Defending Mediocre/Poor Books

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Defending Mediocre/Poor Books

Postby loremaster » 01 Jan 2009 07:20

Again, and at risk of terminal retaliatory flaming, I'm going to post my probably-not-shared thoughts on a topic we're often discussing here: Mediocre Books.

Now, and I realise this line might be hazy, given a) the audience, b) the forum and c) the particular section this thread is posted in. I can move it if it clouds the issue, but I am NOT, here, posting about any particular book, film, music or other media. Promise.

BUT there seems to be this stance against mediocrity here, and while i appreciate greatness is obviously superior, it is also far rarer, far more subjective and far more biased.

I think that, actually, most books which make it to print are far better than the majority of books which could hypothetically be written by non-authors. The same goes with many films, and particularly singers. My first point is that calling them mediocre, or poor, is probably to miss the point that (in the majority of cases) they are probably superior to 99% of the lay populations attempts at the same thing. Poor by comparision, maybe.

Secondly, I actually quite like mediocrity, and I do not like this assertion that mediocrity is poor. by definition it is not. There is a perception among british schools at the moment, particularly by politicians, that a "satisfactory" school is not good enough. Codswallop, satisfactory does exactly what it says on the tin.

The third, is this assertion that mediocre contains no or very little value, yet actually most things considered mediocre are, to me at least, reasonable. Examples of recent "mediocre" things i have watched/read include:

Stargate
Smallville
Basshunter Album
about half of Terry Pratchett's books.
Brian Lumley
Katy Perry Album
Nearly everything ever published by Games Workshop/ Black Library.
A lot of DnD/Forgotten Realms based literature


But did i find them enjoyable? yes. Did they have faults? yes. Would i watch/read another if they were available? yes.

No-one eats finest steak prepared over 4 hours every day, most times, we just go for sausages.

I'm getting the feeling now as i come to finish writing this that i may not have a conclusive, poignant ending.
But I certainly think that actually, mediocrity isnt bad. Nor is striving for mediocrity. I would LOVE, at this point, my girlfriend to be established as an acceptable singer. It hasnt happened yet, so she'll keep striving, at weekends and evenings. Oh yes she aspires to be an excellent performer, but she'll settle for the middle. Hell, she's with me after all.
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Re: Defending Mediocre/Poor Books

Postby Schu » 01 Jan 2009 07:38

loremaster wrote:But I certainly think that actually, mediocrity isnt bad. Nor is striving for mediocrity.


Actually, striving for mediocrity and not trying for greatness is probably one of the biggest beefs I have with the new authors. Not only that, but striving for mediocrity and being told that it isn't mediocrity. Like eating McDonalds and being told it's a restaurant meal.

I noticed that most of the things that you mention in your mediocrity list are things that, while they don't aim to be serious literature or anything like that, either have clever humour or know themselves for what they are and don't take themselves as seriously as not being able to shrug off a few people that think it's tripe. Not only that, but they're not trying to be part of a very serious-literature type universe.

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Postby SandChigger » 01 Jan 2009 08:54

Who strives for mediocrity does not deserve it.

Mediocrity is what you settle for, because you must.

Experience speaks.
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Postby Seraphan » 01 Jan 2009 09:41

I agree with Schu, most of what you pointed arent things that aspire to great literature, those arent mediocre, they're exactly what they're supposed to be. Like the Dr Who tv show, or Torchwood, it's not aiming for high intelectual audiences. Yet in it's genre of fun sci-fi, it excells (at least for me, i find it fun).
The problems i have with mediocracy is the way a mediocre work is considered to be great while being devoid of substance and meaning. Settling down for mediocre works is giving up on the important "self-improving" attitude, you're not searching to learn from your mistakes and faults and improve your work. You repeat the same crap over and over and over, while walking around with a presumptous smile on your face.
Artists like Frank Herbert, Stanley Kubrick, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, etc, didnt start with great and amazing artistical works, in fact they regard most of their earlier works as real amateur stuff. But it was their willingness to improve, to not settle down, that led them to create such beautifull an meaningfull objects of art.
Mediocre works add nothing to the individual or it's culture, while artistic works (as mentioned above) do the exact opposite. Often it happens when you experience them and emerge on the other side with certain changes, and it wasnt the author that brainwashed you, it wasnt the letters or the images, or the sound, or the music; it was you, you changed yourself while experiencing them.
After listening to the Frank Herbert interview that was posted on T(A)U, i labeled in my mind these works that i'm refering to as "Important things that arent passed down through genes and should be preserved intact and pure for each individual to experience". (Yeah, it's a big lable)
Settle for mediocracy and you stagnate, wich for me is worse than death. Keep self-improving and you stay on the path of evolution and survival.
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Postby GamePlayer » 01 Jan 2009 15:52

