Critics are fascinating people. Now, unlike a lot of creative folks who go around bemoaning that “no one gets them!” I tend to believe critics – and by extension, criticism – is a necessary thing… if no one ever told anybody else they were doing it wrong or could do it better, then I suspect a lot of people, things, concepts, inventions, creative works or food would never have become the shining examples that they eventually did. We’d just be stuck, never bothering to attempt improvement because we would be blind to the idea that we might need – or at least, could use – a swift kick in the rear to make things just a little bit better.
But critics who have no grounding whatsoever in a subject, who have only the vaguest grasp of what they’re talking about… they bother me. Partly because I tend to take things too hard and mentally berate myself for hours, days or weeks afterward – whether I should or not – and partly because it’s just dumb. If you don’t know the subject matter, why do you think you can deliver a critique that has meaning? (Assuming the person you’re critiquing isn’t a self-abusive idiot who truly does believe that everyone hates him and everything he touches, anyway.)
Now, if someone looks at something I’ve written and says “Hey, that’s a lot like ‘Such and Such,'” and upon research I discover that “Oh. Oops. It kind of is,” that’s fine. That’s necessary. That means rewriting is in order, if not an outright dumping of the project. That’s how Saiduka ended up on the back burner, when I was flipping through a Bentley Little novel and said “Herp derp. I believe my villains need some rework.” (The irony there is I can’t remember which Bentley Little novel it was, so now that I’ve reworked my beasties some and I need to double check to make sure I’m not stepping on his toes, I have to reread almost his entire library. Which isn’t really a bad thing. Mr. Little’s a very talented individual.)
This comes up today after a discussion with a coworker. More accurately, an interruption by a coworker. I was talking to a couple of other friends about Little Miss No Name and Ioudas, bouncing some ideas off them, checking for plot holes. All fine and well. This individual apparently caught just enough of the conversation to decide he had valuable input, and shouts out “Sounds like a rip off of Annabelle, toss it in the trash.”
When I got home, I had to look up Annabelle, since it was the first time I’d heard of it. I’m out of the loop, pop culture wise. But after digging, I determined that except for the prominence of a haunted doll, there’s not really anything relating the two. One looks to be a schlocky horror flick purportedly based on Ed and Lorraine Warren’s case files (and a pseudo-sequel/spinoff to The Conjuring) The other is a story about abuse, psychological dysfunction, and vengeance. Annabelle is filled with weird cults, demonically possessed or manipulated dollies and suicide pacts (with an obligatory note that the doll sits in Lorraine’s museum, blessed twice a month to keep the evil inside from hurting anyone, and oh how I wish that was just part of the script instead of true…) while LMNN is about one hurt, confused and lonely little girl who just wants to be loved.
I’m sure, if one wanted to, one could cough up probably 800 (or more) movies, books, stories, video games or paintings that contain a haunted doll, and most of them would have their own spin, their own direction, their own purpose. Just having a haunted doll doesn’t immediately make something a clone of everything else with a haunted doll. I mean, just about everything out there has a central item, image or concept that’s been done millions of times before. That doesn’t mean the whole story is just a copy.
When I attempted to expound on LMNN, and asked how closely that mirrors Annabelle, his answer was curt: “Doesn’t matter. Ghost dollies are dumb, they’re all the same. Junk it.”
Then he moved on to the other part of the discussion. “And that other crap, the stuff about Judas being a hero, they already did that. Go watch Last Temptation of Christ, already done, don’t need it.”
Had I been in a dark alley at that point, I might have choked him. Now, I actually have seen Last Temptation. Quite enjoy it. And there are some elements of that Judas that have been incorporated into my Jonas Cartwright; primarily that he was one of the Sicarii and was not just a greedy bastard. Though neither of those concepts was new when Harvey Keitel stepped into the role, nor were they new when the original book was written; it’s been an ongoing debate that “Iscariot” may be a bastardized and corrupted variant of “Sicarii” for quite some time, and there have been Judas worshippers almost since there was a Judas. Look to the Gospel of Judas. That thing is at least 1700 years old (and has more to do with the inspiration of Ioudas than any other single source, really.) But to this individual’s mind, having a Judas who isn’t just an evil bastard makes that Judas Harvey Keitel, which thus means it’s been done before, and thus means it’s pointless.
He then went on to expound – at great length, and continuing to tell me all about it for the rest of the day as I had the misfortune to be put on the assembly line next to him – upon his idea for a bestseller. Someone goes back in time to kill Hitler and stop the JFK assassination, but discovers that Hitler was actually a decent person and JFK was kind of a tool. “Hey,” I say, “that’s not actually that bad.” Until he begins to explain how Hitler discovers the time travel device, and uses it to summon velociraptors to attempt to win WWII, the velociraptors gain human-level intelligence, and drown the Russian army in their feces, then the “hero” goes to take down JFK and kills him by drowning him in urine, and this causes a Butterfly effect that turns Obama into a rap star and causes Newt Gingrich to become president. The amount of detail he went into regarding the Obama portion of the program, as well as his description of his hero – who sounds suspiciously like an idealized version of himself – makes it sound like bad internet fanfiction, even more so than the poop-flinging intelligent velociraptors stomping on Russia (and later, Vietnam, which we won, because JFK and LBJ weren’t there to screw it up for us, supposedly.)
My final response to him was this: “They already did that. Jurassic World‘s coming out soon. Junk it.” He didn’t seem to care for that.