Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Defending the Creator

Somewhat recently, CNN ran an article about Steven Spielberg and his part in the most recent Indiana Jones film. I could link it for you, but I feel the article was fairly worthless. It began something like this, "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was not a very good movie." I disagree with this approach (even if I sometimes make similar statements about various... things). I especially disagree with it from a source like CNN which should confine itself to objectivity (except in editorial sections). And especially since the article was not actually about the movie but about Spielberg's role in one particular scene.

My kids are... difficult... when it comes to food. Well, the oldest isn't quite as difficult as he used to be. Now that he's entered his I'm-a-teenage-boy-and-I-will-eat-anything stage, he does, pretty much, eat anything that's put in front of him. It's a nice change from when he was younger and ketchup was too "spicy" for him (anything with any flavor was too "spicy" for him). My younger boy loves spicy food as long as it's meat. Trying to get plant life into him is like trying to put a cat into a toilet (no, I've never actually done that, but I know someone who did). And my daughter... well, my daughter is a carb hound. Trying to get protein into her is almost as difficult as trying to get plants into my son (except that she'll eat almost anything if there's a "treat" on the other side of eating it). We've spent a lot of time teaching them the proper way of saying they don't like particular foods. Especially when they are guests in other people's homes.

Here's a hint: the proper way is not to say, "This food isn't very good food."

The proper way is to say something like, "I don't care for this." Let me change the emphasis a little: "I don't care for this."

I'm not here to defend Indy 4. People didn't like it. However, if people could be objective about it, I think they would realize that, pretty much, Indy 4 is just like the other 3 Indiana Jones films. I rank it #3 out of the 4, and I can even get more behind the nuked fridge than I could Indy stopping the mining cart with his feet and then evaporating the water in the puddle because they were so hot. That always struck me as cartoonish, and Temple of Doom has always been the least of Indiana Jones to me.

What I will say is this, people don't like Indy 4 because they don't understand the history behind the movie. Lucas actually captures a fairly perfect snapshot of the personality of the 50s in Kingdom. It's great. You have the "Red Threat." You have experiments into telepathy and other mind control programs that both  the US and the USSR were heavily into during the 50s. You have aliens. Aliens were huge in the 50s and were a cultural metaphor for the coming communist invasion (like zombies are today for the loss of humanity to technology (which I've already done a post about)). It's really everything you could hope for in an Indiana Jones movie set in the 50s. If you know and understand the history.

As a complete aside, the article was about the fridge nuking scene which Lucas gets blamed for, because Lucas gets blamed for everything. The interviewer was really trying to get Spielberg to jump onto the Lucas-hating bandwagon. There was an exchange something along the lines of, "With all of the really great movies you've made, how could you be involved in a piece of crap like Indy 4?" To which Spielberg replied with something like, "I'd be involved in any piece of crap from Lucas because Lucas is my friend, and I believe in him." And, then, Spielberg revealed that the fridge nuking scene was his creation and that he's proud to have added the phrase "nuking the fridge" to pop culture. Yea, Spielberg!

Okay, so... now to the point:

People give Lucas a lot of crap these days over, well, everything he does. They don't like that he's made alterations to the original trilogy of Star Wars films. They don't like the prequels. They don't like The Clone Wars because it's a cartoon. blah blah blah
My response is pretty much "tough." Oh, and "shut up." I'm freaking tired of all the whining people do about Star Wars. And Indiana Jones.

Here's the thing: Lucas created Star Wars; he can do with it what he wants. It's like a house. Lucas' house. And he's invited us all inside for a visit. An extended visit. We got all comfortable in there, and we like it a particular way. But it's still Lucas' house. If he wants to add some new decorations to it, guess what, he gets to do that! If he wants to rip out some walls and rebuild parts of it, guess what, he gets to do that! If he wants to add new wings onto the house, guess what, he gets to do that, too! It's HIS house. We don't really get to complain about it, because he's sharing. Wait, let me say that again. He's sharing something that belongs to him, something that he made, with us. And he doesn't have to do it. And we don't have to participate. That's the key that people miss. If you don't like it, stop trying to keep living in Lucas' house! Go and create your own stuff!

