5 Lessons Found In The Worst Online Criticism (Really)
Criticism is important. It's important for the critic, in order to exercise their rational thinking. It's important for the consumer, in order to ensure the quality of the product they're getting. It's important for the creator, in order to help them grow and continue improving. I appreciate good criticism, why is why it hurts when people say that I don't take it very well. To those people, I say: WHAT?! I'LL WRAP MY DICK AROUND YOUR NECK LIKE A LASSO AND THINK HAPPY THOUGHTS UNTIL YOUR HEAD POPS OFF.
But I digress.
I would like the record to show that not only do I take intelligent criticism to heart, but I even try to find value in the ... less than brilliant stuff that is so prevalent here on the Internet. And I think I can help everybody do the same. So here we go: My helpful guide for getting value out of even the most worthless pieces of Internet criticism.
TL;DR (or occasionally TL;DW) is a strange criticism. It's as though the critic wants everybody to know that their disdain for the work has nothing to do with the work itself. Clearly, the fault here is with the critic themselves, for having the approximate attention span of a coked-out fourth grader. I, uh ... I had a rough fourth grade.
"Sorry," the TL;DR guy seems to say, "I didn't like this, but only because I genocided my brain cells by huffing keyboard cleaner in a dumpster behind Office Depot."
The temptation here is to chalk up TL;DR as meaningless, but I think there's something to be gained from it. Nothing is actually too long for people to read or watch -- it's only too long for the reward that the piece offers. George R.R. Martin is one of the most widely read authors in the world, and his sole goal as a writer is to create tomes you could also use to bludgeon a charging rhino to death, should the need arise. The Lord Of The Rings film trilogy is one of the most profitable in history, and half its runtime was tracking shots of grass. Even idiots can spend a very large amount of time on something. So TL;DR doesn't mean that it was too long in general; only that it felt too long at the time.
That probably means the piece in question needed to set the hook earlier. TV shows and movies have known this forever, which is likely why we see TL;DR much more than TL;DW. It's the reason we have the cold open. The first five minutes of a horror flick are always what-might-as-well-be-a-disembodied-pair-of-tits wandering around an abandoned amusement park before getting devoured by spider-clowns. A bunch of action, some boobies, some blood -- then, once the audience's interest is set, they jump back to the protagonist making toast or whatever. Same for TV; it's the reason the first minute and a half of every CSI shows us how the semen got inside the ocular cavity in the first place, then switches to the investigators who will eventually find that semen. A piece needs to hook the audience early, then keep that hook set, and nobody will say TL;DR or TL:DW -- even if you write like Neal Stephenson or make films like Ken Burns. Or hey, maybe there just aren't enough meaningless pictures shoehorned in there to trick the reader into thinking they're browsing through a Dr. Seuss book.
TL;DR: Jizz in the eyeball first, then figure out why.
"THIS IS BIASED!"
Unless "This is biased!" shows up in regards to a major news site, the instinct is to just write this criticism off. Somehow, our culture got the impression that bias is a bad thing to have in any form of media. Which is, to put it politely, stupider than shit on a fuck. Bias is at the very heart of every creative endeavor. That's the whole point of creativity, actually: to share your unique bias. A world without bias looks like an accountant's desk -- a neat and orderly place devoid of soul, and also likely featuring a Dilbert calendar.
But hey, maybe that's not what the critic is really saying. Maybe the intent here is to point out a possible bias that the creator of the piece wasn't even aware of. In other words, it could seem like the piece is trying to speak objectively, when it should really be speaking personally. There are a few reasons that might be the case. Maybe the work is trying to make broader points instead of relying on personal experience and anecdote. Maybe it's backing up subjective arguments with flawed statistics. Or maybe it's just not being subtle enough. Everything -- besides good journalism, technical manuals, and robot porn -- has bias. It's usually only called out if the piece is a bit too in-your-face about it. Perhaps the value we take from "This is biased!" is only that a piece needs to be more gentle with its bias.
Or, most likely, whoever called it out for bias just happens to not like its bias, and wishes it had their bias instead.
"Meh" is the most famously useless criticism. It literally means nothing. It means "This elicited no strong feelings from me whatsoever, and yet I feel compelled to state my opinion regardless, because we are all narcissists, gazing into the pond we will one day drown ourselves in."
So what value can we take from "meh"? Well, "meh" implies that the critic read the whole thing, but wasn't ultimately satisfied by it. So it's not garbage, as implied by the very fact that they finished it. "Meh" implies that the critic was with the piece to start -- they got pulled in and were kept enthralled enough to continue reading, watching, tasting, groping, whatever -- and stayed to finish it. But by the end, they weren't left with a strong enough impression to warrant affection.
Maybe the piece didn't close the arcs on its characters well enough, or didn't prove its thesis strongly enough. But "meh" implies that most of the piece was solid; it's just the ending that needs work. Think of those cheap little Carl Budding sandwiches your mom used to make for your lunch in grade school. Enough slim meat-stuff in there to keep you filled up, but not enough to truly satisfy you. This is, incidentally, also how your mother feels about me.
Wow, none of us were safe from that burn. Damn.
"THIS TRIED TOO HARD!"
"Tries too hard" is easily the most infuriating criticism. It seems to deride the creator of a piece for having the audacity to actually put effort into something. As if it's more desirable to just spend all day browsing Reddit and masturbating (we professional creatives call that "procrasturbating"), then fart something out at the last minute. Perhaps it's perpetuating the idea that genius is innate and should come easily, or not at all. House was a genius because he'd fuck around on a Game Boy all day, and then the answer would just hit him in a flash. He didn't have to try. That's what pop culture showed us, anyway. Not the decades he must've spent doing nothing but reading boring medical journals to amass that pool of knowledge in the first place. That's surely what "tries too hard" means as a criticism, right?
Maybe. Or maybe the piece just has pacing problems.
Listen: I'm expanding into other genres -- writing bizarre punk rock supernatural thrillers and all -- but most of my experience is in comedy. So I'll speak from that standpoint. Whenever I've gotten "tries too hard," it's meant one thing: The pacing was off. I was moving too quickly. If you're writing something funny, and somebody says you're trying too hard, they likely mean that you have too many jokes.
Oh no, too many jokes in my comedy? Did you complain about having too many dongs at your birthday party, hypothetical critic? No, you just swam around in that pool of dicks and soaked it all up, happy that you got to be so cock-spoiled. You gotta be grateful for what you have. After all, there are starving critics in China who haven't had a wang in their mouth all day.
But there is something to "tries too hard." Have you ever seen something so funny that you didn't want to laugh for fear that you'd miss something? For me, that's best exemplified by this video of an old man falling down an escalator for all of eternity (because I am a sincerely bad person). But you can't keep that state of "about to laugh" up forever. The audience needs a release. You have to light up that "pause for laughter" sign, and if you screw it up and break too late or not at all, then you risk losing the cathartic release that a good laugh grants. I imagine this applies across the board, to action movies and rock albums or whatever. But I can't speak to those, personally. I can only talk about comedic blue balls.
YOU'RE A FAG, BROCKWAY
I haven't cracked this one yet.
Buy Robert's hilarious new urban fantasy novel, The Unnoticeables, right here. Read more from Brockway at his own monument to narcissism, The Brock Way, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook.
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