Saturday, November 14, 2015

Aragon vs. Anderson: The Empire Strikes Back

Let's start with this statement.

This post and the analysis of Kyle Anderson's Doctor Who reviews is not motivated by any sense of animus or personal antagonism towards Anderson as a person.  He does not strike me as malevolent in any way.  He loves his brother and his friends, always a good sign.  I can't say that we would be friends, since I sense he and I have such diametrically opposite worldviews and interests that it would be difficult to be on the same wavelength.  I can be friends, close friends in fact, with people I don't see eye-to-eye with on subjects large and small.  However, it seems like Anderson and Aragon would find it so difficult to find any common ground that time together would be hard for both of us.

To use Andersonian terminology, I don't 'actively dislike' Kyle Anderson as a person.  My issue is not with him as an individual in any way.  My issue is with what I consider an inconsistency between his reviews and his ideas regarding his own impartiality and objectivity. It nothing person, it's strictly business.

Let us begin.

I still can't quite the hang of the Twitter.

I joined Twitter reluctantly, still seeing it as the Work of The Devil.  However, it looked like a good way to share my views, and I figures, 'what trouble could I possibly get into with it'? However, due to my lack of knowledge of Twitter, I have gotten into a few scrapes.

There was the time that Cory Dexter (as I lovingly call him) didn't take kindly to my suggestion that Gone With the Wind wasn't as he put it, "a KKK recruitment film".  Well, that was a tempest in a thimble, and neither of us are interest in each other, so we let sleeping dogs lie.  However, it wasn't long before I got into trouble again.

My newest romp through the merry world of the Twitter comes via one Kyle Anderson, better known as The Functional Nerd, resident Whovian for The Nerdist website where he reviews Doctor Who.  It all started with this Tweet

Hey everybody: I like #DoctorWho.  Like, a lot.  I write about it for my job. 
If you're looking for "Boo Moffat" support, try anywhere else.

Well, I retweeted this, with my own commentary.

Problem is, he rarely if ever criticizes anything re:#DoctorWho, let alone
anything Moffat has done to the show.

Well, did THAT set off our Dis-Functional Nerd.  The suggestion that he wasn't anything other than an objective, sober, serious critic sent him into quite a tizzy.  Boy was he mad.  Despite my near-total anonymity online versus his extensive social media reach with his thousands upon thousands of followers, he felt his honor stained.  As such, he struck back with great vengeance and furious anger.

Patently untrue. If you'd go and read some of my Series 6, 7, 8 reviews,
you'd know I'm very critical when warranted.

My first reaction was this...

Glad I managed to work the Vincent Price Laugh in there.

I had to laugh, primarily because Mr. Anderson doesn't know (and I'm sure doesn't care) that I HAVE been doing exactly that...and finding scant evidence of this idea that he's indeed 'very critical when warranted'.

As a side note, I do wonder what are the qualifications of when criticism is 'warranted'.

His sycophantic 'reviews' where he ends up almost always loving/liking a particular Doctor Who episode, no matter how abysmal, appears to be so incessant that sometimes I find it hard to parody or ridicule them because he does a pretty good job of it himself. 

Now, I'm sure Anderson doesn't see them as 'abysmal', and if it comes from a sincere heart I can't fault him for that.  However, the idea that he, Kyle Anderson, is objective and nonbiased when it comes to Doctor Who, particularly when it comes to the Moffat Era and/or any Moffat-penned script, is indeed Vincent Price laughable. 

Review after review after review shows Anderson to sometimes not just praise something Doctor Who related, but actually provide cover for the very subject he is supposed to be objectively reviewing.  I refer people to his A Scandal in Belgravia review from Series Two of Sherlock.  I've commented on this before, but I think it bears repeating.  This is taken verbatim from his review:

Now, let’s talk about Irene Adler. She is an incredibly smart, savvy, industrious, dangerous, and sexy woman, absolutely tailor-made for the Moffat treatment. Ever hear of a person named River Song? Moffat eats up women like this on a silver platter. It’s like he wants all women to be the screwball comedy version of Emma Peel. Within Sherlock Holmes, Adler is the closest thing he could possibly have to a girlfriend. He doesn’t exist in a physical or sexual world; he’s got no time for it. But he has the utmost respect for her intellect, which is the only thing that Sherlock Holmes values. She proves to be a match for him, a worthy mental sparring partner. Her allegiances lie only with herself, or to whoever pays her the most, and often, that isn’t Sherlock. Because Moffat is who he is, he’s made her a dominatrix and she wears very little throughout. Like all of his women, there will undoubtedly be allegations of sexism in the way he’s written the character, but I think he’s just writing women the way he wants them to be. It’s the same thing Howard Hawks did. They like sexy women who talk like men.  (Emphasis mine).

