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Critics Just Wanna Have Fun: Why I Dislike the “They Don’t Get It” Argument…

I like to think I am open minded. Just a few weeks ago, I published an article defending big budget blockbusters from their detractors. However, I find myself growing frequently frustrated when it comes to fans using the old “critics don’t like fun” argument to defend a given movie from any sort of meaningful debate and criticism. It happens a few times a year, most spectacularly with Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen back in 2009, but also this year with Sucker Punch. The film has received a critical lambasting, but fans are always quick to rush to the internet to critique the critics, claiming things like “they don’t get it” and “they don’t understand” or nonsense like that.

And, you know what? That’s just plain wrong.

Movie for suckers?

I should state something from the outset. I have not seen Sucker Punch. I would kinda like to, but my better half has vetoed it as a date night activity, and I don’t see the film appealing to too many of my friends. Still, I find myself intrigued by Snyder’s wonderful eye for visual design and his fantastic ability to match action and soundtrack. I am not a hater. Hell, I liked Watchmen far more than most. However, this argument isn’t about Sucker Punch, Sucker Punch is just the catalyst for discussion. If Sucker Punch had been released to unanimous critical praise, we would still end up having this discussion a few months down the road at the next blockbuster that was panned by reviewers.

Very simply, I resent “they don’t get it” as a stick that is used to beat people who disagree with you. Don’t get me wrong, I love critical debate as much as the next man – I will argue about the merits or demerits of a particular film until the cows come home. I know I am in the minority of loathing Avatar (not The Last Airbender) and really digging Shutter Island, but hey – it’s my opinion. If you want to call me on it, I’ll have a debate with you. I’ll consider your points and I’ll argue mine. To be honest, it sometimes works the other way around as well – occasionally I’ll directly address a critic like Donald Clarke or Armond White if they do something I fundamentally disagree with. But the key thing here is engagement – an attempt to articulate a coherent argument supporting my view and criticising yours.

Contrary to popular belief, not all critics are robots...

However, it’s just lazy to suggest that a critic is wrong because they “just don’t get it” or that they “can’t simply sit back and enjoy it.” It’s offensive, because it contains such a gross generalisation of critics and reviewers being eternally out of touch, but also because it’s so incredibly unoriginal. It’s a shallow and simple and general argument, one which is impossible to refute, because it’s so subjective. Of course the people who like it “get it”, but from there it becomes easy to argue that those who don’t appreciate the movie lack a fundamental misunderstanding. Even if they come back and argue they fully comprehend everything the director did, it’s easy to redefine “it” as some sort of nebulous intangible property which exists around the work and eludes all but the most faithful fans. As such, not only do the critics fail to get “it”, they can’t even comprehend “it.”

It’s a stupid argument, because it negates any meaningful debate or discussion about a film. It’s the eternal last line in any discussion of anything, a self-righteous trump card which allows the user to avoid having to directly engage with any criticism of their beloved work. It’s the be-all and end-all of film discussion, the full stop which indicates that the person making the argument doesn’t want to play anymore. I’m not insinuating that the argument is typically made on behalf of a film truly without merits (in fact, I’ve seen it used against critics who dislike generally well-received films as well, like The Dark Knight). I don’t think it should ever be necessary to stunt debate in this manner to validate your own love of a film – merely that the argument is typically used by those who won’t (or can’t) articulate their reasons in a constructive manner.

It just leaves critics cold...

I think it’s fair to suggest that the onus is on the person who tries to say critics don’t get “it.” The individual who suggests that critics fail to comprehend some wonderful greatness of the work should be obligated to put forward their own understanding. Too often, this sort of discourse feels like the blandest game of poker ever, as the players claim that they have a good hand. The problem is, if you get called on it, you have to show your cards. As such, I think it’s only reasonable that the person arguing that somebody “doesn’t get it” has to put into words what exactly “it” is.

