The academic good

In school we’re taught how to write proper prose. The structure of the story, how the story should be told and so on. We’re taught by our peers and information sources what it means to have a good story, what it means to be well written and what interesting characters’ properties. Academically speaking, when you’ve got a product that ticks all the boxes correctly, it should be considered a perfect product. Things like three-act structure is an example of how to tell a story properly, but you’ve got all these things that break the act structure, sometimes completely ignoring the notion of having structured acts, only to be considered well done or even great.

We’re taught what it means to make a good product. We’re taught to criticise products based on similar notions of what is, academically speaking, good. You could have a list of matters that a story needs to tick off to be good. It’s sort of standardised version what is considered the ideal form.

This doesn’t really work in real life.

If products would always follow the same guidelines, we’d have no advancement in anything. Breaking the mould and finding the best ways to hit on with the customers seem have always given new and modified rules to the pre-existing academic sets.

Movies have academically set rules of tick boxes that a lot of reviewers tick in order to rate a movie. It’s a very clean and sterile way to see things, and often if something is not personally preferred is called as a inferior product because it does not fill the academic demands. The same can also be said of the crowd who argue for the break downs of the academics, and ultimately the decision is made by the consumer by their wallet voting.

Does that mean that the consumers have an awful taste, or that the academics do not apply or are wrong?

In design schools it’s often taught that finding a want and need of the customers is important, the academically correct thing to do, as the customer will always seek to fulfil their wants and fix their needs. I am an advocate of this to a very large extent. If we take the notion that the academics do not apply here, what does that mean for design?

What does design become when you break down the academics? Perhaps we need to turn the matter other way around and there would be a need to manufacture the demand and want. This is done in marketing based on existing customer needs, but at the same time it’s a very gray zone, and while taught to some extent, can be regarded as academically incorrect.

Yet, you have Apple manufacturing a product that we can argue customers do not have a need for or even want. Yet the notion of making something that customer would want by hitting the rights buttons create a need. Apple watch is an essentially a stripped down version of iPhones and iPads. How many of us have a need for a watch with computing capabilities? Vast majority of us have a some sort of smartphone in our pockets with all the things the Apple watch could do, and even more. Then you have the pads, which have become another common thing to carry around everywhere. There is no need for such a device that is, in all seriousness, inferior to the existing products. And yet, Apple has managed to manufacture a need for its loyal customers, and those who follow their example.

Apple watch has to have the worst battery life and the screen needs to be relatively large to include all the stuff they’re shoving into it.

In the same breath, is there a need for a new iPhone? Some would say yes, and some would say no. The iPhone line has been very much the same. The only thing that makes the previous version obsolete is that Apple will drop the support on relatively soon to move their efforts on supporting the shiny new one, which you should buy in order to keep yourself on the trend boat and get the best support out there.

But right here I am using the academics to criticize Apple’s products and how they are pushing them out, much like a person would voice their distaste on anything else.

A question if academics are absolute is moot. Of course they aren’t, but they are often regarded as such because they are very much rooted to our current society. They’ve been there in many forms for ages. The academic good is a way to standardise what is well made or what should be considered good and a way to make a successful product. Yet the notion is thrown right out of the window when you have a game breaking product that changes how things are made, writing a new text book example of good. Citizen Kane is an example alongside King Kong, where certain academics are simply shattered because they have not only become popular, but made money and made a cultural landmark.

In the two aforementioned case, does that mean that the customer has an awful taste? Does that mean that the academics need to be thrown out because they do not stand against the products that go against them due to their popularity? It’s not binary, no matter how you want to see it.

In linguistics, when a word has gained a new meaning among the population while having a different meaning the dictionary, it is the dictionary that needs to be changed as the meaning of the word has changed. Whilst computer’s first meaning was a person who computes, now the word is mainly, and often solely, used to describe the machine that accepts data and does computing and shows it.

Linguistics is academics, and we can all see that academics change with time as well. It is extremely easy to base our distaste on any product based on the academics, because often we don’t distinguish the two. We saw ourselves as being the ones correct over the other because we have the academics speaking behind us. Gene Siskel used academics to pan Friday the 13th and rightfully so, but was completely wrong as the movie became a massive success and didn’t fit into his view what a good movie is.

