Film Crit Hulk Smash: HULK SMASHES THE PUNY PARADIGMS OF FILM CRITICISM WITH HULK-SIZED SEMIOTICAL ESSAYS ON STORYTELLING, CINEMATIC PRINCIPLES, AND MEDIA THEORY! HULK EVEN MAKE PRACTICAL HOW-TO GUIDES! See More...

Film Crit Hulk Smash: HULK VS. SPOILERS AND THE 4 LEVELS OF HOW WE CONSUME ART

Hulk continues the spoiler conversation in an examination of the ways we consume media.

Film Crit Hulk Smash: HULK VS. SPOILERS AND THE 4 LEVELS OF HOW WE CONSUME ART

SO A BIG THING HAPPENED ON A BIG TV SHOW THE OTHER NIGHT.

BECAUSE OF THAT PEOPLE WERE COMPELLED TO PUT THEIR REACTIONS ON FACEBOOK AND TWITTER AND OTHER SOCIAL MEDIA. ACTUALLY, IT WAS SUCH A BIG THING THAT PEOPLE BASICALLY WENT NUTS. AND THUS THEY POURED THEIR EXTREME REACTIONS INTO SOCIAL MEDIA IN A WAY THAT WAS MUCH MORE PRONOUNCED AND LESS CAREFUL THAN USUAL. HULK ARGUES THIS IS AN UNDERSTANDABLE THING TO HAVE HAPPENED. IT WAS AN EMOTIONAL MOMENT AND THE FANS OF THAT SHOW NEEDED A SPACE TO PUT ALL THAT REACTION. AND THE MORE INTERNET SAVVY OF US SOMETIMES FORGET THAT MANY PEOPLE DON'T HAUNT FORUMS OR HAVE SPECIFIC COMMUNITIES FOR THESE THINGS, AND INSTEAD RELY ON BROADER FORMS OF SOCIAL MEDIA. SOME OF THESE PEOPLE'S REACTIONS WERE MORE APPROPRIATELY GENERALIZED, BUT YES, SOME PEOPLE'S REACTIONS WERE SPECIFIC AND SPOILERY.

AND SO IN TURN, OTHER PEOPLE ONLINE GOT RATHER ANGRY WHEN THINGS WERE SPOILED (OR EVEN SIMPLY ALLUDED TO) IN THESE SOCIAL MEDIA SPHERES. THIS IS AN UNDERSTANDABLE REACTION TOO. HECK, EVEN WITH A GENERALIZED STATEMENT ABOUT THE EVENT, SOMETIMES THE WORST THING TO DO TO SOMEONE'S IMMINENT SHOCK IS TO TELL THEM “SOMETHING SHOCKING HAPPENS!” (BECAUSE THEN YOU’VE INTRODUCED EXPECTATION). IN THE WAKE OF ALL THIS, A WHOLE LOT OF CONVERSATION SPRUNG UP ABOUT WHAT IS PERMISSIBLE TO TALK ABOUT AND HOW THE PROTOCOL SHOULD WORK AND WHY CERTAIN THINGS SHOULD BE LEFT OFF SOCIAL MEDIA OR WHY SOMEONE SHOULD WANT TO STAY OFF SOCIAL MEDIA TO AVOID THEM. IT’S A CONVERSATION WE’VE HAD MANY MANY TIMES AND IN THE CURRENT CLIMATE IT'S PROBABLY AN IMPORTANT ONE. BUT HULK WANTS TO TALK ABOUT A COUPLE OTHER THINGS BEYOND THE PUSH-PULL DYNAMIC OF SPOILER PROPRIETY. HULK WANTS TO SHARE THE FEELING HULK HAD WATCHING IT ALL UNFOLD...

HULK HAD A SENSE OF LOSS.

WHILE TELEVISION HAS NEVER BEEN A PURELY UNIVERSAL EXPERIENCE, IT USED TO BE A MUCH MORE PUBLICLY DISCUSSED ART FORM. HUGE CHUNKS OF THE NATIONAL POPULATION WERE WATCHING THE SAME EXACT THING AT THE SAME EXACT TIME. AND AS SUCH PEOPLE REALLY DID TALK ABOUT IT OPENLY (AND INSTEAD OF THE PROVERBIAL WATER COOLER, WE HAD A LITERAL ONE). AND IF YOU WERE BEHIND, YOU MAY HAVE TRIED TO AVOID THE CONVERSATION, BUT THERE WAS AN UNDERSTANDING THAT WHAT EVERYONE SAW WAS A PUBLIC EVENT. THE IMMEDIACY OF IT ALL ACTUALLY MEANT SOMETHING. YOU WANTED TO BE A PART OF A MOMENT. AND NOW THE ONLY REALM OF TELEVISION THAT STILL WORKS LIKE THIS ARE SPORTING EVENTS (AND, BIG SURPRISE, THEY KILL IN THE RATINGS). THE WHOLE IDEA OF THIS PHENOMENON (AND SPORTS TOO) WAS TO CONNECT AND RALLY TOGETHER IN GIANT BURSTS OF EMOTION. AND IT WASN'T JUST A SHARED FEELING, IT WAS A PUBLIC DIALOGUE.

AND NOW THAT PUBLIC DIALOGUE IS BEING, FOR LACK OF A BETTER WORD, FORBIDDEN. NOW, WE HAVE TO BE CAREFUL WITH EVERY WORD WHEN IT COMES TO TELEVISION BECAUSE THE TIME-SHIFTING PHENOMENON HAS SO OBVIOUSLY CHANGED EVERYTHING. NOW EVERY CONVERSATION BEGINS "HAVE YOU EVER WATCHED..." OR “WHERE ARE YOU IN THE SERIES?" OR "HAVE YOU WATCHED THE LATEST EPISODE OF...." EVEN WITH GOOD FRIENDS YOU HAVE THIS REAL PAUSE AND AVOIDANCE. IT'S ALL STOP AND START AND PRECURSOR... AND IN THE END, THE GREAT PUBLIC CONVERSATION HAS GONE PRIVATE.