Too often, it seems to me like “it” is used as a synonym for “fun” or “entertaining.” The obvious suggestion is that critics and reviewers are robots, incapable of accepting a film unless it demonstrates clear artistic merit. This is a typical form of anti-intellectualism which seems to suggest that critics will lavish praise on films like The Reader and The King’s Speech, while ignoring movies that play to the wants and desires of a typical audience – basically, the notion that a film can pass two hours quickly, without too much deep thought or hidden meaning.

The reviews for Star trek were pretty stellar...

This is an old argument, which suggests that critics are elitist snobs who have lost touch with the common man. This, I would suggest, isn’t entirely fair. I hope it’s not true in my case, but there are any number of “big dumb movies” which enjoy popularity among critics. Consider the Rotten Tomato score of Die Hard (94%) or even of 2009’s Star Trek (94%) – neither film is what one might expect a critical darling to look like.

I should clarify, I think it’s possible to argue on a critic-by-critic basis that certain film critics do suffer from a snobbishness when it comes to blockbusters, but I don’t think it applies across the board. I hope it doesn’t apply to me. However, there’s a distinction between films that try to be mindless entertainment, and those that succeed. Critics are, as a whole, just likely to lambaste a poorly-executed prestige drama like Amelia as they are a bad action movie.

You better Watch yourself...

However, you can’t argue this point when the fanboys claim “you just don’t get it, man”, because there’s no articulation of what “it” is. There’s no real thought put into the argument, nothing more than a broad criticism of thousands of people working in the industry. I know I should be able to ignore it, but it does really just frustrate me – because of what it represents. It’s a cheap and disappointing copout, and one of the reasons that we don’t have better discussion on movies or films. That’s why I can’t stand it, and that’s why I get mad every time I see it.

14 Responses

  1. Well done, Darren. Well done.

  2. I think an important aspect that many people tend to forget is that a “brainless” or “entertaining” movie doesn’t have to be offensively bad. This is usually where most of the “they don’t get it” argument comes from: when we try to defend this line, this fundamental understanding that all movies can be good if crafted properly.

  3. You make some fair points, but I think there is definitely a sort of “piling on” effect when it comes to critics. Once in a while, there are certain movies that critics fall over themselves to criticize or praise. I think Revenge of the Fallen is probably a good example. I haven’t seen it, but critics acted like the movie was a crime against humanity. Critic bait movies like The Social Network and The Hurt Locker are the opposite; you would have thought they were divine revelations from the over the top praise they got.

    In other words, while it’s simplistic to say critics just don’t get certain movies, I do get the sense that as a group they use certain movies like a sacrificial lambs. Why get so riled up about dumb action movies?

    • Really I think they’re just getting riled up about bad movies. Revenge of the Fallen is a giant pile of terrible. I haven’t seen Sucker Punch but the nicest things I’ve heard about it from trustworthy critics still resemble reaching for a silver lining.

    • Revenge of the Fallen is the worst example you could have picked. Because it WAS that shitty, and offensive, racist and dumb.

  4. I feel like the “you just don’t get it” line gets whipped out a lot by people lacking a solid argument in favor of a movie, book, television show, song, or game that they like. Unless you’re willing to back up that sentiment with pretty detailed points that prove the other person doesn’t get it, don’t bother.

    I’m not above telling someone that they don’t get it if they really and truly don’t get it, but I’m not going to act like you’re some clueless buffoon just because you don’t get the same joy out of a movie like Ichi the Killer as I do. (Maybe “joy” is a strong word considering the example, but you know what I mean.)

    Maybe the most offensive instance of someone inappropriately using the “you don’t get it” defense comes from Penny Arcade, an online web strip I follow that frequently is about video games. The authors wrote a strip specifically denigrating Roger Ebert for his claims to the effect that video games aren’t art, calling him a “vile creature” and suggesting that he “hates the work of the young”. There are a number of things that are wrong with this idea, but the important one is the suggestion that Ebert hates the artistic output created by young people. Criticisms like this are never consistent; if that’s the case, then why does Ebert praise the works of Rian Johnson? Or the acting of Jennifer Lawrence? Critics disliking something that’s obviously a product of the younger generations isn’t a sign that they’re out of touch, per se; it could just mean that that something is godawful.

