Does success breed contempt?

Brian G Turner

Fantasist & Futurist
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Is it the case that the more popular a show/film/author is, the less likely we are to like it? And conversely, that the more niche something is the more likely we'll praise it and hope for others to enjoy it with us?

I remember being dismayed by the Avatar trailer 2 thread, when so many people came into that thread just to trash Avatar. I'm pretty sure the only reason so many people hated it was because it was so successful - if it had bombed at the box office and few people had seen it then I'm sure the same people trashing it would instead have been shouting from the rooftops about its visual effects and production values.

Thinking on that, wonder if the same Tolkien die-hards who refuse to look at the new TV series would be like that if Tolkien was a little known cult author? In such a situation I suspect the same people would be pleased for any opportunity to get him more attention from the wider public.

Thoughts?
 
I suppose there is the fear (which I can't deny I share myself to some extent, with some things) is that if something you deem inferior is very successful, it will be taken as the pattern by other creators, and more stuff with those flaws will get made rather than stuff better suited to your tastes. But I'm not sure what proportion of the hating is down to this.
 
I have a theory about Avatar: it became the acceptable thing to feel superior to. People who would happily buy into a million other, equally stupid, franchises, suddenly had this thing that they could all hate. To be clear, Avatar is banal and not especially great, but it is nowhere near as bad as people like to think it is. If nothing else, it's competent in a way that, say, Prometheus isn't.

Avatar probably also made a mistake in not being ironic enough. Something like Guardians of the Galaxy might as well wear a big sign that says "Yeah, this is a bit dumb, but you know that and I know that, so let's just wink at each other, eh?" Avatar is entirely straight-faced, which makes its stupidity all the more obvious. That's like sticking your head above the parapet. Personally, I like that because it feels honest, but I'm probably in the minority.

I think Tolkien is something of an exception: reading LOTR appears to have been something quite like a religious awakening for some of its fans, who probably first read it in circumstances that couldn't be replicated now (largely thanks to the internet). No other author is venerated to the same degree: not even Shakespeare, who is vastly more important. Think of how much is habitually cut out of Hamlet when it's performed, compared to the fury at not including the Scouring of the Shire in Peter Jackson's films. So I think Tolkien is a slightly different thing. (And to be absolutely clear, I am not saying either that Tolkien is bad or that I have it in for him.)
 
I don’t think success breeds contempt, but I do feel it brings resentment.
I suppose there is a little bit in each of us that likes to go against the grain. Even if it is as small as preferring Pepsi to Coke. We don’t want to go with the flow. We want to be unique, just like everyone else. Again I think we all like to think that we are that tiny bit more enlightened [intelligent, engaged, informed, you pick] as to what is good compared to the next person’s opinion.
The internet just makes everything global and impersonal. Once a post is online and [nearly] anyone has a chance of seeing and reacting to it. Too often people don’t feel the need to self-censor as much as they don’t know these others. When it is just you and your mates down the pub debating Star Wars vs Star Trek for the umpteenth time, you know who will take offence if you try and take down their favourite franchise.
 
I think there are a lot of factors that can provoke such a reaction Brian.

Sometimes you just see spicy negative comments more than you see positive ones. Causing friction and controversy just seems to generate more views on reviewer comments etc. than wholesome positive ones. I for one feel the pull of 1 star (out of 5) reviews in Fortean Times, to read, far more than glowing 5 star ones. So I do think there is an incentive, financial or otherwise, to be contrary. After many decades on t'nternet I hardly feel the need to comment on, in depth, on a well-loved film/book, if all I'm doing is being positive about it as it is highly unlikely to generate a good conversation or viewership.

Then on a more personal level, I think there is a drive in all of us to be 'different from the herd'. Whatever 'herd' means. Many people like being unique and having quirky tastes, (and some genuinely liking obscure and lesser known authors etc. of course!)

And of course some people just enjoy being trolls, whatever lens or viewpoint they are ultimately trying to push.
 
On the question of Avatar: I hated it. I also hated Titanic but I loved Aliens and the first two Terminator movies. I also quite like The Abyss. I just think that Cameron is a hit and miss film maker.