STILL, HULK'S NO LUDDITE. TIME-SHIFTING IS OBVIOUSLY GREAT ON THE WHOLE. YOU CAN CONSUME MORE CONTENT. YOU DON'T HAVE TO RUN YOUR LIFE TO A TV SCHEDULE. YOU CAN TURN TO ALTERNATIVE STREAMING CONTENT AND OTHER VIEWING WINDOWS. YOU CAN WATCH A NARRATIVE QUICKLY IN SUCCESSION. AND WE CAN ALL ADMIT THAT LIFE NATURALLY GETS IN THE WAY OF EVENT TELEVISION AND THUS IT'S SO WONDERFUL TO BE GIVEN A LITTLE LENIENCY. MORE IMPORTANTLY TO THE POINT, TIME-SHIFTING ISN'T GOING ANYWHERE SO COMPLAINTS WOULD BE FUTILE.

BUT IN THE SPIRIT OF ACCURACY, LET US ALSO ACKNOWLEDGE THAT IN A SMALL WAY WE HAVE REALLY LOST PART OF SOMETHING HERE. THE FACT THAT WE HAVE LOST THE UNIVERSALITY OF A MOMENT IS SOMETHING THAT HULK THINKS MATTERS. WE'VE LOST THE THING THAT MADE DRAMATICALLY CONSTRUCTED NARRATIVES ON TELEVISION EXACTLY LIKE SPORTS. WE'VE LOST THE PUBLIC MOMENT. WE'VE LOST THE PROVERBIAL CAMPFIRE. AND NOW WE'RE SHIFTING MORE TOWARD EXCLUSIVITY. WORSE, WE’RE LETTING SOMETHING THAT IS BUILT ON CONVENIENCE ALONE DICTATE THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION. WE PUT LARGER CULTURAL CONVERSATIONS ON BECAUSE (IN THE WORDS OF HULK'S FRIEND AND COLLEAGUE LAURA HUDSON), EVERYONE'S “Arbitrary viewing schedules need to be protected like delicate flowers." WHICH HELPS REVEAL THAT THIS ISN'T REALLY ABOUT PROPRIETY.

THIS IS ABOUT HOW WE HAVE FUNDAMENTALLY CHANGED TELEVISION AND WHAT IT GIVES US. AND WHILE THE MODERN WAY OF CONSUMING NARRATIVE IS SUPERIOR, WE'VE LOST THE SOCIAL COMPONENT. WE REALLY HAVE.  WE’VE LOST THE PUBLIC CULTURAL MOMENT AND TURNED IT INTO A PRIVATE ONE. WE'VE TURNED TELEVISION INTO A SOLITARY EXPERIENCE. WHAT USED TO CONNECT PEOPLE AS "A MOMENT" HAS BECOME SINCERELY FRACTURED. AND HULK ARGUES THIS MATTERS. AND LIKE MOST THINGS, THE WAY WE FIGHT OVER THIS ISSUE AMONGST OUR FRACTURED FACTIONS ACTUALLY REVEALS A GREAT DEAL MORE THAN JUST HOW WE FEEL ABOUT SPOILERS. WHEN WE LOOK AT WHY WE GET SO ANGRY ABOUT WHO SAYS WHAT, OR WHY WE WAIT, OR HOW WE TALK ABOUT TELEVISION WHEN WE DO, WE BEGIN TO SEE THE BIGGER PICTURE...

THIS IS REALLY ABOUT HOW WE CONSUME.

AND NOBODY IS TALKING ABOUT THAT PART.

SO LET'S TALK.

* * *

EVERYONE LIKES TO CITE THIS PARTICULAR STUDY WHICH APPARENTLY PROVES THAT SPOILERS DON'T MATTER. WELL, THE STUDY ACTUALLY JUST ATTEMPTS TO PROVE THAT KNOWING THE OUTCOME TO THIS RELATIVE PIECE OF MEDIA DIDN'T ACTUALLY HAMPER THE PERSON'S ENJOYMENT OF SAID MEDIA (YOU CAN READ THE WHOLE STUDY HERE). LIKE ALL THINGS, RATHER THAN DEAL WITH THE NUANCES MOST PEOPLE JUST LINKED TO IT AND GAVE A REDUCTIVE ONE SENTENCE CONCLUSION. AND LOOK, IT'S A GOOD ENOUGH STUDY IN WHAT IT PROVES, (KIND OF, IT DOESN'T ACCOUNT FOR THE FACT THAT AN AUDIENCE OF PEOPLE IN A SCIENTIFIC STUDY ARE INHERENTLY DIFFERENT FROM A GROUP OF PEOPLE LOOKING FORWARD TO A SPECIFIC PIECE OF MEDIA), BUT YOU ALSO KNOW HULK'S WHOLE THING ABOUT DATA RESEARCH (I.E., ASK WHAT WE'RE ACTUALLY MEASURING), SO LET'S MAKE IT CLEAR: THEY'RE ESSENTIALLY MEASURING THE PERCEIVED END LEVEL OF HAPPINESS. THEY ARE NOT MEASURING THE KIND OF HAPPINESS. AND THAT'S ACTUALLY THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO TALK ABOUT IN ORDER TO DIAGNOSE WHAT'S REALLY HAPPENING IN OUR NATIONAL CONVERSATION.

PUT IT LIKE THIS: BEING SPOILED ACTUALLY DOES RUIN ONE KIND OF WAY TO CONSUME A PIECE OF MEDIA. RUINING SURPRISE IS A GENUINE NEGATIVE. BUT IT ALSO REPLACES IT WITH ANOTHER OPTION ON HOW TO ENJOY THAT PIECE OF MEDIA, AND THAT IS APPRECIATING THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE STORY AND ITS ABILITY TO AFFECT YOU ANYWAY. IN THE STATE OF KNOWING, YOU BEGIN TO SEE THE CRAFT OF GETTING TO THAT KNOWN CONCLUSION. AND THAT IS ALSO VERY ENJOYABLE.

NOW HERE'S THE THING. WE COULD CHALK THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE TWO TO A SIMPLE MATTER OF DRUTHERS AND BE DONE WITH IT, BUT THERE'S A REAL PATHOLOGY HERE TO WHAT WE ENJOY, HOW WE ENJOY IT AND WHY WE WANT TO THAT REALLY GETS TO THE HEART OF THE PURPOSE OF CONSUMING ART.

SO LET'S EXPLORE THAT COMPLETE PATHOLOGY.