You have to use your brain and assign merit based on the relative nature of each product in question. As some have already suggested, you don't compare a great film like Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange to a great summer blockbuster flick like Jon Favreau's Iron Man and claim "mediocrity is good". Both films are exceptional examples of what they were meant to be; one is an exceptional work of art, the other, exceptional summer action entertainment. Dune is actually a true boundary-breaking work; not only is it exceptional science fiction, but it actually transcended it's own genre and became exceptional literature as well. The problem is that Dune as a body of work has been correspondingly downgraded into exploitative genre entertainment via the prequels. Dune has then been downgraded further by an author named Kevin J. Anderson who writes poor quality exploitative genre entertainment. :)

Everything in life is relative, but that doesn't mean you confuse relativity for reason.
Dune is exceptional literature, for what literature is worth.
U2 is an exceptional rock band, for what rock music is worth.
Macross is an exceptional mecha anime, for what mecha anime is worth.
Watchmen is an exceptional graphic novel, for what comics are worth.
The Wire is exceptional television, for what television is worth.

The fact that literature as a medium of expression is, to the minds of most people, a superior form of expression to rock music, anime, comic books or television doesn't mean that equates U2, Macross, Watchmen or The Wire to mediocrity. Rep don't work dat way, homeboy. ;)
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Postby DuneFishUK » 01 Jan 2009 16:30

Dune is exceptional literature, for what literature is worth, because it succeeds exceptionally in all (or at least most) aspects.

Lesser works still have merits because they succeed in other aspects. The key thing in entertainment, if something succeeds in entertaining you and making your brain gurgle happily it has succeeded in that respect - just as Dune does. The surrounding material might be utter trash compared to Dune, but it succeeds exceptionally in the entertaining storyline respect and it's how these different respects (objective) key into what you assign merit to (subjective) that determines enjoyment.

Our favourite hack aims high and sells on his best points. But even as a writer of pulpy-low-brow-bollocks he scores low. But if you're into that sort of thing, and you assign merit to it, you're Simon :P

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Postby loremaster » 01 Jan 2009 16:43

You're all right. I dont disagree with anything you've said, and i particularly agree with GPs summation of the difference between mediocre and, for lack of a better term - "everyday".

I think my point, even exempting the list, is that actually, the vast majority of what i read/watch/hear falls well within the bell on my normal distribution curve. Fwiw I actually LOVE terry pratchett, but do i think some of his works are shoddy average rehashes of previous plotlines and jokes? yep.

Only maybe once a year do i put down a book and think "that was an exceptional read". Most of the time it's a mixture of "meh" and "yeah not bad, pretty average really". EVEN amongst what many people rate/recommend to me as "fantastic, exceptional masterpieces of literature". The last one was Dracula, i loved it. Prior to that i read Hyperion, on the recommendation of a friend and some rave internet reviews.... didnt really think it was all that. But i bought fall of hyperion and read that too.

I think what we see with the new books is a sort of devolution. What started out as percieved "high art" (Dune) has had many of its deeper meanings and intrigues removed, somethings which were most dear to many people. Whether or not you agree with that is a matter of personal morals i guess.

But i do agree that marketing mcdonalds as michellin starred is misrepresenting. Books often suffer from that in that there is truth to the saying you cannot judge a book by its cover.

