Praise and positive reinforcement (treats) work extremely well in dog training and with humans. The difference is, with dogs one can’t give too much praise when they do something good because of their simple and pure natures. They like repetition in general, and when we add (even minimal) compliments to it, they’re sold.
Not so with us humans. Our culture is caught in a time suck of overpraise. Nothing is “good” anymore. It’s fantastic! Unbelievable! Genius! Imagine a canine demanding you up the ante from “good boy!” to fantastic, brilliant super dog? Sure, they (and us) have a weakness for treats. A dog might want to consume 12 steaks instead of a small plate of beef if we weren’t around to stop them. But they have us to dole out the treats because our brains are bigger. Yet who is really going to tell you to stop indulging? (Note: Do NOT try this with your spouse, date or significant other, trust me). Or be honest when the praise has gotten a little out of control?
Isn’t it okay for a movie or TV show or political candidate or business deal to be just good anymore? Does it have to be BRILLIANT? On the flip side, can’t a play just be disappointing or fair instead of being awful, offensive or a waste of time so great that one wants to see the producer/writer/director run out of town on a rail hanging by their toes?
I went to see “Super 8” this weekend and was so annoyed with its gargantuan plot holes that I left angrily just as the credits rolled and began to talk to anyone I could about just how much I “hated” it. Of course, I didn’t hate it. I loved Elle Fanning (on what plane of reality were she and her sister Dakota raised and can I redo my childhood?) and thought the lead young boy was wonderfully real. In fact, I was so taken with their story that once the (spoilers, sorry) train crashed, the alien was hunted, the superheroes survived, and the unexplained bad guy government stuff started it was as if someone had told me I could never have pizza again and I started rebelling. So much so that I missed what I’m told was the best part of the film – the short, finished Super 8 movie over the end of the end credits. (Have no fear, I’ll watch someone’s Academy screener because I’m still so mad at these filmmakers that I will not give them one more cent of DVD/Netflix or cable streaming revenue). I guess I’m still p.o.’d, even now, which, I’ll admit is only slightly embarrassing because I think I’m right.
Speaking of the Academy, we spend about 50 years with only five best picture Oscar nominees and two years ago some committee decides to DOUBLE the nominees to 10. Really? As if to say they were wrong, the Academy several weeks ago announced it will now have 5-10 best picture nominees per year, all to be dictated by a top secret mathematical formula they hired a fancy accounting firm to design in order to better serve the membership. In a further cost cutting measure, here’s some free advice. JUST CHOOSE FIVE FILMS! There must be a way to cut down this year’s list of “Black Swan,” “The Fighter,” “Inception” “The Kids Are All Right,” “The King’s Speech, “ “127 Hours,” “Social Network,” “Toy Story 3,” “True Grit” and “Winter’s Bone” and have the losing filmmakers still survive. In fact, it might even make them stronger and give them something further to strive for (or totally defeat them and break their spirit but hey, survival of the fittest).
In the case of the Oscars, the issue is deeper than overpraise. It’s marketing – selling – hype!! Everyone knows it’s worth many more bucks (though it’s unclear how many more) if you can slap a “best picture nominee” and a little Oscar on your DVD box or in your advertising. But the more people or things that have a logo, the less its worth. Remember when Louis Vuitton, Beanie Babies and Cabbage patch dolls were something to crave?
I actually do have some friends with young children and occasionally they do (perhaps unwisely) let me around them. Lately, I’ve noticed even their rooms are littered with awards. (Third place? Runner up? ) Here’s a thought — do kids in camp all really need a trophy, even when they’re lousy ball players? I mean, I never won a sports trophy ever and I’ve only been in therapy on and off for 24 years. Okay, 25.
Has anyone gone to a screening, performance or reading of the work of a friend recently? What do you do when it’s over and it’s not brilliant, amazing and genius? What do you say? In my case, I was at something that I thought was good. Solid. It wasn’t great but it didn’t have to be. Yet I found myself…well….stymied. Good really isn’t good enough, is it? Because then you’re met with – “what’s wrong with it?” Or others suggesting – “hmm, maybe he’s jealous?” (moi?) Perhaps it has nothing to do with any of those. Perhaps good is exactly what it seems to indicate in the dictionary – “to be desired (I’ll take that!) or approved of.”
Like the animals we love, we humans do crave approval. But if everything is genius or great, then nothing is. Or is it? People nowadays love to say – “no worries,” or “it’s all good.” But if it’s ALL good, then does that mean spending two hours at “The Green Lantern” is equal to two hours watching, uh, “Star Wars?” Or “The Seventh Seal?” Or “The Godfather?” At least one of them has to be a dog. Sorry creatures of beautifully simple and pure natures.
I’m not sure where this all ends. I was planning to include a list of films (and TV) that I felt were good, but not great/fair but not awful – but I chickend out. OK. It started with “Forrest Gump,” which I claimed to have hated at the time, but now admit is just fair, well-made but not at all my cup of tea. It was going to end with “The Voice,” which I seem to love and am addicted to because I have wished my whole life that I could be a singer. I know it’s not a brilliant TV show and just a good, well-made one. But in the case of “The Voice” good is good enough. In a really good (meaning positive and desirable) way.
Except, for some reason, I think that show is JUST GREAT!!!!!!