Last week I told you I started a second iteration of The Edge of Snow and Dust. It was a pretty long post, over two thousands words actually. This time I’d thought I keep this one relatively short. Today I want to show you the mind of a creator not while he or she is hard at work making a movie, a song, or a book. But what runs through their mind while they are consuming others’ creative works.
First off a quick little background note. After taking a year off from high school, I attended Monroe Community College here in Rochester, graduating in 2007 with an Associates in Mechanical Technology. Everyone said I had an analytical mind and was great at building things, so the degree made sense. My family and friends constantly noticed me staring hard into an object, speculated on how it was designed, and then guess ways it could be improved. That was all well and good, and encouraged by my parents. But the same enthusiasm cannot be said when I deconstructed art. Instead I constantly hear, “stop analyzing it.”
See when I watch a movie, hear a song, or read a book, I usually have a list of observations I want to talk about afterwards. In each piece of art there is so much to breakdown and understand. “The director introduced the unicorn twice but completely forgot to give us the payoff, or the editor cut it. I wonder why?” or to everyone’s chagrin, “You could definitely tell that was a studio note. The character’s flaw should have been this, but that would turn off this audience, and they wanted that money.” Those around me hear all this an assume I can’t see the art, or don’t like art in general, or enjoy ripping apart art. None of its true.
I break them down because I am a creator at heart. Be it fan-fiction (of which I have written plenty), to writing my novel, to quickly coming up with an absurd take on a commercial, I am always creating. And as a creator, I know what messages I want to convey with my own creations. Character traits that resonate with me or messages that have affected my life that I hope can have the same effect on others. So when I hear people say “just enjoy the thing” or “it’s a movie you can just turn your brain off and enjoy” I fundamentally disagree. These aren’t manufactured creations. Someone living and breathing whose life is a thick novel of joy and sadness and fear created this thing. You can learn so much by analyzing why they used this paint brush, this color, this camera lens or angle, or this instrument. And if some big corporation did manufacture that song or movie with a boardroom of executives with polling data and test audiences, then what does that say about the society that created those people or warranted those studio notes. I’ll give my creator eye on two examples.
I saw Bumblebee yesterday, a Transformers prequel with a different director and take on the fighting robot mythos. I really enjoyed it. It felt like a movie, felt like a story. With each sequel under Director Michael Bay becoming more and more incoherent, I was really hoping for a change in vision. Now it is not perfect and as a creator I could see the studio notes and deals within the movie. Firstly, (minor spoilers) we see a number of transformers that look like the toys from the 80’s which served two purposes. One, to let us know they are abandoning the more insect look the previous five movies had. And two, more importantly, to hit us with nostalgia. Nostalgia is a powerful tool when you want someone entertained. For very little effort you can remind people of a portion of their live that never existed. Boy was Bumblebee banking on that. After the opening scene, the audience is hit with 80’s posters and gadgets, 80’s TV shows, and FOUR famous 80’s songs played back to back over scenes that just don’t need them. Why do all this? Because Stranger Things on Netflix made 80’s nostalgia popular and profitable.
Seeing all this nostalgia didn’t affect me. I had seen countless new shows find reasons to pull themselves back to the 80’s to try and jump on this bandwagon. It didn’t ruin the story for me, but I noticed it. I noticed that was the studio hoping to revitalize their dying big blockbuster franchise. But I also noticed a touching story of a character trying to get over some difficult hurdles in life with a giant transforming VW Beetle trying to do the same. By noticing and separating the studio mandates and the writer and directors vision, I was able to connect with real people who made something they wished to share.
Another example I will give you is my own personal take on today’s popular music. Most of what I hear today sounds so similar in tone, pace, style, that I can’t tell them apart. Even the message feels confined to a specific topic: love. My girlfriend, Lord bless her, has to deal with me asking a sarcastic question every time we get in the car. “Hey, is this song by that girl, you know, the one that sounds like all the others, about that guy she loves but shouldn’t, or has and is leaving, or loves him and is leaving because she shouldn’t have him but does?” And she always shouts, “I like this song!” I then ask who is it by and she starts laughing, “I don’t know.”
From a creator point of view I only make fun of the songs because I know the corporate thought behind it. Because of how integrated the internet is in our life, especially with our cellphones instantaneous connection we, as the older generation loves to point out, don’t communicate with one another. Which is factually false. We now communicate with more people than ever and with people we would never see in real life. And personally that’s okay. You can connect with like-minded groups about things you love. I play D&D, Call of Cthulhu, and other rpg’s. But my close group of friends don’t. But online I can find a community that does, and we can talk and debate and laugh about it together. We may not be able to touch one another but we are still communicating.
However due to these long-ranged spread out communities, it is harder to find a connection with people closer to us that we are attracted to. Think about it, if you saw someone at the store whom you found attractive, say they laughed at something and the laugh was so genuine and warm, what would be your “in”? Would you just start laughing with no context, walk over and just ask what’s funny? Most of the options you would come up with would be weird or unnatural. Now before social media, you would know someone who would know someone who knew that person. Now you don’t and instead you wonder what-if. Then get in the car and what do you know, there’s a song on the radio or Pandora or Spotify describing how you feel. Because so many people constantly struggle to find a natural way to connect in a physical space setting when it is so easy to talk online, there’s more and more songs about it. I see all this by breaking down why corporations would want to constantly create eerily similar music and radio stations play the same four songs over and over again. Those songs make money. Despite seeing the generic song on the radio as a studio crafted, purpose built, money making opportunity, I can understand why they are prevalent and what that says about our society and the individual.
I can see the art.
So the next piece of art you consume, in its infinite forms, consider breaking it down. Seperate it into is many components and see not how it affects you, but what glimpses it gives into the state of our society today. Why is this subject the focus of so many artist? You might fall down a rabbit hole like I do, but you might just learn something that’ll give that art a new perspective. A new perspective that might turn you into a creator.