you don't get points for being different

August 28th, 2007

Creativity is a paramount quality of art, and the quest for creativity never subsides. People are constantly looking for new angles, exploring new ideas. However, creativity is something of a manufactured term that we like to use selectively, it has positive connotations. If someone is doing something different and you like it, you'll call it creative.

However, there is nothing inherently positive or good about doing something different. Different isn't good, there's good different and bad different. This should be fairly self evident. If a theater group decides they need a new angle and they perform their play facing the back of the scene rather than the audience, they are indeed doing something different. Different? Yes. Better? No.

And so it is very odd when people use different as a justification. Ideas are not worth anything solely on the premise of being new or different. For an idea to be successful you have to follow through with it, work it out in detail, and still show that it's worthwhile on its own merit. There is no shortage of ideas that would compel us to accept each new idea as gospel.

And yet it is uncanny how often this notion passes for an argument. People are able to excuse any bad idea on the basis of being different. If you have a friend who's a movie buff, ask him about Quentin Tarantino movies. Most buffs love Tarantino. So he's gonna say Tarantino is brilliant because of blahblah and you say I disagree. Then you keep talking and you find out that you don't agree with any of his arguments. "But he's so original". Ah, the clinching argument.

There is a lot of stuff that can best be described as different. Like Bjørk. Different? Unquestionably. And horrible. Then again, I think music is probably more abstract and subjective than just about anything else. But look at tv. Shows like Curb your enthusiasm, Arrested development and The Office. These shows have little going for them except for being different. The writing sucks, the acting is bad, the stories are stupid, and yet it is different, isn't it. Their success is predicated upon not being the same.

But the critics...

So if these productions are so bad, why do the critics love them, huh? Think about it. If you were watching movies 10 hours a day (or whatever it is they do), day in and day out, what kind of movies do you think would capture your imagination? If you were buried in tv shows, what shows would get your attention? The ones that stand out, most likely.

We are not like critics. We have the luxury of enjoying one work per day. Or per week or month, whatever you want. And no one is going to expect from me to rank every book I read in context of all the other books of this kind. I read books for artistic content, not discernibility.

If I were a critic I'm sure I would agree with them, and I bet they praise the titles that are most likely to be loved by other critics. But the difference in perspective is notable.

But different isn't normal

The whole idea of being different doesn't really go that far anyway. There's only so much different people can take before they get freaked out. And then they run back to normal.

And normal isn't terribly convincing either. Unlike different, it is a plethora of ideas that *have* gained traction, but not necessarily for the right reasons. People have all sorts of stupid ways of doing things because it's normal to them, but it doesn't make them clever. And yet normal is very reassuring. Think about when you're trying to introduce something different to a person who isn't ready for change.

- Oh I can't stand this modern classical music, it's all different. [modern classical? please excuse the contradiction -ed]
- No no, it's just like normal, just with a little twist.

:: random entries in this category ::

5 Responses to "you don't get points for being different"

  1. John says:

    I think most of comedy comes down to defying expectation, and that's exactly what the comedy shows you mentioned have going for them. I don't like them (well, I like Arrested Development, but the Office does nothing for me, and I really dislike Curb Your Enthusiasm), but their originality is what makes most of their fans laugh.

    And when it comes to films, screw the critics - people talk about something being 'different' - they are implying that they're a bit bored of the norm. What's wrong with that?

    Oh, and I know some professional critics. 3-4 films a week. Hardly exhausting, but yeah, lazy cliché isn't exactly welcome. That's no bad thing.

  2. numerodix says:

    I certainly agree that comedy is about surprise. So yes, the joke has to be surprising. But it also has to be... well... funny.

    Well I didn't say people shouldn't like different films, just that it's not any kind of argument that something has merit just for being different.

    Yeah I guess they have to write the reviews as well. But 3-4 movies doesn't sound like a lot at all.

  3. erik says:

    "Different isn’t good, there’s good different and bad different. This should be fairly self evident."

    Oh, but it is self evident.
    I don't think people use the notion of different in an unauthorised justifying way. If people say they like something on account of it being different, of course they mean that the object of adoration is good different.

    That is, of course, a completely subjective concept but all taste is. And that's what "different" really is: means to express taste on similar footing with "awful" or "entertaining"

  4. numerodix says:

    Yes, but the central argument is that different doesn't imply good. If you have to prove that something is good, you can't just say that it's different.

  5. erik says:

    Fair enough.