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Thursday, May 28, 2020

"Normal" Characters

You will notice over the course of this post that I use two different versions of the word--and this is because it's important to distinguish the difference between normal and "normal."

When I say normal, I'm referring to characters with little-to-no defining traits that couldn't be found easily in the average Joe. When I say "normal," I'm referring to a character--usually the protagonist--whose normality is predictably the driving point of the drama / plot. If it wasn't already clear, I don't like "normal" characters.

What's up with normal and "normal" characters anyway, and why are there so many of them? If you guessed "Because they're easier to write," you'd be correct!

Well... sort of.

In many cases, writing a normal character can actually be more challenging than writing an interesting one.

That sounds totally oxymoronic, but allow me to explain.

Writing a "normal" character is extremely easy--just make them agreeable, the "voice of reason" (aka saying completely predictable and bland things at all times, usually stating the obvious). One example of a "normal" character is the (forgettable) Shirou Emiya from the 2006 and 2014 anime "Fate / Stay Night."

He's your typical one-dimensional good guy who fights bad because "bad bad," and brings us brilliant insightful commentary on the world with lines such as:


yeah I don't even have some witty response to that, it's just so bad.

However, writing a normal character--sans quotation marks--is extremely difficult.

Don't get me wrong, writing an interesting character is very challenging, but at least with interesting characters you can give them one or two odd or unique qualities and double-down on those throughout the entire manuscript, but with normal characters that's not an option. What's an example of a normal character done well?

Surprisingly there's a lot.

Some might point to some of the characters from The Office for examples. I say "some" because obviously characters like Michael and Dwight are really bizarre, but someone like, say, Oscar feels like they could be a real person. Same goes for a lot of the characters--Jim and Pam are written like a powercouple who act as a beacon of normality in a strange workplace filled with Dwights and Michaels, and a character like Darryl feels convincing and real too.

Moving to the realm of books, Stephen King writes excellent normal characters. Writing a normal character is harder than writing an interesting character because an interesting character doesn't have to be realistic to be interesting. They can be as bombastic or fatnastical as the creator wants, while a normal character has to convince the reader or audience that this is someone who does or could actually exist. They have to be much more believable and grounded.

The stark difference between a normal character and a "normal" character is that a normal character has motives and interests outside of the fact that they are normal. A "normal" character is just a blank slate with no interesting or unique qualities whatsoever and their entire personality revolves around the fact that they are normal.

It drives me nuts when stories with good plots rely on the "normal" protagonist; while it is true that stories can be either plot-driven or character-driven, you don't have to completely sacrifice character development for the sake of making plotting easier.

And there are stories that manage both.

Agatha Christie's novels are definitely plot-driven seeing as they are murder mysteries, yet while the characters aren't the focus of the story, they feel grounded and realistic. If you could sit down and have a coffee with one of her characters, you wouldn't know that you were even talking to a fictional character because of how convincing they are, a compliment that extends greatly to King's writing. Besides his plots and prose, the thing that made King such a hit to so many people was how he was able to put real people in strange and terrifying situations that also often felt real. It made his stories more palpable because no one was a walking cliche, but they still felt somewhat normal.

Yet normal doesn't mean no personality. Going back to our example with The Office for instance, we could easily look at any of the normal characters and come up with some of their identifying features.

For example, Oscar is sassy and a bit of a smart-ass, while Pam is a bit too agreeable and that's why she stuck around with Roy for so long, both traits that are believable.

There are lots of guys, gay and straight alike, who are annoying know-it-alls, and women in general tend to be much more agreeable than men which makes a character like Pam believable. These are personality traits that make the character fleshed-out while still keeping them normal. Because while characters like Oscar and Pam don't represent literally everyone, they are certainly common enough personality traits to not be seen as anything out of the ordinary.

And while we know that writing convincingly normal people in strange situations is what made Stephen King so revered, it was actually the opposite the made Don Quixote revered. I have to give it to Cervantes for being able to pull off not one, but two incredible feats; he wrote one of the most interesting characters ever written, and put him in normal circumstances.

Most writers will try to put interesting characters in interesting situations, while Stephen King puts normal characters in interesting situations and Cervantes puts interesting characters into normal situations, seeing as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are two extremely strange and memorable characters who are placed in an extremely mundane and normal countryside, causing chaos with their very existence. He managed to write both interesting unique characters with a large ensemble of normal characters for the bizarre traveling duo to interact with.

These principals apply just as much to cinema.

Quinton Tarantino is, without exemption, one of my favorite screenwriters of all time, because he's mastered the art of putting really interesting people into really bizarre situations, but still making both the strange characters and strange situations feel mostly realistic and believable by grounding both. Take Pulp Fiction for example, where we have a couple of really interesting hired guns put into all sorts of outlandish situations, but they're still kept grounded. Game of Thrones does the same.

