Pretentious Sadsack Film Critic Snobbery. It’s just getting under my skin right now in a way that snobbery in general* has yet to do.
Sadsack Film Snobbery is where the critical acclaim of a movie or TV show is directly proportional to how emotionally brutalized you feel for watching it. It’s the entertainment industry version of clapping in someone’s face so you can despise them when they blink.
I do like unflinching, brave, disquieting movies — sometimes. I’m glad filmmakers are making them. I’m glad moviegoers are seeing them. But I’m not always up for them. And the idea that complex, unpleasant questions should be left alone unless they’re in a movie that’s painful to watch — what seems to be the functional result of incessantly crying up the brutal ones and panning the enjoyable — sucks. It disregards the legitimacy of the needs that send many people, including myself, to the fun movies. As a moviegoer, it often means you have to choose between relevance and enjoyability. And as a critic — or storyteller — it substitutes feeling smugly superior for doing much actual good. (This is my main quarrel with most snobbery — it’s a tacky way to feel better about doing very little.)
I, as you’ve probably gathered, can get worked up about more social issues than is, perhaps, strictly healthy. Not everyone does. That’s okay. As an aspirant storyteller, I want my work, someday, to make a dent in them. Some of them. A little dent, at least. Not everyone does, and that, too, is okay. In that pursuit, it’s not the handful of people who want to dive into thorny truths and find a way through them that I’m out to convince. (Or whose awareness I want to raise, or whose inertia I want to challenge, or however you want to put it.) It’s the people who — for real, significant, valid reasons — turn to stories purely to have a good time.
I have to remind myself, different people view movies differently. They watch for their own reasons, and respond to different things. Those who watch movies for a living often enjoy very different things than people who watch to escape their lives for a couple of hours. (Particularly when those lives contain real versions of the on-screen suckiness the Sadsack Snobs are so smugly brave enough to watch.) Or who just want to use a clean restroom and sit still in the air conditioning. Or to spend two non-combative hours with the people they care about but have very little in common with, or to see beautiful people fighting each other in catsuits. Whatever.
All of these people, with all their reasons and needs, have something to contribute to the giant looming problems that threaten our actual world. If enough of us get together and keep working at it, we really can do something about most, perhaps all, of them. (What? I like hero stories. The language resonates with me.) But pretending that movies that discuss those problems have to be brutally raw — to be unpleasant to experience — in order even to be worth watching widens the divide between People Who Give A Damn about them and People Who Don’t.
By elevating inaccessibility into a for-its-own-sake value, influential critics encourage filmmakers to make less accessible movies about more important things — but even that’s not the problem, exactly. Those movies are great, and important, and valuable, and so on. They should be made. They should be seen. The problem is, filmmakers are also making fewer accessible movies about those important things. Sadsack Snobbery’s functional result is to steer audiences — and thus studios and storytellers — away from taking on difficult ideas at all in the fun, light, comfortable movies.
The number of fun-to-see movies about difficult-to-think-about things is dwindling. And since those are the movies I most like to see, that … okay, it’s kind of anticlimactic, but it really makes me sad.
*I myself am a snob about some things. I won’t wear ugly shoes, for instance (… unless they’re for running or hiking. Or, you know, keeping your toes from getting mangled on a construction site…). I despise ketchup as a travesty of the exquisite (if unrefrigerated) tomato. I dislike cheap polyester. (But not all polyester. Some of it’s actually quite nice these days. I mean the scritchy, bouncy, rubbery stuff …)
I’m apparently a snob about qualifying my snobberies.