But, for the diehard Avatar fans.......from Cameron's IMDB page

2028 Avatar 5 (characters) / (screenplay) (filming)

2026 Avatar 4 (characters) (filming)

2023 True Lies (TV Series) (characters - 2018) (filming)

2024 Avatar 3 (characters) / (written by) (post-production)

2022 Avatar: The Way of Water
 
Is it the case that the more popular a show/film/author is, the less likely we are to like it? And conversely, that the more niche something is the more likely we'll praise it and hope for others to enjoy it with us?

I remember being dismayed by the Avatar trailer 2 thread, when so many people came into that thread just to trash Avatar. I'm pretty sure the only reason so many people hated it was because it was so successful - if it had bombed at the box office and few people had seen it then I'm sure the same people trashing it would instead have been shouting from the rooftops about its visual effects and production values.

Thinking on that, wonder if the same Tolkien die-hards who refuse to look at the new TV series would be like that if Tolkien was a little known cult author? In such a situation I suspect the same people would be pleased for any opportunity to get him more attention from the wider public.

Thoughts?
I think you're on to something. I feel that sometimes that people take their rejection of something popular as a point of pride and loudly promote those views.
 
Brian, unfortunately I have to disagree. My opinion of a movie is independent of whether the masses agree. I thought Avatar was poor. I love certain popular movies (from Blade Runner to Pulp Fiction; their popularity doesn't put me off). I think there is some pleasure in discovering a great work that has been largely neglected (I will admit to that). And maybe some satisfaction in pointing out the deficiencies of something that is widely popular (I will admit that too). But the popularity of a movie does not affect my opinion of it.
 
I think movies can draw negative comments simply because of the message they are trying to get across. Avatar is drawing some negative comments because of its message. Its popularity only makes it a bigger target because it is easier to find. Negative comments about Titanic more than likely come from how the movie was made, how the story was presented. People who aren't into Titanic's story probably don't spend any of their time making negative comments. Some people who aren't into Avatar's message only need to know it has a message they don't appreciate and that's enough to cause them to make a comment. When the ability to publicly comment about anything was granted to everyone, the original intent of critiquing pretty much became only one of many reasons for making one's views known.
 
Something went very, very wrong with the way people respond to films after "The Phantom Menace" came out. Suddenly, if you didn't like a film, it was no longer enough to say "well, I'm not watching that again. Next!" Instead you have to grandstand, to stage a whole 5 Minutes Hate every time the film is so much as mentioned, explaining exactly how the film is objectively garbage that has ruined cinema for ever, the people who like it are morons and the people who made it are on a par with Hitler. And you don't get much of a response to a tantrum about a film barely anyone's seen. So, pick a well-known film and make ostentatiously hating it your the core of your identity.
 
I did like Avatar. But I have to admit that I have become considerably more critical of media after hanging out here for more than a decade. But it also seems to me that the world has become more critical in the past decade or two. Now we all can (to a degree) be heard and make our opinions known, a lot of people like to have the opinions that get noticed. Getting noticed when you are screaming about how horrible something is that is quite popular, is particularly easy to do. And for some of likely quite gratifying.
 
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I did like Avatar. But I have to admit that I have become considerably more critical of media after hanging out here for mare than a decade. But it also seems to me that the world has become more critical in the past decade or two. Now we all can (to a degree) be heard and make our opinions known, a lot of people like to have the opinions that get noticed. Getting noticed when you are screaming about how horrible something is that is quite popular, is particularly easy to do. And for some of likely quite gratifying.
Mea culpa
 
How un-cool to like something that the ignorant masses likes! You, you know better. That's one reason.
Also, superficially, Avatar looked great, back in 2009. It was the first 3D movie and massively used motion capture techniques. It was groundbreaking and everyone wanted to see it. Originally it had a really high score. Once you pay more attention to the story you see how much of a caricature it is. And scores dropped.
I fear the worst for all those sequels. That might have worked 10 years ago, but not anymore. The audience has meanwhile grown sated with quality movies, in a visual sense. Everything seems technically possible. Storywise is another matter, but good stories sell less well. It's unrealistic, breathtaking action movies people want today, it seems, looking at the success of all the SuperPerson movies. Blegh.
 
I didn't like Avatar. I found it boring, predictable and far, far too long. I've seen older films that tell a similar story, but much better. But I can also understand why some people would find it entertaining, because it's something a bit different to the norm and is visually spectacular.