(Until Season 7 and 8, that is.)

Unfortunately when it comes to books, the YA genre is (unfortunately) saturated with "normal" characters. A lot of the trendy YA books do have some redeeming qualities, like good prose and plots, but there's too many instances of YA supernatural / dystopian books with romantic subplots where the protagonist is just some bland girl. The sin here is that the "normal" protagonist also throws a wrench in the plot too, because if a 16-year-old girl is moody, boring, and extremely average, why are hundred-year-old drop-dead-gorgeous slabs of man-meat perfection fighting over her, and why does the plot get resolved outside of just plain plot-armor?

It doesn't, because that's always what happens. Take Divergent for example.

(I haven't read the book, maybe the book is bad too but it might be good for all I know. I've seen those God-awful movies though.)

Or Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare or any CW show.

And the thing is, that there's nothing wrong with young female protagonists. Mine is 20 but I'm writing a story with a young female lead myself. If a YA story is about a 16-year-old girl who fights demons or something, embrace that. She doesn't have to be a plank of wood. As cheesy as it is, I can at least enjoy something like Buffy the Vampire Slayer with all its corniness for making Buffy relatively well fleshed out. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying Buffy is a shining avatar of complexity, there are lots of better characters out there, just that she was more developed and interesting than similar characters in similar books and TV shows.

Now, I don't want to be disingenuous; there is one valid reason why these bland female characters exist (there are male ones too like Shirou, although the trend I've noticed is that "normal" male characters are most common in anime while "normal" female characters are most common in books). And that's simply to be used as inserts.

To summarize what that means, essentially a self-insert is when the writer makes the protagonist--well, themselves, and this is because the writer is more concerned with writing a fan-fiction power-fantasy about themselves as a hero than about making a compelling story, while a lot of these anime series and books with bland protagonists are used so that the reader can put themselves in the MC's shoes more easily.

And there is some value to that.

As much as I hate on "normal" characters, there are some stories where writing a "normal" character actually worked out really well. This is actually the thing that made Neon Genesis Evangelion so damn interesting.

For those who don't know, Evangelion is a story about the psychological trauma experienced by a group of young teens who are expected to save the world by piloting extremely violent and terrifying sentient robots.

Evangelion really fascinates me because it's the only example that comes to mind where the existence of a "normal" protagonist is actually brilliant.

And this is purely because of one subtle but massive difference in focus. We've all heard the story about the teenagers who save the world, it's kind of a dumb and overused trope, but Evangelion did something genius by changing the focus away from the heroism and adventures of the teenagers to trauma. Instead of the teenagers going around killing demons or vampires or whatever the case is with a lot of YA content, it's portrayed as a tragedy.

This is because the sentient machines they control are linked to them biologically, so the kid piloting the thing feels pain in the place of the machine. If the robot loses and arm, the kid controlling it will experience unbelievable pain and trauma as they feel the pain of losing an arm themselves. And not to mention the weight of the tremendous burden on their shoulders; for reasons not entirely explained, the robots or "EVAs" as they are called only respond to youth. If the pilot is too young, they won't be intelligent enough to control the EVA safely and effectively, and any older than 14 or so and the pilots lose the ability to control the EVA. So when the government basically kidnaps these children and puts them in EVAs, it's not seen as badass or heroic. It's seen as barbaric--young teenagers expected to undergo the trauma of war and scarring them with PTSD for life.

I went into this show expecting an epic mecha anime--that is, a show about giant robots fighting other giant robots.

If you've ever seen Pacific Rim, that's what mecha is.

But what I got was something extremely different.

While it does technically involve giant robots, it's shown as this terrifying alternate reality where children carry the weight of the world, experiencing tremendous pain and trauma as they fight "robots" that bleed, making them question the morality of killing these robots without knowing what their motivations are or if they feel pain or not. There's also the fact that the EVA machines are extremely hard to pilot and the tiniest mistakes could kill thousands of innocent civilians, and a couple 14-year-old kids are stuffed into these robots and forced to pilot them.

(I know the "Angels" aren't considered robots, just for the sake of the mecha name I referred to it that way, but they are not actually classified as machines. Pls don't crucifix me.)

The existence of a "normal" character works because the protagonist Shinji is just a kid. He cries out against the adults of the show, begging the government to let him leave because he doesn't want to pilot an EVA. It's not fun or epic, it's terrifying and every time he pilots one, innocent people die or his EVA gets damaged enough to inflict extreme agonizing pain on him that instills constant anxiety and fear in him as the show progresses. And the worst part is that if he wants to quit and refuse to pilot an EVA, he's allowed to but can't. No matter how badly he wants to quit, he can't quit for good because he's one of the only kids able to pilot the thing and if he doesn't do it, odds are no one else will and he has to live with the knowledge that people died because he refused to pilot the EVA. So the guilt forces him back every time.

