Commercialization, Art, and Innovation (from my Twitter feed)

. . .INCEPTION. . .

Inspired by:
@dirtytea: reddit crashed this great Ubisoft Game review, here’s a grab. Spot on:
@dirtytea: cont… &

“Ubisoft game” article underscores a fine question about criticism. When a publisher keeps making the same game while leaving old problems unaddressed, at what point do we stop tolerating it?

Same can be said for cross-company genres as well, in all mass-market media. Cliches of design prevail, even when they are unsatisfactory. Old maxim: Democracy is the worst form of govt., except for all the others, has implicit learned helplessness baked right into the crust. Being “mostly functional” isn’t good enough. Innovate! INNOVATE! (Sorry. Got a little @DalekAdvice there at the end.)

Back to first point, though: should we review eying the past askance, or to set a bar only to be exceeded on occasion? (I hope the former.)

At the same time, HBO’s Game of Thrones (which I enjoy) is largely homogeneous, episode to episode. The tension, ebb and flow, is consistent, as is style. I don’t ask for more of following seasons, so long as there isn’t “less”. I guess there’s a baseline of refinement to public scrutiny, in any art form. A “perfected” form is an opportunity to tenure or innovate.

[In this regard,] Art, in the public sphere, is much the same as advertising: A constant drive to find unrealized desires and then feed them.

. . .EXPOSITING. . .

To be deserving of tenure, however, demands refinement. Or did. Today’s consumers seem less demanding than in the past. I wonder why? Maybe it’s just a perception on my part. Maybe there has always been a The Animal/Zookeeper/Jack & Jill/Madea crowd that, in an earlier time, would pass the evenings sitting around watching the cows fart and giggling.

Maybe that subset of Americans (and their desires) hasn’t been directly catered to until just recently? In which case I can’t disparage that style of comedic “art” without likewise disparaging the clearly substantial subset of Americans who are happy with it, which I don’t have any right to. It would make me no better than a bully, and who am I to say someone else’s taste is “poor”? An individual’s tastes being simpler or more complicated doesn’t make them “better” or “worse” in any way.

At the same time, the majority of media reviewers demand a more complicated, refined fare.

What’s the difference between “good art” and bad? The only thing I can figure is that good art has staying power: it lasts, no matter how many times you consume it. In most refined art, the experience is refined to the point where there is no difficulty in engaging with it (though this, in truth, has more to do with the consumer than the product), yet has layers to be discovered and enjoyed. Most of all, there is a perceived “ideal” performance in any piece.

I’ve been thinking about this in regard to the film adaptation of The Silence of the Lambs lately. Everything about that film works: the performances, the music, the pacing, the cinematography, the characters, the setting… I consider it a masterpiece for this reason. But why does it “work”? Why is it “good”? Any review that strays into “perfect” territory is, in truth, telling more about the reviewer than the work being reviewed. (The climax of Pixar’s Ratatouille is a beautiful illustration of this fact.) Indeed, some works can only be appreciated by building upon past experiences, the same as how people can only be loved once you understand how they are who they are.

The best that a reviewer can do, dispassionately, is to scrutinize for technical excellence: did the creator succeed in doing what she or he was trying to do with each element of the work? At the same time, this leaves out those joyous moments of recognition, in which we find another human soul looking back at us from the screen/page/monitor, which is the first and foremost drive to art.  There’s something celebrational in a film topping out at 90% to 100% on RottenTomatoes or Metacritic; we embittered and argumentative humans find a common ground to every man. (Or at least every reviewer.)

Thus, there seem to be two kinds of reviews–the technical and the experiential–with a lot of overlap in between. (Indeed, the technical cannot exist without the experiential, for how well a work communicates is intrinsic to the “languages” of appreciation that the consumer has learned, and vice-versa.)

. . .DIVERGENCE. . .

What disturbs me most is not the failure of a work of art to evolve, but that it will be allowed not to by a lazy populace backsliding into its basal, animal satisfaction (the “bliss point”). I find it repellent that humans are being domesticated by our own systems, and this extends to all systems of human interaction, including finance and government.

It’s a problem driven by marketing and public sway. It seems as if all a movie needs to succeed today is to be pushed out mid-summer and receive sufficient advertising. Capitalism is meant to be a system where the strong survive and the weak die out, yet the will to fight has gone out of American ideology except in a reactionary panic, and so stagnates on both fronts. There’s a suffocating comfort in America today, a golden cage of consumerism, and it needs to be fought. Yet we there seems (to me) to be a force breeding combativeness out of certain subsets of the population. If you don’t demand more of your media, your goods, your country, you will be devoured by those who do.

Too many people consume what they consume because they think that there’s no other choice. At the same time, they aren’t interested in working towards something better. People need to be critical thinkers, to be questioners, demanders, and most of them aren’t.

This might be a result of American society’s obsession with specialization, which raises us to neglect other facets of our lives and removes from us a sense of meaningful control over the public sector. Thus, we find ourselves living in a polarizing, defacto two-party country run by professional politicians and installed fixtures. Would you rather see Transformers or Iron Man? Would you rather vote Democrat or Republican? The ballot box and the ticket box are one in the same. I would decry the death of the debate, except that there’s no point in debating when both options are essentially the same.

America needs to go on a fucking diet, exercise, and get a damn haircut. I don’t want you to read all this and come away with it as being a treatise on being victimized. DO SOMETHING. Do not buy from a company who treats you or the parts of the world you love poorly. Do not watch movies from a studio that puts out nothing but recycled garbage. DO make an effort to educate yourself about the products you consume and where they come from. DO get involved. DO rebel. DO form grassroots organizations.

Don’t be afraid of being an individual, of being different; this is not synonymous with being alone. You may have fewer connections, but they will mean so much more than those predicated on comfortable, prefabricated substrates of homogeneity, on a fabricated version of yourself. It’s the difference between craft and passion, the technical and experiential. We need a balance there to be happy.

Never forget the reason why we make art.

©2013 by Blake Vaughn. The text of this story may be redistributed freely in its original form with attribution to the author, Blake Vaughn, and his website,, as under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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