I just wonder (and i'm not trying to catch anyone out) - IF BH and KJA had sold their prequels, right from the start, as pulp sci fi set in the duniverse, would people here be somewhat more forgiving? or perhaps judge them against that, rather than against Frank's standards? (though a certain amount of that is ineviteable, i guess)
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Postby Seraphan » 01 Jan 2009 17:27

If they went "These prequels we wrotte are simply our fan contribution to a universe that we like", that would be fine with me. Unfortenatly, they went "Hey boys and girls we have thousands of notes from Frank Herbert and we're filling in the gaps that poor Frank was never able to fill because he never wrotte fast enough. No no no, what we are doing fits precisely into the works of Frank Herbert, dont listen to those evil talifans. Scientology? What? No, this is what Frank had envisioned for the 7th Dune. It's in the notes kids."

Kevin J. Anderson is to literature what Uwe Boll is to movies.
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Postby GamePlayer » 01 Jan 2009 17:59

Well, you've just moved now from a discussion of "mediocrity" to a discussion of "market".

We are a consumer culture and as such we consume more than there is cause to produce. Businesses produce to sell to a demand, not because there is an abundance of good material out there. This is why in your given "year" example, the amount of worthwhile material you sample is small. Businesses produce even when there isn't anything worth producing, but that doesn't stop businesses from marketing their product as though it were something worth buying.

Since we're on the subject, I never pass up an opportunity to preach on this matter (be forewarned), but I do get tired of hearing people cry and complain there is nothing good to watch, read or listen. Again, there's nothing wrong with complaining about the state of mediocrity in modern consumer culture. There is something wrong with people that confuse their own laziness and inflexibility with a lack of consumer choice. Most people just don't consider the possibility that they have lousy taste.

There is plenty out there that's good. I'm rarely short of great stuff to watch, read or listen. But you have to be willing to try, to sample, to think and most importantly, to put in a genuine effort (something that sadly seems beyond most people). I can't tell you how many times I hear the same excuses people have, some from this very message board will say:

I don't like to read books
I don't like black and white movies
I don't like subtitles
I don't like rap
I don't like animation
I don't like foreign films
I don't like documentaries
I don't like boring adult dramas
I don't like kids shows
I don't like nudity
I don't like foul language
I don't like entertainment that's too serious
I don't like *insert thousands of excuses here*


People are their own worst enemies, with their laundry lists of ridiculous criteria that any product MUST MEET before it is deemed suitable for their possible consumption. Then when the market responds and the entertainment industry produces all this distilled, homogenized, mediocre entertainment, who is the first to cry that everything is dull and boring?

"Fucking people baffle me. You spend all this time and money reading these books and they're the wrong fucking books."

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On what I think

Postby Sole Man » 02 Jan 2009 17:35

Look, we're men o fWealth and taste.

The reason mediocrity s accepeted is the same reason stupid kids are: Becuase the modern media makes it seem okay.

Like, say...TWILIGHT. You have all of the mainstream critics giving it good reviews and all of the talk shows praising it, you have all the girls reading it and so and so forth. The public doesn't want great entertainment. (Or, if you're a liberal and want me to applea to your "senseative" psyches, then the world has adjusted its tastes to wear the greatnes of old is mediocre, and the mediocrity is the greatness of today)

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Postby GamePlayer » 03 Jan 2009 13:18

"The illusion has become real and the more real it becomes, the more they want it. Capitalism at it's finest" :)
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Postby Robspierre » 03 Jan 2009 16:22

The problem i have is that mediocre works are being hailed as brilliant, genius, works when that is not what they are or were intended. Iron Man great movie, for a comic book based movie, same with The Dark Knight.

I've found myself reading less science fiction published from the nineties on, I've been going back and adding works from the 30's -50's because even though they are not literature,, i find them more entertaining and fun to read and every now and then you come across something that makes you go hmmm, interesting and you learn something and grow as a person, but they do not pretend to be something they are not.

Watchmen as a comic book at times approached literature but as a movie it will just be comic book movie, i have not seen anything that shows that it will transcend film making.

In my opinion it doesn't help that the driving marketing force for entertainment that is aimed for are males 15-25.

Rob

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Postby Spleefmistress » 03 Jan 2009 21:58

I couldn't help but see this thread and posting my two cents.