***

THERE ARE 4 LEVELS TO THE EVOLUTION OF ARTISTIC CONSUMPTION, AND THEY ALL ASCEND UPWARD IN A FORM OF DEVELOPMENT:

1. THE FIRST GROUP ARE PEOPLE WHO EXPERIENCE MOVIES IN A STATE OF CHILDLIKE NAIVETY.

NOW, THEY OBVIOUSLY DON’T WATCH A MOVIE AND LITERALLY THINK IT IS REAL OR ANYTHING, BUT THEY DO HAVE AN EASY SENSE OF TRANSFERENCE. THEY WATCH SOMETHING AND CAN’T HELP BUT FEEL LIKE IT’S REAL. AND OFTEN TIMES CLOSE EMOTIONAL CONNECTION RESULTS IN GOOD THINGS LIKE TRUE ELATION AND JOY; THE KINDS OF REACTIONS WHERE YOU CAN APPLAUD AND REVEL IN A MOMENT. BUT IT ALSO RESULTS IN NEGATIVE THINGS. FOR INSTANCE, A LOT OF TIMES THESE KINDS OF MEDIA-WATCHERS DON’T LIKE HORROR MOVIES OR SAD MOVIES. OR THEY DON’T LIKE THINGS THAT MAKE THEM FEEL BAD. OR THEY DON’T LIKE THINGS THAT ARE BUILT ON SHOCK OR SURPRISE (AS MATT GROENING ONCE SAID RATHER CYNICALLY, "Smart things make people feel stupid and unexpected things make people feel scared"). THESE KINDS OF MEDIA CONSUMERS WILL OFTEN BLAME THE CREATORS FOR KILLING CHARACTERS AND CLAIM THEY WRITE FOR SADISTIC REASONS. THEY ARE HUGELY SUSCEPTIBLE TO TONE CHANGES AND TEND TO NOT LIKE THAT FEELING. ALSO, THESE KINDS OF MEDIA CONSUMERS ALSO TEND TO LIKE ART THAT IS MORE ON THE INDULGENT END OF THE SPECTRUM. THIS HAPPENS BECAUSE THEY OFTEN PLACE THEMSELVES IN THE SHOES OF THE PROTAGONIST AND SO THEY THEREFORE LIKE HEROES THAT MAKE THEM FEEL INVINCIBLE, OR CHARACTERS THAT MAKE THEM FEEL COOL OR EMPOWERED. THEY LIKE FILMS TO HAVE PERFECTLY INDULGENT AND REWARDING ELEMENTS REGARDLESS OF OVERALL "LIFE LESSONS" OR DRAMATIC CONSTRUCTIONS.

WHICH IS NOT TO SAY THAT HULK FINDS THAT KIND OF MEDIA CONSUMPTION TO BE COMPLETELY INANE. YES, IT IS BASE, JUVENILE AND SOMETIMES RATHER UNHEALTHY, BUT AT ITS BEST, IT CAN BE A RATHER PURE AND LIFE-AFFECTING EXPERIENCE. IT’S JUST THAT WHEN IT COMES TO ACTUALLY UNDERSTANDING AND TALKING ABOUT THE EXPERIENCE, THE FIRST GROUP TENDS TO HAVE AN INCREDIBLY STILTED, ANGRY, COMBATIVE, ONE-DIMENSIONAL AND INEFFECTIVE WAY OF PARTICIPATING IN THE LARGER DIALOGUE. WHICH IS NOT TO EVEN FAULT THEM. IN MOST CASES THEY JUST INTERNALIZE WHAT HAPPENS TOO MUCH. IT TOO PERSONAL TO THEM AND THUS THEY TREAT IT THE WAY WE WOULD IF SOMEONE WAS TALKING ABOUT A REAL-LIFE PERSON OR RELATIONSHIP.

THE SOLUTION TO EVOLVING OUT OF THIS FIRST GROUP? IT'S EASY. YOU JUST HAVE TO WATCH MORE MOVIES (SPECIFICALLY THE KIND THAT MAKE YOU UPSET). AND LIKE THE BUILDING OF ANY CALLUS THEY CAN THEREFORE LEARN NOT TO INTERNALIZE A MOVIE. THEY CAN LEARN HOW TO GET PAST IT AS A PURELY EMOTIONAL EXPERIENCE AND BEGIN THE PROCESS OF CONTEXTUALIZATION. WE CALL THIS "CREATING A NARRATIVE DISTANCE" AND IT IS SO IMPORTANT TO LEARNING HOW TO CONSUME ART.

2. NOW, THE SECOND GROUP OF MEDIA-CONSUMERS ARE THE PEOPLE WHO HAVE SEEN A LOT OF MEDIA AND THUS MOVED PAST THE FIRST GROUP'S INNATE TRANSFERENCE, BUT THEY STILL SEEK TO RECAPTURE THAT CHILDHOOD NAIVETY.

YEARS OF MOVIE-LOVING HAVE NOW RENDERED THAT EMOTIONAL EFFECT TO BE LESS SO, THUS THEY ACTIVELY SEEK THE KINDS OF EXPERIENCES THAT BRING THEM BACK TO THAT CHILDLIKE PLACE. THEY SEEK OUT THE MAGNIFICENT WONDER AND SHOCK AND SURPRISE. THEY LONG TO FEEL THE EMOTIONS THEY ONCE HAD SO EASILY AND CHERISH MOVIES THAT CAN MAKE THEM FEEL THAT WAY ONCE AGAIN. NOW, THERE IS SOMETHING KIND OF SWEET ABOUT THIS INCLINATION AND IT IS OFTEN A NICE, THRILLING EXPERIENCE BECAUSE THEY NOW HAVE THE MORE ADULT TOOLS TO NOT LET LESS INDULGENT ASPECTS OF FILMS DISTURB THEM, BUT THERE ARE ONCE AGAIN MORE CONCERNS. LIKE THE  FACT THAT THIS IS THE LITERAL PATHOLOGY OF DRUG ADDICTION (IE, CHASING YOUR FIRST HIGH AGAIN AND AGAIN TO DIMINISHING RESULTS). IT IS ALSO NOT AN ACCIDENT THAT THIS SAME GROUP ALSO TENDS TO BE THE SPOILER-PHOBES. BECAUSE THE FEELINGS OF SHOCK AND SURPRISE ARE AT SUCH A PREMIUM IN THEIR CALLUSED STATES, THE SECOND GROUP VALUES THE EMOTIONAL MOMENT SO MUCH THAT NOTHING ELSE ABOUT THE PIECE OF MEDIA MATTERS AS MUCH. AND BECAUSE THEY SEE IT IS THE HIGHEST VALUE, THEY TEND TO STAND UP FOR SPOILER-PHOBIA AS IF WAS SOME KIND OF INHERENT RIGHT... THIS IS OBVIOUSLY NOT GOOD.

