The delight is twofold. First, it's like a peek behind the curtain. The illusion of the fiction slips ever so slightly - not enough to disrupt the experience - but just enough to be noticeable and comedic in effect. This gripping scene of a man dying in the arms of his brother as he utters words of forgiveness with his last breath is disrupted when the boom mic accidentally peeks into view at the bottom of the frame. The serious veers into the absurd so fast you can't help but laugh.
Second, it gives the viewer or reader a small victory, a sense of superiority. In spotting errors and pointing them out to others, that person is essentially trying to establish themselves as better than the creator.
Woah. Pretty strong claim, yes? Perhaps, but I wish to make two things clear here: first, that I'm not talking about solicited or constructive criticism - the act of highlighting mistakes with the purpose of making the book or film better. That is always welcome and wanted. And sometimes, yes, some things do deserve to be ripped apart, because it's clear there is no respect for the audience in this piece or from the creator.
No, I'm talking about the rabid nitpicking sort of error-spotting. The kind that's really accelerated over the years. You've seen it. You can't move through YouTube for people making videos where they highlight a strand of hair in a red circle, throwing in a dirty great arrow for effect, pointing out this minuscule mistake that you wouldn't even notice unless you were - and this is the key point - actively looking for them.
And that's my chief concern. It has become such an ingrained hobby - and don't say it isn't a hobby, if you dislike mistakes so much then why do you actively seek them out? - that people will fixate on the inconsequential errors and then walk away decrying the poor quality of the film, book or TV show. This is despite not focusing on the real meat in front of them - the story, the characters, the themes. It's like going to watch a great play but you mock it because you can see masking tape on the wall. Some people will dismiss the thrust of this article not because they have a constructive argument against it, but because they've already spotted the spelling and grammatical errors (deliberately) scattered throughout and dismiss it without further thought. And with our ever-increasing interconnectivity, people are racing to pile on top of that book, that movie, to spot the most mistakes and be the fastest at doing so, to feel the most superior.
This has to stop. When a young aspiring filmmaker or author sees an otherwise solid piece of entertainment picked apart and ridiculed, what is he or she supposed to think? Believe me, newcomers to creative fields are already paranoid enough of making mistakes, they don't need any more convincing that the field is teeming with carnivores ready to pounce. We run the risk of scaring off our future greats because the perceived learning curve is too steep, that perfection is expected from the very beginning. And if the established directors and authors of the day can't get it right, how can they possibly hope to? There are many reasons why there are so few original movies coming from Hollywood these days, and this is one of them.
Oh, you think they're precious little snowflakes who could do with a dose of the real world? Thanks for the clever rebuttal. Look, imagine someone is criticizing your 1-year-old child. Before you jump up and say that you can’t possibly equate a small child to a book, well to the creator it is. That book they’ve been working on takes months, possibly years to cultivate, to grow, to attend you. Your project is as precious as a child. And then some strangers begin throwing superficial criticisms around about your child: their hair, how they have an orange juice spill on their shirt, how they can’t enunciate the word ‘Mama’ properly...how would you feel? How would you react?
This is how a new writer can view the landscape before them. They have motivation and drive, and they know that criticism comes with the job, but when they see just how destructive and cynical their potential audience can be, combined with how difficult it can be to get recognition from even one person (ask an aspiring writer how many rejection letters they have) and some will surely give up before they start. Why go through all that hassle?
It’s even harder for authors. Filmmakers, at least, collaborate with a small army of people. The collaborative effort means that errors and problems are more likely to be spotted and corrected in the production process. This, I suppose, makes the pointing out of issues in film more justifiable - how did that get by so many people without being seen? - but spare a thought for the author who works solo for most of, if not the whole process. Professional editors are not cheap, meaning that for the wannabe writer the first step on the ladder means showing your work to an audience when it’s been edited by yourself. And you’ve done your best to eradicate as many errors as possible, but it’s really hard to spot problems in things you made, especially if it’s your third or fourth read-through. And when the criticism rolls in, there’s no team to share the blame with. It’s all loaded on one pair of shoulders.
Once again, I’m not talking about meaningful, constructive critique. Pointing out structural issues, inconsistencies in character, anachronisms - things that are making the story less good than it could be - then by all means, critique away. And sure, point out spelling mistakes and grammatical hiccups, but mix it up with positive feedback too. The author, if they are sensible, will be all ears. I’m talking about taking superficial potshots for personal satisfaction.
It’s fun, gratifying even, to poke holes in something, especially if it’s been so obviously, cynically produced. But let’s remember that there are human beings behind the thing you’re poking holes in. Be fair. Be empathetic. Help that creator to grow. It’s more work and less exciting, but that gratification you’re seeking will come in time when that author comes back to you with a finer, stronger end product that you had a part in helping to build. And to think, you nearly scared them away!