5 Badass Responses Artists Leveled At Critics
If someone makes fun of your work, you might struggle to come up with a response. “Well, I’d like to see you do better!” you might shout (terrible choice, maybe they can do better). Or you might offer, “Yeah, well your mom’s a whore” (another bad line, as that fact is irrelevant). If you really lose self-control, you might even screw up and say, “Thanks for the feedback; I’ll consider that going forward.”
Maybe you should take some inspiration from how the masters handled it.
Harper Lee Offered to Enroll Critics in First Grade
You might have heard that Florida recently removed To Kill a Mockingbird from its school libraries. That didn't really happen, even if Florida’s working hard at removing just about every other book. However, school districts in other states like Mississippi, California and Washington have pushed the book out, with varying degrees of severity and for wildly varying reasons. And the strongest pushback against the book came when it was brand-new.
In 1966, a county in Virginia removed To Kill a Mockingbird from its schools when a board member, after catching his son reading it, labeled it “immoral” and “improper for our children.” That was bad enough, but when The Richmond News Leader printed a bunch of letters from parents voicing support for the move, Harper Lee had to write to the paper as well with a response.
She defended the book, naturally. “Surely it is plain to the simplest intelligence that To Kill a Mockingbird spells out in words of seldom more than two syllables a code of honor and conduct, Christian in its ethic, that is the heritage of all Southerners.” She said she had to check the calendar and see whether it was 1984 because calling it immoral stinks so much of doublethink — and okay, you might cringe at that since equating stuff to 1984 is so cliché today, but this was a more incisive observation back then.
“What I've heard makes me wonder if any of its members can read,” she wrote, about the school board. So, she sent in $10 to the newspaper, money “that I hope will be used to enroll the Hanover County School Board in any first grade of its choice.”
Putting her joke aside, she earmarked that money for the Beadle Bumble Fund, which the paper’s editor had set up to pay the fines of people convicted of breaking dumb laws. Recently, the Fund had started sending free copies of To Kill a Mockingbird to any child who requested one.
“I Shit Better Than You Think.”
Profanity in a comeback is powerful when it comes from someone unexpected. If you tell a hater, “Yeah, well go fuck yourself,” that might not leave much of a mark, but if Queen Camilla does so, people would take note.
So, if we heard that The Rock replied “I shit better than you think” to someone online, we wouldn’t get too excited. But the man behind this bold boast was instead Ludwig van Beethoven. In 1825, the music critic Gottfried Weber covered Beethoven’s piece “Wellington's Victory” in his magazine Cäcilia. He did not speak kindly of it.
“Instead of describing to us in notes the horrible approach and onset of battle,” wrote Weber, “he actually lets us hear real drums advancing from opposite sides, lets us hear real cannon noises... somewhat like a landscape painter who, instead of painting the rising sun in his picture like Claude Lorrain, cuts a round hole in his sky.” This was not a compliment. “It is not musical colors that van Beethoven makes use of here,” said Weber, “not the means of musical art, but rather the deceptions of scenic acoustics.”
Historians later found Beethoven’s own copy of this magazine. At this spot on the page, he wrote “Ach, du erbärmlicher Schuft, was ich scheisse, ist besser, als wie du je gedacht.” That meant, “Ah you wretched cur, what I shit is better than anything you ever thought of.”
Weber never saw these words, but when you’re an aggrieved commenter, just writing your thoughts out is sometimes all you need.
Ice Cube Suggested Police Write an Anti-NWA Song
Speaking of classical music, NWA received a lot of pushback over Straight Outta Compton back in 1988. MTV refused to play the video for the album’s title track, even though the group had specifically recorded a special clean version of the song, just to be nice. The Fraternal Order of Police declared a boycott against protecting NWA or any other group who recorded anti-police music. Truly, there was a wide campaign against the album, which pushed it to become the bestselling rap album in history up to that point.
According to Ice Cube, police would regularly pull him over and vent at him about how offended they were by “Fuck tha Police.” He said he had a response for them, and though we can’t confirm that he really ever did say it to cops in person like he claimed, he did share it with the world through an interview: “Yo, man, it's a free country. Come up with a song that says ‘Fuck NWA’. But don't give me a ticket. Let me go!”
It's funny, till you realize that police almost certainly did chant that sort of thing, except probably without using any abbreviations.
In Defense of Boring Movies
Experts assure us that Andrei Tarkovsky was one of the greatest directors of all time. Those experts do not include the folks at Goskino, the Soviet Union’s State Committee for Cinematography. Goskino previewed Stalker, Tarkovsky's movie about magic and telekinesis and a sentient landscape, and they said it started out too boring.
Replied Andrei Tarkovsky, “The film needs to be slower and duller at the start so that the viewers who walked into the wrong theatre have time to leave before the main action starts.” So, if you don’t like Tarkovsky’s openings, you’re not the sort of person who gets to see the movie at all.
Stalker would go on to inspire the video game S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Development on that game’s sequel has been delayed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, so even today, Russian authorities can’t get out of this franchise’s way.
Clint Eastwood Says Nothing in His Movies is Supposed to Be Imitated
Anytime a story depicts someone doing something people don’t like, you get critics accusing it of endorsing that practice. You see that in everything from people convinced Joker supported mass shootings (before the film had even come out) to youngsters leaving negative online reviews on Lolita (without having read it).
One such complaint that feels comparatively legit was against the Clint Eastwood film Million Dollar Baby. By the end of the movie (spoiler), Hilary Swank’s boxer character is paralyzed from the neck down, and she asks Eastwood’s character to end her life. He grapples with the decision and ends up going through with it. Real people with spinal cord injuries weren’t huge fans of this ending, which seemed to say death is better than paralysis.
Asked about it, Clint Eastwood could have hemmed and hawed and said something like, “Oh, it’s a complex issue, and some people might feel the way this character did, and we have to respect that point of view, too.” Instead, here’s what he said: “I’m just telling a story. I don’t advocate. I’m playing a part. I’ve gone around in movies blowing people away with a .44 magnum. But that doesn’t mean I think that’s a proper thing to do.”
Suddenly, anyone complaining feels dumb, as dumb as people criticizing Lolita. And maybe they aren’t dumb, maybe they had reasoning behind their complaints, but boy does it feel dumb to accuse art of promoting something bad, then have the creator say, “Well, you came away horrified by that thing, not liking it, so maybe that’s the movie’s real effect, you ever thought of that?”
Though, if Eastwood tried that same .44 magnum line on some people, they’d reply, “Actually, you bear responsibility for those gun movies, too. I saw you blow off those dudes’ heads, and I thought it looked awesome.”