Crazy Doesn't Help

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017-09-03 12:00:00 No comments

I've noticed all the more lately how people use crazy and insane, or versions of same, as casual synonyms for something being intense or memorable, etc. A friend of mine was describing the plot of his book-in-progress to me the other day, and kept referring to the plot developments that unfold later on as "[the] batshit crazy" that takes place, and how across the second half of the book, "[the] batshit catches on fire, falls down a hill, rolls over a town, then explodes".

Some of this seems to be a product of the man-on-the-street vocabulary used by a lot of blogger-critics. When they want to wax rhapsodic about something, they use this kind of hyperbole: "This thing is just crazy; the fight scene in there is bonkers ... " After a while, I grew annoyed with this manner of pitching someone else's work — or even one's own work — in big part because at the end of the day it was just a lazy and inexpressive way to do it. It said nothing.

What does it really say about something to describe it in those terms? That it's "intense", maybe? Or that it defeats expectations? Or that it's complex? Then we should say it's intense (and if so, how is it intense?), or that it defeats expectations (if so, how?), or that its complexities deserve discussion, instead of just applying what amount to hipster superlatives.

Calling something "crazy" as praise for it gives us no real new information about it. It's not descriptive or critical; it's just a form of peer-approval messaging.

What I mean by this last is the idea that something the average person would reject as indigestible — "crazy" — comes as manna from heaven for those with a certain grade of cultural clue-in. People who describe something as "crazy", by doing so, send a message to others who look for things described that way. You like "crazy stuff"? Here's some "crazy stuff"!

I grew tired of this attitude a while ago, and while many of the popular web-critic folk I know seem to have largely left it behind for more intelligent and nuanced discussion, it's still annoying to see it pop up because of how nobody tends to think about the implications of framing the discussion like this. It's something certain people just seemed to take for granted as part of how Cool Stuff Worked.

Nowhere am I going to argue that everything is necessarily for everyone, because there are a lot of things some people simply aren't going to want to care about. But that doesn't mean we should therefore fashion an aesthetic out of it. When has creating a new kind of elitism ever helped?

I'm guilty of this myself at various points. One of the first movie reviews I wrote for the web used the term "insane" as a glorifier, and only later on did I realize just how little that actually said about the film. So I quit, and forced myself to actually say something useful about the item at hand instead of just tailoring, even if unthinkingly, a message for those in some imagined peer in-group.

Tags: aesthetics criticism