The curse of broad appeal · 10:52pm
Be warned, this is another of my think-y rambling blogs.
So, I just felt inspired today, because I think I finally worked out what I've been missing all this time. It first started back on the 23rd with the release of both the first two episodes of season four, and Day of the Doctor, the 50th anniversary special of Doctor Who, both of which you should all know by now I'm a fan of. Obviously. And both were of course released to massive praise, at least from what I've seen. But a little after the day, I also started noticing the minority opinions.
One dedicated Doctor Who news site for example had an article by a guy talking about the ending of Day of the Doctor, specifically how he felt that the twist at the end of the movie when the Doctor undid the destruction of Gallifrey in the Time War so that it was actually hidden away, and he could now go find it again and save the time lords was a cop-out. He further argued that it damaged the Ninth and Tenth Doctor's character in a massive way even though it didn't change anything about what they did or how they felt because what they were feeling guilty about didn't really happen, even though they didn't know that. If you couldn't tell by the way I'm describing his opinion, I disagree with it.
On the pony side of things meanwhile, there was one particular circle of people I'm involved with that were less enthused about Princess Twilight Sparkle. One Man's Pony Ramblings is a review blog that used to focus on only the fanfics on EqD that earned a six star rating, until Chris (the guy who runs the blog) ran out of them and moved onto just generally famous and well-regarded fics. I've been following it basically since it started, because it's a good blog, and I consider Chris to be one of the fairest and most objective reviewers out there. I sometimes find some good fics through him, I like to think I learn a lot about writing from him, and I'll also admit that I partly keep an eye on the blog because I'm always terrified that Human will somehow end up on his review list and get massacred one day. I know him well enough by now to tell that he'd hate it.
But the most important thing about OMPR is that its regular readers and commenters include a lot of famous names, most especially some of the harshest critics in the fandom. I'm talking about people who will read twice as much as any four of us combined ever will, and will still only find maybe a dozen fics on the entire site worth favoriting. So as you can imagine, they pull no punches with their opinions of new episodes either. And while Chris himself seemed to generally like the episode, other commenters were able to find flaws with just about its every aspect. I wondered while reading at the time how some of them were ever able to get into the show.
"These people are un-fucking-pleasable," I said to myself with the maturity and wit you've come to expect of me. And I did think that about certain others in the fanbase for a while before.
See, the thing is, everything is flawed. There is no perfect work of fiction, and your ability to enjoy anything is determined on how many flaws you're willing to overlook. The perfectionist who can forgive no mistake will be eternally miserable. The majority of people are willing to accept a lot of flaws before they will complain. Most of those harsh critics from the blog I mentioned aren't perfectionists themselves, they just hold their entertainment to high standards. I can say for example that Fallout: Equestria is generally well-regarded in this fandom, but it does have flaws. Its rather large following (which includes myself) doesn't care that much about them, but Present Perfect (who is one of the commenters of that blog) wasn't able to overlook it all and had a very mixed opinion of it by the end. You can read his blogs for more on that.
And me? I find I can forgive quite a lot in a bad book, movie or TV series. It takes a lot to make me quit something. I liked The Dark Knight Rises and X-Men 3 and Equestria Girls. And not in a "let's riff on bad movies" kind of way, either. I genuinely enjoyed them. For the most part, anyway. See, they are all objectively flawed, and I can recognise that when I watch them. It's just that I choose not to make a big deal out of those aspects. And I think most people who liked Equestria Girls will still acknowledge that it had plenty of problems. It's just that they can let those problems go while others can't. I have a friend who I often talk to who is very, very vocal about his hatred for both EG and Magical Mystery Cure, and believe me, we've talked about it on Skype before at great length. And I get the sinking feeling that we're going to have another conversation about it after this blog goes up.
Now, so far I don't think I've said anything particularly profound. Duh, right? People with lower standards will enjoy flawed works more. Thing is though, I tried to apply this principle in reverse. Comparing Princess Twilight Sparkle to Magical Mystery Cure... Well, I'll say this: Even if you did like the latter, as I did, I think you'd still have a hard time trying to argue that it's better than the former. For as much as I had no real problem with MMC, it was still recognisably flawed in ways that Princess Twilight wasn't. The rest of the fandom recognised this, and the season four opening two parter is now being praised as a big improvement over MMC. But as I mentioned before, I went to One Man's Pony Ramblings and saw that some were still unsatisfied. Why is that?
It would be because of what I realised about the show, and this ties back into my mention of Doctor Who at the start. Shows like Doctor Who and MLP have a very broad appeal. They contain a lot of wildly different and often conflicting elements all within the same timespace. MLP is mainly a slice of life series with a focus on characterisation and a dash of comedy, but every so often it'll throw in an adventure story where they'll have to use magical artefacts to defeat some ancient evil returned to veil Equestria in darkness or feed on emotions or whatever.