As said before, real life doesn’t really work like that.

We have the model what is perfect, and academically speaking, we should be able to make perfect things. Science is about perfection, the ability to replicate same results every time. Reality does not play all the same rules because humans are creatures of preference and disorder. We enjoy the things we do because there’s something we personally care for. We constantly elevate things over our heads despite them being academically bad and trample on things that should be considered good. Of course, it goes the other way around as well, but it’s never universal. There will always be people who dislike Plan 9 From Outer Space for its awful writing, acting and sets, and there will always be people who genuinely love the movie perhaps even for the very same reasons. We can only argue about that subjectively and academics are there to support the side that values it.

However, can we trust the academics when a product that goes against them becomes practically universally regarded as the best mode? Before the smartphone boom happened, they were not considered as the best form of mobile phone; they went against the academic model what a mobile phone should be. Then, somebody rebranded this into smartphone and created the demand. The academics changed and the phones that you can only call and text are considered as inferior products.

It smells like opinions, always. There are some things we can’t argue about, like that 2+2=4. We can argue whether or not Anna Karenina is deathly boring book with pages after pages of useless detail that should have been edited out. Tolstoy was one of the writers who are often used as an example of writing good prose. During Anna Karenina’s serialization in 1877, most reviewers praised the episodes, but there were few who criticised it being sour and smelling like narrow-mindness of the nobility with Slavophilism. I have to agree with the latter to some extent, but I would most likely prefer the book more if I had read it in a serial form like it was originally published as rather than a span of one week.

We end up with a core thing again; we can only argue about opinions. We can argue that being popular does not mean that it’s good, and to some extent that is true. The opposite is true as well. However, we always need to remember that nobody is willing to put large amounts of money into stuff they don’t consider to be good in their personal opinion. When majority regard the same thing as good, you usually get a whiplash from the minority.

VHS was a shit format compared to BetaMAX and Laserdisc, and yet it won because it was considered the better option over the two competitors.

The notion that popular does not equal good is a childish one. It implies two extremes which don’t exist. Is Justing Bieber a good singer? I don’t know, I have never heard any of his songs fully, but I recognize his success. Clearly he is doing a lot of things right in order to garner such a fame among people alongside his infamy. Is Patlabor the Movie good because it’s seen as one by the fans? Perhaps, but it’s a very niche movie with rather small userbase, and the movie can be damn boring, much like other Oshii’s movies. Giant Robot Police movies are such a niche genre, that only fans an occasional stranders will make a review mark of it on Rotten Tomatoes. On IMDB the Patlabor movie has votes from 2 860 users, whereas something like Jurassic Park has reviews from 409 551 users. The 1997 Titanic, the movie I personally don’t care for, has reviews from 601 309 users. We would need to do some serious work in order to properly compare the reviews between the three movies based on IMDB ratings. Is Patlabor a better movie than the Titanic because less people have given it a better rating? Is The Shawshank Redemption superior movie to all aforementioned because of its higher rating with 1 227 123 users backing it, or is it worse because it’s more popular?

Academically speaking all the aforementioned movies hit all the right points and should be considered as good movies. Because we’re largely dangling dolls, played by our preferences, we can voice that, for example, Jurassic Park is the best movie from the bunch because of reason X. Or that is has the most interesting writing that challenges the watchers’ notions of cloning, the nature of the relationship with man and nature as well as the God complex humanity has.

On one hand, we can say that academic good is a standard we can measure everything up and deduce whether or not things are good or not. We just need to remember to throw them to the curb when the numbers start making them irrelevant, despite how much we would dislike badly written movie making millions. Perhaps truly objectively good product is something that fills both academic good and the preferences of the market, but also paradoxically breaks the rules of academics.

Academics, especially when it comes to products like books or games or whatever, can be used to dismiss or support. It is an objective system in its core, created by that era’s ideals. Essentially, we have an ever changing objective system that is highly abusable with bias to support wide range of arguments, and it’s almost encouraged to do so.

Seems like I’ve managed to mangle myself with this subject. It warrants a return at a later date. Meanwhile, have an extra piece of music.

Is this a good music video? Is this a good song? Is that answer you ahve there based on your opinion, or on the notion what a good music video should be? What a good music should be?


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