Criticism falls into two categories, legitimate and illegitimate criticism. A legitimate concern is the airplane not having wings. An illegitimate criticism is the airplane not having a cool looking tail stripe. Being able to pick out between the two is important and sometimes what is legitimate and what is not is not easy to define. One person’s racial concerns over the depiction of a character might not be a legitimate issue to everyone.
Let’s look at Johnny Depp playing Tonto. He is a white man by all actual concerns. Claiming a sliver of heritage doesn’t really mean much for most people. He was formally adopted into the Comanche tribe after being invited to take part with their culture. That’s cool. But he is still a mostly white man playing a Native American character who was originally a racial stereotype. It wasn’t a Native American actor playing the role. That could have meant a lot to actual Native Americans who are a routinely disenfranchised group. The fact that the movie did horribly seems to speak against the financial value of having him in the movie, especially for the cost. But was the criticism of him legitimate or illegitimate?
If you don’t care about race, it was definitely illegitimate. If you care about race at all it is legitimate.
One of the areas where criticism commonly falls is franchises and series. People complained about the new Star Wars films not being as good as the old ones. By itself, the complaint without definition is legitimate and illegitimate at the same time, there are factors to complain about but the blind complaint as a whole leaves it illegitimate. With me?
Now if we point out the complaint that Jar-Jar Binks is a racial criticism it is legitimate to most people. If you complain that the film relied too much on visual effects, it is legitimate to less. Some people actually liked the graphics. Some people don’t see it as the reason the movies failed. With me?
One group of concerns is almost always illegitimate – the pure desire complaints. “Leia didn’t show up and kill robots” would be illegitimate. “IG-88’s creator wasn’t in the film” would be illegitimate. The complaints are for additional content are solely for personal wishes. Their presence was not needed in the story. It was not part of the idea of the creators. It is literally just a desire by the fans.
But also important to mention is how we respond to criticism because there are legitimate and illegitimate responses. Let’s look at the Jar-Jar Bink’s situation. If the creators said “if you don’t like Jar-Jar Binks make your own Star Wars movie”, this is an illegitimate criticism. The fact that it has a budget of $115 million means that it is impossible to make it, not to mention licensing. And this is a concern over one factor of the story so telling someone to make their own film is problematic. A more legitimate response might be “If you don’t like Jar-Jar Binks, there is a cut of the movie without him” or “If you don’t like Jar-Jar Binks, deal with it.” The entire film isn’t based about the character and there is a version with the character fully removed. And as a note, the studio responded to the legitimate concern by removing Jar-Jar from the second and third movies.
Illegitimate responses are ones that ask the impossible from the complainer, disregard what they want if it legitimate and ultimately are disrespectful to the audience. If the audience wants more racial diversity in a show because there are only white characters in a show set in the inner city and new characters are being added, this is a legitimate request and criticism of the show. A legitimate response would be adding in more diverse characters or coming up with some kind of response towards why there are only white people (though this response could easily be illegitimate). An illegitimate response would be regarding the complaint in a number of ways.
Though, not every criticism needs a response. You are owed nothing. Keeping your own entitlement in check is the third part of the equation. You are not the only audience member served by the creator. If you are the person illegitimately asking all people on the show to be white when nobody else has issues with that, you don’t need a response. You are not owed a response. If you are complaining about the depiction of Christianity in a anti-religious documentary, you might not get a response, even if your points are legitimate and even then, you might not get what you want.
And the final thing to remember is time involved. If someone wrote a 20 page document of what they thought are legitimate issues with Star Trek Into Darkness, that is cool. They spent their time. Someone also spent 200 hours on the movie. And so did a lot of other people. Time goes in to everything that we make. Time spent making stories and art and food and movies for everyone else, these are things we choose to do whether we want to or because we have to do. Behind every project there are people and stories that you can’t get. Their reasons for doing what they did or asking for what they did may never make sense to you.
Criticism and response are complicated things and if we all know what is and isn’t legitimate, that can help everyone, we can hopefully get more stuff that we like and make the world better.