I don’t think I’ve met anyone who has said, “Boy, you know what I would like? To write/film/make [insert media here] and wallow in obscurity! Yessiree, nothing better than being forgotten.” It usually doesn’t happen. So, it’s then strange how we (myself included) have a tendency to dismiss a band/show/movie/book/video game/what-have-you just because it’s popular. Furthermore, we like to tear it apart piece-by-piece just to show all the plebs that this universally praised [insert media here] is, in reality, terrible and we should all feel terrible for liking it.
Obviously I’m engaging in hyperbole, but I feel that it illustrates my point: we try to tear down popular things only because they’re popular. It’s as if the worth of something is inversely proportional to its popularity. Maybe that’s why the Oscar contenders never really gain any popular traction and disappear into the ether once their statue has been won? It’s too good and too important to remain among our sinful, culturally devoid world! Quick, everyone, find the nearest DVD of a dramatic biopic! We must repent! We shall drive all remnants of the Marvel Cinematic Universe from our minds, scrub our eyes of the uncleanliness that is Dragon Ball Z!
Once upon a time, I used to be like that. I would make it a point to watch as many Oscar contenders as possible because I was convinced that these are the good films. Sure, I still watched superhero movies like The Dark Knight and Thor, but they were obviously inferior to… to… uh… I forget…
What good is anything, especially a story that is supposed to explore some truth or problem that is important to all of us if it is forgotten as soon as it is seen or read? Does it still have an impact?
Stories become popular and are remembered for years to come because they had an impact on a large number of people. There was something special about it that spoke to a multitude of hearts. Star Wars became big because it told a story of good vs. evil during a time when the world seemed increasingly moving toward that direction, ultimately showing us that even the worst among us can be redeemed. The MCU explores questions of family, friends, trust, and trauma as well as the toll it can take when we are left broken. So what if it’s a space opera or a superhero movie? That just means more people can relate to it, opposed to the effort of a British monarch overcoming his speech impediment during a time of crisis. Good story, important themes, but it’s restricted in scope to the point where only a certain subsection of people would even want to watch it.
Universal appeal can be a good thing and we shouldn’t denigrate anything just because they’re popular.
Conversely, just because something is popular doesn’t necessarily make it good nor does it give anything a pass to be lackluster or even bad.
If anything, any artist (in the broadest sense of the term) that aspires to make something that might have universal appeal has a greater responsibility to make it as good as possible, for it to send the right message. Otherwise, it can do just as much harm as a universally praised work can do good.