While most of the show Shinji doesn't have any real interesting characteristics or personality traits, the focal point of the narrative is about what happens to him and what the experience does to his psyche. The audience watches as he goes from this regular, kinda standard kid to this person completely driven to insanity. It's almost like a case study on the effects of PTSD. It's extremely unsettling for all the best reasons. While it's not a horror show, it makes the "normal" character work by exploring existential terror, a brand of thriller-writing that's extremely difficult to pull off, especially in a way that can create the same unease and unnerving discomfort that Evangelion does.

Yet the unfortunate reality is that "normal" characters are almost exclusively produced as a byproduct as laziness, at least when it comes to mediums outside of gaming. In gaming, a silent protagonist can actually be great. In movies, TV and books, "normal" characters don't really work because the audience isn't controlling the protagonist. They're watching them or observing them, so they want to see something interesting.

But with a video game, having a silent protagonist is actually a good thing when done right because the player literally IS the protagonist. While a game like The Witcher 3 can have you playing as some awesome and well-written character, something like Dark Souls can have the same quality while allowing the player to create their own character and play as them. In Dark Souls, you don't say a single word. You just let your actions do the talking, and you do what you want.

In The Witcher 3, you play as the protagonist; in Dark Souls, you ARE the protagonist.

However, that's not the same as having a normal protagonist or a "normal" protagonist. That's just having a blank protagonist, an empty slot where you either create a protagonist or literally are the protagonist yourself.

Metro Exodus is kind of half-way between the two because you play as a pre-written character but he's a silent protagonist, yet because it's first-person and his silence usually makes sense, it's surprisingly convincing and immersive.

In something like Dark Souls, you are the protagonist; in a classic RPG like The Outer Worlds, you create a protagonist that isn't you. They still have lines of dialogue and personalities, but you get to control what dialogue options you choose and what your character's personality is.

So those are the three stages; in The Witcher 3 there's a pre-written character with an already established story and personality, in The Outer Worlds and Fallout: New Vegas you create your own character and their backstory, choosing from a large array of different personalities and dialogue options, and in Dark Souls the protagonist is straight-up you.

With the first stage of game protagonists, a pre-written character, making them boring or an insert in an egregious sin. As the player, you are a passenger observing this character's life, so making them boring, "normal," or an insert makes them uninteresting to watch.

With stage-two games like The Outer Worlds, it's a little different. You can't give them a pre-established personality because that takes away the freedom and agency of the player; since the player gets to create the protagonist and their personality themselves, the writers' and developers' job is to make that as easy as possible by writing in numerous different but interesting personalities for the player to choose from, and the more the better.

For example, in The Outer Worlds and Fallout: New Vegas you can literally choose your character's intelligence with an intelligence stat--and if you choose to lower this stat, the character becomes dumber and dumber and it unlocks some really funny dialogue where they talk like a moron. The writers had to write in tons of new dialogue for this, but it was a great idea.

But really this all just shows that varying degrees of blank characters work in video games when the player is able to supplement their characteristics either with their own personality or with an invented character in the case of games like The Outer Worlds. With pre-created characters in other mediums--movies, TV and books, normal characters are hard to pull off while "normal" and blank characters do not work. Unless used extremely specifically to explore a topic directly connected to the idea of normality.

In Evangelion the "normal" character only works because it's meant to be watched like an experiment of the human condition; seeing what happens when you put the average kid in a situation like Evangelion's vision of the future.

(Technically past now, since it was a 90's show that took place in 2015, similar to Back to the Future II, but it was a vision of a possible future to them so that statement still stands even though it was the past to us.)

The biggest problem to me really just boils down to intent. Normal characters work in Stephen King books and slice-of-life shows like The Office and Shirobako because they were hand-crafted with the intent of making these characters interesting despite their normality and they serve a grounded purpose in the over-arching narrative.

(Shirobako is the anime equivalent of The Office, but I actually like Shirobako more, which is saying something because I'm something of an Office fanboy, and I've got the Dundie and T-shirts to prove it. I mean how can you not love Shirobako?)

 ^unrelated, I just needed to gush for a second. Including a sorta informal review of Shirobako in my Animation post was actually a bit of a goof on my part, I should have made a separate post about it to get it out of my system. Ah well, it is what it is. A small assortment of screenshots is good enough for me I guess. Just go watch Shirobako, m'kay?

