Classic Simpsons Recap Alert (10/5/2011): In addition to the featured content, this entry also includes an installment of the classic Simpsons recap, which follows at the end. For more on that, read here.
It’s okay to kind of like something.
Originally posted on January 18, 2010 by Ken
I will submit an informal theory, which I will dub the Beavis and Butthead effect. Imagine, for a moment, an average anti-intellectual moron. We’ll call him (arbitrarily male, of course) “Jack.”
Jack goes to the movies. He sees, oh, say, Avatar. He comes away from it thinking it was crap. “Who are these people trying to fool?” he bellows. “This is the same plot as a bunch of other movies I’ve seen! Why, the acting wasn’t even that great!” Jack goes home, logs onto IMDB, and gives Avatar a 1 out of 10 rating. Somebody needs to put these Hollywood hacks in their place, after all.
Meanwhile, Jill (arbitrarily female), for all her differences of opinion, is very similar to Jack. Jill goes to see Avatar and she loves it. She finds the special effects dazzling; Pandora is so real to her that she felt she could reach out and touch it. She thinks to herself excitedly: “This is the best movie I’ve seen in a long time! Just look at all the stuff on the screen! Check out all the hidden messages!” Jill goes home, logs onto IMDB, and gives Avatar a 10 out of 10 rating. Surely this marvel, this wonder of a film, deserves to unseat stodgy old bores like The Godfather and The Shawshank Redemption. Why, those movies aren’t even relevant to today’s world.
You rarely see a Jack or a Jill go for the “5 out of 10″ rating, or its close neighbors. If you’re lucky, they’ll shave off a star or two at the top because it wasn’t the second coming of Christ. Don’t expect anybody voting at the other end of the scale to shave off anything.
I’m not sure what drives this phenomenon, but it is observable. Whether you go online and look at the numbers or just listen to the scuttlebutt around the water cooler, there seems to be a reverse bell curve governing people’s opinions about entertainment. In the parlance of Beavis and Butthead, either “it rules” or “it sucks.”
Why is there such an absence of more varied opinions? Why isn’t there a more complex gradation between the two poles? Here’s my theory. Outside of natural selection, there aren’t many ways for something complex to arise from something simple. You’re probably not going to get a thoughtful, well-rounded opinion from a simplistic viewing process. If all you’re doing is passively absorbing what the screen pumps at you, then you’ll likely respond just one way or the other. It becomes a reflex. It rules or it sucks, and damn the very notion that anybody should discuss it more deeply.
Movies are for thinking about. Art is for thinking about. If you go into it thinking that it’s okay to turn your brain off–-or worse, that you should turn your brain off-–then you’re depriving yourself. You’re disabling yourself from knowing real crap when you see it, and you’re closing yourself off to the sheer richness of a truly good movie.
Most of all, you’re shutting off the critical faculties that are necessary for knowing when a movie isn’t great, and isn’t crap, but just… is. What doesn’t deserve your best appraisal doesn’t necessarily deserve your worst. Some movies are just lightweight entertainments.
Setting the record straight, I believe Avatar is worth seeing. To say that it’s the best film of the year, or even a great film at all, is worrying. It’s certainly an imaginative, pretty film, with many evocative moments and much else to write home about. No, it isn’t especially well-acted, and the plot is low on both subtlety and originality, but plot and acting are highly overrated phenomena. Perhaps its worse crime is that its visuals are so splendid that the rest of the production just isn’t audacious enough to keep up. This is by no means a bad film, and certainly not a “1″ on the IMDB scale. But neither is it a “10.”
Your homework is to look up a bunch of movies on IMDB (www.imdb.com) and check out their user ratings. Look for how many people voted at the extreme ends of the scale, versus how many voted for the middle ratings. Test my theory.
THE CLASSIC SIMPSONS RECAP, 10/5/2011
Title: “Homer the Great”, season 6
In this episode, Homer, the perpetually mediocre husband/father, joins a secret organization known as the Stonecutters, where he discovers that he may be more special than anybody realized.
Homer’s workmates have gained some mysterious perks–better chairs, quicker parking access–and Homer decides to investigate. Naturally, the source of their luxuries is nothing mundane. They’re members of an all-powerful Freemasonesque organization that pulls all the strings in Springfield. The Stonecutters lay out their many impressive accomplishments through song, although how this translates to their day to day activities is left to the imagination. (“Let’s all get drunk and play ping-pong!” exhorts their leader, played by the excellent Patrick Stewart.) The Stonecutters seem to be both highly influential and inconsequential at the same time, as huge overarching conspiracies tend to be.
Sometimes success is achieved through effort, but sometimes it seems as though some people simply have it easier than others. It’s tempting to believe, in this world where so much is out of our hands, that everything is in somebody’s hands. The fantasy of regular people getting ahead or being stamped down by the say-so of secretive, all-powerful leaders is sent up by Homer’s rapidly changing fortunes in this episode. Only in the longview do we realize that our shames and triumphs tend to even out. In Homer’s case, he literally trades one stone for another just like it–except, in a moment of terrific irony, the stone of triumph is bigger.