Mediocrity is good and bad. Doing something half-assed when you know you can do better, or trying to pass of mediocrity as something more is unacceptable.

But some people are just mediocre, and they accept that. They may enjoy reading, but they don't have the talent for writing. And so on and so forth. Not everyone is destined to be a great author/writer/chef/dancer/whatever. Everyone should continue striving for ONE thing to be good at. But like I said before, not everyone is going to be great. Not everyone is going to leave their name in the history books. If everyone was great, the history books would be a lot more cluttered.

I say that if you're mediocre and have no delusions about yourself and are a productive member of society (being a janitor or such vs sitting on your ass and collecting unemployment checks) then you're a-ok. I mean, we need our janitors and garbagemen and other people like that. Maybe some of them have a talent or hobby they're great at, but some don't have even that.

I mean, I enjoy my job, though some might consider it as mediocre. I enjoy writing and reading in my spare time, and though I am confident in my writing abilities, I am not delusional like Bri Bri and Kevin are, and constantly crave feedback and concrit. I hope to be a published novelist one day, but unlike the Hacks Twain, I am not deluded. And I have no father who was one of the greatest novelists of all time, so I have no "free" ticket or anything, not that I'm asking for one.

I guess what I'm saying is that mediocrity is needed (we need something to compare good with), and something that isn't awesome but isn't crap either.

As for older sci-fi books, Robisperre, I'd say you're right on the count. My favorites are generally oldies. I am a HUGE fan of Robert Heinlein, he is second only to Frank Herbert, Isaac Asimov, and there is one oldie but goodie that I cherish deeply... "Galaxies like Grains of Sand" by Brian Aldiss. Good stuff, actually. I enjoy old classic novels overall as well. So much new stuff (like Twilight) is pure doody, and I'm a lover of the old school. Us OG's are disgusted at the disrespect that young whippersnappers like Bri Bri (and much of today's spoiled teenager population) need to respect their elders MOAR.

Represent.

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opn Comic book movies

Postby Sole Man » 04 Jan 2009 10:40

I think THE DARK KNIGHT (Alongside BATMAN BEGINS) is the first real take on a comic book movie, trying to ignore the fact that they're making a film based a kids' story. (Well relatively a kids' story) It's not fun, action packed fight sequences with very little plot in between, but rather a meaningful story with a purposeful theme.

WATCHMEN (The comic) on the other hand wasn't a kids' story. It was a comic book making a serious story, and deconstructing and (To a certain extent) mocking other comics. There's no possible way that the movie can capture that theme, and is in the end going to be total garbage.

But that was entirely beside the point, wasn't it

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Postby SandRider » 04 Jan 2009 13:31

man, these pain meds are really jacking with my reality.

Did Sloey just make a rather lenghty, coherent, on-topic and
error-free post ? I think I better call 9-1-1.
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Postby Serkanner » 04 Jan 2009 14:34

SandRider wrote:man, these pain meds are really jacking with my reality.

Did Sloey just make a rather lenghty, coherent, on-topic and
error-free post ? I think I better call 9-1-1.


That, or I am using the same meds as you.
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Re: opn Comic book movies

Postby Robspierre » 04 Jan 2009 14:49

Sole Man wrote:I think THE DARK KNIGHT (Alongside BATMAN BEGINS) is the first real take on a comic book movie, trying to ignore the fact that they're making a film based a kids' story. (Well relatively a kids' story) It's not fun, action packed fight sequences with very little plot in between, but rather a meaningful story with a purposeful theme.


Not really, Watch Road to Perdition (based on a comic book) or Ghost World (comic book). What elevated The Dark Knight were the performances, Heath Ledger's in particular. As cinema it was nothing special, it was very well done but we've seen it before with other movies.

WATCHMEN (The comic) on the other hand wasn't a kids' story. It was a comic book making a serious story, and deconstructing and (To a certain extent) mocking other comics. There's no possible way that the movie can capture that theme, and is in the end going to be total garbage.

