Wednesday, November 21, 2018

THINGS I JUST DIDN'T "GET', UNTIL I GOT THEM: Some SELF-REFLECTION and re-evaluating some old Bias and Prejudices.

You know, as this Thanksgiving weekend arrives, I must confess that while I have been thankful for, a lot, mostly I've been in a bit of a self-reflective mood lately. Several reasons for that, I guess the main one being that I've been trying to work on better myself. It's going, oh-kay; I could probably still be doing a lot more and a lot better. 


A lot of what I'm self-reflecting on is how I analyze art. Most of you probably know that, as a film critic especially. I think quality is measurable and is about 99.9% of how to analyze a film and I don't have any value in people who mistake quality with preference, and blah, blah, blah. I've said it in so many different ways before, and I think I mainly say it and repeat it so much because, well, a lot of people don't seem to understand that, or they get it and think it's weird or odd or just plain stupid. Well,... (Shrugs)

Yeah, I know the kind of critic I am and I know that kind of analysis gets me in trouble at times. I'm trying to, focus on those issues and better myself be being more understanding of others positions on that analysis as well as understand their perspectives. I think I'm doing better, but it's difficult; it's a position I, by definition, don't understand. I strive to eliminate bias when analyzing art and I think overall I do a pretty good job at it. Not perfect, but I rarely regret a review or an opinion, even if I'm the only one with it.

However, thinking back and again, doing a lot of self-reflection, I realize that there's just some things that I-, I don't follow or understand.

I can't always help it. I mean, I'm not changing my way of analysis; any time I try to understand preference over quality, it just sounds like people talking about the things they like, and I just, don't seek that out and don't see it that. That said, let's face it, I do have biases and as much as I want to I can't always completely block them out from my analysis. I try to, and I usually think I'm successful, but I can't always be sure that my thoughts on something isn't based on some predisposed imposition of mine. Sometimes nature tops nurture and I don't always realize it when it happens, and I'm sure that happens to others too.

I like to act like I can just analyze something by comparing the parts and measuring them up, good and bad, and if there's more good, it means it's good and if there's more bad it's bad; I do think that's measurable and valid, but sometimes, there's a block. You don't realize it, 'cause it's a block, you don't realize it, you think it's just another, quality analysis measurement. And that's the stuff I want to talk about today.

I'm sure I've gotten several things wrong over-the-years, but sometimes I just, simply, do not get something. I think we all have things that we just don't get at first but we just don't talk about it. Or maybe it's because I'm the only one and I just don't understand things quicker, but I don't think so. I think if we really deep down think about it, everybody has had those things where, we just completely missed on something the first or second time through, and then some time later, maybe years later, we finally realize, "Oh shit! That was actually, you know, pretty good. And I just, didn't get it at the time."

Not stuff you necessarily thought was bad or awful and then you realize was good, but stuff that you just sorta whiffed on for whatever reason. Sometimes, you just thought one thing when really you didn't look close enough. Sometimes, you got a bad first impression and you never really explored it further. Just whatever, just things that you originally didn't see what the big deal was, but then, you looked around and realized the big deal that you actually missed. 

So, I thought it was time for me to think through and go think about and confess in some cases to things in entertainment in one or another, that I just didn't get at the time, or the first time around, but eventually I got them later. There's no ranking or anything here, it's just some things that I didn't get at first, and now I totally get. May not entirely love personally, sometimes I will, but the main thing is that, for some reason, my head didn't work the way it should've and I didn't get them until, some time later. 

Frankly, this Thanksgiving week, I feel like I need to put my own hand into the flame a bit. Give penance, and realize that, I am just as capable of letting my personal biases blind me and I should recognize that more often. So, let's confront some uncomfortable inclinations and thoughts I had in my past. 


I suspect this might be a common one for some people. Especially since it does take such an unusual and unique perspective on the sitcom at the time, but yeah, I had trouble with "The Office" originally. Not the American version ironically, but the UK version, and I had seen it before most other people did. 

See, before Steven Moffat was doing "Doctor Who" and "Sherlock" and some weird shows, he had a series I loved called "Coupling", that I still think is seriously great and underrated. Anyway I would stay up late at night and try to find episodes on BBC America, so I would try to watch the original "The Office" as I waited for "Coupling". Honestly, I didn't really-, well, I didn't get it. I mean, I knew it was a sitcom, I noticed that it was mockumentary format, but did I understand it's appeal, or get enough of the jokes and subtleties to appreciate it? Not at all. In fact, it was the American version, which I was expecting to flop as badly as the American version of "Coupling" did that actually got me to go back and re-analyze the series. I found that I loved the American version the more I watched it, and using that as a guide, it actually helped me to appreciate the original a lot more, and now I absolutely love it and consider it great. But at the time,...- I mostly just wondered what the hell it ws.


