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In Defense Of Judgmental C***s

I am a judgemental c***. I don’t use the C-word as a pejorative. On the contrary, I love c***s, both the literal and figurative kind. I am one, so it stands to reason that I mean it in a positive light. If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ll understand where I’m coming from.

What’s the point of being so judgemental anyway? Isn’t it just another abortive exercise in narcissism? Hardly. Being a judgmental c*** is about discernment, the ability to make distinctions between what is true and what rings false. Yes, it’s annoying when you’re on the receiving end of it, but without us c***s, nothing would ever get done right and everything would devolve into a massive homogeneous pile of dog shit.

Kind of like the Seattle indie film scene.

Yeah, I just said that. Suck it up Sally, it’s only gonna get worse from here on out. Few would challenge my claim that the majority of the indie fare coming out of Seattle is dreadful, sub-par, or at the very least a work in progress. Even so, we all look forward to improving our game and stepping up to the next level. This will never happen for many of us because the thing that makes our products not good enough is the very thing that will prevent us from ever improving our products in the first place. It’s called the Dunning-Kruger effect, and is essentially the age old concept that truly stupid people do not know they are stupid. The Cornell study by Justin Kruger and David Dunning is entitled, ”Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments” and was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 77(6), Dec, 1999. pp. 1121-1134.

If you  thought I was the only judgmental c*** out there you are sorely mistaken.

These guys are a hoot. If you take a look at the graph, you can see their conclusions when they

“decided to explore people’s perceptions of their competence in a domain that requires sophisticated knowledge and wisdom about the tastes and reactions of other people. That domain was humor.”

Basically, people who had no sense of humor thought they were hilarious, and people with refined senses of humor (like the professional comedians included in the study) tended to rate themselves more realistically, even underestimating their competence. This could explain why your boss keeps telling the same old jokes and never laughs at yours, and Billy Crystal’s entire career.

This effect held true in every field of competence studied:

the less competent someone is, the more inflated their own perception is of their own competence.

As Bertrand Russell said, ”One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision.” This explains the popularity of FOX news,  and it also explains what is going on in the indie film culture.

Fortunately, there is hope. (For indie film makers, not Republicans.) According to Kruger and Dunning, ”It is one of the essential features of such incompetence that the person so afflicted is incapable of knowing that he is incompetent. To have such knowledge would already be to remedy a good portion of the offense.” To complement and expand upon Kruger and Dunning’s conclusions, according to the Four Stages Of Competence learning model, we all start out ignorant of our incompetence when learning a new skill, then progress to understanding our incompetence and where we need to improve, to being consciously competent, and then become competent independent of our awareness of it–or in other words, it becomes second nature.

Could it be any more clear that the majority of us are stuck firmly in one of the first two stages of this process? Probably the first? Why do we stay there and never progress?

We may simply lack the talent. There, I said it. And I’m going to say this too: it’s okay if we suck. There is nothing wrong with it. If we are self-aware of our station there is no reason we can’t still enjoy the process. It’s like the guy who wants to be in a band but is tone deaf. So he goes and buys a bunch of equipment, rents a practice room, and dupes some poor musicians into starting a band with him. He never progresses, because he cannot. He cannot perceive what it is that should be coming out of his instrument or voice, so he can’t reproduce it. But he is still having a blast. If his band gets anywhere it will be because of the efforts of those around him. Eventually they will get fed up and move on, and others take their places. Who cares though? The tone-deaf guy owns all the equipment, so he will always get to have the fun of being in a band if he wants to.

But there are more insidious dynamics at work here. Number one, there is a general unwillingness to give genuine, constructive criticism to one’s peers. There is more titty sucking and ball licking going on at your average indie film premier than at the Hump festival. Should we be terrified to tell our peers how we really felt about their film? Well, have you ever tried it? How did that turn out for you? I bet you lost them as a friend. Film makers are so breathtakingly infantile and insecure about their work that if you so much as say, “I liked that shot, but why did you choose that framing?” they will tailspin into a black hole of self-loathing and doubt. They will curse you to your face, accuse you of jealous sniping, assassinate your character in public, refuse to work with you again, and attempt to sabotage your relations with other film makers.

Secondly, back to the Dunning-Kruger effect, the criticism we do receive is often complete shite and even counterproductive because the people who are bold enough to think they should be the ones handing out the advice are typically the least qualified. Very often, competent people keep their counsel to themselves because they have a modest estimation of their own abilities and feel that other’s opinions are probably just as valid (or even more so) than their own. I can’t count the number of times someone has told me, “You can’t do that, no one does that.” But I can point to half a dozen examples where a brilliant film maker or writer did precisely what they are telling me I should never do.

