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The Virtues of Accepting a Work on its Own Merits

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“Oh HELL no, you’re not trolling us with Sucker Punch, Verboon!” shout the indignant Unreality readers in unison. Would I do such a thing? I might. Hell, you know I would. With relish. But hear me out anyways. What’s all this nonsense about accepting something on its own merit? Well, this could take a minute to explain. Perhaps an entire article’s worth.

What I’m saying basically is that we are conditioned by various external factors in our life that we’ve internalized to be predisposed to like and not like certain things. Don’t panic, this is normal. For example, when I see Justin Beiber’s face, I am filled with a need to punch kittens. But let’s say the little bastard grows up to star in some of the greatest films ever made. How many of us would either refuse to watch it or actively talk shit about it without having given it a fair shake?

Political values, cultural differences, and other prejudices are often a defining factor in what we decide is the best thing ever and what we will fight to the death to defame. But it doesn’t have to be that way, friends. We can go to the movies or read books or play video games to have a good time and let go of all the hate. Well, most of it.

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Beleib dat!

We need not diss Django Unchained because it’s about killing whitey and Tarantino’s face is stupid, nor despise James Bond as a cartoonish chauvinistic male fantasy. We need not dismiss Ender’s Game because the author is a hate-filled bigot, or claim Sucker Punch is the worst thing ever because anime is for losers, and we sure as hell don’t need to gauge the quality of a film by our ability to ferret out unimportant plot holes.

Speaking of hate-filled bigots, I’d hate to think that a world would exist where I never read the works of H.P. Lovecraft. His tales of supernatural horror were largely a function of one thing: intense xenophobia. Dude was terrified of immigrants and convinced that they were plotting against us with their strange, foreign ways. In fact, they may well be worshipping some tentacle-faced monstrosity and attempting to awaken it to hold dominion over the world!

Can a man with no fears write great horror? Probably not. Should you hold Lovecraft’s racism against his body of work? Only if you want to deprive yourself of some of the best and most imaginative horror fiction ever written. His own fear-filled imagination actually kind of serves as an interesting comparison to modern anti-fandoms in that he took that irrational hatred and twisted it into something unique and creative whereas most of us just act like pompous jerks when we don’t like stuff.

While it’s certainly a positive thing to be able to comprehend the themes and allegories that make up any quality work of art and it’s always good to be aware of the artist’s intentions, I’d argue that whether or not you agree with any of them should not be the deciding factor in how you rate the work. Art is meant to explore and express the thoughts and feelings of an artist. If a work does that effectively, who are you to apply your own personal preferences to assess objective quality?

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            “Those reviews aren’t half bad.”             “Nope, they’re ALL bad!”

Take one of my favorite Asian films, Zhang Yimou’s Hero; a film full of brilliant action, poignant emotions, and intense beauty. It also promotes the value of fascism. Now, if you stacked up all of the things in the world into a pile with things I love at the top and things I hate on the bottom, fascism is at the Earth’s core. Nonetheless, I feel Yimou captured the theoretical idealism that shows the appeal of fascism and in particular the Chinese peoples’ acceptance of it as part of their culture. Rather than allow my personal preferences to dictate my feelings, I accepted the film on its own standards and found it to be one of the most memorable theatrical experiences of my life.

What seems to be the thing is that people project their personal preferences into a work and become blinded when the work isn’t about them in particular. I once read a review of Juno that was pretty much a tearful rant from a woman defending her personal choice to have an abortion and railing against a quirky, whimsical indie comedy for not mirroring her own life experiences. It was a pretty disturbing overshare, but when you think about it a lot of the hate any given work actually kind of resembles a less forthright version of that.

The game Bioshock Infinite ruffled a lot of feathers on both sides of the political aisle with its too close for comfort portrayal of the institutionalized racial oppression that constitutes a large chunk of American history and its subsequent depiction of a bloody uprising that saw the oppressed turn the tables and the revolutionary leader acting in self-interest. Because that has never, ever happened in human history, right? Most revolutions are won with stern words and the new government always turns out to be a flawless rainbow-filled altruistic utopia, right?

It upset conservatives for daring to portray aspects of our culture that they’d rather ignore, and it upset liberals for suggesting that the world is not the perfect place they imagine even after they overthrow the Man. I would say upsetting both extremes makes you the voice of reason- an exceptional feat for any work of art, much less a mere video game- but for many people it was just a reason to write it off.

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So racist it could almost be an old Superman comic book cover.

And then there’s satire (pictured above), which is essentially an ironic mean-spirited joke that people with no sense of humor will not realize is a joke, thus making it even funnier. Can I explain why taking stupid ideas and following through on them to their illogical extreme to illustrate their stupidity brings me amusement? I suppose I can’t, but I do know that a significant portion of the population not comprehending the concept fills message boards and comment sections on the net daily.

