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5 Artists Who Stopped Sucking Out of Nowhere

#2. Brad Pitt

Many of you probably think of Brad Pitt as just a mere elder statesmen of hotness who seems like a pretty cool guy after turning in some bad ass performances in movies like Fight Club and 12 Monkeys. But at the start of Pitt's career, he was all primed to be a mere pretty-boy, no-talent cheeseball. In fact, that's exactly what I thought he was. And it was hard to blame me. His appearance in Thelma and Louise as boy candy and his starring turn in A River Runs Through It added up to little more than Baby Robert Redford Lite.

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"See? Even in this silly hat, I sure am pretty!"

The 180 Moment: Kalifornia

If you've not seen Kalifornia there is a simple remedy for that: see Kalifornia. In this 1993 movie, Pitt plays a racist, abusive, white trash sociopath who spends most of the movie looking like he smells really bad. Pitt is greasy and hairy and genuinely terrifying. At that moment, I knew Pitt was a real actor -- not just because he played against type incredibly well, but because he clearly did not care if he looked disgusting. And considering I can still remember the hole in his filthy gym sock more than 15 years later, it was quite a performance. My hatred vanished, but just in case there was any lingering doubt, his performance as the stoner roommate in True Romance that same year just sealed the deal.

#1. J.K. Rowling

This one's a little different. Mostly because I never hated J.K. Rowling as much as I thought she and the Harry Potter series were just wildly overrated. Also, I changed my mind gradually without a defining moment. But I'm including Rowling (at the top of the list no less) because she changed my mind in a very profound way and even influenced me as a writer.

Back in the late '90s, I started hearing about this children's book that grownups were reading called Harry Potter. As my testicles had already descended by that time, I decided to forgo the reading experience. I also distinctly recall seeing noted literary scholar Harold Bloom criticize the books on Charlie Rose for being derivative. I started watching the movies and thumbing through the books. I had to agree with Bloom. The influences were obvious. Harry Potter simply couldn't exist without Roald Dahl, Monty Python, J.R.R. Tolkien and even Franz Kafka (compare Ms. Umbridge's torture pen with Kafka's In The Penal Colony).


The 180 Moment: There Wasn't One Really

The turnaround for me was so gradual I can't place it on a certain book. Like I said, I never hated Harry Potter. I just thought it was overly praised because I could check off all the borrowed elements. But with each book and film I began to realize that even though the installments contained elements from earlier works, there was more to Harry Potter.

Yes, the muggles are just like the terrible adults of Roald Dahl fiction; the foul-tasting magical candies come right out of a Monty Python skit; and wearing a horcrux that must be destroyed while worrying about its own corrupting influence on your soul sounds a lot like Tolkien's one ring to rule them all. But those elements are not why people like Harry Potter. Instead, the Harry Potter universe is filled with rules that are constantly broken in the interest of equity. Time and time again, Harry and all the likable characters of Hogwarts break the letter of the law to fulfill the spirit of the law. The best kind of wish fulfillment made all the better by the intensity of the defeated evil.

Indeed, compare Frodo's trip to Mordor while wearing a corrupting ring with Harry Potter's wearing of the horcrux. Frodo knows that carrying the ring is his burden. That it cannot be passed to another. Although Harry is facing an evil as great as Frodo's, he shares the burden by altering the wearing of the horcrux between his two companions. Yes, the similarities are apparent, but it's the distinction that holds Harry Potter's specific charm.

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"Hi. My name's Daniel Radcliffe and I smile much more broadly than Harry Potter in real life."

J.K. Rowling taught me that using influences in a novel is a lot like using sampling in music. It's absolutely fine to lift riffs and hooks from other songs as long as they are referential building blocks of your work instead of being the appeal of your work. For example, the "When Doves Cry" sample is the only good part of MC Hammer's "Pray." The "Under Pressure" riff is the only good part of Vanilla Ice's "Ice Ice Baby." But take a song like "Jackass" by Beck, built around a sampled loop from Them's "It's All Over, Baby Blue." It stands completely on its own terms.

Rowling liberated me so much that when I wrote my serialized novella Notes from the Internet Apocalypse, I had great fun incorporating elements from Douglas Adams, Herman Melville, Franz Kafka, Dennis Lehane, Chuck Palahniuk, George Orwell, David Bowie, George Romero and Scott Kosar, confident they were only cultural shortcuts enriching the story instead of stealing its individuality. So yeah, sorry, J.K. I was wrong.

Subscribe to the all-new HATE BY NUMBERS. Also follow Gladstone on Twitter and stay up to date on the latest regarding Notes from the Internet Apocalypse. And then there's his website and Tumblr too.

For more from Gladstone, check out 5 Popular Phrases That Make You Look Like an Idiot and 5 Satirists Attacked by People Who Totally Missed the Point.

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