A much-needed dose of qualified snobbery

Thursday, 13 January 2005 — 6:08pm | Debate, Film, Scrabble

Some advice to my regular readers: if I don’t post for a week, it’s usually because of something I call “deadlock”. In other words, there are multiple topics at hand that deserve a lot of attention, and the act of completing a post on any of them becomes an arduous task – especially when the urgency and topicality demanded by some of these end up negating each other. Nash equilibria, kids, Nash equilibria.

First of all, there really isn’t much I can say about my rather disappointing performance at the 12-round New Year’s Marathon, where I went 5-7 (-84). I could harp on such trivialities as how, revealingly, the last word I played at the end of a bitterly long day was CUNT; or how it took until Round 9 for me to get my act together and score a tournament victory in the 500 range (a four-bingo 533-243 wipeout over a decided unlucky Jeff Smith) after a very long drought of not doing so – but neither of them make up for the fact that for the first three rounds, I missed bingos like crazy, and played way too safely for my own good.

A tip for players who want to move up the ranks – and I say this as someone who has learned this both the hard and the easy way: play with confidence. Nothing teaches you what the phoneys are like taking a risk and playing one; nothing is so rewarding as the feeling of playing a word you are uncertain about out of desperation, drawing a challenge and unexpectedly winning it. It’s like what Indiana Jones discovers as he faces the test of the Path of God on his way to the final resting place of the Holy Grail: it takes a leap of faith.

Then again, your stupid words may get challenged off in a jiffy, whereupon you lose.

Regarding my earlier post on Martin Kennedy – I’ve had it verified by numerous sources, including Mr. Kennedy himself, that he was a former World Schools Champion, having claimed victory at the inaugural event in 1988, the same event that Calgary is set to host in February. That year, like the WUDC, the WSDC was also held in Australia. This is also why CUSID history is not the place to look if you want to fill in the gaps in the UADS chronology, because ten to fifteen years ago, there really was no CUSID West – at least, none that counted. Back then, what we now know as British Parliamentary (Worlds Style) was not even hard-coded into the Worlds format, let alone accepted in any capacity by Canada.

Now that we have multiple BP tournaments a year attended by those who aren’t even on their way to Worlds, I’d say intervarsity debating has come a long way since those forlorn days.

Speaking of which, if at this point you still haven’t read the Globe and Mail story on Jamie Furniss, read it.

And now for something completely different. Those of you who are in the Gateway distribution area will have noticed a letter published today in response to Production Editor Dan Kaszor’s picks for 2004’s five worst feature films in Tuesday’s year-in-review issue:

In regards to the Gateway‘s bottom five movies of the year list by Daniel Kaszor (11 January), I was shocked and dismayed to see the list dominated by “urban comedies”.

Mr Kaszor – who I assume is white – puts down these films that were clearly created for an audience that he does not understand. Just because the movies aren’t made for you doesn’t mean you have free license to pan them in the press.

Maybe next time you want to unleash your cultural imperialism on the world, Mr. Kaszor, you should decide against it instead.

Now, being an unapologetic cultural imperialist myself, maybe I’m not the most unbiased person to write in Kaszor’s defence – but there’s a reason why I commonly point to him as one of the very, very few people I have encountered on this campus who not only knows how film works, but knows it damn well. If you read what he’s written on movies in the past, you should know that he is exactly the kind of filmgoer who should be writing about what he sees – in that he appears to value good filmmaking most of all above any trivial genre-bias that you often find proliferated amongst casual audience.

Now, this isn’t to say that I agree with him on every occasion. For instance, I don’t think Alexander is nearly as total a disaster as he describes. But like all the critics for whom I have some respect – that is, people who know what they are talking about – the skill of presenting a value judgment about movies lies not in what that judgment is, but how it is reasoned.

In other words, maybe people who are so quick to defend “movies” such as White Chicks and Soul Plane should realize that the cultural sympathies of an individual audience member do not excuse the narrative failings of a woefully inadequate stinkbomb.

(I rarely use boldface for emphasis in this manner, but I thought that mantra was sufficiently deserving of special treatment.)

There is a reason why “urban comedies”, loath as I am to dignify them as such, generally suck. They are patterned after one another on the momentum of commercial appeal, oblivious to the valid criticisms of those of us who care about the filmmaking art form. Being made by black people for black people, should one be so clueless as to resort to such crass self-applied stereotypes, isn’t enough to justify stupid storytelling by stupid storytellers.

I happen to think that cross-dressing and rap “music” are pretty yucky (especially the latter, though I do admire some of the technical production work that goes uncredited), but I enjoyed 8 Mile and absolutely loved Some Like It Hot. Why? Because they are good films.

And until there’s a good “urban comedy” – and one would think it would need to be a) urban, and b) comedic – films of the genre deserve to be spat upon. The same goes for the mercifully dying fad of the “teen comedy”, which has only ever given us one film worth mentioning, that being American Graffiti (advantaged by a pre-Star Wars Lucas at the helm, fast cars, Ronny Howard, doo-wop music and not being gross). But as long as these “movies” keep imitating each other, they can go ahead and assert their place in the cinematic wastebasket.

I could go into further detail about why critic-bashers are by and large fundamentally ignorant about what good criticism actually entails (but with an admission that bad criticism is certainly out there in droves), but that’s one of those hot-button issues that I am keeping at bay until I can present my philosophy in a way definitive enough that I can just copy and paste from it in the future.

The frankest way to put what I’m saying here is this: qualified judgments of films are not simply matters of personal taste, and those who leap to the defence of works that are so devoid of merit as to be critically indefensible neither understand movies or know how to watch them.

Oh, is it ever bothersome to deal with the proponents of the bottom of the barrel. At this rate, I’ll never get around to finishing my comments on A Series of Unfortunate Events, The Aviator and A Very Long Engagement – not to mention all the other actual movies coming down the pipes.

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