(Sigh) Yeah, I'm not gonna pretend that I'm a rap guy, per se, but-, just in general, I have a questionable history when it comes to music. Certain music in particular makes me squirm and cringe. For a while, I was in the "Rap Music" is just a trend group. There were several reasons for this. I was mostly a pop and rock guy and the idea of a musical trend that doesn't even have musical instruments as a main staple of the genre just irked me. A lot of it is that I grew up in the mid-nineties, and the all-time stupidest musical beef occurred during that time and left young men dead depicting who depicted a violent and aggressive gangster culture in their music. A lot of it was that I just didn't get the art form. I still quite understand it; like, I will never understand songs that have random guest rap verses from artists who are clearly not rappers, or for that matter, the artists who I was trying to listen to instead. 

Also, I should mention that as a kid, I found a lot of the so-called great artists of rap music to seem, hypocritical to me. You see, the argument, as I understood it at the time, was that they were depicting a culture, like how a movie depicts a world or a lifestyle; they weren't apart or glamorizing gang culture, but it's a part of our society and somebody has to highlight and show that part of it and depict it for all to see. Now, that argument I understood. I didn't suddenly become a big Tupac fan overnight or anything, but you know, I got it though. What I didn't get, was when, in a lot of the incidents, many of those same artists making that argument would suddenly get arrested, put on trail or otherwise involve themselves in some of the same activities they were depicting in their songs. To me, that was like, the last straw for me to ever accepting this genre as anything othe that a complete manipulation of the audience and the consumers. 

I should remind people that I was between eight and twelve or so years old at this point, and had unusually deep thoughts and issues about whether or not I should trust the musicians who talked about gangbanging, drugs and murder, so I was probably way more messed up then I want to admit, but I don't know what to tell you, I didn't get it. Like, "Are you a violent gangster or not? This shouldn't be a hard question!" Honestly, I still have reservations about rap music in general, it's probably never gonna be my genre but I've evolved from that early simplistic perspective. And I certainly can appreciate great rap music when I do hear it. I get that it's not simply a beat or sampling other's work, and I get that, not everything an artist says in their music, or says about their music is real life and that, some people who were gang members eventually made music to get out of that life, and that's why they depicted it so well and from their life experiences come up with unique and fascinating criticisms of society.  

Also, I finally heard some rap music that I can appreciate as music. I know it's a cliche answer for a white guy to say that Eminem got them into rap, but yeah, Eminem. I wasn't too big on him either at first, but the first time I heard "Stan" I was in awe, I still consider it to be one of the greatest songs ever written. (Seriously, that five minutes of lyrics is more effective than most horror movies) After that blew me away, I started digging closer into his lyrics and just how clever and brilliant some of it was. I had a copy of "The Eminem Show" somewhere; never listened to it, but I read the lyrics a lot. People like Eminem, Common, Kendrick Lamar, many many others from the beginnings of the genre to now, I'm not a rap guy, but I can appreciate the genre now that I've evolved as I've evolved alongside. 

Well, a lot of it's evolved anyway.... It's like any genre, there's good and bad, sometimes very bad. 


Abertura Ally McBeal (Intro/Opening) Season 1 from Anderson Narciso on Vimeo.

I honestly have no idea why I so hated this show at the time, now. Like "The Office", it was also kind of a unique spin on the sitcom at the time, and it's humor came at stranger angles than people were used to. Eh, I think mostly it had to do with the fact that it aired on FOX. Not because of it's politics, but at that time period, FOX was the channel I despised the most because, well-, (Sigh) it's a bit hard to explain, but at the time, Fox was mostly known for airing some, what we might consider now, some teen soap operas. After "Married... with Children" era ended, they started shifting their focus more towards the "90210"-type series as the network's focus, and (Sigh) while in hindsight, I- (Sigh) honestly I still feel that way, onl now it's for CW. And honestly, I should probably add that whole network to this list too. Anyway, this way they promoted and advertised towards kids and teens with much of their programming, most of the programming, I considered to be crap, that basically kept me away from Fox for a few years there outside of football. When this show started getting popular, it basically confused me in the same ways that all those shows getting popular seem to confuse me. 

The thing is that "Ally McBeal" really doesn't fit into that mold, and this was me badly judging on the cover, not even the cover of the show, but the network cover. (Oh, and the fact that it won the Emmy over "Friends" that one year is patently ridiculous.) It's not the greatest show of all-time or anything, but I was letting some stupid prejudices get in the way from actually enjoying a show that, honestly I didn't start watching until the end of the series, and all because of the network it was on. (Scoffs) I realize my mistake years later with CW who were doing what Fox was at that time, only ten-fold, but eventually they found some good shows too. (I can probably add "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" here and it would be the modern version of this for me. See, this isn't all just the past, sometimes our biases are still present; I knew they shouldn't be, but... (Sigh)

"Billy Elliot"

I guess I can also put this one under not completely getting Stephen Daldry either, but yeah, "Billy Elliot" is one I really missed out on at the time. I don't even know why,  on this one. I think this just came from reading reviews as a kid and trusting the negative ones more than the positive ones. Usually it worked, and it still works; you want to find out if a film's worth watching, read reviews. Back then, before Rotten Tomatoes was popular, I usually read about seven or eight critics before I saw a movie, and despite the acclaims the film was getting I suspect the mixed batch of reviews I read led me to judge the movie negatively. I've gone back to rewatch it, ever since one friend of mine reacted particularly negatively to me after I made note of how I wasn't a fan of it, and- yeah, I totally screwed up on that one. 