THERE IS ACTUALLY FLIP-SIDE TO THIS SAME SECOND GROUP, WHICH IS PEOPLE WHO OVERCOME THE CHILDLIKE NAIVETY BY PROTECTING THEMSELVES WITH THE SHELL OF ENJOYING THINGS IRONICALLY. WHICH IS NOT TO AUTOMATICALLY LUMP IT IN WITH WHAT WE CONSIDER "HIPSTER ACTIVITY," BUT MORE TO JUST ESTABLISH THAT THEY USE EMOTIONAL DISCONNECT AS AN ARMOR AND THUS TEND TO IDENTIFY WITH A MOVIE THROUGH THEIR DISCONNECT IF THAT MAKES SENSE. THIS OFTEN INVOLVES CREATING FEELINGS OF SUPERIORITY TO THE ART AND IT CAN BE EQUALLY AS JUVENILE AS SEEKING A CHILDLIKE EXPERIENCE. STILL, THE WHOLE THING IS MUCH MORE RARE THAN WE ACCUSE PEOPLE OF AND PEOPLE TEND TO GET OUT OF IT BY THE END OF COLLEGE, BUT IT DOES EXIST AS A KIND OF EARLY INSTINCT (JUST NOT NEARLY AS MUCH AS PEOPLE LIKE TO ACCUSE FILM CRITICS OF WHEN THEY CAN'T UNDERSTAND WHY THEY DO OR DO NOT LIKE SOMETHING... IT'S NOT AN ACCIDENT THAT OFTEN THE ACCUSERS ARE INTERNALIZING).

AND OF COURSE, THE WAY OUT OF BOTH OF THESE SECOND GROUP INCLINATIONS? THE EXACT SAME AS THE FIRST: TO WATCH MORE MOVIES AND EVOLVE ONWARD.

3. THE THIRD GROUP OF MEDIA-CONSUMERS ARE PEOPLE WHO CAN TRANSCEND THAT DESIRE FOR A PURELY CHILDLIKE EXPERIENCE BY CONTEXTUALIZING THE EMOTIONAL EXPERIENCE INTO A CEREBRALLY COHERENT PROCESS.

THEY UNDERSTAND THAT ART ISN'T ABOUT INDULGENCE. THEY UNDERSTAND THAT THROUGH DRAMA, ART IS A GREAT WAY TO COME TO TRUE KNOWLEDGE OF LIFE AND PURPOSE. THEY COME TO UNDERSTAND THAT THE BAD THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN ART AREN'T SO MUCH ABOUT EMOTION AND ENTERTAINMENT, BUT GIVING OUR SOULS THE KINDS OF VALUABLE EXPERIENCES WE NEED. ART CAN HELP US UNDERSTAND LOSS, LOVE, DEATH, STRIFE AND HAPPINESS. AND THE KEY TO GETTING TO THOSE PLACES IS BY LEARNING HOW NARRATIVES WORK AND HOW THEY AFFECT US. ART SHOULDN'T OBLIGE US IN A PORNOGRAPHIC FERVOR. IT'S NOT JUST NAKED ENTERTAINMENT. IT'S ABOUT LEARNING TO CEREBRALLY PROCESS OUR EMOTIONAL SELVES. AND IN THAT SPIRIT, WE LEARN TO HAVE BETTER CONTROL OVER BOTH.

A LOT OF MOVIE CRITICS FALL INTO THIS THIRD GROUP (OR REALLY ANY ART CONSUMER WITH A CRITICAL MIND). THEY ARE SORT OF EXPERTS OF "MOVIE AFFECTATION" IF YOU WILL. GOOD CRITICS UNDERSTAND THAT A PIECE OF MEDIA IS ESSENTIALLY HAVING A CEREBRAL DIALOGUE WITH THEM AT THE EXACT SAME TIME, AT LEAST IN THE SENSE OF HAVING A RELATIONSHIP WITH HOW THE MOVIE IS TELLING ITS STORY. LIKE THE WAY HORROR FANS WILL CHEER ON A HORROR MOVIE NOT BECAUSE THE EVENTS OR KILLS ARE "GOOD THINGS" BUT BECAUSE THEY UNDERSTAND THE HOW OF THE STORY IS BEING TOLD AND HOW IT'S AFFECTING THEM. THEY'RE PLAYING ALONG WITH THE STORY IF THAT MAKES SENSE AND REACTING TO THAT UNDERSTANDING. THEREFORE, THE THIRD GROUP CAN RECOGNIZE THE BIG MEANINGFUL STUFF. THEY RECOGNIZE SYMBOLISM AND THEMES. AND THEY UNDERSTAND THAT THE RECOGNITION OF THOSE THEMES CAN BE JUST AS POWERFUL, STIMULATING AND EMOTIONALLY AFFECTING AS ANY DRAMATIC MOMENT.

GETTING TO THIS THIRD STAGE IS TRICKY FOR A LOT OF PEOPLE. THEY JUST DON'T CONSUME ART THAT WAY (OR DON'T WANT TO). IN FACT, A LOT OF PEOPLE GET ANGRY AT THE THIRD GROUP FOR HAVING TOO MUCH OF A RESPONSE AFTER CONSUMING A PIECE OF MEDIA. THEY ACCUSE THE THIRD GROUP OF NITPICKING. THEY WONDERING WHY THE THIRD GROUP JUST CAN'T "TURN THEIR BRAIN OFF." WHAT IS PERHAPS NOT EXPLAINED IS THAT MANY OF THE BEST IN THE THIRD GROUP AREN'T SITTING THERE WATCHING MOVIES IN A PURE STATE OF ANALYSIS, BUT INSTEAD HAVE SPENT SO MUCH TIME DOING THIS THAT THEY'VE LEARNED TO DO THE CONTEXTUALIZATION IN A MUCH MORE SUBCONSCIOUS WAY. THEY CAN ESSENTIALLY WATCH A MOVIE ANALYTICALLY AND EMOTIONALLY ALL AT ONCE. IT JUST TAKES TIME AND PATIENCE TO GET IT ALL TO COME TOGETHER. YOU JUST HAVE TO TURN YOUR ANALYTICAL INSTINCTS INTO AN AUTOMATIC KIND OF MUSCLE MEMORY, WHICH IS THE REASON THAT DEVELOPING A SHARP CRITICAL MIND REALLY DOES A NUMBER OF YEARS AFTER YOUR SCHOLARLY PURSUITS ARE OVER. IT HAS TO BECOME A NATURAL ACTION.

