Write Off, Write On

I’ve read all four Twilight books. Would have checked out Midnight Sun, a retelling of the first novel from Edward’s perspective, but a copy was leaked online and Meyers never ended up releasing it. My plan is to read a minimum of 52 books this year, and my hope is that 50 Shades of Grey makes it onto that list somewhere.

No, I’m not a middle-aged suburban mom who’s been catfishing you all these past two to three years. All of that was just a little background to set up today’s topic, which is our right to write about, well, anything.

My thoughts on the whole issue began yesterday, when a friend on Facebook shared a Huffington Post blog post titled “If JK Rowling Cares About Writing, She Should Stop Doing It“. I could go into the lack of logic behind the author’s argument, but what I really want to concentrate on is the second paragraph [missing just the last line referring to the Casual Vacancy]:

“I didn’t much mind Rowling when she was Pottering about. I’ve never read a word (or seen a minute) so I can’t comment on whether the books were good, bad or indifferent. I did think it a shame that adults were reading them (rather than just reading them to their children, which is another thing altogether), mainly because there’s so many other books out there that are surely more stimulating for grown-up minds.”

Novelist and copywriter Lynn Shepherd can write a lot of different things that I disagree with, but she guarantees losing me as a potential supporter when she says that she’s “never read a word” of the Harry Potter series. There’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself [I’m not one of those people who insists to people that they have to read such-and such], the issue is that she then follow it up by saying that it’s a shame adults read them.

She’s “could use twenty pound notes for toilet paper” rich.

I’m not going to defend or decry any aspects of any of the books [though I pretty much stand by MGK’s breakdown of The Deathly Hallows]. What I am going to say is that Shepherd, her own personal writing skill aside, doesn’t have a leg to stand on. This isn’t an issue of one woman complaining blogging over on HuffPost and the other literally being wealthier than the Queen, it’s that you can’t assert that people are wasting their time reading something when you didn’t deign to even touch its pages yourself.

Right?

I didn’t get into Stephenie Meyers’ stuff so that I could lecture Twihards about what they were devoting their lives to.  I actually fall back on the age-old hipster line that I “read them before they were cool.” When and where I was in high school they weren’t a big deal, and so I polished off the first three books without any awareness of the hype they would garner.

stillabetterlovestorythantwilightYou don’t need me to tell you how reviled the series is as a whole, because memes like the one on the left pop up in Google Image Searches that don’t contain the terms “still”, “better”, “love”, “story”, or “Twilight.” What I can tell you though, as someone who’s read them, is there’s at least one aspect of Meyer’s books that is actually pretty decent: the existence of werewolves as North America’s supernatural autoimmune response to vampires from Europe is solid lore. Another fact is that as much flak as Kristen Stewart gets for playing a dour, emotionless young woman in the films the fact is that her character Bella Swan was, would you imagine that, written as a dour, emotionless young woman.

I mean, she fluctuated between dour and emotionless to irrational hysterics, and that sort of leads into my second point: that the Twilight is a series that I can talk about with people and, consequently, write about.

Archer looks terrible!” he proclaimed, watching a 747 pass by his window.

I’m very self-conscious, especially on this blog, of presenting any ideas or arguments that feel like they were composed in the lofty rooms of an ivory tower. The fact is that I’m an expert when it comes to very few subjects; even when it comes to comics I make sure not to overextend myself, especially in light of my beginning to regularly read/buy roughly two years ago. Gordon could pen more than a few very well-informed pieces on capitalism vs. communism and never for a second would I doubt that he knew what he was talking about.

The thing is, Gordon has clearly put in the work to gain knowledge about a subject he cares deeply about. Research is key to any post or article, but surely that can’t be it. Imagine if I had presented my piece on Man of Steel, which was essentially a list of reviews and write ups by critics I agreed with, without having seen it myself. Would that be tantamount to me criticizing Here Comes Honey Boo Boo without ever setting eyes on it, content that the rest of the internet had passed judgement on it for me as it is?

The way I worded my topic above was “our right to write about, well, anything,” but it really extends beyond that. To put it more broadly what I’m asking is whether or not we can judge anything we haven’t experienced ourselves. That only leads to more questions, though, because we now have to ask how we want to define “experience”?

I can say with confidence that I can discuss the few merits that 2 Broke Girls contains because I have burdened myself with the responsibility of watching and thinking about the show on a weekly basis; I’ve also seen every single episode. That’s not something I wish on anyone, and it shouldn’t be the only qualification for someone to be able to say “what a stupid show.” What is the bare minimum, though?

Look at me now, nine-year-old Evan!

As times goes on I realize more and more that withholding judgement, at least for a time, can only be a good thing. Part of that may be because there were times in my life where I had written off Parks and Recreation, running for exercise, black and white movies, and shrimp. I mean, shrimp. There are . . . there are days when I think back to how very, very wrong I was.

There’s a clear slant there, though, because obviously not everything we try is going to be a comedic work of art starring Burt Macklin, FBI. That was never really the point though, was it? Any piece of media we interact with, any experience we seek to undertake, it could go one way or the other. We determine for ourselves what its merits are and then we can share those thoughts with others knowing that we speak from a place of experience.

The opposite side of the spectrum isn’t casting our own aspersions willy-nilly, though, at least not usually. We gather our own hypotheses about that which we have not read or watched or heard, obviously, but many of our judgements inevitably end up being formed by others. This concept of blind hatred [and devotion] is something I’ll touch on next Friday, but as it stands by not engaging with something we ultimately allow others to tell us how to feel.

There is a place for reviews, of course, and I’m kind of a junkie when it comes to them [I have basically lived off of the Unshaved Mouse’s Disney reviews for the past week]. What makes them such a joy to read, though, is that I’ve seen all of these movies for myself. I can see what I agree with [like Jane being all that and then some in his Tarzan review] and take note of what I don’t [I thought about this for the better part of five minutes and there really isn’t much]. It adds to my experience instead of taking the place of it.

To end with, there are obviously some things that do not require trying to admit that we will not like it. If you don’t think tattoos are for you then that sounds like a decision you should stick with. When it comes to most other choices the effects are decidedly less permanent [skydiving could go one of two ways, but it’s generally pretty safe], and while you shouldn’t cannonball into anything [marathoning a few seasons would be excessive] dipping your toes into the water certainly can’t hurt. All analogies break down, so I’m stopping you before you bring up piranhas, et cetera.

Really, everyone is allowed to write about whatever they want, but writers like Lynn Shepherd will always find themselves on shaky ground after admitting they have not in fact experienced that which they put down. The minutes or hours you take to check something out will never hurt you as much as not doing so will hurt your argument.

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7 responses to “Write Off, Write On

  1. Great post. And thanks for the link!

  2. Well said, Evan. To the point that I don’t really have much to add… except that I think writers should also be allowed to NOT write about whatever they DON’T want to write about. For people who write about entertainment media and pop culture, the pressure to keep up with every damn new thing is exhausting (you obviously know this just as well as I do). I think we should be able to opt out of forming or casting any sort of judgement — EVER — if we want to, and not have to feel any shame that we’ve only ever seen about 26 minutes of Breaking Bad… *cough*.

    • I cut myself off before writing what I know you’ve already heard a thousand times before. Very fair point, and one that I can agree with having never watched more than a couple of minutes of Doctor Who.

  3. Pingback: Falling Off the Hate Bandwagon | Culture War Reporters

  4. You know, after years of training in the timeless art of self-importance, I still can’t reach the levels that Shepard has shown mastery of here. I need to go back to the dojo.

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