  5. The “they just don’t get it” crowd just don’t get that asinine storytelling and popular escapism are two very different things.
    Not every movie needs to be a deep and spiritual or intellectual experience. Movies don’t need to be unbelievably complex to be great bits of cinema. However, what movies DON’T need to be is STUPID. That’s why Raiders of the Lost Ark still stands as a great piece of storytelling while Transformers is rightly trashed by the critical establishment as a piece of trash.
    Also, that “they just don’t get it” argument assumes that critics are a collective hivemind when they’re really just as diverse in interests as any group of people.

  6. Don’t think that “Sucker Punch” will be on par with Snyder’s earlier efforts, of which I am not the biggest fan, and you’ll be alright.

    I found myself defending the film – which is, indeed, quite terrible – in my own review (out tomorrow) simply because it has been so universally panned by most critics.

    As jumbled a mess as “Sucker Punch” was, I think this is one instance of a film being largely misunderstood.

  7. On the other hand, sometimes they do not! Sometimes I wonder if they watched the same film as me. Remember Wizard of Oz was not liked by critics either, and Star Wars was only given mediocre reviews.

    Sometimes critics get so into bashing a movie they miss something “special” that the fans picked up on. Let’s take “Equilibrium”, critics hated it. I saw Bales range of emotions, a knew he was a good actor before he became a house hold name. The movie itself had many plot holes, but it gave new concepts, and had thought behind it.

    Or Boondock Saints, I do not know a person who does not like that movie, but critics bash it. I will insists the critics missed the “special” brotherhood of where the two brothers are equal. Not the hollywood cliche of one a vicitim, dies or turns to the bad side.

    There are good movies out there that I do not like, and there are bad movies I enjoy. (Fast and Furious) Sometimes critics miss what makes a movie special. Fans often are willing to overlook dire flaws if there is something that “special” about the film, and critics are not so forgiving. Sometime critics don’t get it

    And other times people are just plain retarded. (Some people really tried to defend Transformers 2?)

  8. Well said, Darren. I don’t always agree with critics but they’re not automatically wrong just because you disagree with them. I think the “you just don’t get it” argument is often said out of bitterness (mostly from fanboys who can’t articulate their feelings) and like you said, they have no idea what ‘it’ is to begin with.

  9. P.S. I have not seen Sucker Punch yet, but I plan too. Snyder shot per shot in my mind is a genius, but he cannot glue them together with good pacing.

    I will arguein Watchmen, the shot with Rorschach taking out the dwarf in the bathroom is one of the better shots I have scene in modern cinema. Absolutely captivating with the door swinging letting your mind do the work. But the movie as a whole, seemed to be missing something, and its pacing was kinda bad.

  10. Great essay. I too can’t stand when people use “They don’t get it.” I find it happens most with directors that have a cult following like Zack Snyder, Christopher Nolan, and David Fincher. In the eyes of their fans, they can do no wrong, and the rest of us can’t possibly understand what they’re getting at.

  11. Sometimes though, critics really appear that “they don’t get it”. When I see a critic bash a movie and every one of their reasons for disliking it are points that non-critics loved about the movie. That’s when I feel that they don’t get it. The rest of us are looking at that review and going: “Uhm…if they changed the things he said about it…it really wouldn’t have been enjoyable.

    I’ve also noticed some critics have a trend of bashing only certain types of movies while labeling certain other types as “one of the greatest of all time”. It’s fine not to like a certain type of movie but don’t bash on it for silly contrived reasons just to back up your dislike of that sort of a movie. I think a critique of a movie should be more objective.

    Judge the movie from both an artistic standpoint -and- and entertainment standpoint and touch on both. Some will judge a movie purely from an artistic standpoint and disregard whether or not it’s entertaining.
    It can be a complete masterpiece on every level artistically but have no entertainment value whatsoever. It can be flawed artistically but be a very entertaining movie.
    Most people don’t look to reviews to see whether or not you think it’s a great movie artistically or not but whether or not it is going to be entertaining.

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