As 2015 comes to a close I’ve been thinking a lot about clarity. Ricky Jay, one of the greatest magicians of his age, talks about clarity as a vital concept in performance and it applies to writing just as much. Bloggers and magicians have a lot in common. We both have to communicate exactly what we want to our audiences. If we do that then they will be pleasantly surprised when we pull the metaphorical coin out from behind their ear.
I worry I’m really bad at it.
I run long, I know that and I also know that I have a very different approach to the vast majority of critics. I am painfully optimistic. I assume best practice where others are already writing their hate pieces and sometimes it’s difficult to figure out why. Worse, I worry that it makes me come across as naïve or worse still, wilfully ignorant.
And then Ricky Jay enters, stage left and says one word; ‘Clarity’.
So here are the five rules I approach every piece of culture with. This is how I think and why I think it.
- You Are Allowed To Like Things
You are positively and absolutely encouraged to like things. Liking things is at the heart of geek culture. Those things do not have to be the same things others like. Some of them may be – it’s called popular culture for a reason. Some of them won’t be.
That’s great. That’s the point.
For example: I’m genuinely and non-ironically fond of Armageddon. Yes it’s a ludicrous movie with entirely too much Aerosmith but it also hits me right in my Astronaut Feels. For other people that movie is nails on a chalkboard. There’s a non-zero percentage chance one of the comments I’ll get on this piece will be a variation of ‘Yeah but Armageddon’s crap’. That’s okay because we love what we love. That honest engagement is what matters.
- You Are Allowed To Not Like Things
You are positively and absolutely encouraged to not like things. Some of the things you don’t like will be things everyone else doesn’t like. Some of the things you don’t like will be things everyone else loves.
That’s great. That’s the point.
Another example: I have a ton of friends who adore 1960s and 1970s era Doctor Who. From Patrick Troughton up to Tom Baker, The Doctor strides across their lives like a grinning Titan made of scarves, ruffles and reversed polarity.
For me, that era is difficult if not impossible, to sit through. Does that make them inherently bad? No. Which leads us to…
- Share Your Joy, Not Your Rage
There is no force more inclusive and welcoming than enthusiasm.
When we connect with a piece of art, whatever that may be, it’s like setting off a rocket. We sparkle with joy, delight in the intricacies of what we’ve seen or read or played and how it makes us feel. That intense joy naturally fades over time, simply because so much of it is wrapped up in the shock and surprise of the new.
But it never dies.
And we can maintain it by telling others about what we enjoyed and sharing why.
It leads to a virtuous circle of enthusiasm. You get to squee about something you love. Your friends get introduced to new culture. Sometimes the creators get to see their work publically shared and appreciated. You expand the horizons of others, knowing they will return the favour.
The shared joy of a piece of culture loved by many cannot be overstated. Look at the new born and amazing Force Awakens fandom to see just how welcoming and fun this can be.
- You Are Not Allowed To Murder Other People’s Joy
There is no force more divisive and poisonous then derision.
When you share your joy, you may also be on the receiving end of its flip side. Agendas, festering political sores, discrimination, social cliques, and the scars of long past but cherished disappointments.
It’s easy to respond to joy with negativity. It’s easier still to assume that someone that hurt you before will do so again, and even more so to lash out pre-emptively. Look at the small faction of Star Wars fans merrily spoiling The Force Awakens. Or the racist, sexist discriminatory apologia groups that have tried to ‘fix’ the Hugo Awards the last several years.
I’m not saying we can’t dislike stuff. I’m not even saying we can’t talk about why people like stuff we don’t. That discussion is brilliant and vital. What I’m against is criticising other people for liking something we don’t.
Let’s re-frame it. Say you’re sitting in a favourite restaurant. You’re chatting to your friends about how great your meal is. Someone someone at a nearby table turns round and says ‘Why are you eating that? It’s garbage.’
Rude. Upsetting. Unnecessary. At best its poor communication skills. At worst it’s cruel for cruelty’s sake.
Don’t do it. Especially don’t do it to enhance your personal brand as we’ve already, hilariously, seen with The Force Awakens. Crapping on someone’s joy is different from critique or commentary. Learn and PRACTICE that difference. Everyone will be happier. Including you.
- Culture Changes and Grows. So Must You.
You could read a book, see a movie, or watch an episode of a show every day for your entire life and there would still be incredible work you’d miss. But you can still have fun trying.
A couple of years ago a friend of mine chided me for my limited cinema habits. At that time I was on an ‘orange explosions and superheroes’ kick. While it was fun, it was also limiting. Since then, I’ve made a point of expanding my horizons and it’s paid off again and again especially this year. The Lady in the Van, Deceptive Practices, Burnt and Steve Jobs are some of the best movies I’ve seen this year. They all fall outside my usual inclinations. But because I saw them and liked them I’ll now go and seek out other movies in similar fields. Some will be awful, others won’t. But my tastes will expand, or at least my exposure to different things. I’ll learn more. I’ll have new things to talk to people about. I’ll enjoy more, even if it’s a single thing more.
And that’s great.
And that’s the point
Thanks as ever to Adele and the Fox Spirit team. Thanks to you all for reading. Have an excellent festive season and I’ll see you in 2016.