Oh, wait... heh

I suppose this is a subject that's really close to my heart. I really believe in the right of the creator to create the way he wants to create. It's up to the audience if they want to participate, and it's up to the creator to decide how much he wants to... bend his creation to appeal to a wider audience. But, in the end, it belongs to the creator, not the audience, and the audience doesn't have the right to complain about changes the creator wants to make.

There's a difference between "I like the old version better," and "These changes you make suck." One is stating a preference, one is coming from a place of entitlement. The audience, the guests, have no entitlement. At any point, Lucas could say, "You know what? I'm tired of all of you people hanging out in my house and bitching and moaning all the time. Leave." So far, he's been a pretty nice guy, and he hasn't done that.

I hear some of you out there thinking about the fact that we have to pay to get into Lucas' house, and he's using that money to change things around on us. Still, you don't have to pay. That's your choice. Seriously. That's your choice. If you don't like the changes, quit paying the money and quit participating in the event. Just go home. Go home and create your own world/universe/whatever.

Oh, wait... heh

Part of all of this relates to how to be a good critique partner, too. See, there's a proper way: "I don't understand this part, right here." "This part doesn't do anything for me." "I don't feel an emotional connection to this character."
And there's a wrong way, "This part sucks." "You should re-write this part to be more like this." "You need to get rid of this character, because I don't like him."

As I said, it's up to the creator to decide how much he wants to bend his creation to appeal to an audience whether it's an audience of 1 or 1,000,000. The audience doesn't get to demand changes. As much as I dislike the whole Twilight thing and how silly I think sparkly vampires are, I don't get to tell Ms. Meyer how to write her books. I get to choose not read them and not to watch the movies. She didn't write "bad" books; she wrote books I don't like. And I'm not eating them. Um, reading them. Evidently, a lot of other people do like them, though, and that's okay. I don't like avocados, either, but a lot of people do.

In the end, it's about being civil. It's about making "I" statements (yea, popular psychology, too) and not trashing someone else's work. My wife and I spend a lot of time with our kids with this kind of thing, but, I think, it's not just kids that need to learn this stuff. And I'm not excluding myself here, because I love to rant about how stupid I think some things are (but I'm having to watch that, because I think my daughter might want to read Twilight, and, you know, if she wants to read it, I'm not going to tell her "no" (and it would just be rude of me to trash it if she decides she likes it (if she decides to read it at some point))). We can all learn to guard our words and make them safe for other people to hear.

Just a note:
No one has done this to me (recently), so this isn't me getting my dander up because of some bad critique I got. This all related to this CNN article and the cavalier way the writer of the article went about tearing into Lucas and his creation. This isn't about defending Lucas, either. He has more wealth than I can ever imagine (and I can imagine quite a bit), so he doesn't need me to defend him. This completely about the rights of the creator to play with their creation without other people getting pissy about it.


  1. I don't always agree with that the creator of something can do whatever he/she wants. It's gotten to be a bit ridiculous with Star Wars where you have the original version then the Special Edition of 1997 and then the modified Special Edition DVDs of 2004 and the more modified Special Edition Blu-Rays of 2011. At some point I as the consumer want to just buy the Star Wars movie I remember and not one with a bunch of different crap.

    So fine, Lucas can make his version, but he should also let me buy the original too instead of saying, "Mine is the only version there is now!" It's not Highlander; there can be more than one.

    I agree with you about Indy 4 though. I didn't really love it, but it's not like the other ones were the greatest movies of all time. The South Park assertion that they "raped" Indiana Jones seemed a bit farfetched. Bad sequels get made all the time. Did anyone accuse Coppola of "raping" The Godfather with the third one? (If not they should.)

