When I was in elementary school, there were certain movies that I absolutely idolized. I had a queue of films that I would watch on sick days. It was a long list, but it included all three of the Star Wars films, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Rocketeer, and a TNT version of Treasure Island that starred Charlton Heston and a young Christian Bale. Not only did I love these movies, I would actually re-enact them. This was usually a sign to my parents that I wasn’t sick anymore and it was time to send me back to school.
Hang on; I’m going to make the rest of the Popdosers look old. My high school experience went side by side with the transformation of the Internet into what it is today. These were the days of dial up modems that squealed like a pig to the slaughter. It was the Also sprach Zarathustra of my entry into the negativity that the Internet has cornered the market on.
Around the same time, I had found a new friend at my high school. His name was Duncan, and he was far different from the friends I had grown up with. By sophomore year I had turned into an all too-serious adult. Duncan had transferred to my school and displayed a different sensibility from my old friends, so I gravitated toward him. Being young, I mistook his arrogance for maturity. Duncan was a smart kid, but all too often intellectualism can cause a man to act cruelly toward others (and how smart is that?). Duncan introduced me to criticism and cynicism, and being impressionable, I imitated him.
The Internet is filled with Duncans; people who know their intellect but display little understanding that emotional intelligence is far more important than mere knowledge. With the Internet has come an extremely critical culture, one in which a single negative voice can speak louder than one hundred positive ones. It would be silly to say that this problem didn’t exist prior to Al Gore’s invention of the World Wide Web, but it is hard to deny that it has become an almost suffocating force in our culture.
One day, in a conversation with Duncan, I mentioned my love of The Rocketeer. He sneered at my bond with that movie, taking an almost mocking tone. How could someone, in one swift stroke, destroy me for loving a movie that I cherished from my childhood? My unfortunate reaction was to give in. I wanted to look cool and all too often looking cool means to betray one’s own self. It was around this time that I first became aware of the word “overrated.”
The prevalence of this word seems to grow exponentially every year. It has become such an easy term to use to explain away a lack of understanding. I say this as someone who has used the term in the past, and I will say now that I am sick of it. To say that something is overrated is to infer that it has a rating in the first place, which is never a good reason to judge something. It is a very negative force on the culture of artistic criticism as a whole, because it simplifies one’s dissatisfaction into a neat little package.
I would never deny having a critical eye towards movies. Many times I have baffled my friends with my dislike of a movie that they love. Last year it was Iron Man, which I didn’t find to be all that impressive. It would be very easy to describe it as overrated, being that it was almost universally praised by critics and celebrated by audiences. I found it to be shallow, loud, unevenly written, and filled with lame product placement and jokes that have already started to date themselves (the Myspace line?). However, I wouldn’t deny an audience the satisfaction of enjoying a movie. That would be immature and selfish. To criticize a movie is to view it through the confines of one’s own mind, and if those are different than the general public we are all the better for it.
The mindset of “Why can’t people see things through my eyes?” seems to be the one great flaw in the thinking of the critical mind. I understand this, as someone who possesses a very precise vision of what I enjoy in a film. Therefore, I would like to challenge everyone by placing a moratorium on the usage of “overrated.” If people restrict their use of this word, they just might be forced to use their critical mind in a more constructive manner. No longer will people be able to undercut a movie in such a simplistic way and they will be forced to pinpoint exactly what it is that they dislike.
The last time I spoke with Duncan was at our graduation, exchanging merely a courteous “Hey.” He drifted away from me at some point during our senior year; hanging out with a crowd I wanted no part of. I thank him for helping me develop my critical eye and I hope he has found a more peaceful worldview, one that displays the understanding I have only recently found. Duncan was always smarter and filled with more general knowledge than I, but I made up for my shortcomings with an intuitive mind. Hopefully I was able to impress my sensibility on him just as he did to me.