Doctor Who meanwhile can take place literally anywhere in space and time and its genre and tone varies from episode to episode, sometimes wildly. The first two episodes of series six for example seemingly opened with the Doctor being shot to death, permanently killed, and cremated. The rest of the episode after that follows a past version of himself, who we now know is fated to die, as they face these mouth-less alien creatures known as the Silence, who you forget about the instant you stop looking at them, and who have been controlling the human race from the shadows with hypnotic suggestion for thousands of years. The episode ends with a genocide. And then the episode immediately after that is a light-hearted pirate adventure with a ghost lady who turns out to be a hologram attached to a medical program on a nearby spaceship.
You see what I'm getting at?
Well, in case you don't, I'll spell it out. When you have a series that contains such wildly different elements, people can become fans of it for very different reasons. With MLP, I'm sure most of us started watching from the first episode of season one onwards. Where people became fans though is going to be different for everyone depending on what they like. Some might have had their fist pumping at the air when Nightmare Moon was defeated and kept watching for more adventure arcs, perhaps taking some amusement out of the slice of life stuff, but ultimately more enjoying it when the main six faced dragons or hydras or a swarm of ravenous insects. Maybe others though thought that Friendship is Magic parts one and two were corny, but they kept watching out of curiosity until they were hooked by the character dynamics or comedy of the more slice of life episodes. I know some prefer episodes like Look Before You Sleep over Return of Harmony or Canterlot Wedding.
And with Doctor Who, the same idea applies. That guy I mentioned complaining about the Time War retcon I initially wrote off, but then after I had this realisation because of the OMPR commenters, I thought more about it. You can like Doctor Who for the adventures, for the overarching story arcs, for the alien races and lore carried over from the classic series, out of nostalgia or out of simple love for the characters and settings they come up with. This man, I realised, had a problem with the anniversary special because one of his favourite things about the show was the Time War and the Doctor's resulting characterisation. I didn't take issue with anything because, for me, the show was never about the Doctor brooding over what he did and dealing with his survivor guilt, and that arc was put to rest at the end of the RTD era anyway, but as I just discussed, you can get into shows like these for a large number of reasons. Why shouldn't an interesting characterisation be one of them?
So as you can see, while I never really agreed with the article, I began to understand its position somewhat. And I did the same with the commenters on OMPR too. I was just missing it all because while MLP has a broad appeal, I have broad tastes. I'm able to enjoy its adventure episodes as adventures and its slice of life stuff as slice of life. So until now, I was always thrown when someone "hated on" what I considered to be a good episode of either. I like MLP's comedy, so when Lesson Zero was comedy-focused I found it hilarious, and I didn't understand how people could dislike it. I like MLP's action and adventure arcs, so I loved Canterlot Wedding and was confused when one guy said that all the two parters were garbage. And I like the characterisation and interaction too, so I liked all of Canterlot Wedding, and was baffled when an EqD commenter said that only part two was good and that part one was just boring and slow.
I think it's the language used that most gets me. When I dislike something, I always just say "I dislike it," but I always account for possibility that it may be my own biases and personal tastes talking. Others may still like it regardless of flaws (see: Man of Steel). I'm kind of unique in that regard. If most people dislike a thing, they logically follow that with "therefore it is bad". I never do that unless there are a lot of flaws.
So yes, a lot of criticisms I've heard and disagreed with suddenly make a whole lot more sense to me. And I realised it's the same with Human. Commenters mainly seem to like it for the comedy, but I included characterisation and drama too, and I've had people come to me before and say they disliked it when I was seemingly building up something dramatic and serious only to kill the tension by throwing in comedy, such as during the zombie arc.
"Different people like different things" is a rule I've known for a while now, but it's only now that I fully appreciate the difference between "different people like different things" and "different people can like the same thing for different reasons". I think it's an important distinction that I've overlooked until now, and I know I'm probably not the only one. It's not that some people are "unpleasable," it's just that they like the show for one thing instead of everything. If you focus on one element more than others, of course you're not going to make the people who didn't like it for that element happy.
So the next time you're out on the internet with your fellow bronies, and you see someone giving their opinion and think to yourself, "How in the mother of fuck is Bridle Gossip the worst episode? Have you even seen Mysterious Mare Do Well?" just keep in mind that... I don't know. Maybe they're a massive superhero fan?
And just for the record, I'm not saying that any criticism of Day of the Doctor or MLP can be written off as different tastes, as like I said, I believe everything is objectively flawed. I just believe that you're willing to forgive more flaws in the things you like. And no, I'm also not saying that the reason to criticise PTS harshly is because you don't like adventure episodes. That personal taste thing applies to more than just genre.
But anyway, that's all I have to say for now. Go read One Man's Pony Ramblings if you don't already. It's good.
Thanks for reading. Have a picture of the queen.