Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Crowdpleaser

My blog does not have wide appeal. As I've tried to maintain: the blog exists so that I can write and post as I like, the consequence being that the blog will never be terribly popular. But I finally wrote something that is getting a modicum of attention from the Google crowd. My sarcastic remark on how Bane eats has drawn a small handful of people Googling "bane without mask." Because this is something that people want information about, and they are deceived into thinking that I can offer it to them.

Which leads me to think about the Crowdpleaser. The sort of Art that just wants to give people what they're looking for. Building off of what I said earlier about the distinction between Craft and Entertainment, Crowdpleasers are a form of Entertainment. You don't challenge the audience, you don't invite them to grow or develop you come to them and give them what they want. And there is not a single thing wrong with that.

Why does Art exist? I do not think an all-encompassing answer can be given. But one reason why it exists is to bring joy to people, to let people feel things that they like. This is why we tend to give ourselves permission to watch schmaltzy stories about elves who want to be dentists or people banding together to help Santa deliver presents around Christmas time. Christmas seems to be our chosen feel-good season, a time where we let ourselves focus on stories that turn out so well for the protagonists that we can practically wade through the cheese.

But these stories are paper thin. They only work because of our good will. Because we are in the mood to tolerate them. What do I mean by paper thin? I mean that they are not believable. There is an impulse inside of ourselves that wants to tear bullshit to shreds when we encounter it, and these Artworks have to work against that impulse. It has to gain the support of other feelings and inclinations so that we don't walk away scoffing. This is why Crowdpleasers almost invariably draw a strong negative reaction from those outside of its fandom.

Twilight gave tween (lets be honest, it's more than tweens. More than just girls for that matter) girls what they wanted: a story about a supernaturally handsome, mysterious, strong, and amazing guy who falls head-over-heels in love with a girl for no clear or discernable reason and proceeds to spend the rest of his life doing things that affirm her worth to him. Those who allowed themselves to enjoy the emotional satisfaction of the story turned the book into a phenomenon; a large portion of the rest of the world yelled "bullshit!" loudly and repeatedly.

Pro Wrestling is basically the art of teasing the Crowdpleaser. They create characters for you to love, characters for you to hate, and then tease whether or not they're going to give you what you want. And, of course, so many of its own fans have turned to calling bullshit because of how easy it is to see through the show, and non-fans looking down on Pro Wrestling is so common that all one needs to do is say that they're a wrestling fan and they will find at least three helpful people within earshot who are happy to inform you that wrestling is fake. Just in case you didn't know, of course.

You have certainly felt it yourself. You have probably watched a movie or read a book that contained a scene that just felt too unreal to you. You knew it was trying to please you, but in the course of trying to please you, it actually aroused your contempt instead. Maybe it teased the death of a character, but then relented; then it was you who demanded the character's death instead of accepting a contrived survival. Or maybe a relationship worked out that seemed destined for separation, soon you root against the relationship because you are watching something play out that can not feel real to you.

I don't speak out against either impulse, of course. Neither the impulse to have your happy endings, nor the impulse to hate stories that feel false because they fail to account for how much disappointment exists in the real world. But I do want to say that there are times when one impulse will be stronger and times when it is the other. And so I think that we all sometimes prefer a good Crowdpleaser. So here's to giving us what we want – regardless of how much sense it makes!

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