Criticism is something that many of us can deliver yet fail to take in kind. I like to think that I am one that can receive as much as I give but that is not always the case, I think I just have a higher threshold than many of you but we all have lines that once crossed spell disaster.
Awhile back I did a column titled “Critical Shrinking” where I wrote about the inherent dangers of taking pop culture or political criticism too personally and while that is still indeed a danger I would like to talk about personal criticism today. Whether you love or hate a film, a TV show, a musician, a politician or whatever the subject may be, unless you were that subject or created that subject any criticism leveled at it SHOULD not be a reflection of you, only of your tastes which are not the same thing. When criticism becomes personal that is when lines can be crossed and relationships destroyed but general criticism, especially that for which you are not actually a participant and merely an observer, is something that should be taken as a light being shown on both the criticizer and the criticized. When someone “attacks” a movie you love that is no more of an attack on you than it is a decoration of war on Russia, it is an opinion, perhaps an opinion laced with bile and hate, but an opinion none the less. Now, when it ceases to be “attacking” this movie you have an undying affection for and you begin an assault on them as the (perceived) instigator of this phantom “attack” then and only then have things progressed to the point where it has started to go to far. If the attack on the critic is one based in fact and/or history then all is well and a logical argument is being held, perhaps the reviewer has a history of contradictions or is simply inconstant in criticisms, but nonetheless the ensuing argument is one based in reality and not based in vendetta… yet many of these (relatively) civil disagreements devolve into far more personal areas and that becomes a problem.
First lets look at how to criticize a work and not cross that line. Recently at a panel from a horror convention John Carpenter was asked ”What movie are you most disappointed with, Ghosts Of Mars or Escape From LA? Escape From New York was great, but WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED with Escape From LA?” Obviously the person asking such a question is a fan of Carpenter’s work but not of those 2 films in particular yet he proceeded and crossed the line by going directly on the attack with Carpenter. What did he hope to gain from such a direct confrontation? Did he think that the man would look at him as some kind of hero for asking him such a thing? How did Carpenter respond though? “Fuck you!”. You ask an asshole question you get a deserving answer and John Carpenter gave a deserving answer. Does this mean that you can’t ask questions which are highly critical of those who produce such works? Of course not… in this same situation the audience member could have said the same thing like thus “Ghosts Of Mars and Escape From LA were not critically well received, what do you think happened to cause this?”. Worded like that all of the aggressive (and frankly arrogant) tone of the previous wording is diffused it comes across as less of an attack and more even handed and sometimes that tone is all it takes to go from being a dick to being a critic.
I am one that believes in the very truth of free speech, not as defined by the US Constitution but as real freedom to speak anything that which you will, yet even with that belief being held very dear to me have I had to set boundaries from time to time. On my facebook page for instance I have everything open, anyone can post anything they want, I will not censor or remove posts… unless you step over that line I have laid out and not just once but multiple times must this be done for me to act… once that happens we have a problem. If you wish to counter my opinions, absolutely fine. If you want to bring in opposing views, fine. If you chose to engage in a discourse with me I very much encourage that very thing. Now, that said when you repeatedly come after not my opinions or views but me personally, we have a small problem, when you repeatedly come after my family and attempt to use personal tragedies from my life as weapons against me then we have a big problem. I have had to ban 2 people from my facebook page because of this, and I did feel bad guilty about doing this, as it goes against my ideals at their core, but damn it what am I a supposed to do, just let some shithead go on pulling my wife and my personal financial issues into the fray as ammo to demean me? Both of the people I banned were (literally) stalkers who systematically abused and misused my trust and/or contact with them to push their way into my life. Make no mistake, these were STALKERS, both of these people whom I banned were not just stalking me, but my friends, my Geek Juice co-workers and my family, all with vitriolic hate and venom. Most of you will feel that I made the right call and these incidents were indeed over the line but I still feel I am kind of a hypocrite for banning them at all, even if just a small part of me feels this. Cowards such as Eric Morse will ban and refuse to even engage with anyone that fails to share their (narrow) worldview and will go out of their way to keep any dissenting thoughts from creeping into their miniscule little eggshell minds. Morse claims that everyone is scared of him and his ‘takedowns’ of them yet all he does is swing a ban-hammer; that is not discourse, that is the acting id if a frightened little girl hiding from the thunder. I take my critics head on, other than those 2 aforementioned people I have never banned any comments, any thoughts or any opinions… but then again, I am not a coward nor a charlatan unlike Morse and those critics like him who are too scared to emerge from behind the veil of a blocked IP and various pseudonyms.
Perceived arguments can even come across to those outside the situation as something more than what they truly are. Brad Jones and I have had MANY heated arguments about a variety of topics and to someone that does not know our relationship as friends it would seem that we are, at times, bitter and hated enemies when in fact we are nothing more than having a disagreement about the topic at hand. When friends argue publicly this passionately it can seem as there is something underlying to the question at hand, rarely is this the case though. Scott Murray and I have nearly punched one another while recording a Lost In The Static episode and yet are very close friends, it was just that one particular topic had us at quite a divide. Hart Fisher and I recently had a very harsh on air disagreement to the point that some people were surprised we were still working together after that. These kinds of things come from a place of mutual respect and not from the hate that strangers can emote when things get heated and ratcheted up.
Real criticism comes from a place of simple human differences and differing experiences but when it moves beyond that into personal attacks or things said with the specific intent of harm or to evoke an equal emotion then you have shown yourself to be the weaker party and one that is not worth the effort to even engage further. Why should I waste my time when you refuse to employ the same inherent respect I do? Criticize me all you want, all I ask is that you do so from a place of facts, history or even just opinion, but not from a place of anger and pain. Know this though, if you attack me, I will make a defense and that defense will likely dwarf the initial attack.