Friday, August 17, 2007

Zen Vision

"If I am walking with two other men, each of them will serve as my teacher. I will pick out the good points of the one and imitate them, and the bad points of the other and correct them in myself." -Confucius, philosopher and teacher (c. 551-478 BCE)

Two-thousand five-hundred years ago, Confucius already understood why Mystery Science Theater 3000 was an important show. It's not enough for us to see the best of what film has to offer, to be cultured in the medium we have to see the worst of it too. I like to imagine Confucius sitting on a couch, his robes arranged around a bowl of popcorn and a Mr.Pibb, meditating on Joel and the 'bots as they mock a terrible B movie.*

"To see what is right, and not to do it . . . that is what happened with "Santa Clause Conquers the Martians."

Bad entertainment is an important part of creativity. It demonstrates how wrong a work can go, teaches us to avoid common mistakes and, best of all, it fuels us to make something better. Stephen King talked about this inspiration in his memoir "On Writing":

" . . . most writers can remember the first book he/she put down thinking: I can do better than this. Hell, I am doing better than this! What could be more encouraging to the struggling writer than to realize his/her work is unquestionably better than that of someone who actually got paid for his/her stuff?"

Steve's right too, I remember not only the book, but the line:

"I'm forty-two, Harry. I've commanded two shuttle missions and participated in five. Ever heard of pressing your luck? I've had my fill of empty space. The Enterprise did that to me. The only space I want to explore anymore is the one inside of me" - from "The Dig" by Alan Dean Foster.

I think the book fell out of my hand when I read that passage, but I learned two important lessons in the process:

1.You should probably consider all the different meanings of a phrase before you go writing about "exploring the space inside of me". Especially if the title of your book is "The Dig."

2. WHAT?!? Does anyone, anywhere, talk this way? It's melodramtastic!

But the inspiration of bad work comes with a price. Since "bad" can do a lot of good, what's really bad is mediocrity. Not only are mediocre works not good, they're not even bad enough to be instructive. Somehow, it's ok if you make "Manos, the Hands of Fate" or "The Beast of Yucca Flats", just don't make "Alone in the Dark" or "BloodRayne".

*Confucius: That is why there are three silhouettes, for Joel, too, is 'walking with two men'
Sam: Whoa!

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