    There were problems with it. I didn't really want to see geriatric Indiana Jones. Even less wanted to see geriatric Karen Allen. (Did anyone know she was even still alive?) Shia LeBeouf's character didn't make much sense. He's a greaser who's into fencing? Huh? I also didn't like the sense they were trying to foist him on us as the new Indy. Commies are OK villains, but not as good as Nazis and phony aliens aren't as good as the Ark or Holy Grail. Still when I saw it in the theater (at early morning matinee price) I wasn't bored.

    And I'm with you that Temple of Doom kind of sucks. What I don't get is what's with all the voodoo if they're in India? Do they really use voodoo dolls in India? And of course casting your wife (wasn't she married to Spielberg? Maybe not; I'm too lazy to check) probably isn't the best idea.

  2. I so agree with Andrew, and even with the changes, you can still choose the version that you like to purchase.

    I def believe the creator has a right to do with his/her creation as they like.

    And, I happen to love The Clone Wars! ;)

  3. I don't know, did da Vinci go repaint the Mona Lisa every couple of years? Did Hemingway change a few sentences and put out a new edition of his books? Probably not.

    The thing is too, most of these changes don't really matter. They pointed out how they changed the scene where the Wampa monster attacks Luke because you could see a bit of the pole. I never saw the pole! Not until a news story pointed it out. Who really noticed if Ewoks blinked or not? Most of these are just stupid little changes that don't matter. Get a new hobby besides futzing with your old movies.

  4. I agree with Mutt... totally. Movies, art, literature, whatever your creation is... it is yours to make as you wish to... but once you put it out there, it stops being yours anymore and takes on its own life. You may be responsible for putting it out there, but what it becomes is something completely unique because of the interaction that others have with it. (that's a specific type of critical theory there... can't remember what school of thought it is, tho'... and you are entitled to disagree with it :)).

    Re: crit partners, it's still a work in progress, and yes there are ways to vocalize your opinions that are more constructive than others and that allow people to keep ownership of the process... but... re:Star Wars... come on... again, totally agree w/Mutt there. Allow us access to the version we know and connected with!

  5. One comment about Star Wars struck me when episode 1 was released. 'The people who are complaining have forgotten that when they fell in love with the original they were 14, and not 34.'

    They complained long and hard about jar jar binks, but I would guess that if they were to see episode 4 for the first time now, they'd complain about the robots and ask why you needed comic characters in the film.

  6. If the Catholic church decided to update the Sistine Chapel by giving Adam a nice pair of Khaki shorts to cover his privates, I would understand that it was within their rights to do so.

    But I would also call it stupid.

    What Lucas has done with the Original Star Wars trilogy isn't that radical, but I sympathize with folks who get very upset over it. The movies were great already, if he were just cleaning up mat lines and putting rings around explosions then I doubt folks would be getting that out of shape. But adding sub-par FX to try to make a hero look more heroic (by having the other guy shoot first) is more like adding the shorts to Adam than making a cloud in the background more billowy.

    Anyhow, if you got a bad crit for something you've written that's a different thing altogether - and I don't think is the best comparison to make. That's poor taste on the part of the person providing the critique... you aren't altering the fondest joys of their childhood, your asking for their advice to help make your story stronger. They've broken your trust if they've giving you a 'this part sucked' and left it alone.

    Hmmmm.... I feel like I was ranting there. Didn't mean to, I did that the other day as well. Thanks for your response about the Nano thing, I think I'd already decided that the next thing I see disparaging Nano I was going to unleash something... looking back on what I wrote I think I was really ranting at a fictional cabal of writers that war against NanoWriMo.

