Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Cruel Idol

I'm still reading Ruth Park's A Fence Around The Cuckoo. Towards the end of the book, she describes a very negative encounter she had with someone she had once admired.

As a young and struggling writer, Park sent a story to a woman who worked at The New Zealand Herald. The editor responded to Park's writing submission, saying she doubted Park would ever be successful as a writer. She also expressed annoyance that Park had the indecency to bother a busy editor.

The experience profoundly hurt Park. She took the woman's words to heart, had self doubts about herself, and become depressed. Fortunately, this particular story has a happy ending. Park ended up becoming a very successful writer. And at times, she used the editor's cruel words as inspiration. I believe though that she was able to do this because her parents stood behind her. Park had someone to defend her, and help her restore her faith in herself. I think the outcome might have been much different if her mother or father had said, Well, you know....that editor might have a point. Maybe you weren't meant for writing.
When someone puts us down, it can be helpful when others try to pull us back up.

The cruel letter from the editor reminded me of something I saw on American Idol a few years ago. So many people love that show, so I decided to give it a try. I think I watched one of the first episodes of a season. I'm not sure which season it was. Anyway though....Jewel was on as one of the judges. There was a young singer who idolized Jewel. I personally thought she sang fine, but I don't seem to have high standards when it comes to singing. Jewel was bitchy to her. I thought that was sad since the woman was a fan of Jewel. I'd hate to be a fan of someone, and then have that someone be negative and discouraging.

That's American Idol for you though; and I don't think I've watched it again after that episode.

Why do people find it entertaining to watch critics smash the dreams and aspirations of talented people?

I have no problems with critics really. I respect that people have different opinions. I loved the finale of Lost. I've seen reviews online from people who loved it, and I've seen reviews from people who hate it. I think it's fine to say This show is crap. The writing is terrible, and the acting is atrocious. I find it more intelligent though to say something like I hated this show. The writing and acting made me cringe. In the latter, the critic is emphasizing that this is his OPINION rather than fact.

But to me, what's not at all okay would be someone reading a TV script written by an aspiring writer and saying This is absolutely worthless. You have no talent. You'll never be a successful writer. There are billions of people out there. Just because you hate something, doesn't mean everyone will hate it. Some people might actually love it.

What makes someone act that cruel? I'm trying to understand. Is it about power? I'm successful so now I have the power to make other people feel bad.

Maybe jealousy is part of it? Maybe the editor sensed Park had talent, and she felt threatened by it. It might not have even been on a conscious level. I find when I'm jealous of someone that sometimes I end up viewing them in a negative way. I don't often have the mind to sit there and think, maybe I'm noticing all this negative stuff about them because I'm jealous. But to my credit, I usually just stew in my negativity privately. I don't go out and tell them to give up their career goals because they'll never have any success.

I think a big reason for the cruel critic phenomena is the fact that many people have the inability to understand that there's a variety of opinion in the world. If they love something, it's brilliant. If they don't like something, it's crap. They read a story, hate it, and believe that if they hate it, everyone will hate it. So perhaps they feel they're doing the aspiring writer (or whatever) a favor. Let's just nip this foolish dream in the bud. If I don't like they're work, no one will like it....so there's no point in them continuing to pursue anything.

It can be depressing to get heartless and destructive (rather than constructive) criticism. I imagine it's even worse when you get it from someone you idolize. Celebrities though probably get a lot of pleas for attention. They don't have the time to provide positive feedback to all their fans. So we can't really demand that from them. But I think they can have the decency to refrain from being a total monster about it.