Tuesday, 8 October 2019

Scary Words: Objective

So I finished marking student work, went on holiday, came back and now I'm back into it.

For a hobby so focused on fiction, we in the pop culture world certainly place a lot of emphasis on fact. I don't know if there are any other theories on why, but my theory is that unlike the "finer" aspects of culture, much of pop culture (particularly where sci-fi and superhero stories are concerned) is produced by the art crowd for the math, science and history crowd.

Now the art crowd doesn't care much for objectivity. For art, literature, film and video games, the goal is to achieve an emotional reaction more often, if not just as much as a logical one. Yet that's not the way that so much of nerd culture sees it. To nerd culture, logic is the paramount virtue, and one proves that through objective fact.

But does the term "objective fact" apply to art the way we think it does? For those who like to bandy the term around, "objective" means factual- and you don't have a problem with facts, do you!? What are you, stupid?

Okay, let's take apart this notion, because frankly, it's ridiculous. Let's take some examples: Star Wars: The Last Jedi is "objectively" a bad movie because Rey is deemed as being flawless. Batman v Superman is "objectively" a bad movie because it lacked an upbeat tone. 2016's Ghostbusters is "objectively" a bad movie because it doesn't recognize the original as canon. Are these objective statements? Well, partially. Rey is pretty damn capable, Batman v Superman is pretty dark and Ghostbusters didn't concern itself too much with what came before it. But does that make these movie "objectively" bad?

The answer lies in the person being asked. It may not matter to some that Batman v Superman is devoid of humor and levity because sweet mother of Martha every scene in that movie is beautiful. It may not matter that Rey can beat everyone, because Kylo Ren's story and character development is so compelling. Whether Ghostbusters (2019) recognizes the original may be inconsequential so long as there's a good laugh to be had occasionally. The reasons you hate may be plenty objective, but whether those things really matter? That's hugely subjective.

This is not to say that objectivity is impossible when talking about pop culture, but it's not really something you can use to beat an opponent into submission. I've reviewed a lot of comics- it's what I initially set up this blog to do. When you review something, the most objective thing you can do is take yourself out of the process. Whether you prefer Marvel or DC shouldn't enter into the equation when reviewing a Spider-Man book. You try to ask yourself; can I see someone else- even someone not like me- enjoying this too? Unfortunately, too few people in amateur and professional circles do this. They like to think of objectivity as a weapon- a thing you can use to beat down those who disagree.

And why? I think it's because we're scared of the subjective. To so many, "subjective" is synonymous with "wrong". It's something that means you're not doing enough thinking, that you're feeling too much.

And honestly? What a boring way to consume stories.

Fiction is designed to be an emotional roller-coaster. They're supposed to make people feel something. I'm not going to say there's a wrong way to interact with stories, but if you're losing the most engaging parts of fiction just to sit comfortably in the knowledge that you are "right" about something, you're missing out.

So that's objectivity. It exists. just not the way you probably think it does. Next time, let's talk about plot holes.

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