Thursday, August 04, 2011

Critiquing Criticism: a lesson from The Smurfs movie

Transformers. G.I Joe. He-Man. Mask (come on - who remembers Mask? It was a-maze-a-zing!). Thundercats. Voltron. These were my favorite cartoons while growing up. But I must be honest, I must confess: I also watched the Smurfs. Yes, yes I did. Papa Smurf, Jokey Smurf, & Hefty Smurf were my favorites. Smurfette was dumb and annoying (young guy's perspective). Yes...I am a closet Smurf fan.

The idea then of a live Smurf movie was a mixed bag for me. It could be cool or it could be horrible, there didn't seem to be a lot of room in-between. But, having a 4yr-old and a 2yr-old that can be taken advantage of to see kid's movies without losing my mancard, I was willing to give it a chance.

And then the early reviews came out.

The first time I checked reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, the movie was sitting at a whopping 0%.  For those keep score at home, that means "very not good" (as my daughter would say). This was my initial reaction:
The reviews were just scathing. At least at first glance they were. Then I actually started reading not just the words, but what they were communicating

Here are some of the initial reviews of the movie from Rotten Tomatoes
Not the most glowing remarks. If teachers wrote comments like these on kids' report cards, more children would be in tears and fewer teachers would be employed. They're just not pleasant. However! Look at them again. Just start from the bottom and work your way up this time. 

Levy & Lloyd are the ONLY TWO that gives any semblance to actual information about the movie. Keith (easier to type than his last name) on the other hand does nothing but insult the movie; he doesn't tell you anything that you wouldn't already know from watching the trailer. 

But the worst is MacDonald's. Not just of this small group, but the worst of all four pages of professional movie critic reviews for the movie! She says absolutely NOTHING about the film. Nothing! She's trying to figure out the TV cartoon from 20 years ago, saying nothing whatsoever about the movie. And her opinion is going toward the overall rating?

Another interesting thing about the critiques of the movie is its overall rating score. For those not familiar with Rotten Tomatoes, they actually give two scores for each movie: a critic's score and a audience score. The average of all of the critics' scores is seen on the home page, but you have to click on the movie link to see the average of the audience scores. Here is the current breakdown for The Smurfs:
The critic score is no longer a goose egg, though 21% is still a failing grade in most classes. The audience score is 65%!  Not huge, but according to Rotten Tomatoes' own criteria, that number would give the movie a "certified fresh" ranking. The most telling figure to consider in all of this is the number of people making up the averages. The low 21% is based on only 71 opinions, where the 65% is based on 27,891 opinions!!! To say that is a huge difference would be an understatement.

So at first glance, this was one of the worst movies ever made. You'd have assumed those involved with making it are in therapy right now. Yet look at the truth of the matter: more people liked it than didn't. A ridiculously larger number of normal, non-critic-type-people, liked it than the professionals. This makes me reconsider my originally tweeted opinion. When you discount the reviews of no real substance, especially Miss MacDonald's, even more of a new light is shed on things. I'm in no way saying The Smurfs should be up for an Academy Award. However, all things I've pointed out considered, now I just might take advantage of my children and go see it. For them, not for me. 
The reason four tickets to The Smurfs will probably be purchased someday is because I'm not just accepting its criticism at face value. You get a fuller picture of truth when you critique criticism

And that's what this post is really about. 

It's not about The Smurfs, it's about you and me.

Anyone ever hear criticism? You don't have to answer that, I know the answer is yes. If you are part of a family, been to school, had a job, been in a relationship, or have ever interacted with another human being or a cat you have received criticism. 

Some people receive criticism well, others get defensive.  Some people give criticism well, others can act the jerk. Sometimes criticism can be incredibly helpful, empowering, and equipping. Sometimes it can be incredibly painful, degrading, and debilitating. Some of us have received constructive criticism that not only motivated us to move a mountain, it also gave us what we needed for the necessary life adjustments to actually pull it off. Some of us have received deconstructive criticism that made us so discouraged we left the path for awhile, even doubted our calling or identity. 

Having received the good and the bad of criticism, I'm realizing something: you have to critique criticism if you are truly going to learn and grow from it. Don't just accept the words, figure out what is truly being said to you.  

Some of our critics might be like Levy & Lloyd above who critiqued The Smurfs. Painful words, but we need to hear them. It's a good hurt. We actually need more people in our lives like this; those who will speak the truth in love. We need the courage and maturity to seek this type of criticism out.

Some of our critics might be like Keith: not a lot of substance, little harsh, trying to disguise a lack of substance under the guise of "I'm just saying this to help you." Many times the Keith's in our lives just want to hear themselves talking, never really saying anything beyond the obvious.

And then there are those like MacDonald, where criticism offered is more a commentary on them than anything about us. Their words about you reveal their own insecurities, ignorance, or hurt. As the saying goes, "hurt people hurt people," and in turn the MacDonald's in our lives can be the hardest for us to deal with and move beyond.  

Critique the criticism! Regardless of the type of person bringing it to you, don't just hear their words - understand what they are truly communicating to you. Try your best to figure out what is really being said so that you can learn and grow. These questions might help you in getting to the heart of things:

  • How well does the person know you and what you are like? 
  • Is the person speaking from an established history with you or from a minimal perspective?
  • How well does the person have context of the situation? Of the bigger picture?
  • Is the person speaking to you based on hearsay or direct observation?
  • Is the person using unnecessary hyperbole? (Ex: that's the worst job ever on the planet...).
  • Is the person speaking to you from of a place of anger or other negative emotions they haven't themselves brought into check?
  • Has the person sought counsel on their opinion, or are they just speaking to you from the cuff?
  • Is the person trying to guide you into being more in sync with the character of Jesus or more in sync with their opinions?
  • Does the person have your best interest at heart?
Get to the truth of what is being said. Maybe it really is something you need to hear, then have the courage to receive it. Maybe it is something totally off base, insulting or attacking even. Then don't receive those things. See them for what they are: misunderstandings, exaggerations, out-of-context accusations, or even lies. If it isn't true, then don't own it.  

Loving, caring, constructive criticism is going to guide you into the truth of who you are and who you can become. It is going to guide you down a path of becoming more like Jesus. Hurtful, selfish, unfounded criticism is going to paint a false picture of your identity, one that causes you to question your calling and stall out in your journey.

Embrace the constructive. Don't settle for just getting by, don't be apathetic about who you are. Adjust, work hard, grow. Find people who will help you in this.

Don't allow the unfounded, deconstructive to falsely identify you. Give yourself permission to say, "They were wrong, I'm not like that." Refuse to allow another person's hurt to wound you.

Take the mountain. Don't stall out on the journey.

Learn from The Smurf movie - your story just might be a lot better than what the critics are portraying.

The vexation of a fool is known at once, but the prudent ignores an insult. Whoever speaks the truth  gives honest evidence, but a false witness utters deceit. There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.- Proverbs 12:16-18

Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning. "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. Proverbs 9:9-10

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid - Prov 12:1


Matt Brown said...

Love this Bobby!

bobby moss said...

Thanks Matt! =)

Anonymous said...

What a great approach to point out such an important perspective! Thanks for sharing :)

Anonymous said...

That was an amazing blog! Ive watched the Smurfs and i thought it was pretty cool. It was funny for kids. I even did a review about it. So when i saw these people's comments, i felt angry. Mcdonald was criticizing it on things that just happened, not on the plot!