Sturgeon’s Law

The geek community has a preternatural ability to delude itself. To suspend not only disbelief, but actual awareness, effectively enough to cut anything even remotely genre-related all the slack it could ever possibly want. There are people out there who still explain the greatness of Lucas’ Star Wars prequels. Who defend Zack Snyder stealing virtually every shot in BvS from another, better film as homage rather than a total lack of imagination. Who tell me, when I criticize Next Generation, “Oh, that was just the first two seasons. It takes a while for a series to find it’s feet.” (THAT’S TWO GODDAMNED YEARS, PEOPLE!?!)

For a while, I was one of them. I tried hard to tell myself that Return of the Jedi was awesome (it wasn’t). That Temple of Doom was a worth sequel to Raiders (it isn’t). That Logan’s Run isn’t covered in cheese (it is; it’s still an awesome movie, but best when grilled, and served hot with tomato soup).

Unfortunately, as I was becoming a film-addled teen, I was also watching movies like The GodfatherLawrence of ArabiaFrench Connection. Films from the height of epic cinema and the depths of the anti-hero 70s that are powerful and visceral and unapologetically brilliant, and I realized we geeks were getting the short end of the stick.

We were gifted with occasional moments of true filmmaking brilliance – Raiders, which is a perfect film, or Empire Strikes Back – but mostly, we were ranting and raving about mediocrity. Movies that, viewed objectively, would get a 5 or 6 at best on a scale of 10. I kept thinking back to something William Windom said in his Starlog interview about his turn as Matt Decker in the TOS episode, Doomsday Machine. Windom reflected his own version of what’s known elsewhere in the geek world as “Sturgeon’s Law.”

That Star Trek episode was a piece of crap,” he said.

“whether it’s bagels you eat, clothes you wear, adults you meet when you’re little, plays you go to or are in, 90 percent is horsecrap. Five percent is just godawful and you wish you could forget it, five percent is memorable, so you better en­joy the horsecrap, because nine out of 10 hours in your life are gonna be spent in horsecrap. So fine, but don’t go around giv­ing it first prizes! The first prizes are too valuable — they’re really only for that five percent — of people, food, clothing, time, weather, age, whatever you want to name in your life.”

He was right. It took a while to sink in, but I slowly realized that not calling out the films, shows, books, comics, in the 90th percentile for being what they are — fine — is actually a disservice to the films, shows, books & comics that truly are excellent. It fucks up the bell curve.

Because I haven’t ceded my critical faculty, I often get called a hater. This drives me crazy for two reasons; 1 – it’s not a fucking word. 2 – it isn’t true in any respect. I simply refuse to love everything. I had a guy tell me, “I just choose to like things, and I think I’m happier.” My response was that I chose what I like, and therefore, I enjoy the things I enjoy much more passionately.

I have a friend I frequently tell that he needs a superlative filter. Whenever a piece of expensive marketing hits for the Next Big Thing, he is on social media exclaiming that this is THE GREATEST THING EVER! since the last GREATEST THING EVER! and I try to tell him that, no, it is mathematically unlikely that it is. Since this man prides himself as a film lover, I once explained that claiming Fast & Furious 4 is the GREATEST MOVIE HE’S EVER SEEN is pretty fucking insulting to, say, The Godfather, Part II. Right?

“Why can’t you just enjoy stuff?”

Because that “stuff” is the result of hundreds of millions of dollars, tens of thousands of hours of work, and is sold under the pretense of art, and I have too much respect for the labor, the money, the medium and myself to not hold that shit up to the highest possible standards. There’s no crying in baseball.

Also, there’s the obvious point that, by supporting the shit with our dollars, we tell the horse dropping it that we would please like more of it, and as soon as possible. This same friend loathes JJTrek as vehemently as I do, and yet he has seen every single film in the theater (some more than once), and owns all of them on blu-ray. It absolutely mystifies me.

I’m not a hater. I just care more than you do. Very few films will ever rise to the level of No Country For Old Men or fall to the depths of Watchmen. Most of them hover in between; like Derek Smalls, they are lukewarm water. Let them be.

We define the good by defining the bad. You cannot have one without the other. Shadows are only visible in the light; absent one, the other disappears. You might choose to swim in a flat artistic sea rendered in smooth shades of grey. I like my art with more swells, currents, riptides, eddies and vibrance. Suck it up.

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Okay. Here are some things done on American soil in the name of Christianity. The Ku Klux Klan burned down black churches, raped women, murdered civil rights workers, murdered children and terrorized communities for over a century. The neo nazis all acted and continue to act in the name of white christian supremacy. The army of god fatally attacks abortion clinics and doctors across the country. The covenant, the sword and the arm of the lord targets local police and federal agents. The federal building in Oklahoma City. The attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan and the successful assassinations of Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, John Lennon, and Abraham Lincoln, all perpetrated by Christians. Miss Greer, we weren’t attacked by Muslims, we were attacked by sociopaths, and I for one would join you in protesting a community center for the criminally insane, but no one is suggesting building one. — WIll McAvoy (Jeff Daniels), The Newsroom