Have I Got Whos For You (Summer Special)

Hello lovely people. And how are we doing?

Things have calmed down here a bit now that I’ve got a two week camping trip in Wales under my belt – along with a children’s holiday club and the first of two festivals. We’re in the eye of the storm just before the second one kicks off, and I’m using a couple of days’ respite to catch up on things I’ve not yet posted – beginning with Sooty, who recently celebrated his seventieth birthday.

“What’s that? You want to play your xylophone?”

For the uninitiated: Sooty is a mute glove puppet who speaks only in inaudible whispers. He’s fond of magic, pranks and general mayhem, and had he been created within the last ten years he’d have his own YouTube channel and be the subject of a dozen tabloid scandals: a picture of a soaking, pie-covered Boris Johnson accompanied by the words “HAS SOOTY GONE TOO FAR?”. Sooty is joined on his adventures by a squeaky-voiced dog and a talking panda, as well as whatever hapless human being happens to be looking after him – for years this was creator Harry Corbett, before his son Matthew took over the role, being responsible for the welfare of the exuberant trio and their cousin Scampy during my childhood. Matthew eventually handed the reins to Richard Cadell, and the titular bear is currently residing at Brean Park in Somerset. (Yes, I’ve been.)

Sooty’s been shown in a variety of situations and a variety of formats – the classic sitcom-in-a-house setup is perhaps the most famous, but Sooty’s also run a junk shop, a holiday camp and a hotel (in which Arthur Darvill once stayed). There was also a dreadful animated series, which failed principally because it gave Sweep the voice he’d always been denied, making him more or less unwatchable, but also because it gave the characters legs. I mean, honestly. It’s not the bloody Muppets. There’s a time and a place for these things. There are certain puppet characters who are doomed to be permanently legless.

Do you know who else is having a birthday this year? WALL-E. He turns ten. And he’s probably trundling around the repopulated Earth somewhere, tidying up the rubbish and watching old movies with EVA. They’re probably still trying to grow that pizza plant. When you think about it, WALL-E is basically a film about a binman who falls in love with a gardener, except they go into space and hang out with a bunch of fat people. Still, there’s something to be said for an animated feature where the villain is a wheel and the hero is a box.

I first saw WALL-E a few months after its release, when it came to the Saturday morning £1 bargain presentations at our local Cineworld. I took Josh, who (at the age of four) probably didn’t have a clue what was going on, although he didn’t say anything. He saved that for Megamind, in which he leaned over to me half an hour from the end and said “Daddy, I don’t understand any of this”. I defy any of you with children to adequately explain the plot of Megamind, with its duplicitous characters and twists and endless use of hologramatic disguises, to a six-year-old in a crowded cinema in a whisper. Go on. Try it. And then come back and tell me exactly what you said so that I can save it for when I eventually watch it with Edward.

Anyway. Let’s move on, shall we? To this, to be exact.

I mean, I don’t know. I thought doing a Civil War re-enactment (you see what I did there) would be fun. I know it makes no sense, but it’s just fun. And people seemed to like it – with one exception, who will be anonymised in the transcript that follows. It’s a closed group (of which she’s no longer a member) and I do have standards, so let’s call her, I don’t know, Haylee. She reminded me of a Haylee for some reason. Oh, and I’ve corrected all her typos, because I’m not totally without mercy.

Haylee: Why is Capaldi on the same side as the master? Is it because of his affection for his frenemy it something else I’m missing? (I didn’t get to see the whole season with Bill).

Me: He came like that, and I just couldn’t be bothered to move him over.

Haylee: Then what’s the point of making the image at all if you’re not going to make it properly representative?

Me: It’s not representative of anything. I just did it for a laugh.

Haylee: if there is no reason for Capaldi to be on the same side as the Masters, you have failed to capture a parody of Avengers Civil War. Parodies include juxtaposed meaning, not just similar imagery.

Me: Strewth. And I thought Star Wars fans overthought things.