OH, AND JUST LIKE THE STAGE BEFORE, THERE IS ALSO A FLIP-SIDE TO THE THIRD GROUP: PEOPLE WHO TRY TO CONTEXTUALIZE MOVIE-WATCHING BUT INSTEAD OF GOING FOR THEME OR ARTISTIC MEANING, THEY UTILIZE THEIR LEFT-BRAIN SENSIBILITIES OF LOGIC TO TRY AND MAKE SENSE... WHICH IS A GOOD THING IN A LOT OF OTHER FORMS OF STUDY, BUT AS HULK HAS TRIED TO ARGUE A BILLION TIMES ART IS NOT ABOUT THE DIRECT LOGIC.

THE THIRD GROUP MAY SEEM LIKE THE PINNACLE OF NARRATIVE UNDERSTANDING, BUT THERE IS STILL A KIND OF MEDIA CONSUMPTION BEYOND THIS. ONLY GETTING TO THIS STATE DOESN'T REALLY INVOLVE WATCHING MORE MOVIES... IT INVOLVES MAKING THEM.

4. THE FOURTH GROUP OF MEDIA-CONSUMERS ARE THOSE WHO ABSOLUTELY UNDERSTAND THE CRAFT OF MAKING MEDIA.

THIS GROUP IS MOSTLY COMPRISED OF PROFESSIONALS WHO DO IT FOR A LIVING OR HAVE A KIND OF DIRECT EXPERIENCE WITH IT. THEIR UNDERSTANDING OF THE CRAFT ALLOWS THEM TO SEE THE SEAMS OF THE PIECE OF MEDIA SO WELL. THEY CAN OFTEN SEE EVERY MANIPULATION OF STORY, CAMERA MOVEMENT, AUDIO CUE, EFFECT, YOU NAME IT AND WHY IT'S DONE... OKAY, LET'S BE HONEST. THERE ARE A LOT OF POOR MEDIA CREATORS WHO CAN'T DO THESE THINGS AT ALL (AND THERE ARE ALSO LOT OF CREW-TYPE GUYS WHO COULDN’T GIVE LESS OF A FUCK ABOUT ART AND SPEND THEIR TIME COMPLAINING WHEN YOU DON’T LET THEM IN THE ROOM FOR NUDE SCENES). BUT YOU WOULD BE SURPRISED HOW MANY NON-MASTER FILMMAKERS AND WRITERS UNDERSTAND MORE ABOUT THE MEDIUM AND HOW IT WORKS THEN YOU'D EVER THINK POSSIBLE. THEY REALLY DO TRANSCEND THE MOVIE-WATCHER. BUT FOR OUR PURPOSES LET'S JUST SAY THAT HULK IS TALKING ABOUT THE REAL DEAL ARTISTS AND CRAFTSMEN HERE. THEY JUST HAVE THIS INSTANT ABILITY TO RECOGNIZE EVERY TIME SOMEONE IS WORSHIPING FORM OVER FUNCTION AND DOESN'T ACTUALLY KNOW WHAT THEY'RE DOING (AND OFTEN HAVE TO KEEP IT ON THE DOWN-LOW AS TO BE POLITE AND CORDIAL IN A WORKING ENVIRONMENT... I.E. THEY'LL WANT TO WORK LATER SO THEY DON'T BADMOUTH ANYONE). TO ENCAPSULATE: THEY UNDERSTAND NOT JUST THE ARTISTIC PURPOSE OF THE MEDIA, BUT THE ARTISTRY OF THE MEDIA TOO.

GETTING TO THE FOURTH LEVEL OF MEDIA CONSUMPTION IS OBVIOUSLY DIFFICULT. NOT JUST IN TERMS OF MAKING A CAREER IN MEDIA-CRAFTING (A UPHILL BATTLE IF THERE EVER WAS ONE), BUT IT'S ALSO ONE OF THE HARDEST TO SUBLIMATE. CINEMATOGRAPHERS WOULD HATE GOING TO MOVIES BECAUSE THE MOVIES WOULD ALWAYS BE PROJECTED WRONG. CGI ARTISTS CAN'T STAND TO SEE SUB-PAR WORK. IT'S THE HARDEST PART OF YOUR BRAIN TO EFFECTIVELY TURN OFF. YOUR EYES JUST KEEP WANTING TO LOOK FOR THE PART OF THE CRAFT THAT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY (HULK WAS ONCE DIRECTING A LITTLE PROJECT AND HULK TURNED TO HULK'S CINEMATOGRAPHER TO TELL HIM TO ADJUST ONE OF THE LIGHTS... YEAH... THE SHOOT WAS OVER AND WE WERE JUST SITTING ON THE COUCH WATCHING THE LOSERS ON TELEVISION... HARD TO TURN OFF INDEED). BUT JUST LIKE THE STAGES BEFORE IT BECOMES A PROCESS. IT ALL BECOMES A PART OF YOUR BRAIN'S PROCESS UNTIL YOU CAN JUST SEE ALL FOUR LEVELS OF EXPERIENCE AT ONCE (LIKE THE CODE IN THE MATRIX OR SOMETHING). IT TAKES TIME. PATIENCE. REPS. CONSTANT FOCUS. AND EFFORT. IT'S THE PROCESS OF MASTERY LIKE ANYTHING ELSE.

