From a very young age, I developed a passion for terrible movies. Not cult classic bombs such as “Plan 9 From Outer Space” or “The Room,” which definitely hold a place in my heart, but the kind of bad movies that people just don’t watch, such as the “Bratz” movie from 2007 or anything on Lifetime. Part of this fascination comes from the distinctly alien quality of movies that feel as if they were conceptualized entirely over a brief long-distance phone call suffering from terrible service, and part of it comes from another clever manifestation of my own special protectant. If I fill my cinematic lexicon with only niche flicks I know to be terrible, then I never have to deal with the wave of self-doubt that comes with someone disagreeing with an earnestly held opinion.
If I’m ever at a party and someone asks which film is my favorite, “Stolen From the Womb” has, oddly enough, never elicited the same challenges I get when throwing out something such as “Brokeback Mountain” or “Drive.” If someone tells me “Stolen From the Womb” is a bad movie, I will primarily be impressed that they have seen it before and will secondarily wholeheartedly agree with them.
For somebody so hopelessly insecure about the credence of her own opinions on art, the choice to become an arts reviewer could be seen as a confusing one. But for most of my life, I wanted to be a creative writer. Screenplays, poetry, last-minute emails requesting extensions — I felt entirely comfortable in spaces outside of reality. Then I got to college. Something in me snapped or strained, and I found myself incapable of creating in the same way I had all my life. As the rift between my need for creative outlet and my lack of creative energy became more and more apparent, I found that reviewing felt like I was engaging with art in more active ways than I had in months. With this engagement, however, came a certain influx of vulnerability. I couldn’t mask how I felt about things behind jokes and half-truths in an effort to be likable. By choosing to focus in on theater, I often found myself writing about shows and performances that had yet to be written about, casting my voice loudly and clumsily into an entirely empty space.
“Whoever wrote this garbage review is a cultural Marxist. Really…Gosling’s Drive? Apparently you appropriated someones below average IQ brain while writing this word vomit.”
This was one of the first comments I ever received on an arts and entertainment piece I wrote for The Daily Californian. During my year and a half in the news department, my articles often had vibrant comment sections attacking the ideas presented in the article or the people I had interviewed. But ultimately, throughout those attacks, I myself stayed more or less protected. As I transitioned into arts reviews, my pieces began to rest solely on my own opinions, and with that, I created for myself a new kind of armor.
In my early reviews, I had several distinctive habits. I tacked “seemed” or “felt like” to the tail end of almost every sentence. I steered myself so violently away from making any definitive statements on theme or artistic purpose that I found myself in an another genre entirely, one that constantly begged the reader for validation before continuing.
I think a lot of me has been programmed to think this way, to second-guess whatever I’m saying, whether it be my opinions or even undisputed fact. And while for many things I’m able to ground myself in certain facts and universal truths, art doesn’t provide me, or anyone, with that luxury.
Despite the tender, loving care I put into my pieces to avoid ruffling any feathers, my editors were not having it. They would go through each piece, violently axing each “feels like” and “seems to” until I was left with opinions entirely torn from the self-flagellation of my standard authorial voice, and it made me endlessly uneasy. How can someone disagree that I personally felt like “The Outsider” starring Jared Leto maybe could have been slightly more attentive to the whitewashing of a Yakuza narrative that some may see as problematic? No. Rewrite. “The Outsider” starring Jared Leto was inattentive to the problematic nature of whitewashing a Yakuza narrative.
Uncertainty still colors most of my first drafts. I still sometimes find myself trying to undercut myself and weaken my assertions every chance I get. But ultimately, underneath the masks of “maybe” and “to some” sits something I’ve thought about for hours, rolled around in my head, and written and rewritten on the page. When someone clicks on a piece written by me, they aren’t searching for something crowdsourced or neutral. They are looking for the musings of a cultural Marxist with a below-average IQ who doesn’t just seem like she has something of merit and value to say — she has something of merit and value to say.
Kate Tinney writes the arts & entertainment column on shifting artistic contexts and perspectives. Contact her at [email protected].