Haylee: My comments come from being in the graphic design and theatre world where you need to have reasoning behind visual action. We overthink which shade of blue to use.

Me: Then I suspect you need to switch off a bit.

Haylee: Or you can deal with the true definition of parody and accept someone asking for the reasoning for your artistic choices. Simon [who chipped in with a couple of other semi-helpful interpretations about ‘sides’ that I haven’t bothered to include] did a great job of answering my initial question, giving reason to your art, when you ‘couldn’t be bothered.’ Bye Felicia.

Me: It’s not a parody of anything. I just had the idea for the image and picked the first caption that came into my head. If you want to get all authoritarian about the ‘true meaning’ of parody then that’s entirely up to you. I mean, seriously, you sound like the way I used to be. I have found this whole conversation greatly amusing, in an alarming sort of way, because it confirms just about every stereotype in the Joyless Overthinking Fan Handbook, right down to the ‘Bye Felicia’. I shall bring you a nice cup of tea to perk you up during your gatekeeping.

Haylee:  I give no shits from a fan perspective. I give shits from a visual communication perspective. I asked for clarification of the meaning of your image, and you straight up just said you were too lazy to care about creating a piece that was a good parody. You could have just answered “I didn’t think about that- it was just for fun” and that would have been fine. Instead what I heard in your answer was “I did a half ass job and wanted praise for my delicate male ego- how dare you critique my work.”

Our wonderful friend Simon created a wonderful bit of meaning that I thought the image may have been hinting at, adding greater depth to your image.

We can always do better in our craft and our communication. Being unwilling to hear how we can make a craft better is to nurse a weak ego. Creating images that we say hold a specific meaning or goal (in this case, a parody to Avengers Civil War) and then not putting in enough thought to complete the task encourages further mediocrity. It’s fine to say it’s just for fun. It’s fine to say you didn’t think about it. But to be “hey now, get your panty out of your butt – no one gets to give me critiques” is why I say bye Felicia. Again, thanks Justin for being a deep thinker who sees the multiplicities in the charters of this particular fandom. James, Keep making fun images. Keep making connections. Keep improving, even if it’s just a hobby and just for fun. Be willing to listen to people that aren’t me about how you can make your images have clearer and stronger meaning. It’s the creators that make things fun. It’s the collaborators that bring depth.

Me: I’m always up for constructive criticism where I think it improves things. Give me technical info. How could I sort out the interlacing? How could the structure of this piece be changed so it doesn’t drag? What should that caption actually say as it doesn’t read quite right? And how can I fix that annoying pop on the MP3 samples?

Don’t assume, merely because I scoffed at you, that I’m a rampant egomaniac who hates criticism of his work. I’ve been doing this shit since you were in elementary and I got reasonably competent (for an enthusiastic, part-time amateur) at it largely through listening to others. Or what, you think I’m going to tell you one of those hard graft stories where I take all the credit?

I just felt that in this instance you missed the mark. You wax lyrical about this supposedly definitive concept of ‘true parody’ (which has given my friends quite a titter, by the way) but you miss the point that this is purposely ambiguous, silly and – well, itself bereft of a point. This was never meant to be about Civil War. The image came first – or the idea of it – and the caption was something I tagged on because it sort of looked a bit like it, but I don’t really think it does and I don’t think anyone else does either. You’re trying to bring meaning where there is none, which is something fans do a lot, whether they’ve got a background in graphic design or they flip burgers at McDonald’s.

So please don’t assume that I don’t listen to criticism or take constructive comments on board. I just have a filter. A filter is necessary because otherwise you listen to everyone, which leads to the eradication of ego and the death of creativity. You may object to the criteria under which that filter operates, specifically because in this instance it excluded you, but them’s the breaks, and just because you’ve interpreted it in a particular way it does not mean you know me.

TL:DR – Don’t try and give things more significance than they deserve. I don’t get paid for this. Know when to critique and when not to. That’s a lesson I had to learn myself, and my life is richer for the experience.

Strewth. I don’t know why I bother.

Yes. Yes I do.

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