But that was entirely beside the point, wasn't it


The biggest drawback Watchmen has is running time, the original was published over fourteen issues and crammed so much information into it that a movie version is incapable of rising to the level of the original work unlike 300 which was designed as double page spreads (300 is also an excellent landscape/travel style book as well as action story) over the course of the entire five issues which is why material had to be added to the film to fill it out. Watchmen would work better as a mini series than a movie but that isn't the direction media wise they want to take the property.

Rob

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on shit.

Postby Sole Man » 04 Jan 2009 21:29

SandRider wrote:man, these pain meds are really jacking with my reality.

Did Sloey just make a rather lenghty, coherent, on-topic and
error-free post ? I think I better call 9-1-1.


*Insert white rabbit here*

The biggest drawback Watchmen has is running time, the original was published over fourteen issues and crammed so much information into it that a movie version is incapable of rising to the level of the original work unlike 300 which was designed as double page spreads (300 is also an excellent landscape/travel style book as well as action story) over the course of the entire five issues which is why material had to be added to the film to fill it out. Watchmen would work better as a mini series than a movie but that isn't the direction media wise they want to take the property.


Which is what Alan Moore is bitching about. WATCHMEN was designed as a comic book, it wasn't meant to be ported to any other media. Only money-hungry whore mongers would want to turn it into a movie.

But getting back on topic, to answer one of your questions: Mediocrity is BAD. We don't like it, and therefore critize it. Why shouldn't we? We only admire greatness, any thing else is completely worthless.

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Postby SandRider » 04 Jan 2009 22:06

Ok, I'm calling BULLSHIT. There is no way the same Sole Man
who regularly posts here is the same brain that just wrote the two
posts in this thread.

The Sloey I know did not construct this sentence:

"WATCHMEN was designed as a comic book, it wasn't meant to be ported to any other media."


Freak, we need some kinda of biometric log-in technology here.
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Postby SandChigger » 04 Jan 2009 23:13

Anyone remember Poison Girlfriend? :D

Hmmm...I wonder if Momus has a song about mediocrity....
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Postby Omphalos » 05 Jan 2009 00:41

Maybe she killed him and took his identity. I was thinking the same thing, SR when I read the first post a few days ago.

Then again, Sloey is starting to become a man. Could this be the new Sloey?

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Postby SandRider » 05 Jan 2009 00:47

he'll probably read that as praise and post a string of crazy stuff in retaliation.

or you know, he could just smoke alot of dope, and this is the Sober Sole Man.
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Postby TheDukester » 05 Jan 2009 02:59

SandRider wrote:Ok, I'm calling BULLSHIT

Agreed. No possible way that's the same person.
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Postby SandChigger » 05 Jan 2009 04:03

Hmmm.... :lol:
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Re: on shit.

Postby Robspierre » 05 Jan 2009 14:53

Sole Man wrote:
SandRider wrote:man, these pain meds are really jacking with my reality.

Did Sloey just make a rather lenghty, coherent, on-topic and
error-free post ? I think I better call 9-1-1.


*Insert white rabbit here*

The biggest drawback Watchmen has is running time, the original was published over fourteen issues and crammed so much information into it that a movie version is incapable of rising to the level of the original work unlike 300 which was designed as double page spreads (300 is also an excellent landscape/travel style book as well as action story) over the course of the entire five issues which is why material had to be added to the film to fill it out. Watchmen would work better as a mini series than a movie but that isn't the direction media wise they want to take the property.


Which is what Alan Moore is bitching about. WATCHMEN was designed as a comic book, it wasn't meant to be ported to any other media. Only money-hungry whore mongers would want to turn it into a movie.

But getting back on topic, to answer one of your questions: Mediocrity is BAD. We don't like it, and therefore critize it. Why shouldn't we? We only admire greatness, any thing else is completely worthless.


That isn't Alan's only complaint. He also has issues with changes that are made for no reason that take away from the original work and create a new vision of the work. League of Extraordinary Gentleman is what totally pissed him off about adaptions of his work (though I must say adding Tom Sawyer as a character was actually quite smart). Alan operates on a different plane than the rest of humanity and he does not tolerate stupid, see his beef with DC Comics, he stands by his principles over money, unlike le hack KJA.

Rob