The Spectacle Blog

Artists Don’t Owe You Anything

By on 4.10.14 | 11:20AM

Popular works of entertainment, be they mutant teenagers flying across the big screen or young heroines flourishing in post-apocalyptic scenarios on the printed page, are subject to endless criticism. Richard Roeper has made a career doing this very thing.

However, in the age of the Internet, a new form of criticism has emerged. I call it Goldilocks syndrome. This is defined as criticizing art based on the critic’s view of what the art should be. In other words, this porridge is too hot (based on what? Your subjective tastes? What about the creator’s desire for the porridge?) or this porridge is too cold. True evaluation of art has to take the work on its own terms in its own context. Another way of phrasing this would be to ask the question: "What was the artist’s goal in creating this work and how well did he achieve it?"

Instead, what we see today is endless projection of liberal/conservative/young/old/feminist values onto artwork and the demand that said artwork must reflect those values. The most grating, recent example of this comes from The Atlantic’s Julianne Ross who asked why every Young Adult heroine has to be petite. Ross wants to know where the muscular girls or the big-boned girls or the gangly girls are. Ostensibly, the reason so many of these characters (Katniss from The Hunger Games, Tris Prior from Divergent, etc, etc.) are petite is to create an underdog character. Is this lazy writing? Absolutely. But that is Suzanne Collins’ choice. There is something sinister here. Ross wants fiction to resemble her worldview: that anything that remotely smacks of body-shaming women must be called out.

Similarly, the Christian critics of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah stumbled into the same sort of errors. Many have railed against the discrepancies between the film and scripture (of which there are many). However, Aronofsky, as far as I know, is neither a practicing member of the Jewish faith nor a Christian. Thus, the expectation that he absolutely conform to orthodoxy is absurd.

To be fair, it does seem that progressives are much more aggressive about demanding popular culture reflect their values. The recent brouhaha over Brendan Eich, while not media-related, shows their insistence of uniform groupthink. Think Progress’s Alyssa Rosenberg’s entire career is dedicated to evaluating culture and entertainment through a progressive lens. She often and loudly calls for supporting progressive media simply because it is progressive. Furthermore, all media created by "conservatives" like Orson Scott Card is immediately suspect, simply because they are conservative.

All of this is a disservice to art and artists. If progressives want a vegan, curvy woman who dispenses justice to evil oil oligarchs while her domestic partner brews organic herbal tea at home, then they should create her. It’s not Suzanne Collins' job to think up progressive heroes for you. She doesn’t owe you anything.

Likewise, if Christians want biblically accurate and compelling films, they should create them. The Passion of the Christ is a great example of how this can be done well. The recent Son of God is an example of this done poorly. The Christian faith spawned Dostoevsky, The Sistine Chapel, Amazing Grace, and Lecrae. These examples span time, culture, style, denomination, and format. That is the standard Christians should aim for. Darren Aronofsky doesn’t owe you anything.

Finally, a word on those who write “criticism” of art like Alyssa Rosenberg and Julianne Ross. What you’re writing isn’t criticism properly defined. It’s propaganda. 

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