It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about racism in Transformers, research failure in Criminal Minds, plot shortcomings in Avatar … pretty much all of these discussions eventually produce comments along the lines of:
Why are you wasting your time and energy on this? Relax and enjoy it for the mindless entertainment it is.
I was able to turn off my brain and enjoy the first Transformers movie. I even sat through most of Attack of the Clones yesterday. (Though I did fast forward through the “romance” scenes.) I’m perfectly capable of choosing to enjoy brain-dead entertainment. But it’s one thing to make that choice. It’s another thing entirely to wander into someone else’s critical discussion and tell them to stop all that unnecessary thinking.
I’m speaking as someone who writes light fiction. My first book was called bubblegum fantasy, and I’m good with that. But the moment you try to tell me that light entertainment isn’t worthy of discussion, that it’s somehow exempt from criticism, I’m going to take it personally.
Good writing — even fluffy bubblegum writing — takes work. It takes research. Goblin Quest [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy] required a consultation with a geologist, weapon and armor research, lots of time looking up real-world recipes for Golaka the chef, and several re-reads of The Tough Guide to Fantasyland.
When someone e-mails to say I messed up a sailing term in Mermaid’s Madness [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy], am I supposed to tell them it’s just entertainment and they should stop being so critical? I made a mistake, and that mistake threw someone out of the story. They have every right to call me on it. Just as people were right to challenge problematic aspects of Talia’s character and sexuality in Stepsister.
To say it doesn’t count, that there’s no point in critical discussion of such “fluffy” works, is a bit insulting. It’s also flat-out wrong.
Often, this attitude goes hand-in-hand with the idea that criticism and analysis are academic practices, suited only to dusty old classics. Keep on analyzing Ulysses. Stop wasting your brain cells on Twilight or the latest Hollywood blockbuster.
I think it’s the other way around. Those blockbusters are exactly what we need to talk about. How many people actually read Ulysses? Compare that to the numbers reading the Twilight series. The latter might be pop culture fluff, but it’s worthy of discussion because, for better or worse, it is our culture. Because it reflects and affects our society today far more than Ulysses does.
There’s also the fact that, for many of us, this sort of discussion is fun. (Just look at Elizabeth Bear’s reviews of Criminal Minds.) I like stories. I like disecting them, trying to understand where they worked and where they failed. Like taking apart a watch to see what’s inside. Some people might say that the dissection takes the enjoyment out of the experience. For me, the discussion is part of the enjoyment.