I still maintain that you should read reviews, and even if you don't, I still think it's better to check sites like Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic just to get a more solid overall outlook on how good a film is or how it's doing. I didn't have that option as widely available back then, and while occasionally slips through the cracks for me today; it's fair to say that it occurred much more often back then than it does now. Bigger sample size means that the result is more likely to be accurate. Sure, you might miss one or two things, more importantly though, don't do what I did and dismiss something entirely. 

Meryl Streep

I know there's still some people out there who might share this idea that Meryl Streep isn't as good as, say, the Academy seems to think she is. And, for a while I thought that as well. And don't get me wrong, the A.M.P.A.S. is ridiculous for several reasons and it's not unfair to say that she's been nominated a few too many times and sometimes unnecessarily nominated her but there's a difference between over-nominated and not talented. And for years, I couldn't accept that Meryl Streep was good for some reason. It's the same kind of dismissiveness and anger that anybody gets at when somebody's really talented and somehow seems to constantly get all the breaks. Basically, I used to hate Meryl Streep the same way I hate Tom Brady or Sidney Crosby. 

I used to avoid all Meryl Streep films because of this and god was that stupid. I missed so many films that I had to go and catch up with them later. It wasn't until I saw her in "Adaptation.", one of the first times I ever saw her in a comedy, that I finally realized  just how incredibly talented she was, and still is I might add. I still have relatives that have this dismissive view of Meryl I might add, much older than me too. Some initial biases are harder to overcome than others. This one was just ignorant and ridiculous. Of course Meryl is a great actress and the only person being harmed by not seeking out their work and trying to embrace it was me. I can still have days where I think it's patently ridiculous how much acclaim she gets compared to other women and men who are just as talented and beloved, and she'd probably agree with that sentiment herself, but that doesn't mean I should've been hating and dismissive towards her. 

This is probably one of the reasons why I don't typically find myself critical of actors who for one reason or another strike the ire of other film fans. I'm glad I eventually got it, when it comes to Meryl. 


Saying this out loud now, sounds almost, science-fiction-like surreal, but I used to not get "Animaniacs" as a kid. It wasn't later either, I was around when they went on the air. And this one was really stupid on my part to, 'cause in any other decently-run universe, I would've adored this show at the time too. I was a huge fan of "Tiny Toon Adventures" still am, but, something about "Animaniacs" seemed...- I don't know. In hindsight, I don't remember what my initial negative reaction to the show was, but I know what it was that made me start dismissing it entirely as a kid. It was when other gradeschoolers like myself would talk about it, and then, they would bring up how the show was better than "Looney Tunes". 

Yeah,- look I realize now that this isn't the most sacriligious statement ever, but at the time, I thought any statement like that was downright blasphemy. I grew up on Looney Tunes, and understood that they were the standard. That they'd been around for a long time and that nothing was ever going to overtake them in terms of greatness as a cartoon franchise. In many ways that's still. If we're talking the most important or iconic cartoons and characters, I'd be hard-pressed not to mention about a dozen Looney Tunes creations, and I probably wouldn't list "Animaniacs" character, even Pinky & the Brain with such high regard. But, man was that a faulty, flimsy reason to dismiss something. 

And the really idiotic thing was, that I knew they were funny. I had a former classmate who hang out with my family occasionally after school, and she loved "Animaniacs", would make me watch it everyday and I would try, (Sigh) not to laugh. I know, I know. Anyway, it usually didn't work and eventually, I realized my initial instincts were wrong. 

I think it hurt that I didn't really understand their influences either. Like, with "Tiny Toon Adventures" I understood that "Looney Tunes" was the base of the series and that this was the next generation. "Animaniacs" was more influenced by the Marx Brothers than traditional Looney Tunes of the era, and I didn't watch the Marx Brothers until much later in life, so even though I liked it and knew it was funny, I didn't know why, and that scared me a bit. I just, didn't get it. 

A lot of these biases we have is just a fear of the unknown, in fact I bet most of them are. We trust an initial instinct and we don't seek further. I'm not gonna say that every initial instinct is wrong, most of the time I've usually found that they're mostly accurate, even upon reflecting, but sometimes they're not perfect, and they need to be re-evaluated. Even and especially my own, sometimes. Maybe there will be things that I'll look at in the future that I realize I just didn't get now, but I'll just be thankful that I have to save that self-reflection for another day. 

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