We are consumers of information and entertainment, if we have lived long enough/read long enough/watched long enough we have seen a whole bunch of information and entertainment media in our lives. If we have a substantial memory we can recognize trends in that vast array of data and know when something is different from the rest. But nothing really is different, it’s all been done before. Perhaps not as well, perhaps not as intelligently, or the reverse; better and smarter, but it has all been done before.
And we know this. And we state this pretty often. And yet people still demand originality as if only they understand what that means. Usually, to be cynical, those who demand originality don’t want originality, they want entertainment that appeals to them and they want to call it original. Originality not required.
This brings me back to Dodge…, Rick Dodge. He’s a critic, mostly music, but he touches on all sorts of entertainment media and he would be the first to point out the possible influences inherent in new works. Whether the new artist is influenced by DaVinci, the new musician is influenced by Hendrix, or the new writer is influenced by Dick Francis, he would glory in pointing that out to his readers. As if that makes the new artist less than the artist they were influenced by, as if the new musician is just repeating Hendrix’s riffs, as if the new writer is just continuing Dick Francis’ work. As if they are not just a copy, but inherently a pale shadow.
They may be a pale shadow, but that is irrespective of whether or not they were influenced by another’s work. Why? Because those people were also influenced by other’s work. Since the dawn of art, music, literature, all creators of media have been influenced by the works that came before them. No one grew up in a tight box where no outside media was permitted to taint their artistry. They were influenced, they learned from others and that’s not a problem, it’s just what happens. Not only inevitable but desirable. A new writer doesn’t need to write like Shakespeare (or whomever the writer of those plays actually was) because Shakespeare already exists. We can move on to other things, we can refine our choices but we still can learn from those plays. We are not beholden to them. We are more because we are influenced, directly or indirectly, by those plays.
So why do critics love to point out this ‘Paucity of Innovation’ that they see? Is it to prod writers/artists/musicians to stretch the boundaries and push themselves, not accept the limitations of the standard way of doing things? Yes, to an extent, and for some critics that’s probably their main reasoning. But with some I see that as their way of rationalizing their smugness. They don’t want to point out the influences to help the artist/writer/musician but to build themselves up, to brag about how much they know. To say that in some way they are more, they are better, than the artists/writers/musicians that they are reviewing.
And with the way information is stored and how accessible that information has become that type of critic has become even more commonplace. Reading a phrase that triggers a memory that you can’t quite place is one thing, reading that phrase and then plugging it into a search engine to find its antecedent is quite another. Before now at least that type of critic needed to be very knowledgable about his subject in order to do that kind of thing. Not anymore, they just need to be the kind of person that tries diminish the accomplishments of others through any means they can find. There are few who have the requisite knowledge, combined with that kind of personality. But that kind of personality isn’t rare and the internet can give them the information they require.
I don’t want to get into specifics, suffice it to say I have read so many books that I hardly every read a word that surprises me. Very infrequently have I encountered an idea, or an execution of an idea, that I have not seen before. That doesn’t mean I don’t like originality, it just means I don’t see very much of it. The stuff that is original? Often hides its flaws behind its own strangeness. Like a teenager hiding their acne behind a wall of hair.
This very comic strip isn’t original, after all there must be hundreds of thousands of comic strips that start with the off-panel death of their main character and then has him trying to scam his way into heaven.
Damn, that is pretty unique isn’t it? I’m the teenager behind his wall of hair, aren’t I?