This explains why indie film makers are so often at odds with the various vendors and crew that work for them. You can quite literally produce an indie film without knowing a single thing about the process, but that is not true of a person like a director of photography or a sound engineer.

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The good counsel of a seasoned professional will always get drowned out by the braying herd of jackass producers that inevitably end up milling about an indie film set.

What makes a film maker think that their wife or brother-in-law would know more about lighting a set than a gaffer with many years of experience making his living in the industry? In short, because the wife is more convincing. She has a stronger opinion, is more certain of her rightness, and is unafraid of expressing her opinion. Precisely because she is incompetent, her voice is more likely to be heard, even if she is insisting on doing exactly the opposite of what a competent professional knows should be done.

In short, if you don’t know what you are talking about you should keep your mouth shut. But you will not, because you are so stupid you think you know everything. If you are genuinely competent and experienced you should embolden yourself to speak up and offer constructive help to your peers and those less competent than yourself, but you probably will not, because you are modest, and all-too-well aware of the dangers of giving criticism of any kind.

But this is what we need if we are to improve, to drown out the voices of the idiots and hacks with the wise counsel of those who are genuinely competent. This requires a great deal of self awareness and humility on our part to correctly identify where we need to improve and take tough counsel from those who genuinely know what they are talking about. This is the only way we can defeat the Dunning-Kruger effect and progress past the first stage of the learning process. Arguably, this can be the most difficult step in learning any discipline, admitting that we do not know what we need to know.

That is why I defend the judgmental c***s among us and sing their praises. It takes a lot of balls to give genuine, legitimate, competent criticism of someone else’s progress. No–”balls” is the wrong word. It takes a c***. As Betty White is credited with saying, “Why do people say ‘grow some balls’? Balls are weak and sensitive. If you wanna be tough, grow a vagina. Those things can take a pounding.”

 

8 Comments

  1. I find everything in this article to be completely true. The only problem is that most C***s are completely clueless to their inability as well. I have found most true professionals are not C***s at all. They give honest feedback without being an arrogant diva about it. I have also found that most true professionals that are successful don’t complain about non commercial projects that don’t have massive budgets and can’t afford to pay them professional wages for a non professional gig. They may not work on the movie but they don’t slander them for not being able to pay. I know very few professionals and a lot of Douchebags claiming to be professional. The Douchebags think because they own a Red Epic or some lesser camera that they are some how God’s among men and should never have to see an ad on Craigslist for an unpaid movie. True professionals don’t need to troll Craigslist they get work from referral’s. Never the less they think because they bought a camera and worked on a few paid gigs for a local tv show or something they are professionals deserving of Hollywood DP rates. Their demo reels usually have a lot of work from Kong tv or still photography. I am fully aware of my deficits. I know enough to do that I don’t even know what I don’t know yet. I do know that I have earned more money from my first short on You Tube than most people statistically get from their Film Festivals and distribution deals. Another case of people thinking they are more competent than they really are? If you make something good and you put it out there where people can see it you will do well. If you make something good and you submit it to a festival your chances of doing well are considerably less since you have massive competition. Find the widest audience and self promote. If your video is good people will watch it. If people don’t watch it then it’s because your video just isn’t as good as you thought it was even if it got a lot of awards at film festivals only film makers have heard of which is all of them basically.

    Great article and I think you mostly hit the nail on the head. Seattle film makers do suck and that’s ok as long as they know it. That is why I am going some place else just as soon as I stop sucking enough to be ok at making movies some place else.

  2. Man, you are such a c***!

    :-)

  3. I’ve found the excuse in Seattle is often “Oh, well, I wasn’t in this to make money. I just wanted to have fun!” Which is all well and good until you start running Kickstarters and asking people to help fund your funtimez.

    • Yeah, I don’t think any sensible person has a problem with people who operate as hobbyists or at an amateur level. Look at shows like America’s Got Talent. We love it. Where it gets weird is where people start portraying themselves or what they’re doing as something quite different from reality.

  4. I love you. It’s like you scooped the words outta my head.

  5. Great article. But the slideshow background and transparency of your main text box is extremely distracting. I won’t be coming back unless you fix, to be honest.

    • That’s good input. Thank you. The way photos are handled on this theme can be tetchy. The main box becomes opaque if you hover, but that may not be readily apparent.

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