There are times when I form an opinion about a tv series or film before I've even seen it. GoT I dismissed as a LOTR wannabe, so for the first 3 or 4 seasons I completely ignored it, despite many raving about it. Then one day I watched an episode and ended up binge-watching the first season within a couple of days. Same with Breaking Bad - a series about a chemistry teacher making drugs? Who'd want to watch that? Then after the series had had its entire run I watched the first episode and was hooked all the way through.

I think one of the pleasures of watching Red Dwarf when it first aired was being one of the few who actually watched it from episode 1 first time around. Smugness mode was set to maximum when all the rest of my mates suddenly cottoned on to how great it was around episode 3/4, and they had to reply on me to tell them what had gone before.
 
I think one of the pleasures of watching Red Dwarf when it first aired was being one of the few who actually watched it from episode 1 first time around. Smugness mode was set to maximum when all the rest of my mates suddenly cottoned on to how great it was around episode 3/4, and they had to reply on me to tell them what had gone before.
Absolutely true.
 
Is it the case that the more popular a show/film/author is, the less likely we are to like it? And conversely, that the more niche something is the more likely we'll praise it and hope for others to enjoy it with us?

I remember being dismayed by the Avatar trailer 2 thread, when so many people came into that thread just to trash Avatar. I'm pretty sure the only reason so many people hated it was because it was so successful - if it had bombed at the box office and few people had seen it then I'm sure the same people trashing it would instead have been shouting from the rooftops about its visual effects and production values.

Thinking on that, wonder if the same Tolkien die-hards who refuse to look at the new TV series would be like that if Tolkien was a little known cult author? In such a situation I suspect the same people would be pleased for any opportunity to get him more attention from the wider public.

Thoughts?

There is definitely something to be said for appearing to be a "tastemaker" by poo-pooing the mainstream and promoting the unknown. How often do we hear from people who push their list of unknown bands, and they usually are terrible?


However, Avatar bothers a lot of people because it was billed as a tour-de-force of realistic CGI, and it looks like a cartoon to many of us. Plus, one tires of James Cameron's penchant for the evil corporate greed antagonist. It's like Crichton's anti-science schtick - so tiresome.

And the issue with the newest Tolkien featurette is that it isn't that people are rejecting a popular author - they are rejecting Tolkien stuff that Tolkien didn't write. For the same reason that I have no interest in various Dune spin-offs. Taking someone's world building and stuffing their own characters into that world doesn't make the final product Tolkien or Herbert.


If people just like being snooty they would bag on Raiders, Star Wars and the Matrix while promoting the films of Uwe Bol. But seemingly no one is pretentious enough to go there.



Overall, science fiction is a film genre that in many ways died in the late '80s. We might never get back to the unaffected and earnest productions of that period. The efforts of Villanueva and Nolan give me hope, though.
 
Success breeds envy.
The thing with Avatar (which I loathed) was the huge void at its centre, composed in part of terrible concept, terrible script, characters you couldn't even be bothered to hate, and world-striding arrogance.
Somebody on the RoP thread got it right when commenting on the GRRM tv in competition (sorry, can't remember it's name), which has less sfx, more grit and real characters. I don't think people are lining up to mock RoP specifically out of contempt for it, they're doing it because after a few episodes they've realised it also has a great void at its centre.
What about Villeneuve's Dune? Highly successful, but highly good. No void there.
 
Hmm, perhaps we're talking about what a science fiction film has to do to succeed now. I felt that Villeneuve's Dune didn't quite succeed, because it was dull to look at, and being interesting to look at is, for me, an intrinsic part of Dune. However, Lynch's Dune didn't succeed either, because it was very hard to follow, and overall it failed more than Villeneuve's.

Anyhow, back to Avatar. I think there has to be more to it than that. Why is Avatar particularly hated? Everything negative that's been said about it could have been said about a bunch of other films - there's nobody queuing up to tell us how bad The Fifth Element is, say. Personally, I think the key to this is Avatar's po-faced quality, and it's lack of straight-up fun. You can't really like it ironically or completely innocently (that's not quite the right word), the way you can the Marvel films. So many films now have an element of self-knowing kitsch, but watching Avatar is like someone earnestly telling you that the rainforests are important for two hours, as if you've never guessed this before. It's as if it wanted the gravitas of Aliens but the jolly colours of a film for small children. And maybe that makes it easier to ridicule.
 

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