I Critique Because I Care

I would like to take a moment to make an important distinction and point.

Which is: I critique because I care.

I mean to say that I don’t bother critiquing television shows I hate (except for Glee) or which bore me. If I am writing about a television show, it is because I like it and it interests me. (Glee interests me even though I don’t like it, which is why I write about it.)

This has really been starting to bother me lately, so I’d like to take the time to articulate it. When I critique a television show, it does not mean that I do not like it. It also does not mean that I think that you should not like it. Nor does it mean that I secretly believe that people who do like it are terrible, no good, very bad people. My critique of television shows stems solely from my experiences of watching them and is not a reflection on other people; I don’t want to tell people what to watch or how to watch it. Yes, even though I often speak in absolutes and sweeping statements. That’s something we like to call hyperbole here at this ain’t livin’, or a stylistic choice, or even poetic license. In other words: Not everything I write should be read literally. In fact. Please don’t read everything I say literally, because it stresses me out when you do.

There are, in fact, many things in this world which I critique because I care. Like America. Or feminism. I critique these things because I think that they have value and potential, but they still have problems. I am not going to refuse to acknowledge the problems simply because I like these things. Indeed, I think that it’s my duty, as someone who likes them, to critique them and try to improve them. That includes defending things which are personally not to my taste, sometimes, and it includes protecting fellow critiquers when they are being attacked by people who seem to believe that if you dare to criticize something, you obviously hate it.

It is my personal belief that critique is a critical part of full engagement. You don’t have to agree. And I freely admit that I don’t critique everything with which I engage. For example, I watch Chuck every week. I don’t write about it very much. Even when it bugs me, sometimes I don’t write about it. Because it’s a show I like to watch with my brain off, and that means that I don’t necessarily want to invest energy in critiquing it. Likewise, pretty much every time I see the front page of the New York Times I explode in rage. Again, not critiquing it every time. Just not worth my energy.

That’s why I say “hey, this show is amazing,” and then I proceed to tear it apart. It’s why I say “I’m a Joss Whedon fan” and the bulk of my posts about Joss Whedon consist of me saying “Joss. What. The. Forks?” Because, here’s the thing. Critique and critical engagement are interesting. Me going on about how awesome something is? Is actually pretty boring. I know, because I’ve tried a couple of times to write posts which aren’t negative about things I love and they are so damn boring that I fall asleep halfway through writing them. Let’s face it. Criticism is more interesting and it provides more traction, more footing, to engage with.

I do like to examine, though, the ways in which the things we watch shape us. How people absorb messages from television. How television depicts social issues. How problematic attitudes can be reinforced (or rejected) by television. That still doesn’t mean that you have to agree with how I read/view something, though. We can watch the same thing and come away with different perceptions, because we are different people. My experience does not invalidate yours; nor does yours invalidate mine.

I also do not believe that everyone should like the television shows which I like. If you don’t like Bones, that’s ok. Honestly, I don’t really care. Nor does it mean that I feel like I need to like the shows my friends like. I’m not a big fan of The Big Bang Theory. That doesn’t mean that it is a bad show or that people who watch it are bad (or that I am bad for not liking it). It just means that I don’t like it.

And I also don’t believe that comments like “well, I disagree” with no substantive content are helpful. Likewise with “this is boring” or “you obviously don’t get it” or “you’re just stupid” or “you’re thinking about this too much” or “you’re just looking for a reason to be offended” or any variants thereof. See how these don’t contribute to the discussion in any way, while a comment like “that’s an interesting read on Sierra; I actually think this” is a meaningful reaction to the critique? One which expands it? That’s why I don’t publish all comments on this site, because I would actually like to be able to have a serious conversation which isn’t filled with pointless comments or derails.

Many of the responses to critiques which frustrate me consist of trying to invalidate the critiquer in some way. That person really just hates what is being critiqued, and thus has no valid points. That person didn’t get it. That person doesn’t respect the creator. That person is overthinking it. That person doesn’t have a right to critique because that person’s reading doesn’t agree perfectly with that of a fan. Thoughtful dissent? Not so frustrating, even if I disagree.

I can tell when someone’s actually disagreeing with and engaging with a critique, and when someone just wants to be right so that I can be wrong and thus have my critique be invalid. What these people miss is the critical fact that most critique comes from appreciation, liking, and even fandom, and that people can read things differently and that is ok.