  7. Rogue: I have a series of comments, I guess.
    1. How do you not own a copy of the "original" version of Star Wars? I think I own 3? True, none of them are on DVD, but I still have working VHS tapes, and, even have I didn't have a working VHS player, they're dirt cheap.
    2. da Vinci did, evidently, have several variations of the Mona Lisa. At this point, scholars don't know which one he considered the "finished" version. We just go with the one that people have known.
    3. Many authors have made revisions to their works through the years. I don't know if Hemingway was one of those, but Dickens certainly was.
    4. The idea that something is "finished" has only been a construct because technology didn't allow for global changes after the fact.
    5. Many of the changes in Star Wars have been made because they couldn't get whatever it was to work the first time (like Jabba) or they ran out of time/money (like the Wampa attack). I don't see an issue with the author going back and fulfilling his original vision.

    I don't think Lucas is trying to say "there can be only one" and that one is whatever my latest version is. I think he's still just trying to get his movie to match the vision in his head. Maybe if people quit complaining about the changes and just said, "Hey, can you release the original version, again?" maybe that could happen. Not that there was one original version. There were 3 or 4 different versions released in '77. The "original" version that people remember is generally the edited version that was re-released in '78, so it kind of bothers me that people clamor for this mythical version that doesn't really exist.

    As for Karen Allen... I have no words. She couldn't keep that stupid grin off of her face through the WHOLE movie. The grin that said, "I'm so happy to be in a movie again!" I understand re-introducing the character, but, I wish Allen was a better actor.

  8. Sheri: The Clone Wars is great! I watch it with my kids. They love it. I love it. It's a great time.

    fairbetty: You know, I used to be more of that mindset, but I'm just not anymore. Maybe it's dealing with my kids... teaching them to share... both on the giving and receiving side of that. "Yes, your brother should share with you, but, no, you don't get to take it over or tell him what to do with it. It belongs to him, and, if he decides he doesn't like what you're doing with his toy, he can tell you he's through sharing."

    Maybe it's having a creation of my own out there and the realization that I don't want other people making demands of me and of my world.

    Yes, a creation can have a life of its own, but that doesn't mean it belongs to the audience.

    Martin: I agree with that completely. My kids have all loved Jar Jar, and I think that's great. Yes, he was a bit silly, but he was there for the kids, and, as a parent, I appreciate that.

    I could go on about wanting to relive your childhood and all of that being the root of the issue with the prequels, but that's a post for another time.

    Rusty: Actually, I wouldn't say that the Catholic Church has the right to edit the ceiling in the Cistine Chapel. They may own it, but they didn't create it. This is about the rights of the creator (heh, no pun intended), not the owner (that's a completely different conversation). And the ceiling is a piece of history.

    Yes, you could say that Star Wars is a piece of history (and I would agree), but those earlier versions still exist. They haven't been destroyed.

    As for the whole critique thing, it wasn't really a crit partner. It was just someone I asked to read it (a long time ago), and she sent me back changes she demanded I make before she would go past the first page (which included completely changing Tom's voice and making him sound like he grew up in the 00s instead of the 70s/80s). It was one of those "this is my story, not yours" moments.

    I didn't feel like you were ranting. But, you know, if you ever want to, you have permission to rant away :)

    I don't remember if I said this in my email, but my main beef with NaNo has been the discernible drop in blog activity. Maybe, it shouldn't be, but it's distressing.

  9. "If the Catholic church decided to update the Sistine Chapel by giving Adam a nice pair of Khaki shorts to cover his privates, I would understand that it was within their rights to do so.

    "But I would also call it stupid."

    My sentiments exactly. The creator is within his/her rights to do what he/she wants with his/her creation. And as far as the movies, I actually liked the Star Wars they put out after the fact (the prequels), and I also love Indiana Jones, because I grew up with those movies. As a kid, I wanted to ride elephants across rugged lands, wear a beat up old duster hat, and do wonders with a whip. ;)

  10. I still prefer Yoda as a Muppet (maybe because I am one myself, I don't know) and I would rather have kept Qui-Gon than Jar Jar.

    That is all *steps down from soapbox and wanders off, weeping quietly.*

    Oh, Qui-Gon. Why, George? Why?


