Criticism as Entertainment

post by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) · 2020-01-09T22:20:01.058Z · LW · GW · 12 comments

Contents

  Media Reviews
  Why Are You Talking About This?
None
12 comments
ETA: This post relies on video embeds that didn't carry over when LW imported it. For the full experience, see here.

Media Reviews

There is a popular genre of video that consist of shitting on other people’s work without any generative content. Let me provide some examples.

First, Cinema Sins. This is the first video I selected when looking for a movie I’d seen with a Cinema Sins I hadn’t (i.e. it’s not random, but it wasn’t selected for being particularly good or bad).

The first ten sins are:

  1. Use of a consistent brand for props in the movie they’d have to have anyway, unobtrusively enough that I never noticed until Cinema Sins pointed it out.
  2. A character being mildly unreasonable to provoke exposition.
  3. The logo
  4. Exposition that wasn’t perfectly justified in-story
  5. A convenience about what was shown on screen
  6. A font choice (from an entity that in-universe would plausibly make bad font choices)
  7. An omission that will nag at you if you think about it long enough or expect the MCU to be a completely different thing, with some information about why it happened.
  8. In-character choices that would be concerning in the real world and I would argue are treated appropriately by the movie, although reasonable people could disagree
  9. Error by character that was extremely obviously intentional on the part of the film makers. There is no reasonable disagreement on this point.
  10. An error perfectly in keeping with what we know about the character.

Of those, three to four could even plausibly be called sins of the movie- and if those bother you, maybe the MCU is not for you. The rest are deliberate choices by filmmakers to have characters do imperfect things. Everyone gets to draw their own line on characters being dumb- mine is after this movie but before 90s sitcoms running on miscommunication- but that’s irrelevant to this post because Cinema Sins is not helping you determine where a particular movie is relative to your line. Every video makes the movie sound exactly as bad as the last, regardless of the quality of the underlying movie. It’s like they analyze the dialogue sentence by sentence and look to see if there’s anything that could be criticized about it.

Pitch Meeting is roughly as useful, but instead of reacting to sentences, it’s reading the plot summary in a sarcastic tone of voice.

Pitch Meeting is at least bringing up actual problems with Game of Thrones season 8. But I dare you to tell if early Game of Thrones was better or worse than season 8, based on the Pitch Meeting.

I keep harping on “You can’t judge movie quality by the review”, but I don’t actually think that’s the biggest problem. Or rather, it’s a subset of the problem, which is you don’t learn anything from the review: not whether the reviewer considered the movie “good” or not, and not what could be changed to do make it better. Contrast with Zero Punctuation, a video game review series notorious for being criticism-as-entertainment, that nonetheless occasionally likes things, and at least once per episode displays a deep understanding of the problems of a game and what might be done to fix it.

Why Are You Talking About This?

It’s really, really easy to make something look bad, and the short-term rewards to doing so are high. You never risk looking stupid or having to issue a correction. It’s easier to make criticism funny. You get to feel superior. Not to mention the sheer joy in punishing bad things. But it’s corrosive. I’ve already covered (harped on) how useless shitting-on videos are for learning or improvement, but it goes deeper than that. Going in with those intentions changes how you watch the movie. It makes flaws more salient and good parts less so. You become literally less able to enjoy or learn from the original work.

Maybe this isn’t universal, but for me there is definitely a trade off between “groking the author’s concepts” and “interrogating the author’s concepts and evidence”. Groking is a good word here: it mostly means understand, but includes playing with the idea and applying it what I know.  That’s very difficult to do while simultaneously looking for flaws.

Should it be, though? Generating testable hypotheses should lead to greater understanding and trust or less trust, depending on the correctness of the book. So at least one of my investigation or groking procedures are wrong.

 

12 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by cousin_it · 2020-01-10T08:57:24.679Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

One of Eliezer's favorite writing tools is framing things as a two-sided conflict: atheism vs religion, MWI vs Copenhagen, Bayes vs frequentism, and even when presenting his views about AI he was always riffing off the absurdity of opposing views. That's fun to read and makes the reader care about the thing. I think it worked on us for basically the same reason that criticism-as-entertainment works.

comment by Raemon · 2020-01-11T19:18:50.507Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Note that Eliezer has regrets about that [LW · GW]:

My fifth huge mistake was that I—as I saw it—tried to speak plainly about the stupidity of what appeared to me to be stupid ideas. I did try to avoid the fallacy known as Bulverism, which is where you open your discussion by talking about how stupid people are for believing something; I would always discuss the issue first, and only afterwards say, “And so this is stupid.” But in 2009 it was an open question in my mind whether it might be important to have some people around who expressed contempt for homeopathy. I thought, and still do think, that there is an unfortunate problem wherein treating ideas courteously is processed by many people on some level as “Nothing bad will happen to me if I say I believe this; I won’t lose status if I say I believe in homeopathy,” and that derisive laughter by comedians can help people wake up from the dream.