AND THE REASON THIS UNDERSTANDING OF THE CRAFT MATTERS SO MUCH IS IT BASICALLY INFORMS THE VALUE OF DEDUCTIVE REASONING OVER INDUCTIVE REASONING. THE FOURTH LEVEL UNDERSTANDS THAT A CERTAIN NARRATIVE CONSTRUCTION OR CAMERA MECHANISM HAS A CERTAIN FUNCTION AND THUS CAN ATTRIBUTE REACTIONS TO THAT FUNCTION BASED ON THAT KNOWLEDGE. WHEREAS SOMEONE IN THE THIRD GROUP (WHO UNDERSTANDS AFFECTATION) WILL LOOK AT THEIR REACTION FIRST AND WILL THEN WORK BACKWARDS TO JUSTIFY (WHICH IS LESS RELIABLE THEN DEDUCTIVE REASONING). IT'S WHY A MECHANICAL ENGINEER CAN LOOK AT A CAR AND KNOW EXACTLY WHAT'S WRONG AND WHY IT'S NOT WORKING, BUT A DRIVER WILL JUST SCREAM OUT "IT'S BROKEN! IT SUCKS!" AND ADMITTEDLY, HULK IS POINTING THIS SPECIFIC DYNAMIC OUT FOR A REASON.

HULK IS GOING TO TAKE THIS MOMENT TO BE HONEST ABOUT THE STATE OF CRITICISM.

HULK LOVES READING MOST CRITICS BECAUSE THEY ARE GREAT WRITERS. THEY'RE SMART. THEY'RE FUNNY. THEY'LL EXPOSE HULK TO NEW WAYS OF THINKING ABOUT CINEMA OR HAVE GREAT MOVIE RECOMMENDATIONS. AND CRITICS ARE OFTEN GREAT AT KNOWING THEIR OWN EMOTIONAL REACTION AND CONVEYING THAT. AND AS A READER YOU CAN LEARN THE HABITS OF THEIR EMOTIONAL REACTIONS AND USE THEM AS A BAROMETER FOR YOUR OWN. BUT A LOT OF CRITICS SUFFER FROM A KIND OF MYOPIA THEY DON'T OFTEN RECOGNIZE WHEN IT COMES TO A MOVIE'S CONSTRUCTION (AND WHAT IS REALLY "AT FAULT"). FOR INSTANCE, WHILE THEY MAY UNDERSTAND THEIR OWN REACTIONS THEY MIGHT BE BAD AT BEING ABLE TO PREDICT THE EMOTIONAL EXPERIENCE OF OTHERS. THEY MAY ASSIGN A PROBLEM TO "BAD WRITING" OR SEND FAULT OF PACING WITH AN EDITOR, WHEN THOSE FAULTS LIE SQUARELY WITH SOMEONE ELSE. THEY'LL REPORT ON PRE-PRODUCTION WITHOUT A HINT OF UNDERSTANDING HOW THE PROCESS ACTUALLY WORKS. OR THEY'LL BLAME A NEGATIVE OPINION ON A CERTAIN CHOICE THAT STANDS OUT (I.E. THE TANGIBLE DETAILS) REGARDLESS IF THAT'S THE ACTUAL CAUSE. CRITICS WILL OFTEN SLAP THEIR FOREHEADS AND SAY "HOW COULD NO ONE HAVE EVER THOUGHT TO ADDRESS THIS!" WHEN HULK ABSOLUTELY GUARANTEES IT WAS BROUGHT UP BY SOMEONE IN THE PROCESS AND IT WAS FORCED TO REMAIN FOR WHO KNOWS WHAT POSSIBLE REASON. THESE THINGS JUST HAPPEN IN PRODUCTION.

THE NET RESULT IS THAT YOU HAVE A LOT OF CRITICS THINKING THEY'RE IN GROUP 4 WITH AN UNDERSTANDING OF CRAFT AND THEY REALLY JUST DON'T HAVE ONE AT ALL (THERE'S A REASON SODERBERGH BROUGHT THIS UP WHEN HE EXPLAINED WHY HE DOESN'T READ FILM CRITICISM. THEY JUST DON'T UNDERSTAND WHAT HE DOES. AND IT'S NOT THEIR FAULT REALLY. THEY'RE ONLY SEEING THE END RESULT AND WORKING FROM AN INDUCTIVE PLACE). WE ESSENTIALLY HAVE A LOT OF CRITICS MISTAKING THEMSELVES FOR "MEDIA ENGINEERS" AND QUITE OFTEN IT GETS THEM IN TROUBLE. THE BEST ONES UNDERSTAND THEY ARE NOT ENGINEERS, OTHERWISE THEY KNOW THEY WOULD JUST BE FUMBLING IN THE DARK. (OH, AND THIS, LIKE ALL THINGS, IS A TWO-WAY STREET. A GOOD ARTIST CAN VERY MUCH THINK THEY'RE HAVING AN AFFECT THEY'RE NOT AND THUS THEY CAN TURN TO CRITICS AND AUDIENCES TO LEARN WHAT IS REALLY HAPPENING. IT IS THEN UP TO THEM TO ENGINEER IT).

BUT WHILE WE'RE HERE, LET'S GO EVEN FURTHER IN A NEGATIVE EVALUATION. THERE ARE A LOT OF PEOPLE WRITING ABOUT MOVIES IN A CRITICAL CAPACITY, WHO CAN JUST AS EASILY BE ACCUSED OF WRITING IN THE SECOND AND MAYBE EVEN FIRST GROUP. IN FACT, HULK WOULD EVEN ARGUE THAT A WHOLE LEGION OF THE SECOND GROUP HAS BECOME EXTRAORDINARILY POPULAR ON THE INTERNET BECAUSE THEIR THOUGHTS ARE CLOSER TO THE FAN EXPERIENCE. AND IT'S FINE. IT REALLY IS. BUT LET US ALSO UNDERSTAND IT FOR WHAT IT IS: IT'S HIGHLY LITERAL THOUGHT THAT LEADS TO A DIALOGUE THAT ONLY REINFORCES THAT WHICH THE GROUP ALREADY KNOWS, AND INSTEAD OF BROADENING YOUR HORIZONS TO THAT WHICH PUSHES YOU FURTHER, IT KEEPS YOU SEDENTARY. THERE'S NO EVOLUTION TO THE GRANDER LEVELS. IT USHERS FORTH A CASE OF CINEMATIC ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT.

OKAY...

