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Newsletter 312

Published November 11, 2019
Why can't people simply be allowed to enjoy themselves?

I’m always bemused by people who say: “Oh, how can you write such nasty things” about a particular person or show when it never occurred to me that I was being the least bit “nasty”. More often than not those same people relish passing on malicious gossip – all behind someone’s back, of course.

The double standard is that it seems to be OK with saying something “nasty” in private, but it’s shocking to say it in public. Could there be a better definition of hypocrisy? The whole point of criticism is that it’s a public act with dedicated arguments and value judgements offered for a reader’s assessment.

A piece on Vox.com earlier this year complained about an increasing number of people in the United States who react to a negative review of a movie with fury and indignation. “Why can’t you just let people enjoy things?” is the rallying cry. The mere thought of a critic saying the latest superhero movie was no good is taken as a personal affront. The critic is viewed as a malicious, elitist spoilsport who only wants to wreck the common man’s fun. The paradoxical response is the totalitarian demand that critics should be silenced so everyone can enjoy their good, clean trash.

I’ve always thought that the best reason for watching the latest superhero blockbuster is to see what kind of ideological messages are being conveyed under the guise of “entertainment”. Often it’s the banal idea that people of all creeds and colours should live together in peace and harmony, but there’s also a lot of “might is right” stuff. And then there are teen movies like Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart, that suggest one may as well goof off at school because you’ll be admitted to a big college anyway.

Such movies are wish-fulfilment fantasies for teenagers who’d prefer to get stoned and get laid rather than study. All good clean fun?  97% of critics on Rotten Tomatoes thought so. “Fast-paced, funny and fresh” was the consensus verdict. Coming at a time when teenagers around the world are showing a renewed political awareness and a taste for activism, this film struck me as not only trashy, but an insult to the intelligence and sincerity of an emerging generation.

The fact that so many critics gave it the thumbs up shows how absurd it is to imagine that reviewers prevent anybody from ‘enjoying themselves’. Most so-called critics today are so superficial, so ignorant, so craven and unimaginative they are no better than free advertising. When reviews are written by fans, or those content to parrot a press release, it just adds another few drops to the great pool of complacency in which we are steadily sinking. One sees this played out most dramatically in American politics which has become so untethered from reality that a large part of the electorate refuse to see or accept the most blatant crimes committed by the most unscrupulous of Presidents.

When critical thinking gives way to simply ‘liking things’ society is on the way to zombification. Whether it be dumb movies or dumb politics, there’s no reason to be proud of one’s narrowness. I feel I could write this every week…

The current art column looks at an artist who is decidedly no dummy. Guan Wei is enjoying shows in three separate Sydney venues, the flagship being the Museum of Contemporary Art. In the 30 years that he has been living – on and off – in Australia, Guan Wei has established himself as a firm favourite with local museums and private collectors. There may be more purely talented Chinese emigres but nobody has managed his or her career with such consummate skill. Guan Wei always seems to tick more boxes than his peers and continues to be rewarded. In this instance I can’t swim against the tide. There’s no point in being gratuitously critical when confronted with such a polished performer.

If you wait a few weeks you’ll be able to watch Martin Scorsese’s new gangster epic, The Irishman, on Netflix, but if you’re an aficionado of the big screen you better look sharp. The cinema chains have been grumbling loudly about the brief window Netflix allows them for a new feature, but it’s increasingly the way of the future. In the past few weeks I’ve been to previews of The King, The Irishman and Marriage Story, all Netflix productions.

The Irishman is three-and-a-half hours of organised crime – a topic that most of us can’t resist. The novelty is that the highly-Italianised Robert De Niro gets to play the Irishman, complete with new blue eyes. In Jimmy Hoffa, Al Pacino finds a role that allows him to overract to his heart’s content. I doubt that any nasty critics could prevent viewers from enjoying this one. Just make sure you’ve got a comfy seat.