Thursday, 24 March 2016

Comparison is Odious

There was something inspiring on Facebook. Here's some meta-criticism!

You know what really fucks me off about pretty much all the complaints I've seen levied at Dawn of Justice so far? The constant comparisons to other superhero movies. “Oh, where are the jokes? Marvel movies have jokes!” People need to start realising that “SUPERHERO MOVIE” ISN'T A FUCKING GENRE!

It's wonderful to read any response to criticism, but this nails it. 'The constant comparisons...': here's the problem of critique in three words.  Especially when Neilson-Adams continues:

slating a film just because it’s different from other movies that feature the same approximate subject matter is pretty much the laziest, most infuriating form of reviewing there is.


...you can be goddamn sure that when I do see it, my opinion of it won’t be defined by how fucking similar or dissimilar to The Avengers it is.

Comparison is difficult to avoid for the professional critic - we've all seen so much stuff, each experience is defined by earlier experiences, and falling into the 'this one ain't as good as the last one' is so easy. But here's the problem. Comparison denies the intentions and qualities of the object under consideration under its own terms. It pretty much ignores it altogether for a notional idea of what it ought to be. 

But I want to go further than this. Comparison was the model of critical discourse in seventeenth century France. It was the standard by which a faction (known as The Ancients) assessed the quality of a play. A play was good in so far as it imitated the classical model, a standard set up by pretending that Aristotle made up rules about tragedy.

This approach was part of a culture that defended the divine right of absolutist monarchy, by patrolling theatre for heretical notions like comic bits in tragedy, or not having the action unfold in real time. Its purpose was to enforce notions of social stasis. 

Criticism as comparison is an aggressive action against the right of art to evolve. It's innately conservative. It suggests that there is a single right way of doing things. It encourages lazy thinking, acceptance an a load of crap theatre that justifies itself by saying 'at least it has unity of plot.'

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