Apr 142015
 

mona lisaEvery time I see a Puppy bring up Rachel Swirsky’s “If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love” to use it as an example of “bad message fiction that we’re fighting against” I feel embarrassed for them. Like, I’m trying to cut you guys some slack, but you’re making it really hard on me. So let’s have a quick word about Dinosaur, the Mona Lisa, and Art.

The Mona Lisa is considered by the art world to be a masterpiece. I personally don’t see what the big deal is. To me it’s no better than anything else painted in the last four hundred years by anyone with a canvas and a few years of practice. But there’s a refrain among art teachers/critics/masters – “If you don’t like the Mona Lisa, that is a commentary on your taste in art, not on the quality of the Mona Lisa.” And I accept that. To demand that they respect my opinion would be akin to a five-year-old demanding that Pixie Stix be seriously considered in any gourmet culinary competition. The five-year-old has objectively bad taste, and their demands are laughable. Likewise, I have extremely unrefined taste in painted art. When just about everyone in the art world who spends tons of effort on art and knows their shit tells me I’m wrong, I simply accept that I’m wrong. The Mona Lisa is great, I’m not sure why and I don’t care for it, but whatever.

Dinosaur is likewise a masterpiece. I didn’t vote for it to win the Hugo last year because I’m not a fan of poetry, and because I don’t like being hurt in that way. I enjoyed Selkie Stories far more. However Dinosaur is undeniably a masterfully crafted work of art. I am in awe of the skill and talent it displays, and the effectiveness of its thrust. This is simply, objectively, a very good piece of work. To say otherwise is to admit that you haven’t developed the ability to appreciate it. It reflects on *your taste*, not on the work. And if you keep hollering over and over about how the art world should acknowledge that it is bad art, rather than saying “Oh, much like the Mona Lisa and Pixie Stix, I must simply not understand”, it makes you look like someone who is aggressively and intentionally uncultured.

I have no problem with people not caring about certain esoteric artistic things. I buy cheap wine. I don’t like the Mona Lisa. I dislike caviar. But I certainly don’t go around to the people who are into those things and keep demanding “How can you explain crap like the Mona Lisa being held in such high regard? Obviously you guys are just SJWs pushing an agenda who don’t know what the masses actually enjoy! I demand you represent our views instead! More Taylor Swift!”

So, seriously, stop embarrassing yourselves, and stop alienating those people who want to be on your side but actually understand what makes Dinosaur so great. Accept that just because you don’t understand it, doesn’t mean it isn’t amazing.

  16 Responses to “A Word about “Dinosaur, My Love””

  1. The idea of “objectively bad taste” seems absurd enough that halfway through reading this I was wondering whether it was a late April Fools’ joke or something. I’m not with the Sad Puppies, but if this post has changed my mind about anything it’s to make me update in favour of the culinary value of Pixie Stix.

  2. This doesn’t hold water, because there is no objective standard which says that the set of things connoisseurs like is better. In fact, due to countersignaling, we should expect high art, high culture, fancy wine, etc., to be optimizing for things other than a naive quality metric; about the only thing we can be sure of is that they are nut the best things. (This is similar to the thing where people do charitable things with no benefit to themselves in preference to things with equal charitable value and more value to themselves.)

    Also, the Mona Lisa is a totally different phenomenon from the others; it’s a pure case of Seinfeld Is Unfunny, where it was once extremely special but was widely imitated and is now purely a signalling ritual.

    • > In fact, due to countersignaling, we should expect high art, high culture, fancy wine, etc., to be optimizing for things other than a naive quality metric

      While I respect this and agree to a point, I counter with “Michael Bay”

  3. As someone who isn’t following the Hugo awards or any of this talk about Dinosaur, I think that your post needs to explain why Dinosaurs is a masterpiece, and I think that you need to explain some of the back story behind people’s criticism on Dinosaurs.

    First, this article suggests through the analogy to Mona Lisa that some pieces of art has a deeper meaning to it than just its face value. As anyone who is not a connoisseur of art doesn’t see anything special with, eg, the Mona Lisa. However I think it would be best if you, (who seems to be taking an authority position), if you explain what makes Dinosaurs great. IMO, us readers want to know what it is that makes it so great. And by making the claim that it is objectively good art, we would like to hear in your opinion, (or by what textbook), makes this art so great. Your tone sounds as though it is trying to shame others into not thinking it is good art, yet I believe readers like me would want to hear the good about it and not your sentiments regarding the people who didn’t like Dinosaurs.

