Sat 14 Aug 2010
I randomly stumbled across this critique of reviews for the latest Michael Cera movie. I don’t really care about the movie itself, since I haven’t seen it, but this jumped out at me:
NPR’s Linda Holmes dissected reviews from the film’s harshest critics and discovered something interesting: negative critics don’t hate the film per se, they hate its target audience. Scott Pilgrim, you see, is a tale in which Michael Cera must defeat his love interest’s seven evil ex-boyfriends. It’s loaded with geeky gamer jokes and comic fanboy humor. Is it right for critics to denounce a film based on the audience it caters to?
Now that is something that exists far beyond movie reviews: disliking something because we don’t like those who already like it. I’d actually go so far as to say that this mechanism, more than any other, drives our political beliefs — and it makes sense that it would. Our brains are finely tuned mechanisms; but they are not tuned for the goal of analyzing policies for their pros and cons. What they are really good at is social politics — determining who is on our side and who isn’t, and furthermore, figuring out which beliefs or ideas represent them or us.
In the debate over ending birthright citizenship, Will Wilkinson describes the same thing:
Part of it, I’m afraid, is just knee-jerk opposition to policies their political enemies favor. Of course, the fact that bad people with bad motives support a policy does not mean it is therefore bad policy.
Now, I’d like to believe that I’m above all that, and my opposition to Will’s idea of ending BC is based solely on my reasoned, objective analysis of the situation, but I’m not sure I can justify that. After all, I certainly have paid the idea a lot more attention since Will proposed it, because I respect his motivations (and on a basic tribal level, consider him “on my side”) a lot more than most of the other people who have proposed the idea. I’m still opposed to it, but I’ve softened my opposition to “I don’t think it would achieve very much, and would be more difficult than alternatives that I consider to be superior.” I would not have granted that to the average proponent of the idea.