I've added emphasis because I consider these statements going beyond the bounds of traditional reviewing and slips into downright advocacy or worse, openly taking sides on behalf of the subject he's supposed to be objective on. Is it a critic's job to essentially defend the subject of his review from criticism?

Yes, Moffat's been accused of sexism.  These accusations are things that would warrant looking into.  However, again, it is any legitimate critic's job to defend the subject of their criticism?  I'd argue no.  A critic should state why he/she did/didn't like something.  If it involves perceptions of sexism, racism, homophobia, cisgender whatever, by that reviewer, then he/she should make their case. 

A critic, however, should not be acting as advocate or defense attorney for the subject of their review.

Time and time again, Anderson defends Moffat against his critics.  He has every right to.  However, when he does that, Anderson no longer is an 'analytical critic'.  He's an advocate, and as such he should state openly that he is a Defender of The Moff against all enemies foreign and domestic. 

However, back to the Twitter thing.

His response received one retweet and four likes.  He also got others to rally round to his side.  I wouldn't have known of any of this (or really cared) save for the fact that one of his defenders used the exact same phrase, "critical when warranted", which struck me as quite odd, almost chant-like, if you will, and replied to both of us.

Again, not big on the Twitter knowledge. 

From the reading of the replies (a fascinating one, at least from my perspective), Anderson and his ilk are under some very odd impressions.

Anderson thinks "It's like you can't even like things anymore and still keep your critical credibility. Bums me out".  Others think I'm a 'hater', but my favorite is Anderson's reply to a Graeme Burk to the idea that there's something wrong with enthusiasm for something (in this case, Doctor Who).

I've legitimately loved (or at least liked a lot) all 8 eps so far.
Guess I'm just a doe-eyed sycophant now.

I was so tempted to retweet that with my own query:  "What does he mean 'now'?"

Profiles in Courage

Well, a few things are so off that I think it bears closer inspection.

Anyone just has to look at my Librarians, The Americans, or Gotham reviews to see I can like what I review while keeping my 'critical credibility'.  I'm a fan of those shows, am upfront about that.  My disagreement isn't that Anderson likes Doctor Who.  He's free to like anything he likes.

My disagreement comes from my belief that he, again, rarely if ever criticizes Doctor Who, finds fault with it, pushes the narrative that virtually all Doctor Who episodes are somehow brilliant.  I like The Librarians, The Americans, Gotham, but I'm not going to say that almost every episode was good when I don't think an episode is.  I'm not going to criticize an episode only to say "...but despite that, I really liked it".  I find such statements silly and illogical. 

Our Functional Nerd does not. 

Just a cursory look at his Series 6, 7, and 8 reviews show a curious trend.  These are merely preliminary overviews of this positive to negative ratios regarding Doctor Who reviews, the ones that he argues he can be 'quite critical when warranted'.

Series 6: 11/13 positive reviews.
Series 7: 16/17 positive reviews (including specials).
Series 8: 12/13 positive reviews (still debating whether his Caretaker review can be considered negative).

It is possible for a show to produce a majority of good episodes.  However, how is such a record of positive reviews be considered "highly critical when warranted"?  If we go by his thinking, criticism of Doctor Who is rarely if ever 'warranted', because everything is so brilliant.

Here's the thing Kyle.  I HAVE read your reviews.  I have mocked them for their incessant cheerleading, their inability to find much fault in the episodes, their curious habit of coming close to being negative only to turn around and say a variation of "...despite all that griping I just did, I actually overall quite enjoyed the episode" (your exact quote regarding Let's Kill Hitler), and your sometimes bizarre determination to give cover to other people's legitimate criticisms of "The Moff" and his work.

As a side note, Anderson and I'm sure many others believe any criticism of "The Moff" is 'hating', as if criticizing Moffat on any level is irrational.  Even when asking perfectly logical questions on continuity, on plot holes, or even casting, the response from Anderson & his group isn't to actually address the issues presented, but to either defend them or criticize the critic with the dreaded 'hater' tag.  Asking about how Daleks can say they are human in one episode (Asylum of the Daleks) but not be able to say they are human in another (The Witch's Familiar) is not seen as asking a question about contradictions.  Instead, it's the questioner who has to defend him/herself, usually with the taunt that they are 'too stupid' to get it. 