You right now

Anyway, I probably should have gone more in-depth about how to make good normal characters rather than just saying "Stephen King did it," since that's not very helpful to most people, but really I think it just boils down to making them relatable, and I could write a whole essay just about that (probably will) and it's nuanced enough to where it would feel disingenuous to just tack it onto the end of this post, so I'll just cut it here for now.

And as always,

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

and I'll see you in the next post.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

The Antidote for Vapidity

Warning: This post is loaded with strong political opinions, if you're easily disgruntled, go read my other post before reading this one.

There's this interesting phenomenon that has been eating away at me, and that's the fact that people can remember information much easier than where they learned it from. It raises the question, "Is that information even reliable? Where did I learn that from?"

One instance of me thinking about something quite a bit but having no clue where I got the information from is the claim that all emotions are either strong or weak variants of a different emotion--and one feeling--boredom--is actually just an extremely weak and watered down version of disgust. The claim is that boredom isn't merely the lack of interesting things to do, but a very mild disgust at the insipid and blandness of things. People reading this in quarantine are probably bored more often than not.

I've also heard the phrase said in my favorite Harvey Danger song, "If you're bored, then you're boring." One philosophy I live by is to always adopt the contrarian point of view from Quora. For those who don't know, Quora is a toxic cesspool of self-proclaimed intellectuals prescribing textbook answers to subjective questions. When I googled the phrase above, one of the first results was a Quora question asking if the phrase was true; the answers all said it was completely false, which must mean that it's undeniably true and Harvey Danger had it right. I defy you to find a more reliable way of finding life's answers than that.

(That being said, I have noticed that the vast majority of the people complaining about being bored on social media are all, in fact, boring and vapid normies, so at least I personally have anecdotal evidence to justify myself.)

Yet I've noticed one thing, and that's that boredom, and by extension, boringness, almost spreads like a disease. Everyone is complaining about the spread of the kung-flu but no one is alarmed by the real pandemic at hand--that everyone's lives are so dry and empty that they have literally nothing to do but twiddle their thumbs and stare at their phone the moment they're told to hunker down for a while.

Don't get me wrong, people who need to get their next paycheck so they can afford food and rent is one thing, but college millenials complaining that quarantine has ruined their life because "there's nothing to do" is just sad. And it makes me smile.

At the moment, my physical contact is limited almost exclusively to interacting  only with a few extremely boring and vapid individuals--and every moment that I have to spend in their presence I can feel the passion and joy being sucked out of my life until I no longer have the will to live and start unironically saying things like "vibe" and "real communism has never been tried."

I'm worried at this rate that one day it will get so bad that I unironically tell people what my zodiac is.

Galatians 4:16
I've run into people who do literally nothing but watch TV. I mean don't get me wrong, I think TV is great, but only watching TV is not what one would call an interesting or stimulating lifestyle.

For understanding this type of person, let us turn to the most bona fide and official source of dictation on the Internet: the Urban Dictionary.

A person gravitating to social standards, accepted practices, and fads of their own time & geographic grouping without broader cultural perspectives from which they draw.

Normies possess a lack of interest in ideas not easily accessible or being outside of their/society's current range of acceptance. A straight. A follower.

Most normies adopt a "popularity is the only measure of good or bad" mindset at an early age.

Normies typically have a sense of cultural superiority over "counter culture" movements & foreign cultures. They will often try to discredit out cultures or choices falling outside of their majority claiming that those of other dispositions are mentally ill or out of touch with reality.

By perspective, normies of this generation would have been the social outcasts of the uber conformist 50s.

Most normies don't believe they are so. A deep generational delusion has since persisted--allowing them to believe they are defying a system of social rules long since defunct.

This group can easily be molded to suit virtually any desired value system. In America's capitalist system, normies have been adapted to consume what's easily attainable with little to no resistance. Popular is good. Therefore all that has been perceived to be vetted by their peers then is accepted.

As their majority cultural definitions are rooted in shallow concepts and fads that soon expire they're often then called old.

I don't think I could have said it any more poetically.
I'm completely convicted that today's culture of popularity is more potent than in any other time in recent history. Many might argue the opposite, citing, "In the past nerds and geeks were outcasts, but today they're accepted" as evidence, but there's a simple argument against that as well.

While it is true that there is far less outward resistance to people who would have been considered outcasts before, the current social system in place is far more insidious. Whereas in the past the rules were verbalized and clearly defined--nerds bad, normal people good, now there's only silent judgement.

This is largely in part of what has become popular. At the moment, the popular normie trend is this vague and ill-defined concept of "acceptance." In an attempt to be a more "progressive" society, most normies have taken to advocating for subjective morality, cultural Marxism, and globalism in the form of every country having the same skin color and language and all holding hands and singing kumbaya.

