I’ve got a confession to make: I don’t know what “solid direction” is. I watch a lot of films, I have a membership to a cinema and I get so much more value out of it than my gym membership that I should probably be ashamed. I’m far from an expert, but I keep up with film news, listen to podcasts, that sort of thing. I have noticed this creeping trend on Netflix and Amazon reviews where people are damning with the faint praise of “solid direction,” or sometimes a “solid performance” by one actor or another. What makes it solid? Can performances also be liquid or gaseous?
It’s something that was written in the broader context of a review and amateur critics have taken it on as a way to present themselves as somehow more serious, their opinions more important than the rest of us. If you don’t like a film that they do, then there must be a way to prove you wrong, after all.
When did personal taste mean so much about the value of a person, and why has it all become so adversarial? With social media, everyone has the platform to be a critic but perhaps not everyone should be. What I know about films is that it takes a lot of work to make one, and I am absolutely no one to dismiss or belittle someone’s effort. I also know what I like – and you may not agree, and I’m totally cool with the fact that you might not like it, but I’m still going to go ahead and like it anyway. Policing people’s taste is both counter-productive and futile, but a large section of the internet seems to have appointed themselves arbiters of taste for the rest of us.
I think this is primarily a male preserve, and has its roots in deciding what is serious art and what isn’t. It’s largely aimed at dismissing anything by women and minorities under a spurious cloud of pseudo-intellectual buzzwords. It’s relevant to me because it can be seen in various forms in the world of books, too. The segregation of mass market and literary fiction is one example. The idea that women write confessional poetry and men write universal truths is another. What these received opinions transmit is that someone else knows better than you what is universal, what you should like, what art is and what artists should be creating.
Since we’ve got all the space in the world on the internet to share our opinions, isn’t it more powerful to share the things we love and just keep quiet about the things that we don’t like? Someone out there might like those things that we don’t and there’s no reason at all why we should spoil their enjoyment. One of the lovely things about poetry twitter is that often poems are shared with exclamations and you get the chance to make up your own mind what you think about it.
I’m not saying we should never be critical, of course. If something is profoundly sexist, or racist, uses any harmful stereotypes or appropriates a different culture in a way that’s disrespectful, then that should be highlighted. I still think it could be done in a positive way – suggesting related alternatives with a more authentic presentation, perhaps, or opportunities to broaden people’s horizons. People may still like the problematic thing, but that’s OK, too. They might also learn something and broaden their horizons. Ultimately, everyone likes problematic things.
The reason I get annoyed about this is because, well first of all, it is annoying. Secondly, it adds no value to the world other than to perpetuate the idea that people are the sum of their tastes. I really think that clearing the internet of some of the snobbish nonsense written in these online reviews is the first step to allowing more positivity in, and to letting go of this idea that your taste defines who you are, or that your preferences must be defended from some lofty faux-intellectual perspective.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’d better go and write that treatise on why Jason Statham movies are the modern-day equivalent of Elizabethan revenge tragedies.