THERE'S A CHANCE HULK MAY HAVE OFFENDED LOTS OF PEOPLE WITH ALL THE THINGS HULK JUST SAID. HULK UNDERSTANDS THIS AND APOLOGIZES, BUT IT WAS MEANT AS NOTHING MORE THAN BLUNT STATEMENTS OF TOUGH LOVE. AND IT COMES FROM A PLACE OF GENUINE CARE OVER THE STATE OF THE LARGER CULTURAL DIALOGUE ON MEDIA. AND HULK ALSO APOLOGIZES IF YOU MAY HAVE RECOGNIZED SOME OF YOUR OWN VIEWING HABITS IN THE FIRST OR SECOND LEVEL. BUT THESE KINDS OF SELF-REALIZATIONS ARE NOT SOMETHING TO FEEL BAD ABOUT. INSTEAD, THEY ARE OPPORTUNITIES. YOU CAN LOOK FORTH TO OTHER KINDS OF EXPERIENCES AND SEEK THEM OUT. BUT MUCH MORE THAN THAT, HULK HAS TO EXPLAIN SOMETHING ABOUT ALL THIS LEVEL NONSENSE.

LISTEN NOW BECAUSE THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT.

THE STRUCTURE OF THE MEDIA CONSUMPTION LEVELS IS NOT DESIGNED TO SAY GROUP 4 IS INHERENTLY BETTER THAN GROUP 3, OR THAT GROUP 3 IS BETTER THAN 2 AND SO ON DOWN THE LINE. THE TRUTH IS THAT AS HUMAN BEINGS WE HAVE LOTS OF DIFFERENT NEEDS SIMULTANEOUSLY. WE HAVE OUR HIGH AND LOW SELVES. AND MOST PEOPLE EXIST WITH SOME MIX OF AT LEAST THE FIRST THREE LEVELS. OR PERHAPS, TO SAY IT BETTER, WE ALL HAVE A CAPACITY TO PROCESS AT ALL FOUR LEVELS. AND DEPENDING ON WHAT KIND OF MEDIA WE ARE CONSUMING AT THAT MOMENT, THE MORE WE CAN INDULGE IN WHATEVER SPECIFIC LEVEL WE ARE AIMING FOR. SOME OF THE MOST INCREDIBLE STORYTELLING GENIUSES WATCH TRASHY REALITY TV. WE ALL STRIVE SOMETIMES FOR THE SIMPLE ROOTING INTERESTS OR MOVIES WITH GOOD OLD FASHIONED FUN. HECK, MOST PEOPLE WATCH LITERAL PORNOGRAPHY. WE ALL WANT DIFFERENT THINGS AT DIFFERENT TIMES.

IT'S JUST THAT GOOD MEDIA CONSUMERS UNDERSTAND WHEN THEY'RE DOING WHAT AND WHY. THEY UNDERSTAND WHEN A MOVIE IS ENGAGING ON A CERTAIN LEVEL AND WHY. THEY ALSO UNDERSTAND THAT IT IS IMPORTANT TO STAND UP FOR THE THIRD AND FORTH LEVELS BECAUSE THEY UNLOCK THE MEANING AND PURPOSE OF ART. AND LIKE CONSUMERS, THE BEST FILMMAKERS UNDERSTAND THE FOUR LEVELS AND HOW TO MANIPULATE AND COMMUNICATE WITH THEM. THE LESSON IS OBVIOUS:

GOOD MEDIA CONSUMPTION IS ABOUT AWARENESS.

AND IN THAT AWARENESS THERE ARE KINDS OF JUVENILE INDULGENCES THAT HULK ADORES. LIKEWISE, THERE ARE KINDS OF JUVENILE INDULGENCES THAT HULK FINDS REPULSIVE. YOU COULD CHALK THIS UP TO A MATTER OF DRUTHERS, BUT REALLY IT'S A MATTER OF ETHOS AND HULK THINKS THERE ARE ACTUAL MORAL IMPLICATIONS. BUT THIS IS ALL SOMETHING HULK COULD EXPLAIN AND COMMUNICATE TO YOU. IT'S NOT PART OF SOME INNATE, EMOTIONAL OUTBURST. IT'S PART OF CAREFUL DIALOGUE. AND AWARENESS OF THE FOUR LEVELS CAN SO READILY HELP OUR NATIONAL DIALOGUE. IT'S NOT ALWAYS EASY, BUT GENUINELY HULK TRIES TO WATCH EACH MOVIE AT EVERY LEVEL POSSIBLE AND TRY HULK'S BEST TO COMMUNICATE THAT BACK TO YOU.

GOOD MEDIA CONSUMPTION IS ABOUT AWARENESS...

BUT GOOD MEDIA DIALOGUE IS ABOUT CONTEXTUALIZATION

* * *

IT MAY SEEM WEIRD THAT HULK GOT INTO ALL THIS BECAUSE OF THE CONVERSATION ABOUT SPOILERS, BUT IT'S JUST SO CRITICAL TO UNDERSTANDING WHAT WE'RE REALLY ARGUING ABOUT WHEN TALK ABOUT THIS ISSUE. ACCORDING TO THE LEVEL SYSTEM, COMPLAINING ABOUT SPOILERS IS A MORE JUVENILE WAY OF DIGESTING A PIECE OF MEDIA, BUT THAT'S NOT EVEN THE REAL CONCERN. WHAT HULK IS ARGUING IS THAT WE REALLY CAN'T GET ON THE SAME PAGE WITH THIS SPOILER ISSUE BECAUSE WE ALL CONSUME MEDIA IN RADICALLY DIFFERENT WAYS.

... THERE IS THE PERSON WHO YELLS OUT WHAT'S HAPPENING AS A FORM OF ALLEVIATION BECAUSE THE PIECE OF MEDIA HAS STRUCK TO CLOSE TO HOME.

... THERE IS THE PERSON WHO YELLS BACK AT THAT PERSON BECAUSE ALL THEY SEEK TO HAVE IS THE SAME EMOTIONAL MOMENT OF INDIGNATION THAT PERSON JUST HAD AND FEELS THEY'VE BEEN ROBBED OF IT.

... THERE IS THE PERSON WHO YELLS AT BOTH AS THEY WOULD RATHER FALL INTO THE CEREBRAL PROCESS OF ENJOYING THAT ART AND CRAFT, UNDERSTANDING THAT "NO GOOD STORY CAN EVER BE SPOILED."