So basically, whether or not something conforms to our own preconceived notions of how things ought to be is often how we intellectually assess its quality. Except that intellectuality is defined by objective analysis and therefore not subject to the pettiness of our own wishful thinking. So if you think elves are lame, homosexuality is an abomination, and we should abort ALL the babies perhaps you could sit out serious discussions about Lord of the Rings, Brokeback Mountain, and Juno maybe? Just spitballing here.

So this brings us back to Sucker Punch. The hate just keeps coming and coming for that one, but I’m not sure I’ve ever read a legitimate reason at so why it’s so unwatchable other than the fashion choices. After it was announced that Wonder Woman would be appearing in the Batman/Superman film, I read an article in which the writer began voicing their concerns about whether the macho-leaning Zack Snyder was the right director to bring the Amazon princess to the big screen.

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In 300 nobody got shirts so I can actually see this working.

It didn’t take much for the article to devolve into a Sucker Punch-based rant that utilized the phrase “anime hookers” repeatedly. This is not how you critique a film. That is how you spray cringe-inducing personal prejudices and hang-ups onto a computer screen for other people to uncomfortably read. Anime style may be a mere subculture in the West, but in Japan it’s practically a way of life.

Sucker Punch utilized some visual imagery associated with anime as part of its tribute to hardcore geek culture and the power of the nerd cocktail of video games, sci-fi, and fantasy as an escape from the often depressing and terrifying realities of the real world. The ladies’ outfits were typical of Japanese characters and clearly meant to bring that culture to mind. Wouldn’t that suggest the biggest problem with the movie is the viewer’s own cultural intolerance? Maybe they should consider creating their own horror universe like Lovecraft to turn that tiresomeness into awesome sauce. I can see it now: The Weeaboo Mythos®.

Poor fashion sense or not, Snyder definitely didn’t do himself any favors by putting the word out that his nerdy wet dream was a female empowerment story and then making it so steeped in metaphor and symbolism that most people weren’t going to understand it beyond the prostitution and miniskirts. That was just inviting disaster. He made a geek-flavored acid trip, and that’s all Sucker Punch was; a unique and stylish action film with psychological themes in an ocean of same ol’ same ol’.

But regardless of Snyder’s lack of feministic awareness, is it really worthwhile to expend energy passing judgment on a film that you simply do not understand? A lot of commentary I’ve read on Sucker Punch strongly implies that the commentators either did not watch the film (as its earnings indicate) or didn’t comprehend anything about it beyond the way the characters were dressed.

Personally, if I don’t “get” something, I’m more likely to either put more thought into it, watch/read it again, and possibly research it in an attempt to understand where it is coming from or leave it alone altogether than I am to insist on foisting an uninformed opinion onto the masses in a rush to…I don’t really know. What is the point, exactly?

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Everyone wants to be part of the magic, I guess.

At this point, it appears that prejudice is part of our genetic makeup. Now that it’s not socially acceptable to be abusive to one another based on the color of people’s skin, sexual preference, or gender we have turned to fiction as a scapegoat to work out our personal hang-ups.  We’re so uncomfortable with those hang-ups that we constantly search for them in pop culture to point them out and feel better about ourselves. And if we can’t find them, projection is always an option.

On the other hand, there is no blind eye we will not turn when it comes to something we enjoy. We’ll proudly cite a plot hole as a reason why one film is horrible and instantly dismiss one just as big in a personal favorite. Michael Bay’s Amos and Andy reboot bots from Transformers 2? Indubitably racist, but not the reason the film was garbage. Otherwise, Star Wars and numerous other classics would be right there with it. And don’t even mention Disney.

So yeah, it’s probably time to admit that everything is horrible and racist and sexist and riddled with errors, and once we get over that fact we can be free to enjoy and ignore what we please instead of chucking double standards all over the place in futile attempts to distract other people from the unwatchable crap we enjoy ourselves. Everybody has something ridiculous that they enjoy, be it mindlessly saccharine rom-coms, grindhouse boob and bloodbaths, cartoons about giant ninja robots piloted by Japanese schoolgirls, mind-numbingly existential  arthouse fare, or anything involving Justin Beiber. But seriously, f**k that guy.

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Sign iiiiiiiiiiit…..

Obviously, all of that stuff is up for discussion but a little tolerance could go a long way when it comes to other peoples’ taste (or lack thereof). Just because the internet allows any jackass to post any thought that pops into their head the second it pops into their head doesn’t mean you have to be that jackass. Just like in real life, any kind of love is better than every kind of hate. If something is clearly not your thing, there’s nothing to be gained by harassing the people who enjoy it. Unless, of course, those people are Twi-hards. Their tears of emo rage are both delicious and nutritious.

(Editor’s note: Nick has been fired for liking Sucker Punch and claiming it has merit, in any form)

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About Nick Verboon

I am a guy on the internet who writes stuff sometimes. Try and keep up. I used to write reviews Amazon and other sites under the moniker trashcanman before semi-retiring from my unpaid career for a while. But now I'm back in action writing columns for Unreality and Gamemoir. Enjoy. I

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