Quick. What's the argument that has cost Ferrett more online friendships than just about anything else?
Oh, you'd think it would be politics... But it isn't. Usually, if I get to the point that I'm chatting with you, I'm either in agreement with you, we like arguing, or we have agreed to disagree. Try again?
My incredible raging arrogance? Well, that's not really a single argument as it is an underlying factor. It's like groundwater; since it seeps into just about everything I talk about, it's kind of like saying, "Gravity is what caused the plane to crash." Try again.
Nope, never mind, you're wrong. The argument that's cost me three online pals has come from supposedly intelligent people. Two out of three have been artists. All have baffled me.
The argument is twofold:
"If a TV show, book, or movie is popular, it must automatically be crap. And if it's crap, that means anyone can do it."
I must be alone in this universe, because my line of thinking goes something like this:
"If a piece of art can appeal to a wide scale of people, it must have something going for it, even if as a work it is flawed. I wonder what that is. And I know damn well that not everyone can do it."
I think the main point behind most of it is snobbery and failed expectations. Most of the people I know who hold this viewpoint in real life or online to some extent are - let's face it - failed artists. They're irritated that the kind of stuff they like and want to produce will almost certainly not be commercial; they know, intimately, the struggles their creators had to go through to get to the second season, and they themselves are usually the sorts of people who could never find the movies and TV shows they liked before DVD burners and eBay came along.
Therefore, an interesting catalyst begins to appear; because they know they're a minority, it's not enough to just be a minority and say, "This stuff is good. I wish more people liked it." No, because they realize that what they plan to do is likely doomed to failure, they start seeding their life with reasons for it: People who don't like what they do are clearly idiots. It's not that people largely view art as an escapist topic and what they personally like takes a lot of effort to watch; it's that everyone is a moron, and only I am smart enough to hold these standards!
In this way, when you're still in your parents' basement five years from now, you've got yourself a nice little excuse.
And then, for many, follows the second reason: King is a hack. Spielberg is a hack (or was before he started doing more arty flicks). ER's a hack. Rowling's a hack. And the people who create those shows and books and movies, which appealed to seventy million people around the globe?
Well, shit, anyone could do that.
This is patently, 100%, ridiculously, off-the-beams, gonzo absurd. I'll be blunt here: If you think writing some multimillion-copy bestseller is easy, you're an idiot.
You're assuming, of course, that nobody else has tried to do it. Look, I'm an author, and if I thought I knew of a way to toss off a couple of million-sellers, I fucking well would. Maybe it would be artistically unsatisfying to write it - but sure, I'd pour five zillion bucks into my bank account, at which point I'd have endless time to spend the rest of my life farting around, writing the quality books that would fill my life with sunshine.
I know I'm not alone. There are at least a million other people out there who'd sell out in a minute for fame and fortune. But we don't know how to do it.
Oh, I don't doubt there are a couple of rare ducks out there who would refuse fame and fortune if it was within arm's reach - but if writing a potboiler was that easy, if creating something that connected in a straight line with the public's consciousness was simple, more people would do it.
We're all trying to write bestsellers. We do the best we can and hope that we have that magic touch that catapults us into the stratosphere. Most of us don't.
Doesn't that tell you that whatever it is that pushes Clancy onto the bestseller charts is fucking rare? That it's difficult?
And if you're still not convinced, keep in mind that there are more than a few high-level executives who thought, "Well, I'll just retire and write a book! I've done the analysis. I know what people like." And they write their book, and they fail.
Even the people who are purposely slumming, who have nothing to say in their own art except "Give me money," can't do it.
But yet the argument I got was a cocky, "I can do that. I just don't want to." Well, you try it, pal. Lemme know how far you can get. I'll be waiting, because it isn't that easy.
I don't know what it is - but man, I wish I did. Then again, I don't need to identify it to know that it's not a gift that gets parcelled out to everyone.
Look. I'm not saying that all bestselling art is good. It isn't. The mass consciousness wants easily-digested, escapist fiction that doesn't really make them do a lot of thinking. That means that as much as I love brainbusting, in-your-face movies like Brazil and Pi, they're not going to be massive hits. While I adore science fiction, most of it takes too much effort to pay attention to what's going on, since you have to understand both the world and the characters.... And that's not what America wants after a hard day at the office and kid-wrangling. And movies that treat relationships in real ways, like Chasing Amy and Requiem for a Dream, are not going to be popular because they're really depressing.
Titanic, on the other hand, has cardboard characters and a silly romance. But on some level, it works. It whisked people who normally don't watch movies out of their houses for awhile and sucked them wholesale into the movie.
That's an accomplishment that can't be just handwaved as "crap."
And I'm not saying that everyone who disdains a popular movie - or even disdains most of them - is wrong. Not every flick's going to be to your taste, and I don't demand you start gushing about how great Finding Nemo was because it sold a jillion tickets. You can make up your own mind; there's nothing wrong with liking niche movies. Hell, half my DVD collection is stuff most of America hasn't heard of, and I intensely dislike romantic comedies. You're free to claim that Vampire Hunter D is vastly superior to Lord of the Rings.
But you have to see said movie, or at least the trailer, before you start bitching.
What I am saying is that if you disdain a movie because it's popular and for no other reason - "I know Titanic sucks. It sold a million tickets, didn't it?" - you're probably a worried snob who's desperately seeking to prove that he's a lot smarter than the rest of the world.
There's something good about each of the Top 100 movies of all time. Most of them are actually pretty good at what they set out to do. And that means, to me, that the public isn't as stupid as you think they are.
They just want different things than you do, is all. And that ain't a sin.