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Insecurity, Part 2: The Better-Than Fallacy

November 13, 2007

Today we continue our conversation regarding insecurity, and what I refer to as the Better-Than fallacy. To wit:

To the less mature mind, the only way I can be good at something is if you are not good at it. Since good is seen as being a dichotomy, only definable in relationship to bad, if I am going to make myself look good, I have to make everything else look bad. So when you’re talking to other people, or about other peoples’ work, you tend to be overwhelmingly negative. This sucks and that sucked and look how clever I am to know the better way to do it.

The expectation, so laughably absurd that even the person himself doesn’t fully admit it at the time, is that the world will fall at your feet in awe of your majestic brilliance. Which, of course, is not the case. You just seem like a dick. And usually, an inexperienced or uninformed dick.

As in any walk of life, the more you know, the more you discover you don’t know, so in ignorance, you think you know EVERY damn thing. It’s interesting to me to be on the other side of it now (albeit only JUST on the other side) and see all the statements people make about what I’ve done. Most of the time my reaction to people’s comments is “Yeah, I can see how that makes sense knowing NOTHING about how this project came about. But from my perspective, that’s not how it would have or COULD have worked out at all.” I like to believe I have more patience for those situations, remembering when I was the ignorant one.

Let me give another example of this kind of behavior. On message boards discussing the new RED camera (plenty of posts to come on that, you betcha), there’s a lot of talk about “the death of film.” Recently there was a thread about Spielberg’s refusal to switch to digital, preferring the look and workflow of film.

Well, there was a fucking UPROAR about it, I’m here to tell you. People calling Spielberg a no-talent hack and saying “fuck him” and going on about how he and everyone else who refuses to switch to digital is going to get steamrolled by progress.

What the fuck?

Let’s not kid ourselves. If Spielberg had come out and embraced RED, all that talk of “no talent hackitude” would not have ensued. No, Spielberg would be a genius and a pillar of filmmaking history — even though the content and quality of his body of work is utterly unchanged.

No, what really instigated the “backlash” is that these are people who are insecure about being on the bleeding edge, they need validation that they’ve made the right choice, that they’re talented and special, and Spielberg rejecting digital is a slap in the face to their egos. So they have to try to bring down Spielberg (good luck with that) so that they can be “good” by being “better than” him.

Of course, as I say, “Better-Than” is a fallacy, because you do NOT have to be better than anyone else to be good at what you do, at least not in a creative industry. Is Michel Gondry better than David Fincher? Is Peter Jackson better than Steven Spielberg? Mix and match to continue the line of questioning?

I’d much rather re-watch Eternal Sunshine twice than re-watch Zodiac once (and could do either within the same running time). But I’d watch Fight Club five times before I tried to sit through The Science of Sleep again.

It’s damn hard to compare Jackson and Spielberg, and hard to think of a “bad” Spielberg film, but I tell you what, I’d rather watch Lord of the Rings than The Terminal. Though I’d still rather watch that, or one of Jackson’s schlocky early pieces like Dead Alive, before Science of Sleep.

Are these better filmmakers than each other, then? I couldn’t say that. In my examples, is one a better film than another? I don’t think you can say that either. All I can say is which I LIKE better, which I ENJOY more, and as I learn more, I’m more capable of articulating why.

I took a dig at M. Night Shyamalan yesterday, because I think he’s been in a steady decline since The Sixth Sense (which I maintain is goddamn brilliant and a perfect film). But does that mean I think I’m “better than” him as a filmmaker? Would I make “better” choices? Not exactly. It just means I would make different choices. I still cross my fingers for good reviews on Rotten Tomatoes every time M. Night puts something out, because I want so much for him to blow me away again.

All of this, again, comes back to insecurity, and whether it’s externalized, or internalized. The younger, and less experienced, feel that they have to be better than everyone else in order to be any good at all. The more experience I gain, the more I realize that two people can both be good at something in different ways, and the only person you ought to worry about being better than, is yourself.

I’ll wrap this conversation up tomorrow (at least, I expect to) with a discussion about what I believe is the artistically healthy internalization of insecurity.

Had some great comments on yesterday’s post, I look forward to hearing everyone’s thoughts today.

From → filmmaking, personal

One Comment
  1. Daniel Broadway permalink

    I agree. However, the reason I agree is this. I would watch any Michael Bay movie five times before I’d watch A.I., The Terminal, Minority Report, Jaws, Hook, or E.T. once.

    Now most people would say, that hands down, Spielberg is a better filmmaker than Bay. Anyone who reads my comment will undoubtedly scoff at me for saying otherwise.

    But, I’m not saying Bay is better than Spielberg. I’m just saying I enjoy his movies more. And perhaps it’s because I have simple tastes.

    However, I think Spielberg is the most overrated filmmaker ever. Of his long list of movies, I only enjoyed a small handful. Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones, and War of the Worlds are about it.

    I have enjoyed every Bay film I’ve ever seen. Am I saying Bay is better? Absolutely not. Spielberg is an very talented filmmaker, that is not in question. I just don’t think his films are that much more enjoyable than the average film.

    Anyway, people would say I have no business being a filmmaker, but what they forget is that I have no aspiration to become a filmmaker (i.e. director), all I want to do is visual effects.

    So thank your lucky stars, because I would more than likely be a Bay-like director.

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