One thing you may have noticed in reading most of my blog entries thus far is that my coverage has, pretty much, been largely positive. I think the most negative I’ve gone has been in (1) my response to Dave Weigel’s Slate.com series on prog rock, and (2) some slightly negative takeaway from the film V/H/S. There’s kind of a reason for that.
See, while fandom—whether that be of genres in film, music, television, literature, comics, or what-have-you—is ostensibly about celebrating something, far too often it tends to be about tearing something else down. And negativity for its own sake in too many cases is viewed as being “honest,” or “telling it like it is.” But being negative is easy. Saying what you don’t like is like falling off a log. Now don’t get me wrong—making a reasoned explanation for why you don’t like something is often challenging. But it’s far more difficult to explain the myriad intangible reasons why you might like something. Trust me, I know. I’ve spent far too much of my life preoccupied with, and thusly spending way too much time on, things I hate. I can sit around and complain with the best of them. I can bellyache for days about what I find distasteful about any number of movies, albums, directors and recording artists.
But is that what I really want to share? I mean, if I can spend the same amount of time and energy telling people about what gets me giddy instead of just moaning about something I find annoying, what’s more rewarding in the long run?
I’m probably going about this blog thing in the wrong way if I ever want to get a huge readership, I know. I’m missing out on a huge opportunity to market my snark. Making fun of something can be funny and entertaining. And being contrarian and taking potentially controversial negative stances is an attention-getter. It’ll get arguments going in comment sections. It’ll piss off other bloggers and wind up driving traffic to my site.
To be honest, there are things I feel strongly negative about that I’ll probably share. (Actually, I will be doing this when I’m done with this paragraph.) But typically, that won’t be something I’m reviewing. Because at heart, I want to tell people about [insert great thing I found somewhere], and hope they find it as enjoyable as I did.
Now that that’s out of the way…
There are few things I find more frustrating than unbridled nostalgia. Most of the time, it’s completely unjustified and often just indicative of an inability to adjust one’s worldview.
I see this a lot in the pop culture circles I wade in. There are horror fans who think anything made by a major studio post-1986 is worthless. There are metal fans who toss off comments like “I don’t listen to any new bands” and “I can’t listen to any new releases from classic thrash/black metal/doom/death metal bands” in the same paragraph. There are sci-fi fans who won’t watch any new episodes of Doctor Who because they’re not shot in rock quarries on a mixture of videotape and 16mm film, and utilize budgets larger than $60 per episode.
There’s a thing called Sturgeon’s Law, originally termed “Sturgeon’s Revelation,” and originally stated by science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon. It’s basically as follows: 90% of everything is crap.
That’s 90% of contemporary Hollywood films. That’s 90% of what’s on television today. That’s 90% of all books published these days. That’s 90% of comics in Marvel and DC’s current lineup. That’s 90% of what they play on the radio. That’s 90% of pop music. That’s 90% of metal coming out.
But that’s also 90% of everything that ever came out, ever. 1980s horror movies. 1950s television programming. Second-wave black metal. Bay Area thrash. Punk bands. Rockabilly. Country. Rap. Films noir. Romantic comedies.
What persists, what lasts, what remains, is that 10% which is great. And that 10% is in constant flux. Standards change. Newly “rediscovered” gems from the past are re-evaluated and consensus opinion changes. But that ratio generally remains in effect: 90% trash to 10% treasure.
And that’s not to say that there’s not some enjoyable crap out there. (Going by the law, 10% of that crap is really great crap.) But it’s important to realize that a lot of the crap we hold on to, we hold on to because of the rosy hues and gilt overlay of nostalgia.
There was never a golden age. There was never a time when everything was great and nothing sucked. And today is not a time when everything sucks and nothing is great. There’s plenty of valuable stuff if you can be bothered to look. It’s easy to cite the great stuff of the past. The Dick Van Dyke Show. All in the Family. Citizen Kane. The Wild Bunch. Black Sabbath. The Kinks. Chris Claremont’s run on X-Men. It’s easy because the heavy lifting has been done for you. Everyone else has already sifted through the mounds of dirt to find those gold nuggets.
And this goes back to my political leanings. If, as William F. Buckley, Jr. said, a conservative is a fellow standing athwart history shouting “stop!” then consider me the opposite of that. I’m not disregarding or discounting those things from the past which are valuable. But I’m not going to turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to those things in the present which are equally worthy, write off anything that may arise in the future as by definition worthless, and instead wallow in the depressing notion that only the past (or only those things, present or future, that emulate the past) is worth celebrating.
That’s progress. Hence, progressive. Looking back will turn you to salt. And that’s good for killing slugs, but it raises my blood pressure.