These are typically the people who go to complain on Twitter when an artist makes a piece of art they don't like or one that isn't "inclusive" enough.

(Speaking of Twitter I deleted that shithole the other day, I think my "peace of mind" attributes have increased by 10-fold since.)

One thing I've noticed is this frightening trend for normies to complain about something not being the way the want it without making anything of value themselves.

Have they forgotten that they were also born with two hands, two eyes, and a brain? Well, two hands, two eyes and a brain-stem?

How is it possible for groups of literally hundreds of thousands to take to the Internet and complain that an entire medium or genre isn't good enough (insert any example of blue checkmarks bellyaching about movies, video game characters, books, comics, or any other thing that isn't woke enough)?

I think the main reason why we get the "stunning and brave" remarks on woke material is the fact that so few woke material is actually produced.

Take the Tumblr artists who make fat versions of Disney characters for example. Tens of thousands of people take to Twitter to complain that Disney characters are too skinny and aren't "realistic" enough (since I guess Disney is the epitome of realism), and out of those tens of thousands of people, only one of them decides to actually make their own version instead of complaining about someone else's.

Don't get me wrong, I'll always make fun of bad, fat Disney drawings, but at least the creator is doing something themselves. Most normies would just complain about someone else's work and would never even consider the possibility that they could make something themselves with their own two hands.

For example the people that try to turn male comic book characters into female ones forget that they could make their own female character from scratch if they want to. But that would require time and effort, not to mention work and creativity, which SJWs don't possess, so instead they whine and complain until someone in Hollywood bends to their will.

Just to be clear, at the time of writing, normies and SJWs are not one in the same; although normies tend to have adopted SJW values but aren't spiteful and angry enough to act on those ideas. (Although that's susceptible to change in the future.)

Now, if you read the title of this post, you probably noticed that I mentioned the "antidote," implying that I have the solution to this.

And no, just to be clear the antidote for vapidity is not right-wing political views (not a bad start though IMO). The antidote is something poetic in its simplicity; it's meaningful experiences. No, adopting right-wing or centrist views is not the cure for vapidity; it's in what we consume and create.

You've likely heard the phrase, "You are what you eat," but this applies to much more than just food. If you only ever go to work / school, come home and listen to whatever music is popular, watch vapid celebrity talk-shows and read shallow celebrity gossip, and only go to theaters to watch Marvel and Disney movies, then what do you think the outcome will be?
Someone who only consumes endless streams of vapid shit isn't capable of understanding--let alone creating--anything that isn't.

That's why there's two sides to the coin; consuming and creating.

The consumer angle is the tougher of the two. At the moment we are a consumer culture, where people consume great quantities of content but only a select few create content of their own.

However, since there are billions of consumers on the planet, even if only a small fraction of them create content, that still amounts to plenty of content for consumers to consume.

Less than 1% of the population creates YouTube videos, but there's hundreds of hours of YouTube video uploaded every minute. The global population is large enough for even just a small sliver of that massive population to create tons of content.

This is where consumers get stuck. They see no need to create anything themselves because there's already so many other people creating things, so they should just sit around and enjoy the ride and the fruits of others' labor.

However the thing is that consuming content is not bad, the issue arises when people don't consume meaningful content, or consume it in a meaningful way. I can always appreciate the types of people who make video essays about movies and television because they aren't just watching TV passively, in a way them watching television is an active experience that requires a lot of time and effort on their part. It's simultaneously an entertaining and learning experience, and any situation where learning can be fun and enjoyable is an advantageous one to human betterment.

That's not to say that you should never just relax and watch some Netflix after working for hours, it only means that people can benefit from occasionally studying the things they consume; analyzing the writing, characters, cinematography, and dialogue of your favorite shows or programs. Seeing talk shows and interviews not as something to just passively put on in the background while you scroll through social media, but as social experiments, the same way Charisma on Command and Jordan Peterson do.

It means occasionally watching dumb and shallow stuff and playing generic shooting games to unwind, but mixing in a healthy dose of deeper experiences. This is why a normie would never understand something like Dark Souls or The Authentic Observer. With no foundation made of anything meaningful, they couldn't possibly begin to penetrate the world outside of their superficial normie bubble. A normie could no better understand the world outside of Disney, zodiac signs and celebrity interviews than an ant could understand the world outside of your backyard.

Not to mention that consuming good art is imperative to creating good art. Consuming some bad content as well is also healthy, because it gives the person a scale and a metric to compare the things they consider good and the things they don't. For that reason it's actually a good idea to sometimes consume bad content, so that you can learn how to avoid the mistakes the creator of that media made. Also to get an idea of "so bad that it's good" vs just simply "so bad".
EmpLemon did this fantastic video about the normie-ization of YouTube. YouTube--being locally run and operated from Silicon Valley--has become one of the most generic and bland Internet spaces in existence.

