it's basically become a sport, but that doesn't mean that the other fields don't affect people and permeate every life experience as well. I reject this ridiculous and nebulous notion that all art is political because everyone is affected by politics. Everyone is affected by gravity but that doesn't mean a painting of a bowl of fruit is about gravity just because the creator was affected by it at some point, and I'd sound pretty autistic if I tried to claim that everyone drags in their biased opinions of science and the laws of physics when they watch an episode of Bob Ross on Netflix and try to paint along. I don't award politics any special treatment nor do I accept this blind notion that politics is the end-all-be-all of human existence and that everything we make or do has to revolve around it. Politics is not a star that the Earth revolves around, and while there are some aspects of understanding the facets of politics that can serve an important purpose in understanding human nature, it in no way conquers or replaces the other relevant fields of knowledge.

People just get so riled up about their political beliefs and obsessed with political rhetoric that they stubbornly can't consider the possibility that there is more to existence and more to art than surface-level political banter.

No matter how much their lives might revolve around politics, that isn't what the world exists for, and nothing on this planet has to justify its existence with a political label. If anything it's quite the opposite, many forms of escapism are best because they have no tangible connection to anything that affects the real world. People don't tune into sci-fi and fantasy stories to be lectured to about real-world events, and people need to stop treating art as a vehicle for propaganda and political rhetoric and need to come to terms with the fact that art is itself an honest and uncorruptable neutral form of expression.

Again, art can be political, if the creator or audience really and genuinely interprets it as such, or if politics is literally its subject matter, but having political ties is not a prerequisite for a piece of art to exist.

It's none of my business to tell you what to do with your free time, so if you want to make everything about politics, go for it. But if you want to pursue the hobbies you enjoy without being looked down upon or having your hobby hijacked for political gain, you can always stand up to this wave of "Us vs Them" cultists and continue to enjoy your hobbies anyway, completely and utterly divorced of any connection or affiliation to any political side that wants to insist that your hobby is now theirs.

And as always,

may all your cups of tea be your cup of tea,

and I'll see you in the next post.