    Second, it appears as though this is a response to some group of people. You write, “So, seriously, stop embarrassing yourselves, and stop alienating those people who want to be on your side but actually understand what makes Dinosaur so great.” I had no clue who this was addressing. So, once gain, perhaps a little back story on what has been happening.

    • I can’t edit, but the only important edit I would make: “Your tone sounds as though it is trying to shame others *who do* not think it is good art

    • > I had no clue who this was addressing. So, once gain, perhaps a little back story on what has been happening.

      I’ve been commenting on the Sad/Rabid Puppies fiasco for a week and a half, so any of those blog posts would help explain it. Alternately, there’s tons of articles about it online now, googling “Sad Puppies Hugo” should get you all the back info you can handle. :)

  4. Ah … you are aware that there are experiments showing that what ends up respected as a “masterpiece” is surprisingly arbitrary? I personally doubt the Mona Lisa is all THAT good; it isn’t appalling, but Da Vinci painted better.

    With that said, since everyone does it, it’s completely unreasonable of your political enemies to claim it’s evidence of bias. I imagine the things they hold up as masterworks are no better, merely whatever their group happened to enter a sort of group popularity spiral around.

    • >you are aware that there are experiments showing that what ends up respected as a “masterpiece” is surprisingly arbitrary?

      MORE than aware. :) They are in my consciousness a lot.

      > I personally doubt the Mona Lisa is all THAT good

      Yeah, I agree. But I’m not a painted-art guy. And I’m willing to accept that if everyone who matters in that world says I’m wrong about that, there’s a damn good chance I’m wrong about that. I’m ok with that.

  5. If you’re going to claim that this is objectively good, then it would be best to state the objective criteria of what makes good art and then show how that meets it. As it stands, I’m more likely to believe that it’s counter-signalling. After all, the Mona Lisa is “objectively good” art, but then again, so is “The Fountain”.

    I’ve read it and I was not impressed. I’ll grant that there’s some pretty wordsmithing, but pretty words don’t fantasy make. There’s no substance: no character, no plot, no virtue and no truth. It’s a stained-glass window – pretty, but useless for seeing through.
    “It is a tale, Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.”

    • > no character, no plot, no virtue and no truth

      I got a stronger sense of character with this single short story than I sometimes do for major characters in entire novels. That ability to build character using so few words was one of the reasons I consider it well-written.

      The plot is fairly simple, but it is robust. It isn’t told directly, but it’s as much there as it is in any of the storylines of Pulp Fiction.

      The Virtue and Truth thing is where you really tripped me up though, because the entire story is a single, massive hammer that is striking us with a single Truth that goes to the very core of what it is to be human. Please see the “Theme” section of my dissection post.

  6. “The Mona Lisa is considered by the art world to be a masterpiece. I personally don’t see what the big deal is. To me it’s no better than anything else painted in the last four hundred years by anyone with a canvas and a few years of practice.”

    Um, no. The big deal about the Mona Lisa is mathematics behind it. Da Vinci invented some new methods that had never been done, making that painting a breakthrough, a result never achieved before. First ever, if arguably not best ever. That is what makes the painting historic, not the mere aesthetics of it. Its greatness and that of Da Vinci is objective, not subjective.

    I just read the Dinosaur poem. That is, I’m sorry, not a breakthrough in the art of the printed word. Objectively. It has been seen and done before.

    Nor it is in any way science fiction. That’s my subjective assessment based on taste. However unlike your taste in paintings which is based on ignorance, my taste in SF/F is informed. Educated by forty years of reading SF/F.

    I do not contend my taste -superior- to yours or that of others, because that is not how things like that work. There is no “superior” in taste. There is merely informed or uninformed.

    I would however contend that more people share my taste and opinion of that particular piece than share yours. And we know this because Dinosaur didn’t kill at the cash register.