Now, obviously if you've been on the platform for a decade like I have, then you have years of finely-tuned subscriptions that show you the good shit. Every person who stays on YouTube for a long period of time will eventually find the type of content that they like. And you don't have to like the same YouTube content that I like, the important part is finding content that is enjoyable and meaningful to YOU.

When someone goes to YouTube for the first time, the only videos they see for the most part are celebrity interviews, talk shows, random music videos, and a section devoted to kung-flu news, but that section isn't usually there.

When I log into YouTube, I see all of the new videos produced by all of my favorite creators, video essays, memes, and podcasts that are all tailored to my own personal, subjective taste.

That's why, in my humble opinion, YouTube is a great place to start, if you're able to find any good channels to get you started at least.

When I log into YouTube I see my personally tailored subscriptions--

But when someone new logs into YouTube, what videos get recommended to them? Just a bunch of celebrity crap and music videos.

To someone new to the platform, they'd unwittingly come to conclude that YouTube was designed for nothing more than sterile celebrity content and nothing more. And who could blame them?

There's actually a very good reason for this; unlike regular television which is backed by comfort eagles and millions in Hollywood, YouTube is funded purely by advertisements from fickle and easily provoked advertising companies.

You could be forgiven for thinking, "What are you talking about? Doesn't Google own YouTube?"

Yes, they do, but they know how costly YouTube is to run. YouTube is one helluva expensive site to run. It would have gone bankrupt if Google hadn't swept in and bought it at its lowest financial point

(see: EmpLemon's "YouTube vs Viacom" infographic):

So what Google has gone and done is pumped just the bare minimum amount of money into the platform to keep it alive. It's like a near-death elderly person hooked up to IV machines and life support.

Where does the rest of YouTube's money come from then? Mostly ads for kids. The vast majority of YouTube's advertisement revenue comes from children's videos with ads for toys and mobile games.

The second largest advertisers for the platform are soda companies like Coca Cola and Pepsi, followed by movie trailers and lastly a small band of independent advertisers.

This essentially means that corporate YouTube will bend over and spread em to let advertisers go in dry if it means they don't pull their ads. Since any ads that are run on "non-family-friendly content" could be reported to advertisers as "inappropriate," YouTube is careful to promote a super bland and sterile family-friendly image to appease them. The only way for YouTube to ensure that no one gets offended is by making their homepages and trending tabs as generic and average as possible.

Anyway that's a can of worms that's best left unopened so I won't ramble on anymore about that.

If anyone can get past that barrier of blandness however, they'll be met with an endless ocean of unique, thought-provoking content.

This applies to everything by the way; when it comes to books, movies, television, etc., the most generic stuff will always be thrown in your face first. It's a part of a larger systematic issue where people, due to their fear of offending someone, will try to be as unoffensive as possible, but of course the only way to make something that won't offend anyone is to make something so generic and stale that it couldn't possibly get anyone actually invested in it.

(Please don't confuse this as an endorsement for intentionally trying to make offensive content, rather the point is that all interesting content is going to offend someone, it's just inevitable.)

When it comes to consuming generic content people will often line up like the people in Soylent Green.

"Soylent Green is people!"

And it's why we get abominations like this:

To move this along, the other side of the coin is, of course, creation. Consuming meaningful content (or consuming bad content in a meaningful way) and creating things of your own volition are necessary for fostering a creative worldview. While I say criticism is great (and dedicated an entire post to the subject, linking it above for disgruntled peeps to read), I do agree to some extent that there's a difference between criticism and whining. Or even attacking. While the existence of these things aren't inherently bad, it's certainly not good for the individuals doing them and doesn't benefit society in anyway.

Rather than complaining about content we don't like, a much better alternative is creating content that the way we think it should be made.

Obviously this can only be taken so far--if we took that as an absolute, that would mean that no one could criticize a television show unless they make their own tv show, which obviously requires tons of money, time, and resources that the average Joe doesn't have, so it would be unreasonable to assert that the statement above is a purist rule.

What it is however is a guideline for the mindset people should adopt before whining about stuff. Maybe you didn't make a TV show but you draw, or write short stories, or paint. Making something that you enjoy is both a learning and humbling experience (as exposure to the Internet will quickly prove). The mindset of, "Before I whine about what other people have made, I should try my hand at making things myself."

The humility of creating something just for creation's sake is an experience that would put most would-be whiners in their place. Upon realizing how difficult, complex and nuanced creating art is, they'll adopt a newfound appreciation for people who make art for free.

While not all art is free (like TV), free art is often given the same unforgivably cruel treatment as paid art. I understand being mad about wasting money on a bad product--of which entertainment media like books and television are--but people more often than not show the same amount of vitriol for free content.

