Thursday, December 04, 2008

Hypercriticism and Spongebob Wisdom

My little one is home sick today with a stomach flu that is going around. Cartoons have replaced my normal musical morning writing time. What's funny, is that I actually got sucked in to this morning's episode of Spongebob.

In this episode, "Artist Unknown" Squidward is determined to teach Spongebob how to be a great artist. In class, Spongebob tries to impress Squidward with what he thinks is art: draing a perfect circle freehand, intricate oragami, and creating a perfect likeness of Michaelangelo's statue, David--using a seashell to cover his privates:)

Squidward refuses to see the expertise in Spongebob's creations. He berates them, and Spongebob, for not creating art along the same lines as Squidward has, namely depicting Squidward's likeness in multiple forms and mediums.

Spongebob, destroyed by this unnecessary and harsh criticism from his hypercritical neighbor, runs away to Bikini Bottom dump and puts a box over his head. Meanwhile, the wealthiest art collector of all time shows up at Squidward's art school looking for a masterpiece and promising fame and fortune to the artist--of the look alike David with the seashell.

Squidward claims the work as his own, but on transport, decapitates the sculpture. The art collector suggests that recreating the sculpture should be no problem for an artist of his caliber and promises to come back the next day.

Squidward then hunts down Spongebob and tries to get him to make another sculpture, only to discover though, that the mental and emotional beatdown he gave Spongebob earlier has destroyed his confidence and made it impossible for him to recreate the masterpiece.

What a wonderful message, I think, for a kid's cartoon! It's something I've seen happen to too many young or new authors. Their talent and inherent voices are so hyper-criticized that they abandon what made them unique and wonderful in favor of following the advice of those with more ego than taste. It's almost criminal, if you ask my opinion, to destroy someone's dreams like that.

Of course there's always the opposite point that a new author is responsible for who they choose to listen to and take advice from. That of course is true, but in the legal world, they have what is called an "eggshell tort." It works this way:

If a perfectly healthy person slips and falls due to the negligence of a business and incures only $500.00 in damages, the business cannot use this as a baseline for all those who are injured. So, if a person with brittle bones (like an eggshell) falls and incurs $500,000.00 in damages, the business liable for those *actual* damages.

In other words, simply because some folks have had the opportunity to develop thicker skin and may withstand hyper-criticism at a vulnerable stage, does not absolve the hyper-critical of respnsibility if they direct that hyper-criticism at a person with more brittle skin.

Personal responsibility doesn't begin and end with the effect our actions have on others--but with the actions we take ourselves. We might get lucky in that when driving intoxicated we don't mow down a crosswalk full of school children--but that doesn't mean the law hasn't been broken. Lack of consequence for bad behaviors is not an indication one should continue those bad behaviors.

So, in my opinion, Spongebob got it right: we lose future masterpieces when we fail to be objective and honest enough to recognize and nurture potential in others. We take on the responsibility to be objective and honest when we fashion ourselves an authority or an expert.

I'll end with this fun quote from Spongebob:

"Squidward, I used your clarinet to unclog my toilet!"



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