    As to the reason that piece won a Hugo, that is what Sad Puppies is all about. That piece won because a tiny group with a particular agenda decided that despite the fact that it isn’t SF/F, it ticked off all the correct boxes to forward their agenda. Correct author gender, correct author sexual orientation, correct subject matter, correct enemies mashed in the correct fashion.

    My entire reaction was more whinging from the “I refuse to defend myself” crowd. “If you’d carried that gun I bought you, my love…”

    Compare it to another Hugo winner, Starship Troopers. Heinlein -invented- an entire type of interstellar warfare for a book. He -invented- an entirely new type of weapon and the tactics to use it, plus the politics and social frame such a thing might come from. Its a work of genius.

    My argument, and the reason I was moved to pay money to vote in this year’s Hugos, is that Heinlein couldn’t win a Hugo last year. Because the people voting -loved- the Dinosaur thing, and they’ve publicly said Heinlein is Bad because Intersectionalist Theory. Or something, its really not too clear.

    So now I’m going to vote. I’m reading Butcher’s Skin Game right now, about a half the way through I’m pretty “Meh.” Its not grabbing me, I’m not staying up late to read it. I’m having some serious suspension of disbelief issues with the main character, his actions and choices are so stupid he should be dead already and he’s not. The story doesn’t flow forth from the conditions of the world it is in, more like its sort of stuck on there. Internal consistency fail, in other words. Not like Starship Troopers, which is -very- internally consistent.

    But Skin Game a hell of a lot better SF/F than the Dinosaur thing, which is not SF/F at all. It’s like showing up with quiche Lorraine at a chilli cook off. High quality perhaps, hard to make perhaps… but not chilli.

    Please note, the -other- reason I’m taking great delight in booting the Hugo ant nest with my steel toes is that I am quite happy to dislike the Dinosaur poem without making up a bunch of libelous shit about the author, whoever or whatever he/she/other may be or may be into. The people who -liked- the Dinosaur poem, that’s not how they roll.

    Apropos of which, this: http://monsterhunternation.com/2015/04/15/well-this-sucks-2/ Marko Kloos and Annie Bellet rejecting their Hugo nominations because of -some- of the people who voted for them. Can’t afford to be on the Rabid Puppies Like List. Kiss of death for the career. That is the entire problem.

    What makes an SJW an SJW is that the mere act of writing non-approved fiction means the author must be purged, punished and re-educated into GoodThink. This involves lots of career destruction by slander and lying when they do it.

    This year, even if the fiction checks off all the SJW approved boxes the author will still be targeted for purging and destruction if the WrongFans like them.

    Therefore a thorough hill kicking and some ant stomping seems in order.These people gots to learn some manners.

    • >The big deal about the Mona Lisa is mathematics behind it. Its greatness and that of Da Vinci is objective, not subjective.

      /shrug People give lots of reasons why the Mona Lisa is great. I’ll simply accept that it is, even if I can’t see it myself. And you’ll forgive me for not trusting you on the “it’s the mathematics” thing, based on your record up to this point.

      re: Dinosaur
      >That is, I’m sorry, not a breakthrough in the art of the printed word

      Never said it was. Merely that it was good.

      >Nor it is in any way science fiction.

      Yeah, that’s what I said too. That was, in fact, a common complaint among the Hugo voters. Which maybe you’d know if you paid attention to that sort of thing.

      >we know this because Dinosaur didn’t kill at the cash register.

      Oh my god, /facepalm. First, we’ve already covered that big cash results doesn’t equal quality, as exemplified by Transformers 4. And secondly – are you high? Do you have any idea how stupid that sounded? Dinosaur was paid exactly as much per word as every other story that Apex bought that year was paid per word. And then everyone who wanted to could read it for free online, forever. What cash register are you even talking about?

      >As to the reason that piece won a Hugo, that is what Sad Puppies is all about.

      Aaaaaand you are once again showing your ignorance. Every time I read Correia or Torgersen I am inspired and revved up. Then I read your comments and I’m like “Lord save me from your followers.” If You Were A Dinosaur DID NOT win the Hugo. The fact that YOU THINK it won a Hugo says a lot about your ability to contribute to this discussion.