The fact you refer to the subject you are 'highly critical of when warranted' by a cutesy nickname already denotes, to me at least, that you are not as objective as you insist you are.  Can you imagine if Pauline Kael or Roger Ebert referred to the directors of Vertigo and Goodfellas as "Hitch" and "Marty" respectively in a review of Vertigo or Goodfellas and adopted a chummy attitude towards them or suggested that criticizing their work was being a 'hater'?  Yet this is what you do, again and again.

Take your own review for The Wedding of River Song.  This so far is as close to genuinely angry I've seen you regarding something Doctor Who-related.  You go on for four paragraphs dumping on Moffat, and even end it with the hope that Moffat can hopefully 'pull his head out of his ass' by the time of the Christmas special.
Yes, you were quite critical here (probably more than I was). undercut your own hypothesis of being 'highly critical when warranted' with this line of thought buried in your "negative" review.

"I still love the series, I still love the era, and I even generally like this episode (though a second viewing was required).  Hell, I still really like Steven Moffat’s work as a whole. He’s incredibly innovative from a storytelling standpoint and continues to make compelling, thought-provoking television.  I’m glad he’s showrunning my favorite show".
You just tore a new one into this man, yet you're glad he's showrunning your favorite show?  The same man who you want to get his head out of his ass?  How can you express such anger at an episode, then turn around and say you liked it (especially after a second viewing)? 
I've seen Love & Monsters twice.  I've seen Closing Time twice.  I've seen Web Planet twice.  
I hated them both times. 
I didn't need a second viewing to get me to like something that angered me the way The Wedding of River Song angered you.  
You can explain to me how you can go on about how Moffat doesn't have a master plan...yet ended up liking the very episode that showed he had no master plan. 
Again and again, you do this: express dislike only to conclude with positive praise.  Must I give you examples?  If you insist:
Day of the Egg, The Curse of the Black Spot, The Almost People, Let's Kill Hitler, Closing Time, The Wedding of River Song, The Doctor The Widow and the Wardrobe, The Snowmen, The Rings of Akhaten, Cold War (and that's considering I haven't officially looked over Series 8).  Each has a variation of 'while there were problems, I liked it'.  
And that isn't even touching on what I consider the simply worst line you've ever written. It was in regards to A Good Man Goes to War.
"A Good Man Goes to War,” the mid-series finale of Doctor Who, was full of action and cool new characters, but there wasn’t, strictly speaking, a “plot.” Yet this isn’t necessarily a bad thing". 
Are you seriously suggesting that a television episode not having a plot isn't 'necessarily a bad thing'?  Is it a good thing?  It's a good thing when someone like Ernie Kovacs does it, but he was a comedic genius.  If a television program or film had no plot, then what is it?  Experimental cinema?  
How 'bout 'rubbish'?  Just plain rubbish.  
How is a lack of a plot on a television episode a good thing?  How?  HOW? 
Again, Kyle Anderson is free to believe anything he wishes to believe, praise anything he wishes to praise, criticize anything he wishes to criticize.  However, I too am free to do likewise.  In this case, I do criticize the Analytical Critic.  I have read his reviews and found them lacking in...actual criticism.  I'm not talking about being negative to be negative.  I'm talking about seriously taking any Doctor Who episode, particularly one written by Steven Moffat, to task for anything.

Yes, there was The Wedding of River Song...but you did say you did like it, which makes it a positive review despite how angry it made you.  Curious that...

No, I don't think one has to hate everything Doctor Who-related.  I certainly don't.  I've praised episodes when I thought they deserved praise (Flatline, Mummy on the Orient Express, Under the Lake). 
However, when I criticize, it's because I think something is bad, and I certainly don't try to suggest that it just has a few problems but that it was "another fantastic episode for the season" (as you did for Series 6's Closing Time, a series you called 'uneven'...despite your 11 out of 13 positive reviews). I'm also never going to state that "there aren't any...episodes I actively dislike" (from you Night Terrors review, also from the 'uneven' Series 6). 
And for the record, I liked Night Terrors.
I'll take up your challenge, Functional Nerd.  I'll complete my Nerdist Doctor Who reviews retrospective.  I might even be more serious and not as delightfully flippant as I have been all this time.  I've been mocking your reviews in my Aragon vs. Anderson series, where I quote your reviews verbatim and mockingly poke fun at it.  Now I might actually drop the humor altogether.

No, I'll keep the light-hearted tone.  Some things deserve to be mocked.

Again, this is not meant to show contempt for Kyle Anderson as a person.  It is to show that despite his protests, Kyle Anderson is extremely unwilling to criticize Doctor Who and serves less as analytical critic and more unabashed cheerleader.  He's free to be that, but can he be both?
I do ask for some time though.
Have to finish that Master's in Library Science, you know.
I don't mind a sycophant. 
I object to a cut-rate one.

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