    (okay, and my word for comment verification here today is 'molest' which is totally freaking me out. What the heck, weirdest validation word I've ever had!)

  11. People that are billionaires don't need defending but I guess if it makes you feel better, go right ahead. Just sayin'...their validation comes every week with a huge huge paycheck. As far as being public figures goes...they put themselves out there and people are free to express themselves about them or their work in any way possible. For the record...I liked Crystal Skull...but those that didn't...they can go ahead and use whatever language they want to lambast it. I'm sure Lucas could give a shit.

  12. Alyssia: I sometimes have hat lust. I want a fedora! I wear a beat up old hat, but it just doesn't measure up. At least, it's not a baseball cap.

    bru: I can actually answer the Qui-Gon question in a very objective fashion, but it probably wouldn't do anything to satisfy you.

    (and that is a less than ideal validation word. I feel soiled by blogger, now)

    Michael: Well, I did say I wasn't defending Lucas. He was just the example I was using to back up my claim that the creator has the right to do what he pleases with his creation.

  13. (This is what I'm doing instead of editing ;-p)

    This is a good reminder. I really try not to insult other writers, but I tend to lose that perspective with something like movies, because I'm not in the movie biz, so it isn't as close to me. It's more abstract to me, I guess. But it is the same sort of creation.

    And the food, ugh. You already know I feel you on that. Okay, now I shall take an hour to edit before heading to bed.

  14. I think all reviewers/critique partners should read this post, Andrew!

    The creator is not the enemy. They're not trying to upset anyone by putting work out there. Quite the opposite. Obviously criticism can be very valuable, but I've seen comments on other people's work, such as 'this is the worst novel ever written,' that's just downright rude.

  15. There are plenty of examples where the creator doesn't get to do what he/they want to do with their creation. Last night there was an episode on Harry's Law that reminded me of this debate. Now Harry's Law is fiction, however, it just makes you think.

    The situation was a couple from China had their daughter abducted. They spent tons of money looking for their daughter and found her four years later in America. She'd been adopted by a beautiful affluent family and now had a sister and was really happy.

    The Chinese couple sued to get their daughter back and each side was torn apart. The judge sided with the adopted parents and gave the natural ones visiting rights.

    Basically, even though the Chinese couple "created" the girl...the girl had been away from them long enough that it was impossible for them to lay complete claim to her despite all of the other extenuating circumstances.

    Now from this "fictional" account arises some debate on this issue. Does a creator ALWAYS have complete rights to whatever it is that he/they created? You argue yes. I argue maybe. I know that sounds wishy/washy but I'm not disagreeing. I just think depending on how much time has passed, and how much a thing has become part of common culture will determine whether or not the creator always has the final say.

  16. Shannon: Bad! Go edit!
    Mostly, with movies, it doesn't end up being one person that's responsible for however it ends up. Like with Green Lantern. So saying "Green Lantern sucked" isn't a jab at anyone in particular, just a jab at the studio responsible for that mess.

    However, with people like Lucas, Spielberg and Kevin Smith, there is, pretty much, just one person you can point at, and that's where politeness comes back into play.

    Amanda: I agree, the creator is not the enemy!

    Michael: Actually, I don't always argue "yes." For instance, if the creator has been commisioned to do a particular job, he needs to do what he's being paid to do rather than appeal to "artistic freedom." But, when the creation happens on the creator's time, he gets to make his own decisions. I suppose that line can get a little blurry in the writing world with the paying of advances. But, then, as I've stated before, (big) publishers have the view that writers are, pretty much, just employees.

  17. Like your style of writing.
    I don't know about Indiana Jones (as I am yet to see it) but saw Tintin yesterday and absolutely liked it and loved it. (Told wifey that I may go to see the movie again)
    As for kids eating the right food, well this usually happens when there is a choice.

  18. Haddock: Thank you very much :)
    I haven't seen Tintin, yet, but I do plan to rent it.

    Thanks for dropping by!