      >“If you’d carried that gun I bought you, my love…”

      That story would not be this story. I think there are many compelling stories that can be written with gun violence – the only story I’ve written that’s been published features gun violence heavily. But Swirsky didn’t want to write that story, she wanted to write this one, and she did it well. You can say that Schindler’s List is whining, and yeah, Spielberg COULD have done a movie about Jews who held onto their guns. But then it wouldn’t be Schindler’s List. It would be Inglorious Bastards. And personally, I think Tarantino did Inglorious Bastards much better than Spielberg could have, so I’m glad Spielberg didn’t try. Not *every single story* has to be your preferred shoot-out story.

      >My argument, and the reason I was moved to pay money to vote in this year’s Hugos, is that Heinlein couldn’t win a Hugo last year. Because the people voting -loved- the Dinosaur thing, and they’ve publicly said Heinlein is Bad because Intersectionalist Theory. Or something, its really not too clear.

      Again, I want your sources. Everyone I know that goes to WorldCon, and everyone I’ve met there (literally 100% of them) love Heinlein. I think you are simply repeating things that people with an agenda have told you. I would refer you back to my Media Dragons Are Laughing post. Anyone saying Hugo goers don’t like Heinlein is making shit up. And right now, you are unfortunately repeating made-up shit. Weren’t you just complaining about that very tactic??

      > I am quite happy to dislike the Dinosaur poem without making up a bunch of libelous shit

      Ah yes, there it is. Please consult a mirror.

      >Marko Kloos and Annie Bellet rejecting their Hugo nominations … This year, even if the fiction checks off all the SJW approved boxes the author will still be targeted for purging and destruction if the WrongFans like them

      Are you REALLY so wrapped up in your bubble-filter that you can spout this stuff? Didn’t you just say you don’t make up a bunch of libelous shit? Just how blinded by your own ideology are you? They didn’t drop out because of anyone on “our” side. They dropped out because the Puppies were successful in destroying the integrity of this year’s Hugo’s. The MCs are chagrined to be overseeing a tainted awards. Connie Willis turned down an invitation to present an award because she said she could not in good faith present one. People don’t want an award that has been compromised. They want to feel like they’ve actually EARNED IT, which is what the Puppies took away. Great job at destroying the dreams of the people who you said you were trying to help. /golfclap. All these authors have gotten from my side is sympathy and support. It sucks to have your dreams crushed in that particularly cruel way.

      >Therefore a thorough hill kicking and some ant stomping seems in order.

      Yes, go do what puppies do best – throw a tantrum.

      • That’s pretty funny. -I- am having a tantrum. I mention money and you counter with Michael Bay?

        How about Joss Whedon? Just sayin’.

        Furthermore, to reiterate, again, once more with feeling, I am happy to dislike the Dinosaur poem without slandering it’s author. Without calling her a racist/bigot/kitten eater, or attacking her because of her supposed association with some third person. Which I have not done, here or anywhere. Compare and contrast with Corriea, Kloos, etc.

        All I’m saying is for the Dinosaur story to win a Hugo indicates something about the voters. Which is, they don’t share my taste. Which is fine. And there is a totalitarian element determined to purge anything not to their taste, which is not fine.

        Therefore, since the opportunity exists to express my preferences, I have done so. And will continue to do so, since it seems to bring so much pain and anguish to a bunch of people who don’t like me.

        Btw, I fnished Skin Game. Nemesis is a better book IMHO.

        • And you’re still missing the point. “Dinosaur” DID NOT WIN a Hugo. (It did win a NEBULA, however.) I mean, really, that’s an established, real-world fact. If you can’t even get a simple real-world fact correct, why should I trust anything else you say?

          Personally, I loved it. I thought it was gorgeous, gorgeous writing. It’s sure a helluva lot better than most anything on this year’s short story ballot.

  7. I’ve read all the Puppy slated works in the shorter fiction and Related works section. There are exactly three that were, in my eyes, Nomination worthy, and one of them did not make the final ballot. If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love was my favorite story of last year, of any genre. I loved it, I nominated it and I voted for it. It didn’t win, and I understand the reasons a lot of folks didn’t like it or vote for it. There was a lot of decent prose with awful characterization and plotting, and some decent plots with convoluted prose styling.

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