If someone pays a streaming service for access to TV shows that turn out to not be any good, that person invested money in the expectation of quality entertainment, and even if it only costs $10 bucks to unlock a particular streaming service or streaming channel, that person still has the right to be unhappy about their purchase.

However, when some amateur teenager slaves away on an animation and uploads it to YouTube for people to enjoy for free, to go after them for not liking the content is cruel.

That doesn't mean they can't be criticized, just that criticism should be constructive and kind and not a personal attack on the creator. An experienced animator giving advice to a younger animator in good faith is not the same as commentors raging about the animation not being good enough.

Let's go back to the Disney art for example.

If some young sketch artist decides they want to try to draw Disney characters in a way that they like and upload the results to DeviantArt and Twitter, it wouldn't be fair for the people who see it to treat it like it was something they paid for. It wasn't.

Someone making art of their favorite characters or franchises is not an invitation for cruel asperity. If you are really sick and tired of seeing a certain type of content, you're more than welcome to attempt making it "properly" yourself. No one will stop you.

This seems to stem from a great sense of tremendous entitlement; this idea that everything has to be "good enough" otherwise it's a sin against creation.

That teenager uploading drawings to DeviantArt or Tumblr isn't doing it to appease every denizen of the Internet or to cater to your personal taste.

It's like the people who leave lame complaints about free games on Steam.

Creating a video game is an extremely difficult and arduous process, so while it's true that most free games on Steam aren't that great, why would you complain about them? Some people spent thousands of hours slaving away over something that they then decided to give away for free and people still complain about it. If you don't like it, maybe.... don't play it? Play something else.

If you paid $60 for a professionally made, AAA game, then you expect the premium quality that price-tag implies. If you paid for $60 game from a big studio and it turned out to be like a mediocre indie game, then you would be mad because they charged a premium price for a sub-par experience that can't justify the high price.

That's why everyone was so furious about Fallout 76.

Yet if something like Fallout 76 was free, there'd be no reason to complain about it because if you don't like it, it's fine because it didn't cost you a damn thing.

Again, this is not to say that amateurs are immune from criticism, it's just a take on the broken mindset of being entitled to great everything.

Not to mention that creating things is... hard. As was discussed in great length in my Animation post, people go to extreme lengths to create even small amounts of content for your viewing pleasure. So before we grab our torches and pitchforks because someone didn't draw something the way we like or played an instrument in a way we think is distasteful, let's calm down for a second and reflect on just how childish and entitled that is.

While I can acknowledge that making things is hard and throwing a temper tantrum on the Internet is easy, I just don't think it's anything but pathetic and whiny.

Yet the greatest thing of all is that creativity is simultaneously the antidote for vapidity as well as entitlement. By creating meaningful things as well as consuming things in a meaningful way, the subject is forced to care about something outside of themselves. Something greater than themselves.

The subject is forced to care about the existence and appreciation of art, which is something no stuffy art-appreciation class will accomplish. "Art appreciation" courses didn't increase my appreciation for art in the slightest, but attempting to be an artist definitely has. Nothing gives you a better dose of reality than the harsh awakening of creating something and being subject to copious amounts of dissent and criticism from anonymous people who have no clue how hard you're trying. Trying to make things slams the previously-consumer with the perspective of the very people they've taken for granted all this time.

I will now insert that famous Ratatouille scene that I've brought up in previous posts (you can call it repetitive, but I call it "consistency").

If I had to compile a list to make an objective, abjectly successful method of curing vapidity or blandness, I'd order it as follows:

  1. Recognize that there's a lack of fulfillment. Most vapid people don't even know that they're vapid, but if one was hypothetically to discover this fact about themselves they're already vastly ahead from most.
  2. Desire a change. This part comes more easily than the first, as it's a natural progression from realizing that life feels boring and repetitive to wanting a change of pace, or more stimulation. Maybe you're just bored in quarantine (at the time of writing, hello future people who aren't quarantined) and are dying for something, anything to happen.
  3. Learn to love learning. The best way to go about this is to find what things you care about and what things you don't. I hate most classes because I don't like learning about things I don't care about, but I would go out of my way to pay for a course that teaches me things I enjoy and care about. It's the same reason I follow many YouTubers who could be considered educational. Find the channels and content that teaches you the things you want to learn about. Intellectual curiosity is the cornerstone of creative innovation.
  4. Enjoy a wide variety of mediums. I encourage people not to get too stuck in their lane; I'd encourage everyone to study film, literature, animation, music, etc. Obviously there's not enough time on the planet to learn everything about all of them, but having that variety will be beneficial to growing an expanded horizon.
  5. Don't be a people-pleaser. I'm not saying to be toxic and go out of your way to provoke or offend people, just don't be afraid of offending people. Not just in the creation of content but in all of your daily interactions. Don't be a "Yes-man" or a "Yes-woman." If you are, you can't expect to be an independent a free-thinking individual when you bend to the whim and opinions of others. This one is even harder than point #1, since most people are incapable of saying "No" from my experience. The simple truth is that most people aren't brave enough to bare things alone. I won't pretend it isn't lonely, but there's something noble about sticking to your guns and what you believe in even if the whole world hates you for it.
  6. Create. Create prolifically. Invest as much time as you can afford. For some that won't be much, if they work long shifts and have busy schedules, but even half an hour a day is good. Whether you're drawing, writing fiction, or creating video essays for YouTube, or creating some other form of art, spending half an hour a day is a great start. Those with more free time on their hands can afford to invest more time (1+ hour every night is my routine, but some will have enough steam to do 2 or more hours daily).
  7. Apply #5 to #6. It's just as important to not succumb to external pressure in life decisions as it is with creating art and content. That's not to say that honest criticism should be ignored, but if what you create offends a lot of people, you can't quit. Well, you can, but that's stupid. If you've gotten this far you're already down the rabbit hole and past the point of no return, so by quitting all you'd do is feel inadequate and have crippling self-doubt and thoughts of what could have been. Let's not reach that point.
  8. Determine what your endgame is. This isn't something that has to be worked out early on, but rather can be saved for deep in the creative process. If you've been making amateur animations for a couple of years now and have gotten pretty decent, or doing character art or writing short stories, etc., now might be a good time to strive for a goal related to that. For example if it's writing, it might be a good idea to try your hand at entering short story contests, and if you hone your skill and get confident in your ability, you could publish your own short story and see how things go. This applies to everything of course, including novels, plays, movie scripts, art commissions, etc. Usually things won't go great the first time, but if you work hard and it just turns out "okay," that puts you way ahead of most people who will never even get this far.
  9. Ride the momentum. To be quite honest, when I read my book--the published one--I cringe at half of it. I don't think it's completely terrible or irredeemable, it's just not remotely as good as my current work. But that's actually a great thing. I'll accept that ugly debut and all of its messy flaws and charms because it reminds me of how much I've improved since then. Your first project will not be an avatar of perfect quality, even if it seems awesome when you're making it. However you have to start somewhere, and if you're afraid to start because you don't want to fail, you'll never move. You have to ride the momentum of your first few crappy creations in order to improve and make great content. Your goal with each new project or thing should be to slightly improve from the previous one. If you write short stories, then your only goal should be to make each story at least a slight improvement over the previous one. In this way, you can keep going and gradually fail less and less. You will fail, but embrace the failure and work on failing better and less often over time.
  10. Don't hate yourself. That sounds kind of obvious, but there's this horrible thing in our heads; it's called "the artists swing." It essentially means that anyone who regularly creates things will always feel like they're either the best in the world or the worst in the world, with no in between. When I write I only have those two moods; I either get super cocky and think to myself, "This is the greatest thing that has ever graced the page," or I think, "This is horrible awful trash, no one should read this, I shouldn't have written this, this shouldn't exist and I shouldn't be allowed to keep writing because I'm a fraud." If your discipline is a different artistic field, brace yourself for the same thing. And the stupidest part of this is that I'll have both those thoughts about the exact same passage. I can read something I wrote a while back and have that first mindset, only to return to it later and have the second mindset, or vice versa. Your work cannot simultaneously be the best and worst thing in existence; in reality it's probably somewhere in between and can be just called "decent." If you're on the cocky side of the swing, hearing that your amazing gift to the world is actually just "ok" is a bummer, but if you're on the depressed or self-doubting side of the swing it's a sigh of relief. Keep your cockiness in check when you swing that way, but even more importantly don't succumb to despair and delete entire months of work just because you have a moment of impostor syndrome about your work. And don't ask others for validation or opinions when you're feeling really down; if they say anything even slightly negative your cynical creative mind will completely blow it out of proportions, and if they say anything positive you'll have paranoid doubts and think that everyone around you is just telling you what you want to hear. You'll over-exaggerate anything negative and completely doubt anything positive, so just don't do it. Just keep pressing on with the project and tell yourself that it's okay to doubt your work but that you'll continue being diligent anyway, even if you're not the best at it. Be alright with not being a master; mastery comes with time.
I hope this was at least slightly beneficial to someone out there, and if you want, you can send this article to a friend and have them wondering whether you sent it to them because you thought it was cool and interesting, or because you're passive-aggressively trying to tell them something.

As always,

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

and I'll see you in the next post.