... AND THERE IS THE CRAFTSMAN WHO BASICALLY SEES THE STRINGS OF ALL OF IT.

THE THING ABOUT ALL THESE GROUPS OF PEOPLE IS THAT WE NEED TO EXIST  IN THE SAME SPACE. WE CAN TRY TO BURY OUR RESPECTIVE DIALOGUES INTO OUR OWN GROUPS, AS IF WE WERE NOTHING MORE THAN OUR OWN LITTLE CLIQUES, BUT OUR RESPONSE TO ART BOTH TENDS AND NEEDS TO BE BIGGER THAN THAT. WE CRAVE THE SOCIAL INTERACTION ON AS BIG A SCALE AS POSSIBLE. WE CRAVE THE BIG CULTURAL MOMENT. IT'S PART OF OUR INSTINCT. AND THUS, HULK ARGUES THAT WE HAVE TO FULLY ADMIT THAT IT CAN'T ALL BE CONTROLLED. WE CAN ARGUE OVER THE PROPRIETY, BUT THIS IS A SPACE WE ALL EXIST IN AND MAYBE WE CAN'T HELP BUT MAKE EACH OTHER ANGRY, BUT MAYBE WE JUST UNDERSTAND WHY EVERYONE IS REACTING THE WAY WE DO. MAYBE WE CAN STRIVE FOR THE HIGHER LEVELS OF UNDERSTANDING. MAYBE WE CAN AGREE THAT IT'S NOT WORTH LOSING OUR SOCIAL SPACE FOR THE NOOKS AND CRANNIES OF SMALLER SOCIAL CONVERSATIONS.

MAYBE JUST MAYBE WE CAN UNDERSTAND A BASIC SENSE THAT WHAT WE SHARE WILL ALWAYS BE MORE IMPORTANT THAN WHAT WE DON'T SHARE.

REMEMBER THAT BIG MOMENT ON A BIG TV SHOW THAT HAPPENED? WELL, HULK COULDN’T WATCH IT. HULK WATCHES THAT SHOW WITH BETTY AND SHE WAS GETTING IN WAY TOO LATE FROM A DELAYED FLIGHT AND IT HAD TO WAIT A DAY. THESE THINGS HAPPEN. IT'S LIFE. AND LO AND BEHOLD THE NEXT DAY THINGS WERE SPOILED IN THE HEATED REACTIONS THAT TOOK PLACE IN THE INTERNET AND REAL-LIFE SPACES THAT WE VERY MUCH INHABIT. BUT THIS HAPPENS. BETTY UNDERSTOOD SHE COULDN'T SHUT UP AN ENTIRE OFFICE BECAUSE OF A MATTER OF PERSONAL CIRCUMSTANCE. OUR BEST CHOICE WAS SIMPLY NOT TO GET ANGRY ABOUT IT. TO GO INTO THAT PIECE OF MEDIA AND ENJOY IT EVERY OTHER WAY WE COULD. AFTER ALL, THERE WERE SO MANY OTHER LEVELS  TO CHOOSE FROM.

IT ALL JUST ADVOCATES THE FURTHERING OF A ZEN STATE OF MEDIA CONSUMPTION. WE LIVE IN AN INFORMATION CULTURE AND WE CAN TRY TO BUILD UP WALLS OUT OF OUR FEAR AND ANGER, BUT WE CANNOT TRULY SEPARATE OURSELVES FROM IT.

WE MAY LOSE THE SHOCK AND THE SURPRISE AND THE THINGS THAT BRING US BACK TO THAT PLACE OF CHILDHOOD GLEE, BUT WE WOULD BE GIVING UP SOMETHING THAT'S WORTH SO MUCH MORE. ART AND NARRATIVES EXIST IN THE PROVERBIAL CAMPFIRE FOR OUR CULTURE. IT'S WHAT CONNECTS US. THERE'S NOTHING MORE JOYOUS THAN A BIG MOVIE THAT EVERYONE HAS SEEN AND EVERYONE HAS LOVED. THIS IS NOT CONFORMITY FOR ILL, BUT CONFORMITY IN THE BEST SENSE: IT'S A THING THAT JOINS PEOPLE TOGETHER IN CONVERSATION. THAT ALLOWS US TO HAVE DIFFERENCES OVER THE SAME OBJECTS OF FOCUS. THAT ALLOWS US TO COME TOGETHER IN A WAY THAT BETTER HELPS US UNDERSTAND THE OTHER AND COMMUNICATE.

BUT INSTEAD OF THE BIG PROVERBIAL CAMPFIRE WE'RE SLOWLY, SURELY, ADOPTING A LIFE OF FRAGMENTATION. WE ARE HEADING TOWARDS A WORLD WHERE WE ALL HAVE THESE LITTLE POCKETS OF ARTISTIC INFLUENCE AND SMALL RELATIONSHIPS AND NOTHING GRANDER TO CONNECT US. WHERE WE CAN FALL INTO OUR LITTLE LIKE-MINDED POCKETS WITH PEOPLE WHO CONSUME THE EXACT SAME WAY WE DO. IN OTHER WORDS, WE'RE SENDING OURSELVES BACK TO THE TOWER OF BABEL (WHICH MIGHT BE THE COMPLETE EMBODIMENT OF THE INTERNET). HULK UNDERSTANDS EVERY SINGLE VALID CONCERN ABOUT ALL THIS SPOILER-STUFF, BUT WE HAVE TO UNDERSTAND THAT THE SOCIAL SPACES REALLY NEED TO BE BIG AND FREE. WE NEED TO HAVE CULTURAL MOMENTS BECAUSE THEY'RE THE ONE THING THAT CAN BRING US TOGETHER IN AN AGE OF FRAGMENTATION.

SPOILER-PHOBIA IS NOT WORTH LOSING THE CAMPFIRE.

NOTHING IS.

<3 HULK

Film Crit Hulk's photo About the Author: FILM CRIT HULK WAS CREATED IN A CHAOTIC LAB EXPERIMENT INVOLVING GAMMA RADIATION, TELEPODS, AND THE GHOST OF PAULINE KAEL. NOW HULK HAVE DEEP AND ABIDING LOVE CINEMA.
t