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I Am Puzzled

No image up top; it’ll ruin the surprise.

Let’s get something out of the way: I am not about to argue that if you disagree with me about a piece of culture — a movie, a book, a TV show — that the fact of our disagreement means that you are irrevocably stupid and dumb and wrong. Indeed, the most valuable movie critic I’ve ever read was a woman in the local newspaper <cough, mummble years ago, cough> with whom I regularly disagreed, but did so in a wholly predictable manner, meaning that I could estimate to a high degree of precision how much I would like a movie based on how much she did or did not. That’s some primo information, y’all.

What I’m puzzled by today is a review of Scott McCloud’s The Sculptor (of which much has been written on this page and elsewhere) at The AV Club, whose writers I normally find well-mappable and usefully predictable (in the sense that I can predict my own likelihood of enjoyment from theirs). It’s a pretty mediocre, verging on bad review; I’ve seen less-than-laudatory reviews of The Sculptor, but this one seems to be … mean spirited? It’s drawing inference and intent that I don’t think are accurate in anything but a most cursory read, seems to be unable to separate the creator from the character, and particularly seems insulted that The Sculptor mentions Jeff Koons in a cursory way that is not a big, sloppy blowjob.

I can’t recall the last time that even a novice creators still learning their way around a craft was treated as shabbily as in this conclusion:

A few fantasy bits are cribbed from a photocopy of Neil Gaiman’s plumber’s cousin’s Sandman fan-fic¹. There’s even an angry Russian landlord with mob connections. Is there a word for when talented artists succeed in proving to the world in the most embarrassing and sincere way possible that they have absolutely nothing left to say?

Like I said — puzzling.

Spam of the day:


My thoughts exactly.

¹ One must note that among those that disagree would be Neil Gaiman.

I haven’t read the “Sculptor” or even “Sandman,” but it was hard to say, reading that review, that it was categorically “bad.” Is it bad if they don’t agree with you? The things the reviewer mentioned did seem tired, although I will probably reserve judgment until I’ve read the thing myself (if I ever do.)

I’ve seen Koons’s balloons in person, and for all that you could say about Koons, those balloons have power.

“Bad” in the sense that it was not a positive review of the work in question. As I made clear in the beginning, I am not disparaging the quality of the review or reviewer, but I find it difficult to see how anybody that spent time reading the book in question would regard it with such contempt.

Hmm, I thought the part up top was just clarifying that you didn’t automatically hate the review because you disagreed.

I guess it was this chunk that really confused me: “It’s a pretty mediocre, verging on bad review; I’ve seen less-than-laudatory reviews of The Sculptor, but this one seems to be … mean spirited?”

I wasn’t sure how to read the struck-through bits, but if a review is mean-spirited it’s necessarily bad, right? I mean, a reviewer can dislike something or be dismissive without being mean-spirited, right? Right??

In colloquial language, one talks about “good” reviews and “bad” reviews, meaning the that the reviewer was positive or negative about the thing being reviewed. In that sense, it was a “bad” review. I have seen bad reviews that were scrupulously fair, and good reviews that were unfair and mean-spirited to everything NOT being reviewed. My objection to the review wasn’t that it was a bad/negative review, but that it was a review that went out of its way to say this sucks without providing anything but the most facile and surface arguments as to why.

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