Editroial 27: Nitpicking

Because of my budget, I can only afford to see one movie a week. After I saw LEGO Batman I saw another film because I was asked to by a friend. This is a person I respect more than anything and when she saw John Wick: Chapter 2 despite her apprehension, I was honor bound to see this other movie. When I sat down to watch it, however, I found I was correct in wanting to skip it. Because I respect my friend and I will have nothing but negative remarks, I cannot in good conscious write a review. Instead, here is something I have wanted to talk about for a long time.

To the uninitiated, Nitpicking is to point out elements or ideas in a given work that are meaningless and treat them as major problems. It is to complain about shit that does not matter. Little things and actions, regardless of their insignificance, are weighed and measured as if they have a broader purpose. Elements in service to style are also considered as though they are anything but. The only way to satisfy a Nitpicker is to have each detail, action, and line of dialog make sense in real world logic and explain everything as clearly as possible.

Like Political Correctness, Nitpicking hinders creativity. An artist is not allowed to be subtle or challenge the audience because they must leave no questions unanswered and give away the punch line. This is not to say plot holes and plot conveniences are permitted. Those are real mistakes that any good writer knows to avoid at all costs. What I am referring to are symbolic elements and story details that serve a purpose that is not made explicitly clear. Even if they do not make sense those ideas exist for a reason. Rather than use subtlety or leave the audience to simply enjoy their experience, Nitpicking has created an environment where you cannot do either, lest you invite criticism. The more creators follow this pattern, the worse their work becomes.

One of the most nitpicked movies in recent memory is Dark Knight Rises (DKR). For many, the little problems of logic were enough to write whole film off as trash.

“How could Bane trap all of the cops in the sewer?” “Why is it suddenly night after the stock market heist?” “How did Bruce Wayne get back to Gotham so quickly after getting out of the pit?”

Audiences and critics asked these questions and there was only one answer.

“Because it is a movie.”

Yes, these elements and others did not make logical sense, but who said they had to? Why would you complain about logic in a superhero movie in the first place? It is the same argument you can apply to style versus substance. Do aesthetic choices mean something or are they there just for show? In DKR, the style choices are in service to the story. A plot convenience is something there just to move the story along that also does not make sense. The “problems” with DKR actually make sense in the context of the overall experience, ridiculous though they may be.

Bane trapped the cops in the sewer because that was his plan and he is the villain. It is suddenly dark after the stock market heist because Batman only comes out at night. Bruce Wayne made it back to Gotham because he is the hero of the story.

Those perceived issues were not significant enough to be issues. You can have as many style elements as you want, but if they do not serve the whole, then what is their use? When a film just does things just to do them, then you can nitpick. DKR was not that bad, but everyone was too busy questioning little things that did not mater to enjoy it. If these ideas did not serve the plot, then they would be conveniences and DKR would have deserved the vitriol it got upon release.

A major contributor to the epidemic of Nitpicking is blatant ignorance. For some reason, people do not look at what a movie is anymore. They see what a movie should be and judge it based on personal expectations. They have standards that must be met or the work in question will be labeled garbage. Videogames receive similar treatment with the added technical caveat. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is a gift from the gods, but the sometimes choppy frame-rate, the fact it does not hold your hand, and micro transaction were enough for critics to deem it middle-of-the-road.

Take for example the Final Fantasy (FF) spinoffs Spirits Within and Dirge of Cerberus, a movie and game. Many fans see both as an affront to the series and do not consider them a part of the brand. Putting aside the fact not all FF titles have much in common, these titles were judged in regards to what fans thought FF was supposed to be. Chocobos, a fantasy setting, and a save the world narrative are a part of the series identity. Spirits and Dirge did not fit those criteria because they strayed so far from the collective identity.

The former was a science fiction animated movie about alien ghosts taking over Earth. The latter was a third-person shooter about the FF7 character Vincent. Because they had “Final Fantasy” in their titles they were judged according to what was defined as Final Fantasy. People looked at them as they should be instead of what they are.

Take FF out of the equation and judge these two titles on their own merits. Spirits is not as terrible as you think, except for some ridiculous moments you can only find in anime. As a shooter Dirge was also okay, but I am a little biased because I am the only one in existence that likes it. The fact they were called Final Fantasy meant nothing because I saw them as they are.

