Location: Omaha, Nebraska, United States

Julie calls me "Sweetie". Finley calles me a variation of "Daddy". One of my friends calls me "Boo-Boo". Another friend used to call me "Mole".

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Why is it Good?

People are always saying that I should read something because it is "good" or see some movie because it is "good". I understand that "good" is subjective. Maybe a "good" book or a "good" movie is what we need the book or movie to be for us. Maybe what is "good" to us is situational.

For some, "good" has a static meaning. To my mother a good movie is a romantic comedy with Jennifer Garner in the lead role. This doesn't really change (except the woman playing the lead). To my friend, Mark, a good movie is either a western or war movie starring John Wayne or Clint Eastwood et al. He owns nine or ten movies on VHS cassette-all of them are John Wayne, Eastwood, and yes even Stallone. Over the years in the various places in which he has lived the cassettes have always occupied a very prominent place on or under the television. By the looks of the pile of tapes you would think an old war veteran has set out his old favorites not a thirty year old. So if I ask my Mom and Mark if they have any recommendations for a "good" movie I know what their answer will be.

For some, "good" is situational. It has a more functional meaning. To my wife a good movie is whatever she needs the movie to be for her at the time. If she is feeling introspective she likes to watch documentaries, preferably WWII documentaries or a WWII mini-series. If she is working, a good movie is one that provides background dialogue that she really does not have to pay to attention to and this could really be anything but 80's movies seem to predominate i.e. The other night in order to watch Michael Clayton, I had to take "Romancing the Stone" out of the DVD player. A good movie is also one that holds tremendous nostalgic weight for her like "Overboard". A good movie is also one that brings tears to her eyes and one that gets her heart interacting with her mind i.e. Rabbit-Proof Fence.

I probably fall more in line with my wife of what I think a "good" movie (or book) is. I want my mind and my heart to be challenged. I want to be exposed to how other people live. I want to observe the struggles and joys that they have experienced. I want a film to transport me. I want to escape but I want to escape in order to come back to my life. Through the film I hope that I have learned to live my life with more grace and perspective.

So then is a book or a movie "good" because it changes us? Maybe.

However there is also a different question that does not really have to do with how the work at issue emotionally or psychologically affects us. It has to do with "good" as in quality. Over the years, our society has labeled certain films and books as "good". Were they good because of their time period? Were they good because they were revolutionary? Were they good because they were saying something that no one had said before?

If these questions are answered in the affirmative I don't think that confers the title on them of being "good". Because a film or a work of literature was good for the time it was written, or because it was revolutionary, or because it was saying something new does not mean that it was "good". Quality should not be derived from these characteristics.

A painting is good if people identify it as good. Why is Jackson Pollock's work holding up? It is interesting looking and people pay a lot of money for it. Is that why it is good? So he was revolutionary. Is that why it is good? During his life art critics put him on the map and today art collectors with deep pockets keep him there. But is his work good? Is the quality of it good?

To me, in some respects but not all, a film or book or piece of art is good in the quality sense of the word if the director, screenwriter, author, or artist is doing something that most people can't do. Maybe this is simplistic. Maybe this definition is not philosophical enough. But I think it is fairly accurate. When I read a book and close the cover I want to think, "I can not do what that author just did". When I hear Sufjan Stevens play his music I think the same thing. When I watch a Wes Anderson film again I think: "How did he do that?".

They are on a different level. This does not make me think what they have done is unattainable (however maybe it is). However it does make me try harder at what I am doing because I know that there are people out there pouring everything they have into their craft.

Because they want it to be good.


Blogger Linz McC said...

Hi Matt. I looked up "good" at and there were 58 definitions. Wow, that is a lot. So I have decided that a person can deem absolutely anything good if they want to. Just depends on what perpective you are taking and what definition of the word you want to use. I think from here on out we should call things "awesome" or "not awesome." Thoughts?

2:20 PM  
Blogger Matt said...

Good is definitely subjective. I agree with you on that. Also, we should without a doubt use awesome or not awesome. Have you ever noticed that Christians really love the word "awesome"?

3:27 PM  
Blogger Linz McC said...

It is awesome that you noticed that about Christians. To be fair, I say the word awesome pretty regularly :( But maybe it is because we are always in "awe" ???

3:52 PM  

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