On Being a Cynic

Tuesday, September 8, 2009 - 5:29 PM

One of the natural drawbacks to being a cynic is the inclination to recognize the worst in human beings and to generally accept the worst as status quo. As such, I really don't need the world to keep reminding me of this fact, but the world isn't listening.

One of the natural drawbacks to being a writer is that people tend to assume that you are unprofessional, unreliable and generally not much of a contribution to society. As the emphasis on profit margins continues to grow, the low opinion of writers also increases. People see little value in the art of language, and I find it ironic that in putting aside the importance of good writing, they are also putting aside the value of good communication.

Previous entries have addressed the book 'Twilight', by Stephanie Meyer. In these entries, I defined a good AUTHOR as someone who successfully reaches an audience with their work, regardless of whether or not they intended their writing to do so. A good WRITER is someone who writes with technical skill. I continue to maintain that, voluntarily or not, Stephanie Meyer is a good AUTHOR. She communicates the feel of adolescence so well that it has created a chord of powerful sympathy in thousands of readers. This is a form of communication. If the purpose of literature is to generate an emotional reaction from the audience, Stephanie Meyer is quite successful in creating literature, because most people seem to either adore her work or absolutely detest it.

Interestingly, I notice that very few people offer up a way that she could have made the story better. Mostly, they just shoot down the notion of sparkly vampires, denigrate the sexual-stalker-dysfunctional over (and under) tones in the book, and so on. And on. Of course, this is similar to how much the fans of the book rant on about how beautiful the book is... because it is beautiful.

So, is it society or human nature that makes the population tend to polarize their opinions? People get so caught up in wanting to prove someone else wrong that they don't really address the issues outside of their own context. They don't want to offer a solution to a problem, they just want to point out that someone else's solution isn't going to work. We're seeing a lot of this in the government today; old grudges in the political arena are getting a lot of play, in my opinion, and I am heartily tired of the constant wrangling between people who use 'liberal' and 'conservative' as insults.

What words mean and how they are used is essential to communicating very clearly, and clear communication is essential to creating dialogue. Without dialogue, there is no true conversation. You only have two people making statements about themselves or their experiences at each other, and responding in the same way. When you boil down arguments, the majority of them come down to the fact that one person thinks the other person's experience is wrong. That's really all there is to it... but the thing is, if you don't understand the other person's experience, how can you really call it wrong?

Do I like Stephanie Meyer's writing? No, I sure don't. Do I like her main character? Absolutely not; she's a self-destructive, whiny, melodramatic adolescent who uses her intelligence to justify her own actions to herself. And yet, I recognize that point of view. I've seen that point of view, and I've been that adolescent. I also recognize that her writing reaches the lives of more people than mine probably ever will, and I can give her a nod of acknowledgment for that. It is an accomplishment, voluntary or not.

Similarly, do I like Obama? Not so much. He's just another politician, playing at being a politician. Do I like him better than McCain? Yes, I do, largely because I feel Obama is actually looking at things from a standpoint more appropriate to our changing circumstances. I will give him credit for his drive to follow through with ideas for health care and so forth. If nothing else, his attempts to create change have exposed a powerful undercurrent in the American public; the reactionary mess of the public health care debate is evidence that people are looking to find something to be angry at. Something concrete.

Whether you are outraged at 'Twilight' or ranting about 'bed wetting hippy liberals' or 'fundie warmongering conservatives', I think you're going to have to accept that these little items you are fixated on really don't matter so much. There is so much that needs cut out and replaced in how we live that if you focus all your energy on these tiny outrages, you're not paying attention to the big picture, and I don't think we can afford to ignore the big picture these days. The world is moving faster than we are, in terms of population, technology, social change and many other fields. The world is shrinking very quickly, and the shaky foundations we've built under us are showing their flaws.

Our flaws.

Sure, be angry. Be angry at the authors who get printed and make huge amounts of money. But rather than complain about them, or spend all your time writing forum posts about how awful they are.... write a better book. Write something that shows a related perspective in the positive way, and read that author very carefully so you can explain why other people LIKE the book as well as why you hate it.

Is that a metaphor? Why, yes it is.


At September 12, 2009 10:16 AM, Blogger C Hanson said...

Some people are better at writing than editing, some people are better at criticizing than creating. Or, let me call it "critiquing" since that has better connotations. Being able to "write a better book" isn't always possible and shouldn't be a requirement for pointing out flaws in another person's work.

(Yes, I know it's a metaphor.)

You've hit the nail on the head, though, when it comes to the narrow, self-serving focus of most criticism. People are so concerned that others see the plot holes (whether in writing or in a health care plan) that it's forgotten that the hole isn't the whole. Even when there's a grudging admission of "at least they got THIS right" it's usually a blinkered view. That particular person liked that particular part. If other people like other parts, it's dismissed as "they're not clever enough, they've been duped, they're not thinking it through" when it ought to be examined as "why is this fulfilling something for them? what more positive thing could be substituted, that would be a better value but still match that need?"

Change is difficult for many people. The bigger the change, the bigger the commitment, and therefore the more reluctance. One of the reason's (my opinion) Meyer's book was a big hit was that it was never seen as quality literature. And "Harry Potter" was a children's book. People weren't discouraged by the commitment of reading it, of appreciating it, and so it spread more easily. But no one says it's easy to predict just what will have mass popular appeal. Frankly, I never thought Obama would get elected. I didn't think the country had that much nerve. I have my fingers crossed for some sort of national health care compromise, but not expecting it. Just hoping somehow to be surprised again. Because that's always it, sometimes people will surprise you.

(btw, do check this out: Chaucer hath "Vespers"! the blog also includes a very nice send-off review of "The Romance of the Rose" http://houseoffame.blogspot.com/2009/09/chaucer-sparkleth-in-sonne.html )


At September 12, 2009 10:18 AM, Blogger C Hanson said...

"send-up" not "send-off"

Bleh. I wish Blogger allowed editing. :-P


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