However, we have become so brand oriented as consumers of entertainment that we do not think according to personal taste. What we like is based on what we liked before, our perception of quality grounded in brand recognition and nostalgia. If it has a major name on it, we consume and judge it based on the name. Just because Rogue One is connected to Star Wars does not change the fact it was boring and mediocre. That is like saying Transformers was good because it made a lot of money.

The brand name is applied most often when finding elements to complain about. With a series, Nitpickers take the whole into consideration instead of the fraction. Some say FF13 was a good Final Fantasy, but was not a good game. BvS was terrible for many reasons, but all everyone could talk about was how Batman killed people like it was the only reason that movie sucked. It was judged as an adaptation of the source material, ignoring the rushed and corporatized nature of the film. Fans went on a tirade against critics that had a problem with Suicide Squad because it had their favorite character.

Sometimes Nitpickers take the opposite approach and judge a series based on the last best entry. The Marvel movies following Winter Soldier are measured according to that movie because it is widely considered a masterpiece and I do not blame them; I do the same thing. Coming back to Final Fantasy, FF7 is the standard from which all predecessors are judged. The same principle applies to Call of Duty with Modern Warfare being the last great entry.

The origin Nitpicking is nebulous to say the least. Since I do not have time or interest in researching years of article by other critics (I’m such a good writer, you guys), I am going with the most obvious culprit: Internet Reviewers (IRs).

From Nostalgia Critic to Spoony, for about a decade IRs have relied on Nitpicking for their content. Spoony is probably the worst because most of his videos are insane, extended rants over nothing. Obscurus Lupa and Phelous also contribute to this problem and their brand of comedy does not help either. Cinema Snob nitpicks, but he is playing a character. As his true self, however, he will fixate on issues that are not issues when talking about new releases on Midnight Screenings. Todd is the Shadows, a pop music critic, is so irritating I stopped watching his videos. The channel Cinema Sins’ entire existence relies upon Nitpicking for some of the pointless shit I have ever seen.

Lindsay Ellis and Red Letter Media are the few IRs that avoid Nitpicking and actually criticize. Your Movie Sucks partakes, but he is intelligent and articulate enough that he makes it entertaining. Razorfist judges works on their own merit, even if he is a little biased with his massive Chuck Norris boner.

So why would IRs nitpick? I am of the opinion it is for entertainment purposes. Thanks to the Internet, irony and anger have become legitimate forms of comedy. I myself enjoy watching people lose it over bad movies and videogames and try to emulate their success. Some of my major inspirations, including those listed in the previous two paragraphs, built their careers on getting mad. Nitpicking is a part of the act and I do not hold it against them.

That being said, it has gotten so out of control and unchecked that it has affected the way audiences and others see art, which in turn affects the creators. Many do not see entertainment media as entertainment and fixate on little details that do not matter. The smallest of inconsistencies in logic can turn audiences against a given work like flipping a switch. Nitpicking is now the standard through which they consume and criticize.

When I was learning to write for entertainment, I was taught to leave nothing to chance. I had to explain everything in my stories and keep it short because audiences are too slow and stupid to understand certain ideas. Personally I like using symbolism and leaving it up to the reader to decide what is happening. I trust them to understand what I am going for and do not give a shit about the 10% that will have trouble.

All I can say to them is git gud.

Maybe I am being a snob. Maybe I really am terrible at explaining myself and am a pretentious hack with delusions of grandeur. But what would you rather have: Big Bang Theory or Blade Runner? I never claimed to be a good writer, but I can say with absolute certainty that I am less disingenuous and condescending than the people who gave Jim Parsons a reason to be relevant.

The more we create for the lowest common denominator, the more we contribute to the downfall of art. Every day there is a new show or movie that repeats the process of those that came before. Every day I see more of the same copying itself ad nauseum, flushing real entertainment down the toilet like an aborted fetus. Soon works that are challenging will be overshadowed by crime procedurals, open world adventures, sitcoms, military shooters, pop music, and lawyer shows that are no different than the last dozen. All because some retards could not figure out what was happening on screen.

The faster we abandon this way of thinking the smarter we become as consumers. Like Political Correctness and its sister language Newspeak, Nitpicking will keep us dumb and ignorant to true art. While we complain about bullshit, new works are dumbed down and suited to fit the needs of those who do not appreciate real works. It is the laugh track telling you what is funny and when to laugh. It is the terrible music choices telling you how to feel. We need more Neon Demon and less Blair Witch. In the end, it is up to us to stop Nitpicking and start elevating art that transcends the bounds of mediocrity. Better yet, get off you ass and create your own.

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