Universalis, your very own breviary in pixels...

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Why is "Forumulaic" a Pejorative?

This time of year, we receive and watch many movies, (I don't think I'm violating any commands from the studios by being in the room while Himself watches complimentary For Your Consideration dvds,) and we bake and consume many cookies, (a lot of my Christmas baking occurs after the day itself, but before the end of the season... and i won't get into that rant now.;oP)

After watching a film, I sometimes rummage around in the junk drawer, I mean on Those Interwebs, (and really, they're the same thing,)  to see what "the book" is on a movie, what taste-maker liked or hated it, why, what the buzz is on awards... you know.

One movie which I found satisfying, cleverly written and well-balanced between serious, heart-tugging and humourous, I learn was damned by most critics as "formulaic."

What is wrong with formulae?
There are only 7 plots or some such, certain situation can only satisfy the observer with a certain outcome, the "unities" being observed will, oh horrors! establish patterns, etc., etc.

It seems to me that to be enjoyable a work of art, (or entertainment, if you will,) must have a creator who brings out from his store both that which is old and that which is new.
If certain types, relationships, situations are not recognizable to the viewer for their, (at least near,) universality, one will be too detached, to much the observer of emotions rather than participant in.

A write or director must also of course present that which is novel, original, but without knowing  and acknowledging conventions, ingredients, if you will, common to other examples of the art, we are left with something that fails to move us, to speak to our understanding of the human condition, and perhaps to appease our hunger for justice, our need for reassurance that lives lived well will not lead to utter desolation.
(Even if its events are tragic, art that is nihilistic can never be tragedy, for if life is meaningless, outcomes are irrelevant.)

Most cookies have sugar in them. (A cookie must have some degree of sweetness.)

Most have wheat flour or some other starchy vegetable matter. (Cookies must have substance, bulk.)

Most have leavening.

Most have liquid.

Sometimes, one ingredient serves more than one function, an egg is both moist and capable of providing lightness, honey changes the chemistry of a recipe, nut meringues are a feat of engineering.
And good, EXPERIENCED bakers can fiddle with proportions and flavorings, and have different opinions on whether the best chocolate chip cookie is chewy, crisp, thick, etc....
Turns out cookie customization is easier than it seems.

But let's face it, NO one ever complained that a chocolate chip cookie was formulaic.

And an "innovative" cook who tried to foist a "chocolate chip cookie" on you that actually contained no chocolate?
You'd know him for a charlatan.

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