Stretching my writing muscles again. Here we go.
Let me begin by saying, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying something at face-value. A lot of enjoyment can be had by simply indulging in the thrill of the moment without needing to think much on it. And especially so, if you’re with a friend who is also enjoying it. There’s a social gain to be had there that’s quite interesting and might deserve its own rant someday, but for now let’s just say that it’s an interesting way of engaging with media that can often elevate the entertainment of something (film, show, game, etc.).
But once people argue it’s just more valuable than greater insight and appreciation of a work, – its many aspects, and its achievements (or in other cases, the opposite) – I must disagree. Both ways of engaging with a work of art are certainly worthwhile, respectively in their own right. However, to say that having a blast watching something all the time is a more valuable experience than observing, analyzing, and thinking on it from a multitude of perspectives, is absurd. There is just as much value (if not more) in examining art / a piece of entertainment (even just one aspect of something) and learning from it in some way.
Whether you choose to revisit an old favourite of yours and come out disappointed because it wasn’t as you remembered or because your tastes / outlook has changed, versus coming out convincing yourself it’s still great without really thinking about what makes it great in the first place, or because you had new revelations that made you appreciate it more, the result is either you still like it or you don’t (and to what degree of disappointment / satisfaction that may be). But regardless of the result, how you choose to engage with something is arguably just as important as what it is you’re engaging with.
For instance, I could’ve gone into Suicide Squad with my comic book fanboy glasses on, not paying any mind to the flaws (both as a film and as a story), and pretended it was a good movie. But the film appreciation side of me wouldn’t allow that, so it was a painful watch as both a fan of comic books (and comic book movies), and a (novice) film buff. I couldn’t give into the same lens to watch it under as my cousin (who is a die-hard comic book and comic book movie fan and will enjoy them no matter what), because I’d like to think I have a good understanding of what I like and don’t like, as well as what I see as good / bad storytelling, filmmaking, etc.
It’s fine to enjoy something for its superficiality or the in-the-moment feeling from it, but once the conversation turns into a debate about quality about a work or between other works it becomes a whole different beast than simple mere enjoyment. It’s now about trying to explain what makes it good / bad (to you, and possibly others). And it starts with engaging with the strengths and weaknesses of the work, and forming an argument for or against why something is good / bad in conjunction with how it made you feel and why. You can choose to omit your personal feelings if you wish, of course, but they will most likely seep through in some fashion. From there it either becomes a point of appreciation or criticism, or both if it wasn’t fully swaying in either direction.
Whatever the case, holding something under scrutiny is important when trying to figure out meanings, conveyance of those meanings, levels of inspiration and creativity, competence / excellence in execution of its ideas, themes, characters, etc. Same can be said for trying to figure out why something doesn’t feel right, or is an outright train-wreck in every conceivable way – what’s wrong with the writing, direction, tone, sound and music, imagery, editing, cinematography, pacing, structure, choreography, basic storytelling techniques, etc.
There should be a common understanding that there is a difference between personal taste and quality. You can like something and be aware of how great, good, average, bad, or terrible it is, but being oblivious to those flaws or dismissing them in favor of praising your thing for its enjoyment factor should
not be tolerated (let a bit of my elitist escape there) be re-evaluated. And on the flip side, just because something doesn’t appeal to you, doesn’t mean you should ignore / dismiss what it does right and appreciate it for its achievements and endeavors. “By (collectively) allowing this attitude / behavior to affect our engagement with things makes art appreciation increasingly more difficult and frustrating, and more rare on the whole” (paraphrased quote from Erato on Twitter).
Though, I do understand why so many people have this “take things at face-value” approach, is generally because they’re not familiar with the form of media enough to have a good gauge (yet) of what’s good/bad or what they might prefer over what they’re first exposed to. The freshness of something different is a powerful feeling that encompasses all the senses and obstructs a lot to be gained, while appealing to simple pleasures and indulgences.
But those who have spent enough time and consumed tons and tons of media gradually grasp things like: repetitive use of tropes across the board (done to lesser and greater extents), styles and techniques within the medium (both common and inventive), and overall being able to discern the differences between a promising show and a poor imitation of better works.
This comes from being well-learned in whichever medium you’re greatly familiar with (i.e. difference between someone who’s read 200 [sci-fi] books as opposed to someone who’s read 2,000 [sci-fi] books, etc.). This expertise can also be specified to certain genres the person engages with the most / least (i.e. someone who has seen maybe 1-2 magical girl shows isn’t a good / credible source of expertise as opposed to someone who’s seen dozens upon dozens of them).
I imagine everyone here reading this is in the same boat as me and has similar ways of thinking, but I’ll say it anyway. There’s other ways of taking pleasure in things, such as recognizing their worth and accomplishments. This is where listening to other perspectives comes in, because I’d argue that what other people have to say about a work (provided they are also coming from an analytical perspective as well) is also incredibly valuable, because if the argument is persuasive enough it can give you better insight into a work, as well as a different way of looking at and engaging with it. And I see that as a more valuable way of engaging with things.
Edit: I probably could’ve gone further with this, but I feel I’ve made my point clear enough with this much. If need be, I can always do a revision on this and go more thoroughly in-depth later on. Maybe if enough people pester me for long enough, I might consider doing a re-vamp in a year or so. (Have I cut down on parentheses? Wait. Shit.)