Today I would write more courteously, I think. The discourtesy did serve a function, and I think there were people who were helped by reading it; but I now take more seriously the risk of building communities where the normal and expected reaction to low-status outsider views is open mockery and contempt.

comment by Liam Donovan (liam-donovan) · 2020-01-11T11:06:10.364Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I wonder if it negatively impacts the cohesiveness/teamwork ability of the resulting AI safety community by disproportionately attracting a certain type of person? It seems unlikely that everyone would enjoy this style

comment by Robert Miles (robert-miles) · 2020-01-14T11:33:41.966Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Zero Punctuation is a good contrasting example, but from a different medium. Perhaps Jenny Nicholson is a good example for film criticism?

comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) · 2020-01-22T22:47:03.411Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure why the medium matters. Do you think video games and movies are structurally different on a relevant axis?

comment by Robert Miles (robert-miles) · 2020-01-28T13:02:52.499Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure the reason, but there doesn't seem to be the same kind of nitpicky "everything wrong with X" type criticism out there for games (or at least it's not as popular, because I haven't seen it). There are lots of 'this game sucks' reviews, but they don't tend to be a giant laundry list of tiny inconsistencies, design choices etc. I think games are held to a much much lower standard on things like plot, acting etc, and maybe the fact that everyone's experience of a game is unique makes this style of criticism less viable?

comment by countingtoten · 2020-01-10T10:38:45.467Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Pitch Meeting is at least bringing up actual problems with Game of Thrones season 8. But I dare you to tell if early Game of Thrones was better or worse than season 8, based on the Pitch Meeting.

That's gonna be super easy, barely an inconvenience. The video for S8 not only feels more critical than usual, it gives specific examples of negative changes from previous seasons, plus a causal explanation (albeit partial) that the video keeps coming back to. One might even say the characters harp on their explanation for S8 being worse than early seasons.

Also, looking at the PM video on GOT up to that point, the chief criticism I find (and this once it seems like pretty explicit criticism of the art in question) seems to be about the show getting old and also worse as it goes on. Actual quote:

Well, eventually we're going to start running out of main characters, in later seasons, so they're all going to develop pretty thick plot armor.

Of course, whether that makes the early seasons better or whether their failures took a while to become obvious is a difficult question. PM seems to suggest the former, given their fairly blatant assertion that S8 is worse due to being inexplicably rushed. However, that is technically a different question. It leaves open the possibility that the showrunners' ultimate failure was determined by their approach at the start, as the earlier video suggested.

comment by Dagon · 2020-01-09T23:08:24.370Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's not actually that easy to make good things look bad. Even fairly harsh (and accurate) criticism of Pulp Fiction, for instance, makes the critic look bad rather than the film. Even when true, the one-sided choice of trivial errors makes it clear that the critic has missed the point, and ignored the beauty behind it.

You're correct that snarky criticality doesn't carry much valuable information about the movie. But I think your title describes it well - the point is entertainment OF the criticism, making the viewer feel superior, and really is no different than kids pointing and laughing when someone trips and spills their drink. I mean that in a non-judgmental way: this is something people find pleasure in, and even if they label it "review", it's not actually intended as a review and shouldn't be treated as one.

Actual critics writing reviews for newspapers and analysis sites actually _do_ a pretty good job of informing me whether I might want to see a film.

comment by countingtoten · 2020-01-10T10:26:10.190Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have to add that Pitch Meeting does not, in fact, label itself "review," though it does contain implied assertions. (Some implied claims are even about media, rather than about screenwriters and studio executives.)

The specific example/challenge/instance of meta-shitting seems odd, though. For one, GOT Season 8 was a major news story rather than something you needed to learn from Pitch Meeting. I'm going to make the rest a separate comment.

comment by Pattern · 2020-01-09T22:47:43.048Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
Going in with those intentions changes how you watch the movie. It makes flaws more salient and good parts less so. You become literally less able to enjoy or learn from the original work.
...
Should it be, though? Generating testable hypotheses should lead to greater understanding and trust or less trust, depending on the correctness of the book. So at least one of my investigation or groking procedures are wrong.

It seems you enjoy fictional works, and value that enjoyment. What does it mean for a fictional work to be "correct"? (As opposed to 'good'?) What's there to learn from the MCU?

comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) · 2020-01-22T22:53:43.168Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm torn here because I do think you can learn a lot (correct or incorrect) from fiction and we could have a really interesting discussion on that, but I also feel like there's an implicit query that is reading something into this post that I didn't intend.

comment by Pattern · 2020-01-23T02:46:28.220Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
I'm torn here because I do think you can learn a lot (correct or incorrect) from fiction

I probably agree with this, though you might be using those words differently than I do, and I'm curious about other perspectives on fiction.

I also feel like there's an implicit query that is reading something into this post that I didn't intend.

What implicit query?